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.
“… many a peaceful 11-year-old evening was spent alone in my bedroom reading car magazines and books, and listening to 1250 AM “WXOX,…”
Sort of a kindred spirit here, the only changes needed to reflect my similar time in the mid-1950s is ” reading car magazines, books, The Saturday Evening Post, and Look magazine…”.
Popular AM radio music stations did not pop into my life until the early 60s, which were usually accessed through one scratchy speaker in my first few cars.
I’ve always wanted to avoid social situations, but I initially endured them to maintain some semblance of “normal-ness”. Such efforts were not always successful.
But now I no longer care about being normal. Time is getting short; I don’t want to waste any of it socializing or going to weddings. God, I hate weddings. Poor Debbie, when she gets a wedding invitation she doesn’t ask me; she just RSVPs “1” attendee.
The camper’s rear ladder looks exactly like the type one would drape over a boat’s cockpit gunwale so people could climb aboard after a swim. For this camper, it looks a bit short requiring a strong arm to get a foot purchase.
PS: Love the simplicity of the Mustang’s radio. On/off/volume switch, 5 pull out pre-sets, and a tuning knob. The radio user’s guide for the Tacoma is half an inch thick.
“Sort of a kindred spirit here, the only changes needed to reflect my similar time in the mid-1950s is ” reading car magazines, books, The Saturday Evening Post, and Look magazine…”.”
I’m still reading “Look” and others, but they’re a little older now. 🙂
Good thing this has a trailer hitch on the FRONT bumper!
I have seen this a few times on Class A motorhomes. They typically use it for launching a small boat. Because of the width of the RV something like an aluminum fishing boat will be invisible to mirrors backing up. Also due to short trailer long tow vehicle issues the trailer will want to jacknife. So get to the launch ramp move the boat to the front and launch away.
The trailer hitch on the back is for towing. When at your destination, maybe a boat launch, the trailer is disconnected and attached to the front to be pushed down the ramp. Much easier than backing up a trailer with such a big vehicle.
That isn’t a cover for the axle that is missing that is the axle shaft. If both were removed I’d say it was done to tow it to its current location. Much easier and quicker to grab the cordless impact and zip out the axle bolts than it is to pull the driveshaft out completely or disconnect it from the axle and try and tie it up.
Either way w/o that axle shaft it isn’t going anywhere under its own power.
Oops! I have no experience with heavy-duty axles (which is obvious by my comment).
Full floating axles are definitely different than the semi-floating axles used in passenger cars and 1/2 ton trucks. The axle shaft doesn’t carry any of the weight of the vehicle, the vehicle is supported by a pair of tapered roller bearings at the wheel end. You can see the jam nut in there which is covering the adjusting nut and locking it in place since the axle shaft goes through where a cotter pin would go. You’ll find a similar arrangement on old school front driven axles.
I’ll be damned. I listened to 97.3 KBSG in Seattle growing up in the 1990s (oldies, late 50s-early 70s). My brothers were into Def Leopard, Metallica and similar crap I can’t stand. I was into Motown and Johnny Rivers. I still like that stuff, although I do like some newer music, it’s not much.
The 1250 AM frequency in the Saginaw/Bay City area is now WJMK. It no longer signs off at midnight, instead reducing its daytime power from 5000 watts (five times what it was as WXOX) to 1000 watts from sunset to dawn. The 1250 KHz frequency may still play some of the same music as it did as WXOX: it broadcasts in a Classic Oldies format.
You’re exactly right! That station is a corporate MeTV radio station and it’s what I currently listening to if I’m listening to radio. Unfortunately, it’s not a very powerful channel, so it ranges from slightly scratchy to almost unlistenable (it also broadcasts on 99.3 FM with similar results).
It’s a good channel, but they play “newer” stuff that I’m not really into. When I say newer, I mean disco hits up to the late 1980s. 🙂
These are very neat and rare. Very few molded Fiberglass bodied Class A RVs were made. The only ones I know off the top of my head were these and the Glastron one. They were more expensive to make then either stick and tin construction (think building a cheap shed on a truck chassis) or having a steel/aluminum frame with fiberglass or aluminum panels attached to the frame. They also could not be built as quickly due to molding times.
Shame really because the construction is why this one looks decent. Most RVs fall victim to water intrusion and rot. The fiberglass ones have much fewer entry points or even things to rot.
There were others too, most significantly the Travco (also sold as the Dodge Motorhome), which was one of the big pioneers of the whole motorhome genre.
There’s others too. Cabana is one that comes to mind, and I shot and posted one here not long ago.
What a great article. Your bringing together personal history and insights all around an interesting vehicle you’ve happened upon is what this site is all about. Well done.
A couple of observations…
1) How does something that size (and type of vehicle) manage to sit around on the street for a couple of weeks unregistered? In my neck of the woods, it would at very least be covered with citations.
2) I love the “Starcraft” name above the windshield. Its totally 70’s-style font reminds me of some kind of tour vehicle for visitors to a factory.
3) I’ve been to Petoskey (another business trip…) and flew home with half a bag full of rocks. Petoskey stones of course. Fossilized coral from Lake Michigan just blows me away.
4) I definitely understand your reluctance to seriously consider adopting this beast (or maybe that’s the reluctance of others in your household…), but seriously, it looks to me like a powerwasher and some bleach would make the outside much more presentable…and it certainly can’t rust (the body is fiberglass, right?)…and you’ve said that the mechanicals are pretty commonplace. I’m just sayin’ that fixed up, this thing could be great (and sell for what you put into it…there’s a lot of nostalgia going for these RVs nowadays). I’d keep the bumperstickers on it for sure.
do it……… 😉
Thanks, Jeff! Regarding #1, I’ve always gotten the impression that my city treats ordinances as suggestions. Regarding #4, my fantasy marriage (as my coworkers call it) is very flexible when it comes to bringing junk home, but the clearly delineated boundary is an old stinky motor home. 🙂
Congrats on your fantasy marriage. I’m also fortunate enough to have one; exhibit A, I guess, being the Miata RF in the garage.
Yes, I suspect we all have these (“f m” that is).
Along with our lives in the parallel (or at least congruent) universe that allow us the time and space to work on these projects.
In Las Vegas (and from what I hear, many other cities) such beat-to-death motorhomes are the final domicile on the way to homelessness. No more than 1500′ from my door sits the hulk of one such vehicle. Last week it suffered what appears to be an engine bay fire. The Fire Department put out the fire and dragged it to a vacant lot, where it sits, awaiting a city contractor to tow it to its final destination.
On a recent trip thru Los Angeles, saw multiple motorhomes like above parked on highway overpasses. Since they were not in a neighborhood or business district, no complaints.
Ditto on your WXOX comments, only for me it was 63KDWB or 1130WDGY here in Minneapolis. Nothing better than Top 40’s radio in the 60’s-70’s.
I used to listen to those 2 Minneapolis stations when we lived in White Bear Lake.
Nice find, and even finer write-up. I remember all-too well listening to WSUI, the university of Iowa station while being in bed, to their late night jazz program. No wonder I like 1950s jazz so much.
These were built during the first great RV boom of the late 60s – early ’70s, which went bust during the first energy crisis. With its steel frame and fiberglass body, these are much more desirable than the typical wood-framed and aluminum siding kind that Winnebago popularized. There’s a good chance this one has not had water intrusion and may not smell as bad as you think.
I’m pretty certain that my uncle’s wood-framed Winnebago ended up with termites. It smelled like the shag rug in a dorm after the bong spilled.
I mean, after I spilled it.
Made me bust out laughing! I remember that smell of bong water.
Thanks, Paul…I didn’t get into jazz until later on, but I still like ’50s and early ’60s straightforward “hard bop” like Art Blakey and the Jazz Messengers, Cannonball Adderley, Horace Silver, and some Mingus. I’ve never liked the “far out” stuff.
Bought an unmarked blank “test pressing” disc at Rhino Records, back in the day, and I got Horace Silver. I was looking for bootleg rock, but the disc turned me on to jazz. Decades later, I heard the same music on the jazz station, and only then did I learn who it was. Until then, my college buddies and I called it “25 cents at Rhino”.
For thirty years, my parents traded up from a pop-up camper, to a larger towing trailer, to finally an RV. They were always jealous of these Starcrafts, Winnebagos, and Airstreams. Just couldn’t afford them until they were empty nesters without a mortgage. That day finally came for them and they kept that RV until my dad passed. They were gone for months at a time, and were usually in it during weekends as well. They wore it out.
So, I have a lot of mixed feelings when I see these. The love my parents had towards them, and my near complete disinterest, (I love tent camping and hammock camping). However, due to my experiences with truck driving, I piloted their RV often enough to marvel at how well rested I felt after driving an entire day in it. It was a pretty sweet gig.
I would be tempted, but my wife and kids would have a total meltdown and refuse to use it. I am married to someone who needs a full bathroom, makeup mirrors, and ideally, a washer and dryer, when she “camps”. I just need a couple trees, a fire, a beer and a Rocky Patel.
Over the past year I’ve read articles about EV manufacturers not installing AM radios in their cars due to electromagnetic interference from the motors and/or controller circuitry. That makes sense but I think it’s sad. AM signals travel much further than FM, especially at night. I can always pick up AM stations on the road in the middle of Nebraska to hear about local weather and road conditions. FM out in the boonies seems to be just music. AM radio stations will start disappearing if cars don’t have AM radios.
A long time friend of mine grew up in a tiny town in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan. He’s also a bit of a loner and he told me that one of the things that kept him sane in his teenage years was being able to listen to WLS, 350 miles away, late at night.
You almost have to be a loner to live in certain parts of the UP – it’s beautiful, but you can go for miles and miles without seeing any signs of civilization. 🙂
It’s great to see a motorhome of this vintage still largely intact. I’ll give in to some wishful thinking here and hope that this Starcraft’s good times aren’t quite over yet.
A minor observation here, but it’s interesting to me that the bumper stickers are oddly unfaded and new-looking. They appear to be mostly from the 1980s – the Alpenfest sticker is dated ’87, and that’s at the same time the “Yes M!ch!gan” slogan came out. I’m guessing the WXOX sticker is from the same era.
I was last in Michigan back in 2016, and camped at Hoffmaster State Park on Lake Michigan. I recall that the week before we arrived, the park hosted a Vintage RV/Trailer gathering. Unfortunately, I missed it, but from what I remember, it was an annual event. Maybe this rig will show up there at some point in the future.
Nice old camper van that has been demoted to trailer status with the drive axles removed, the paint needs a tidy up but other than that its survived quite well.
Ditto on the Mannix, ADAM-12, and Rockford Files DVD complete series compilations (I’ll also toss in ‘Emergency!). Same with the evenings in my room. reading all sorts of car magazines.
This would’ve been the “Whoa! COOL!” RV my neighbors purchased back in the day (*meanwhile-me wishing my cheapskate dad would buy something remotely cool like this).
This one deserves to be saved and preserved.
Oh my, so much here. May I join your club if I promise to mind my own business and not talk? Stretching out on the floor to read car magazines (or maybe a book) is still the perfect way to spend time. Except for the floor part. 🙂
This reminds me of a similar crisis in my life – someone on the edge of my neighborhood was selling a decent but clearly aged Dodge Travco from the early to mid 70s. I loved the idea of owning the worlds largest Dodge van, and being a self-contained traveler. The look I got when I mentioned it at home stopped all such thoughts in their tracks.
I remember the Starcraft name very well, as they were also big in boats at that time. Goshen is up in northern Indiana’s lake country and they were always well represented. I think they were even doing conversion vans until relatively recently (at least I presume that business is dead).
One other thought – given that manufacture date, that thing either spent a loooonnnng time on a dealer lot or generated a nasty case of buyer’s remorse not long after its first owner took delivery.
“Oh my, so much here. May I join your club if I promise to mind my own business and not talk?”
As long as our club stays small, you’re more than welcome. 🙂
Great write up.
It is amazing that what amounts to a big square box still sports a pile of character. With the fiberglass body it surely it within the realm of economical repair and revival.
There was never any doubt in the 60s about the The Big 8, CKLW radio in Windsor.
In the early 60s I used to listen to CKLW after sunset at my family’s cottage on the Bruce Peninsula on Lake Huron. Great memories of Motown.
Loved so many things here. ’73 just seems like such a Seventies year, and this Starcruiser really represents both year and decade. I’m also an introvert / practiced extrovert that loved, really loved, my radio. Great essay and feature.
Thanks, Joe. I had to also become a “practiced extrovert” later in high school, because I realized I wasn’t going to get anywhere not approaching people. Therefore, I have a persona that carries me through a LOT of situations in life, and he can be a lot. 🙂
I was most definitely not a loner, but a wildly extroverted person by nature, but unfortunately was also trapped in my bedroom alone as a tween in complete isolation, with nothing but my subscription to car magazines to keep me company. What I would have given for a phone, which back then weren’t yet cordless landlines, much less mobile/cellular, and there was no way I was getting a wired phone in my bedroom so I could talk in private. No TV either. School was a 20 minute drive away, so there was no way I could walk or bike to visit friends. Not until 10th grade did I go to a normal school that was in walking distance, but I wasn’t allowed to attend weekend social events they had. It took awhile to learn to strike up conversations. I did get a radio in middle school and still love the smorgasbord that was late-70s pop music. My only trip in an RV occurred around then too, a then-almost-new Winnebago that didn’t leak yet.
I can recall that back in the mid ‘60’s I would lie in bed at night in my suburban Baltimore home with my Motorola transistor radio seeing what exotic distant rock stations I could pull in. KDKA in Pittsburgh, CKLW in Toronto, WLS (“the voice of labor”) in Chicago, WOWO in Ft. Wayne and New York’s WABC were favorites. The top Baltimore station at that time was WCAO, which had incredible ratings. Something like 60% of all radios on at that time we’re tuned to 60 on the dial.
Minor nit…wasn’t WCFL (1000 AM) The Voice of Labor in Chicago?
A great rock / top 40 station that I used to listen to at night from my small hometown in southeast Ohio. This would’ve been between approximately 1972 to 1980.
Somewhat recently, there was a recreation on the web called WCFL-Chicago. I haven’t listened to it in a couple of years.
Reminiscent of the one featured in the movie “National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation”.
WLS in Chicago=World’s Largest Store (Sears). It was a better time and place. Went to sleep in Maine listening to WKBW Buffalo and WPTR Albany; AM was great. Delighted to find such kindred spirits here on CC.
“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.”
I hear you, and it isn’t easy to navigate.
Great writeup. Where I would have only seen a very decrepit looking motorhome, you’ve found good stories.
Thanks! It’s nice to know I’m not alone being alone. 🙂
Yep, I don’t go out of my way to isolate myself, but in general—both online and in person—I save my energies and efforts for the exceptional relatively few other people who don’t spoil everything.
Nice find. I don’t remember seeing these when I was a kid (it seemed like a Winnebago was the RV to get) and Starcrafts were mostly boats and tent trailers. Funny, too, how it turned into a discussion among fellow sociable loners. I was (and still am) one of those, and I spent lots of time in my room reading car (and other) magazines along with plenty of books and listening to CKLW out of Windsor. As an adult my musical tastes have changed somewhat but I still have a soft spot for ‘60’s and ‘70’s music and I’m happily married to a fellow loner who shares my musical tastes. Summers were spent at a cottage on Manitoulin, and I was always glad to get CKLW at night, and occasionally WLS. I still enjoy listening to AM at night, though it’s not something I get to indulge much anymore. I hope someone gets that old Starcraft running and driving again – I think it deserves a better fate than sitting forlorn on a side street. Thanks for a good Saturday morning read.
I’m glad that you too found a like-minded spouse. Mine’s a little more social than I am, not too much, but she’s a pretty cool lady. 🙂
***Today’s our 17th anniversary, so a shout out to her. :)***
Congratulations on 17 years ! . I’m on my second and closing in on 30, maybe passed it already) .
The loner thing speaks loudly to me too .
Before you even consider buying this relic open the door and sniff ~ I’m in the greater Los Angeles area and these old worthless motor homes are the choice of the homeless and are more often toxic waste pits inside so BE CAUTIOUS ! .
I’d be wanting to check those rear wheel bearing closely as full loating axles run the bearings in gear oil and it’s all gone from the missing axle .
I wonder of maybe the axle broke and the current owner doesn’t know what axle it is nor where to go to find a spare, why it’s been sitting .
Agreed that this one piece body over a steel frame means it may well be worth the effort .
In the 1960’s whenever I had a radio I listened to the Top 40 that is now mostly all forgotten , I still have some CD’s of Top 40’s along with my mostly prewar Blues and other stuff .
I remember and miss, Rhino Records greatly .
“bong water” – I’d better not say anything =8-^ .
Thank you! Getting married was the best decision I’ve made. 🙂 I’m glad she’s stuck with me for this long!