Curbside Campground Outtake: Winnebago Chieftain and American Clipper – Two Relics From The Great ’70s RV Boom

The housing crisis that has developed the last couple of decades has turned a lot of underused RVs into…actual motor homes. As in full-time. And the upside for a fan of vintage RVs is that there’s a lot more of them to be seen on the streets than would be the case if there was more affordable housing.

Parked along the curb here in Skinner Butte Park were two classic late ’70s motor homes, a Winnebago Chieftain and an American Clipper.

The classic Winnebago motor home utterly dominated its market in the ’70s, due to its incomparable price per square foot; the ultimate tract house with wheels. The decade of the ’70s years were Winnebago’s golden years, with the exception of ’74-’75, due to the first energy crisis. Motor home sales peaked in 1978, at a level that would not be seen again for several decades.



The first Winnebago motor home was built in 1966, as an addition to their trailer and pickup camper lines. Full history here.

The American Clipper Class C was built for eight years (1973-1980) during this boom time, when untold numbers of Class C manufacturers jumped into the market. But the American Clipper stood out for its all-fiberglass construction, as had the Chinook in its class. The great majority were cheap wood-framed boxes with aluminum siding attached.


The fiberglass structure was more solid, much less prone to leaks, which are the bane of older RV owners, had better insulation, and could be fixed more easily. It’s not just a coincidence that the Winnebago has a tarp on its roof and this doesn’t. This made the American Clipper something of a premium product then, and one with a much higher demand (and value) on the used market.


Most used the near-ubiquitous Dodge van cutaway chassis, but after Dodge exited that market at the end of 1979, some of the last American Clippers used a Chevy chassis.