Identifying the origin of species can be a precarious business, as Darwin found out. When it comes to motor homes, it’s easy: one Ray Frank built himself a crude one in 1958, and called it “motor home”. So that covers the name, but what about the genre? The history of motorized camping vehicles is fascinating, vast, and goes way back to the early years of the automobile. But when it come to picking a starting point for the modern motor home, Ray Frank really does deserve the credit too. His boxy rig turned into the sleek Dodge Motor Home/Travco, and created an industry.
There it is, the sketch that started the whole industry. Looking like something I would have come up during fifth grade Arithmetic class, this one is a bit exaggerated in its length. What I find remarkable is that Frank seems also to have also started the endless tradition of questionable bold graphics on the side of RVs. I didn’t really think it started that far back, and they weren’t so common in the early years, but there it is on that sketch. That stylistic fad went on incredibly long.
Here’s the real thing. Ray Frank built his first one in about 1958 for private use and to test public reaction. A trip to Florida elicited several orders, and he set up a company to make them. He also hooked up with Chrysler to supply the complete chassis and power train.
Chrysler was spreading its wings into leisure activities at this time, having also invested heavily into Chrysler Marine. The motor homes were now branded as Dodges.
The big breakthrough was the change to a fiberglass body in 1963. Molded from two giant halves, the Dodge/Travcos had a distinctive ridge in the middle where they met.
Another competitor in these early motor home days was the superficially similar but otherwise very different Ultra Van (CC here). The Ultra Van utilized super-light aircraft construction, allowing it to be powered by an air-cooled Corvair engine.
The Dodge/Travco sat on what was essentially a Dodge medium truck chassis, and used the “polysphere” 318 CID (5.2 L) V8 backed by the rugged TorqueFlite. The 318 made some 200 hp, and was built with heavy duty components, given the very hard life it led pushing the big, tall and heavy motor home to all the usual scenic locations around the country.
Later versions had the legendary Chrysler RB 413 V8, which is remembered more fondly. It made quite a difference, with its big increase in power. The 440, the final development of that tough engine, powered Travcos in the seventies and eighties.
The Dodge/Travco was a pricey machine, and was not affordable to typical middle-class Americans. The Winnebago, which revolutionized mass-production methods for RVs and dramatically lowered their price, was still a few years off. (Winnebago story here)
Meanwhile, the Travco became a favorite toy for celebrities; Johnny Cash had at least two. It was the equivalent as the luxury giant bus conversions of more recent years.
The Travco was a well built machine, and enjoyed a stellar reputation for ruggedness. This particular example was once the home for a friend of my younger son when his family headed off to Mexico in it for an extended period of time. After sitting here for a couple of years, it’s now gone again. Another adventure?
Eventually, Travco lost its way, trying to both lower production costs as well as diversify. The industry was being dominated by a few giants, and the Travco was one of the so many pioneers in the industry that met its demise. By the eighties, the Travco was history, but not before it had made history. And its timelessly-handsome profile and swept lines are still appreciated by its devoted fans, as well as just being another handsome addition to the street where ever it sits, unless perhaps it’s the wrong kind of folks camping in front of your house. Or certain relatives.
They ran Travcos in a couple of the Cannonball races. I never knew they were so special.
I have a 1965 Dodge Travco that someone broke my back window, Anyone know where i can find another… help
Try “All About Auto Wrecking” in Snohomish Washington. They have about two dozen old motorhomes in their ‘back 40.’ FB has some very active Travco & vintage RV resto sites as well
I have a 1969 TRAVCO I just traded for is there any parts around for these motorhomes like windshield rubbers?
Are you from stockton,ca?
Nice article, especially like the juxtaposition of the Travco & the Ultra Van.
What a coincidence. A guy in my neighborhood owns one of these, a later one from the second half of the 70s, but still called a Dodge. He has painted it, but it is still a bit rough close up. Still, I have always liked the lines on these. I asked my wife if she was interested in a big Dodge wagon, but she said nothing doing when she figured out what I was talking about.
These motor homes were built in my hometown Brown City Michigan. My grandfather worked for Ray Frank from the first test model to its closing in 1978. Your website is great but is missing lots of valuable information, feel free to contact me and I can get you a lot more information.
I have a 1962 ray frank motorhome, could you tell me if any other ones exist. Thanks, peter 773 848 7283
could you please post some pics. would love to see it and many more would too. maybe post them here http://www.facebook.com/groups/358395874142/permalink/10151059705739143/#!/groups/358395874142/
I have been looking but can find no mention of what Dodge truck series the Travco was built on. Do you know? Thanks
Often a M300 chassis . This site has great info http://www.dodgetravcos.com/index.php?p=1_28
Going to go look at this 1963 tomorrow
this link takes me to a website that wants me to download something to my chrome… No Thanks
With excitement I have stumbled upon this article and remarks. I am on a quest to find out about Ray Frank of Brown City, MI because I have purchase a “FRANK” travel trailer that I believe was built sometime between Feb. 1958 and the time the Ray built Motorhomes exclusively. I have been trying to reach people that know about these camper trailers and I saw Andrew Bells reply. Hope Andrew will contact me. Here is a photo of My FRANK.
Do you know anything about the Frank travel trailer / campers? Thanks Terry
Terry, do you have a Frank Travel Trailer? I bought mine in July of 2015 and have been searching ever since to find more info on them. I’m at a dead end. I would love to see pictures of yours.
I just got a 1965 travco to rebuild so im looking for as much info on them as i can any info would be great . any ony one know where I can get wiring and mecanical info would like to up grade my bus to some newer parts like what can i use for stearing pats brakes hubs and get some rims have two that are damage. so any onr that can help me on parts excetra would be a grate help wife wants to use to travel in when i retire in about 4 years. leave message at 19mont.63@gmail .com or 16494701963 thanks BILL
Yes I would LOVE to have more information on Ray Frank and Brown City, Michigan. I have purchased the 62 Dodge motorhome that Peter used to own. Would like to figure out a definite production number. Thanks so much. Casey Crane (865)-705-6064
Mr.bell could u email .e Kobe got tons of questions. Happywett@gmail.com or email@example.com
I am purchasing a 1969 Travco, would love all background info you are willing to share. Thanks
Im also from Brown City and worked at Frank Motor Homes in 1962. Rays son Ron was a friend of mine. I owned a restraunt called the OK Corral when rhey shut down after they sold to Chrysler. They then started Xplorer Motor Homes. Which I also worked for. My wifes Uncle owned the company at the end. Thats why Brown City is called the HOME of the motor home.
I have a 1964 travco. It’s been great fun restoring her and camping with her.
Did you ever find out more information about this camper? As i also just purchased one. Thanks Terry
Terry, I am at a stand still right now. My mom passed away in February and I’m handling her estate. I have exhausted ideas I have and dome tis from others. I have yet been able to get to the tongue area under the storage box to see if there is any type of number there. What info do you have and where did you get your trailer? I live in Michigan. firstname.lastname@example.org.
In 1964 I used to visit the Dodge dealer in Mobile AL just to see this new way to travel. It would be 12 more years before my family bought a used Class C which began a longtime relationship with motorhomes. Loved the Travco.
I have a 1968 Travco 270 on a P375 chassis, that I have been restoring. Modernization and updating everything has been a chore and a half… They are really cool vintages.
I have a 1072 travco for all ornigal in an out very good condition
I have a 1972 travco orginal in an out for sale
Still have the Travco? Pics, info, price? Thanks
I own a 1972 dodge travco 28” mh 413 eng twin roof ac onan gen 70 gal fuel tank complete list of fatory installed ertras 153,000 miles lots of known travel hist always keep under shelter out of fla. sun
1979 she took an adventure from palm coast fla to Alaska and back never a problem one flat tire
I remember seeing these on the roads in Yellowstone from the back seat of my parents’ Rambler American, and being very, very jealous.
These RVs are much better looking than the Winnebago from yesterday’s post. I never see RVs this old out on the streets, even the motorhomeless have newer rigs than this.
There are quite a few dodge travco motorhomes still on the road. There is a owner facebook and yahoo group. Mine is a 1964 and you can see it here: http://Www.myrtleandme.blogspot.com
Thanks for the link Capri. We have a 1975 Travco 270 and just got back home from a great trip to the Mexican Pacific coast. http://www.travcotravels.com
Awesome! Are you on the travco group? https://m.facebook.com/groups/358395874142/
Yes that is where I saw your link.
I think CBS newsman Charles Kuralt and his crew traveled via a Travco for a few of the years of the CBS “On The Road with Charles Kuralt” series.
Anyone remember reading his accounts of motorhome travel? I’m pretty sure that the Travco was deeply flawed from Kuralt’s perspectice, seeing as the tires were too small and blowouts were regular.
Cool motor home. I don’t recognize the taillights on this one, but I recall several makers would use taillights from various cars and blend them in – sometimes more successfully then others. It seems like Ford “jet tube” lights were popular because of their simple round shape.
I have a 1969 270 called Big Daddy & we have been traviling together since 2001, will be in Brown City June 13-15 for Travco get together, who else will be there? Town gives free camping at town park for Travco’s
Please mail me Information on Brown City in June! 7890 W. Third Street
Dayton, Ohio 45417-7542
My E-Mail has been Hacked.
I have a 1972 Travco, Dodge Mahal
There is not another one Like it!
I would love to bring it to Brown City. Thank You
I also have a 1972 28” travco for sale twinn ac and many other factory extras 413 eng . 386-264 1186 cell
I have a ’70 mahal travco for about 20 or so yrs now. went to the big travco meet in kentucky way back (10yrs ago ?) sorry I missed this last one. any more coming up ? dan, upstate new york
looking for a nice travco or gmc motor home
just saw this guy parked in the East Village yesterday. Sorry for the bad photos, don’t have the greatest phone.
I also own a 1972 dodge travco mh for sale 413 cu. eng many factory exxtras call @ 3862641186 any time leave message. make offer
Sweet looking vehicle, the Travco. My favourite years for the Travco are the 1964-74. I’ve not seen one since I was a boy. My dad and I used to visit Darrington Washington for the annual bluegrass festival. While there, we saw lots of motorhomes and travel trailers. My favourite motorhomes were the FMC 2900R, Airstream travel trailers, and I’d see a few Travcos parked here and there, with musicians pickin’ and singing. I’d buy a Travco if I could find one in decent condition, and if I had someone to share the experience with.
Although I’m not impressed with the grille on the Travco in the first photo in the article, the Travco itself is quite handsome.
I have a 1969 Dodge Travco 270. Been traveling the N/E USA & Eastern Canada for the last 14yrs, along with my 68 Datsun & 66 Towd trailer,
I just purchased a ’69 travco that needs totally restored from having loose end wires, to no heat, to the floor and walls ripped out. I’ve been desperately searching for parts and I cant find anything! Can someone help?
Join the Travco forum at http://travcoforum.com/index.php?sid=2b6b1f9ee1a9667a8342b9c30f69195f they have a ton of information on where to find parts and how to fix and restore these wonderful motorhomes.
If you have a Facebook account there’s a Facebook group called Dodge Travco Motorhome Lovers that you can join. Those members are always helpful and they’re from all over the U.S. and Canada too I believe
I got a 3 door 1963 dodge travco can’t find another 3 door travco anywhere is it custom job or was it a option to get from the dealer?
I also have a 3 door 1963 . Just purchased it a few days ago. I am excited to get to work on it.
1969 Travco for sale or trade. Needs total restoration. Best offer..
If your 1969 Dodge TRAVCO is still for sale please send some pictures of the exterior interior and the engine. What model is it?
I’d buy a Travco 270 if I had someone to share in the experience with. I find it to be the most attractive of the old-school motorhomes, with the FMC 2900R and the GMC Motorhomes coming in at a dangerously close 2nd and 3rd. Winnebago, that depends on the model and the year. Some of them I find attractive to look at, while others I find hideous to look at.
Some grilles look great on some vehicles, while others look awful. I’ve seen pictures of the Travco 270 and the grille that came with them look really nice. I don’t know what vehicle the vertical grille came from, but it doesn’t look very attractive on this Travco.
Can anyone tell me the year of this one? Thanks