Museumside Classic: The Homebuilt FWD RV – An Old Spartan Trailer Mated With A Chevy Tilt Cab And Toronado Drive Train

(first posted 10/1/2011)    Once upon a long time ago, when men didn’t spend all their spare time on the web, facebook, yoga classes or sharing household chores, they had the time and energy to think big; really big. On very manly ideas: building a ferro-cement sailboat or trimaran in the driveway with which to cruise to Tahiti and other exotic ports were all-too common. Never mind how many actually were finished or ever made it to salt water.

Another popular undertaking was the homebuilt RV; repeated articles in Popular Mechanix made it sound so straight-forward, and factory built RVs then were mostly unaffordable to the typical one-wage family. How hard can it be? Just find a wrecked donor-mobile, and use those skills you acquired when you built that addition to the house. If you were manly enough, and had a supportive enough wife to not just put up with it, but even pitch in with the upholstery, the result might well be like this one, and even end up in front of a museum.

I’m already struggling with self-recrimination for not stopping to shoot the many Curbside Classics I saw from the window of our RV on our recent trip, including a whole storage lot of nothing but Firebirds, and another one full of forties and fifties iron that looked like they were dragged from the CC Graveyard. We had lots of ground to cover, and if I’d stopped for them all, we wouldn’t be home yet. Idaho is famous for more than potatoes. But how could I not stop at the America’s Miracle Museum in Polson, Montana, when this was sitting out front, not to mention a few other gems we’ll take a look at soon. And it was well worth the time, even if it had just been this “hybrid” home-built RV.

The first thing that caught my eye was the ’68 Pontiac grille, of course. Where the extensions to it came from, I’ll leave to you. But there was something very familiar about the shape of the windshield and the whole rest of the front end, even if it had been widened with that plug of glass in the middle.

Yes, here it is, right down to the (widened) vent in the middle. The Chevrolet (and GMC) steel tilt cab.

Once I got past the front end, it was also clear that this one is clearly pretty ambitious, as I’ve shot one or two others in more modest scale. It was almost instantly obvious from the general configuration that this rig had front wheel drive, and two trailing axles. A quick glance under the back confirmed that: two identical ones, that might just be from a Toronado or Eldorado. Anybody out there familiar with them?

Given the ’68 vintage Pontiac grille, I assumed that an early wrecked Toronado or Eldorado had given its front end and drive train for this. Since I normally keep the flash off in my camera, this shot won’t be of much help. But it was clear to me that the front subframe of one of those GM fwd pioneers was at work here. As well as an incredibly wide bias-ply 15″ tire (not from the car). Forgot about those.

A glance into the cockpit makes it clear: unless I’m wrong, that looks like a Caddy steering wheel. Looks like a lumber 2×4 is showing where wifey’s upholstery job is coming off. And who can tell us the source of that driver’s side “door” panel. That wasn’t home-built.

Here’s shot of the interior. Very 1968 decor indeed. And very well done, for home-built.

But there’s something wrong with the rear end. Well, not the eclectic styling touches and that “continental” spare. It’s the general rounded shape; that is so not 1968. I’m pretty sure this rig is actually built out of an old forties’ house trailer. In fact, that rear end looks almost familiar, but sorry; I’m not going to spend half an hour googling to find the make. Update: It’s a Spartan trailer.

But it’s hard to argue with the logic of it; in fact this whole rig is really very similar to one I have spent way too many hours MMing on: a vintage Airstream trailer self-propelled with a Toronado nose, or a rear engine, like the UltraVan. I’m sure there’s one or more out there somewhere.

Well, the homemade RV era is pretty much over. Used ones are so cheap, why bother? But that used Winnebago will never have tail lights like this. Isn’t that reason enough to head to the junk yard?

Let’s give tribute to Polly and Marshal Sanders, who created this hybrid. I hope they had many happy trips in it. Fitting too, that it ended up at America’s Miracle Museum too. I suspect that the home-built RV era was one mostly unique to the North American continent. Think Big, while you can.