CC’s Best of 2022: Curbside Classic: 1973 Starcraft Starcruiser – “Thunder of the Bay”

With a dirty, broken tow strap protruding from its cockeyed back bumper, this Starcraft Starcruiser resembles a mangy old dog with a dragging leash that finally escaped the clutches of its “shouldn’t really have a dog” owner.  Even though I’d call myself a Winnebago guy if I were asked, this scruffy old motorhome inadvertently dredged up an internal conflict that’s dogged me my whole life.

I’m fundamentally a loner.  Rectifying that innate personality trait with being a young adult in a social world took years, if indeed it ever happened.  With that being said, many a peaceful 11-year-old evening was spent alone in my bedroom reading car magazines and books, and listening to 1250 AM “WXOX,” the “Thunder of the Bay.”  There, I bolstered my barroom music trivia knowledge by listening to oldies music ranging from the mid 1950s up through the early 1970s.  In the era of hair metal, I was cramming the differences between the Shirelles and Martha and the Vandellas and Mary Wells into my hormone-confused mind.

Seeing this bumper sticker for my long-defunct favorite radio station on the back of this derelict motor home certainly stirred my feelings of nostalgia, but it also forced me to revisit some paradoxical feelings about my social world.  The radio station itself represents my fundamental need for solitude, while the motor home as a whole represents the large-group fun everyone else seemed to be having, the fun that I always saw myself as missing out on.  Even today, when I see big gatherings of people, I feel a slight pang of envy, even though the reality of those situations has always made me anxious and tired.

I don’t want to mislead anyone: I’m not a hermit.  I’m very happily married and I mingle tolerably well with society.  In fact, I can recall a few evenings camping in my neighborhood pal’s backyard and forcing him to listen to the end of WXOX’s broadcast day at midnight, because that’s what friends do.  There was something decidedly romantic about a public service such as a radio station simply calling it quits for the day – that’s it everyone, go to bed, nothing more here to listen to.  It was so shamelessly old-fashioned, even in 1988, just one more manner in which my whole life was slowly being enveloped by outmoded and forgotten things, large and small.  It might also explain my full-series DVD sets of Mannix, Adam-12, and The Rockford Files.

So of course I love this motorhome.  Like those memories of my lime green childhood bedroom with race car wallpaper, there’s something about late ’60s and early ’70s graphics and colors that I find calming.  The browns and greens and cursive scripts cannot and will not be digitally replicated.  It’s the same reason why I prefer blues music that sounds as if it were recorded in a garage through a tunnel: The blues is dark, lonesome, and analog; the artist alone with his sadness.  He doesn’t have a band and a production team, for crying out loud.

I didn’t have a tape measure with me when I took these photographs, but the 28-foot Starcruiser was Mopar-based, powered by either a 413 or (surprisingly) an International 392.  The smaller models like the 24 footer were strapped with a lowly Chrysler 318.  The brochures indicate that this example is indeed a 24 footer, so you will be frustrated and annoyed when merging, if you can one day get the engine running (I’m sure you can, whoever you are; the 318 is a tough engine).

A fun attribute of old RVs is that there’s no subterfuge.  A passenger car’s data plate is locked behind the door, hidden from jealous seekers of information.  Starcraft, on the other hand, was the life of the party, broadcasting the serial number and date of manufacture right on the passenger side of the vehicle for all to see.

Everything about the Starcraft looks like it’s having a good time.  The stern of this behemoth (Starcraft built boats, too, right?) looks like a big pontoon, the original party barge, with a curved ladder that “boaters” could use to sunbathe on the roof (or more likely, to service the air conditioner, etc.).

The interior of the Starcraft looks original, with all the right ’70s materials, but no comment can be made on the odor.  To be fair, it didn’t penetrate the closed doors and windows, but you know it’s there, waiting.  Apparently, Starcraft motor homes were well-built, with steel construction compared to the wood of some of their contemporaries.  Maybe that’s why this example has lasted so long.

By the late ’80s, this Starcraft had most likely been passed down through a few owners and was being used to visit festivals, concerts, and the like, very slowly.  It was just an old-fashioned RV being enjoyed by a new generation, perhaps the descendants of the original owners.  At this point, however, it was most likely parked.

*Fun fact – The 1987 Alpenfest Queen was Diana Petoskey.  Petoskey is another resort town in Northern Michigan.  Also, Alpenfest apparently has a yodeling contest.  

Perhaps this missing axle cover and subsequent leak have something to do with the Starcraft’s extended hiatus from road duties.

Unrelated note: I can say for certain after several loud evenings that yes, M!ch!gan does indeed love its fireworks.

This thing has been parked on the curb of a local surface street for several weeks, and I’m intrigued by the owner’s possible plans for it.  There are few things that are non-starters when it comes to buying things in my household, but a ’70s motorhome is one of them.  So that’s most likely out, but who knows?  Perhaps a for sale sign will appear in the window sometime soon and I’ll be afforded an opportunity to burnish my social skills in the medium of negotiation.   That will only be an option, however, if the radio’s tuned to 1250 AM.

Postscript: As a sign of my decadence, every original radio in my fleet of old cars is perennially tuned to 1250 AM, in reverence to my younger self and those calm evenings (and days in the garage, wasting the Mustang‘s battery with the radio playing) listening to old songs and late-night DJs, and thanks to a beat-up old RV, I’m reminded why.  But I’m a little envious of that intrepid soul who decides to get that old bus running to set sail for anywhere, with a cold beer or two in the fridge and a large group in tow.