What were they smoking? Design a motor home that wastes almost a third of its length on a huge hood, put on a Continental Mark VII front end, and call it Eldorado Starfire? Well, it was the eighties, so who knows just what was being passed around at the EMC headquarters. It certainly was potent.
The result was the most unforgettable motor home; or should I say forgettable? I remember all-too well when I first saw one —as I’m sure was the case with everyone else. It was a shocker. But the shock value was short-lived, as was the Eldorado Starfire, built for only three years. After all these decades, I’d rather forgotten about it until I ran into this one on the street, living out its final days as a curbside home for the unhoused. How long will it be until I can forget it again?
Well, in addition to crack cocaine, the eighties was also the decade of the Space Shuttle. But it didn’t have a borrowed Mk. VII grille. Or a borrowed Cadillac name. How about the Starfire Shuttle?
Japanese bullet trains were widely admired during that decade, when the Japanese could seemingly do no wrong. How about the Shinkansen Starfire? Anything but Eldorado, please.
Here it is in its full 32 foot profile. Without its nose cone, it would be about a 26 footer, the same as the longer of the two GMC motor homes. For a space-efficiency freak like me, this is a travesty of motor home design.
Let’s take a deep breath and take a closer look at that front end. Some websites have said:
The most interesting design cue on the Starfire RV is the front end, which includes the grille, hood, and headlights from a Lincoln MK VII.
The hood is not the hood from a MK VII, for a number of reasons, the most obvious one being that the Mk VII’s hood doesn’t go all the way to the front of the car.
And of course its shape is considerably different in key details.
As to the grille being actually from the Mk VII (lower photo), you be the judge. It appears to be genuine, although it is apparently mounted on a chrome surround that fits the shape of the Eldorado Starfire’s non-authentic hood contours.
The headlights might well be the real things too, although they look a bit slanted to the outside, in relation to the hood’s front edge. But that may just be because the hood lacks the Mark’s curved front end. The result looks like the headlights were pushed back into the body on their outside ends. Not a good look, either.
There’s another aspect of the Eldorado Starfire that is a bit mysterious. There are quite a few web posts about this creature, obviously also having fun with its unfortunate name. But looking at this ad, which seems to be previewing it with a rendering, it says that it has a “one piece Monoframe™”. Yes, that’s a trademark next to it in the ad. Not sure exactly what that means, in actual practice.
The only other reference to it is this Popular Mechanics cover that refers to the “Unibodied Eldorado Starfire”. Sorry, but that’s all I got. I assumed it had a conventional frame—other articles on the web also referred to a Ford 550 chassis. So there’s more mystery beyond the name and shape. And the poorly-fitting hood.
It has a single driven axle and a tag axle for weight distribution.
If I’d known it was supposed to have a “Monoframe™” I would have gotten down and dirty and looked underneath. But then that might not have been such a hot idea in this case.
Looks like a missing window, or is it a retractable one a la Mercury Breezeway?
The “accordion” for what is supposed to indicate a retractable 5 mile bumper—but obviously isn’t—is another curious design choice, front and rear.
Under that long hood resides Ford V8 power; either a 460 gasser with 225 hp and 380 lb.ft of torque, or the 6.9 diesel with 170 hp and 315 lb.ft. Not exactly genuine Starfire power; the space shuttle and bullet train can rest easy.
I think most motorhomes have been designed with the emphasis on “home” while this one gave more attention to the “motor” part. I would guess that aerodynamics and fuel mileage was a primary consideration. That was a waning issue by 1986, but development surely started a few years earlier when fuel prices sent the industry into a dive.
The driver’s door also seems unique in this class. And yes, it would sure be interesting to see how it was constructed.
Wow – what a find!
Evidently, these Starfires did sell reasonably well when they were first introduced (cost was $50-$60,000), but sales quickly plummeted, and it took the whole company with it. ElDorado filed for bankruptcy in 1989.
As for the enlongated hood, it certainly was meant to evoke aircraft… the Starfire was designed by Benn Isaacman, who was an aircraft designer. But there was a semi-functional aspect too – the engine bay contained the RV’s generator way up front, to get it far away from the interior so its noise wouldn’t be perceptible inside (photo below).
Apparently, the interior furnishings of these Starfires also resembled furniture found in Lear jets.
Regarding the name: Is it coincidence that all of ElDorado’s RV models carried car names? (Encore, Prelude, Starfire, Mirada, Firenza)?
And one last detail… I like the fake spare tire hump that compliments the Continental grille!
…and named for decidedly unsuccessful cars at that, Prelude excepted.
Now i see the reason for the loooong hood; they installed the generator set between the radiator and the grille.
I was a dealer back when these were coming up for resale, and we called it “The Anteater,” because of the ridiculously elongated nose.
We liked the slick aircraft interior and the fact that it wasn’t as hunky as most Class A’s, but the tremendous amount of wasted space up front was a deal breaker.
Without looking it up I’m not sure about this coach but maybe another reader can comment on the fact that some motorhomes back then had the Ford F53 chassis, merely a technical point to mention here, but an interesting distinction.
I can see that long hood being a deal-breaker in more ways than one — like maneuverability, for instance. That sloping hood must be impossible to see while driving. If there was ever a vehicle that cried out for Bumper Guides (those poles that stick up from the corners of the bumpers), it’s this one.
Interior shots appear to confirm that the hood was nearly invisible from the driver’s seat. Also, is that tiny CRT screen for a backup camera?
Good question about the possibility of a backup camera. In fact, does anyone know when the first production vehicle (of any sort) got one? Sure would seem like a motorhome would the first but, who knows?
Some of the wheels look a bit like those from a 1966 Toronado (but aren’t).
The driver’s side window is ridiculously small.
This thing is just shaped wrong.
Wow! According to the print ad *every single* one of their model names was stolen from a major car manufacturer, and also current.
Eldorado Starfire – a Caddy and an Olds.
Encore – AMC/Renault
Mirada – Dodge
Prelude – Honda
Firenza – Olds, again
How did they get away with it?
Maybe all the manufacturers gave ’em a pass, as no one would be cross shopping any of that. No confusion there.
Of course that’s never stopped such a lawsuit before….
Because registered car names are limited to…cars, not other things, like RVs, Casinos, motels, etc.
Yeeeeeeeesh! If only Agent J or Agent K would show up with one of their flashy thingies. 😉
I have only ever seen one. A local company made one into a limousine although it does not seem to be part of their current fleet.
First off – I have never seen anything like his before, and it is legit, and not a custom. I also wish to point out that this is not the first vehicle we’ve had here that was crippled by logic. The idea of putting the generator as far removed from the owners to keep the luxurious vehicle quiet is logical. Putting it under a nose longer than a GM Dustbuster van was not.
I want to see Paul put this to work on the next EXBRO trip! Who’s with me! If you could get that high-hooded Tacoma around some of those climbs – you could get that Eldorado Starfire around them too, right? THINK OF THE COMFORT PAUL!
Well they managed to sell one and it has survived despite the horrible looks.
This YouTube video from a few years ago gives a good interior tour of a Starfire:
Well, it looks like the owners of that one followed your advice about the bumper guides. The diplomatic corps American flags are a nice touch. Although I agree with Paul, I think that there was definitely cocaine involved in the design process at EMC. Perhaps Columbian flags would be more appropriate 🙂
The under-hood photo has me thinking once you see that the generator sits ahead of the engine, but isn’t centered. I wonder what counter-balances on the left. I can’t imagine what it would be like trying to steer something like on the road that with an added couple of hundred pounds of weight on one side hanging that far ahead of the front wheels.
Given that the front axle is carrying possibly up to 10,000 lbs, I doubt an additional 500 on one side makes any discernible difference.
Rvs often have a not inconsiderable weight bias to one side or another, depending on optional equipment, how full the various tanks are, etc. It really doesn’t affect steering, from my experience. The same goes for trucks loaded less than evenly side-to-side.
I was thinking that about trucks, although I’d also have guessed that the dynamics of that are different when the weight imbalance isn’t over – or in this case in front of – the steerable wheels.
But I’ll definitely take your word for it. I’ve never driven a big RV, and am quite happy to let that remain the case (not that I wouldn’t ride in one!).
That hideous, pig-like snout makes an ugly vehicle look even uglier.
I remember seeing 4 or 5 of these things at a truck/equipment auction in Southern California in the late 80’s. They looked to be new at the time.
Dad! Is that you? I didn’t recognize you at first cause your a little rough around the edges.
“Looked like a good idea at the time”.
Another one bit the dust.
How would the space shuttle look with a Lincoln grille? Now we know.
Thinking back to when “motor homes” were all over the highways; no recollection of ever seeing one of these.
Mind you, if i saw if i saw it from the back, I’d have never thought anything unusual about it.
All that said; “yuck.”
OW, MY EYES!
Anyone who calls a Chevy Lumina APV or its brethren a “dustbuster” should be forced to look at this.
This is one of the rare instances where the artist’s rendition appears smaller and better proportioned than the actual beast…?
What’s with the little window at the top of the driver’s door? It makes me think of the eyebrow windows on Boeing 737s. But that tracks if the designer came from the aviation industry.
If Mitsuoka designed an RV, this would be it.