Vintage RVs are apart of 20th century American history as much as the car, baseball, and other modern nostalgic developments. These early vintage motorhomes and travel trailers have character and an artistry no longer seen in today’s coaches. They can connect us to the best parts of our personal family histories.
Almost everyone living the RV lifestyle has the RV Hall of Fame on their bucket list. On display, you can see vintage RVs from the 1920s through today. Each display has influenced what we’re driving or towing now.
Like cars, there are opportunities to own vintage travel trailers and motorhomes. You don’t have to settle for looking at them at a museum; you can own one for yourself. Some manufacturers have even brought their styles back to life.
There are many benefits to owning a vintage RV. We’ll explore the popular models that are still on the road today. Our discussion will delve into what RV manufacturers have done recently to bring these retro-styles back.
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Before we continue, for clarification, we’ll spend a moment defining the word “vintage” and “retro.” In the RV world, any coach built before 1980 is considered a vintage unit. After that time, technologies changed to the point where we saw a big leap forward in materials and construction methodologies.
We will use the word “retro” to signify vintage styling. The recent upsurge in RV makers adding products that look vintage in their shells and color patterns look great, but they have a lot of contemporary building materials and amenities. While they have the retro look, they are completely modern.
Benefits of Owning a Vintage RV
Owning a vintage RV can be a great experience if you know what you’re doing. Depending on the condition, bringing these coaches back to life can take a lot of work and money. There are clubs and forums you can seek out to weigh your options.
Many of these vintage coaches have low prices. Depending on their condition, restoration costs can be manageable when you do the work yourself. If you need help, you can bring your friends or find experts to help.
There are some companies out there that restore vintage RVs for you. Cooperative Motor Work, Inc in Orlando, FL is a great example. They specialize in revitalizing classic motorhomes into their original beauty or adding some extra flavor to appeal to exotic tastes.
Popular Vintage RVs Still Sought After
There are many vintage RVs that are still active on the road today. There are also scrap bone yards across the country with hidden gems waiting to be found. Here are some popular coaches people restore and camp in.
Over 75% of Airstream trailers are still on the road today. Their aerodynamic aluminum shells, torsion axles, and handcrafted construction make them built to last. A significant amount of these travel trailers have been kept up by their owners.
The real gems to look for are the discontinued Torpedo, Silver Cloud, and Clipper. These were original models from the 1930s that the founder Wally Byum designed himself. The Torpedo was sold as a kit model, so finding original plywood models are extremely rare.
Shasta has its origins in Los Angeles, California in the 1940s. They started as a contractor for the United States Armed Forces providing mobile housing for our troops. In the 1950s and 1960s, their “toasters-on-wheels” travel trailers were one of the most recognized RVs on the road.
The original brand was bought by Coachmen in the 1970s, and production ran until 2004. The compact models were between 13- 15 feet in length and built from the 1950s to the 1980s. Shasta would go on to build other models that were longer, but the Compact is the treasure.
One company, called Canned Ham Campers, tracks down Shasta Compact frames and builds custom retro-styled trailers from them. The owner wanted to build a personal retro trailer for himself but was approached by a someone who offered him a deal he couldn’t pass up. As he kept building, his trailers became highly reputable and in demand.
The Aristocrat travel trailer was manufactured from 1956 to 1974. This angular front-end coach was advertised as the RV that would fit in your garage due to its optional low profile wheelbase. To class it up, these Lo-Liners came with optional metal wheel hubcaps to class them up.
The founder, Irving (Perch) Perlitch, had 10 different models at the peak of his business. The Lo-Liner was popular in the United States, but many others would sell in Canada. The Lo-Liner was generally 15 feet in length, around 1,800 pounds unloaded vehicle weight (UVW), and featured electronic brakes.
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The Kenskill Teardrop travel trailers became the benchmark in which all teardrops are designed from. The company produced its products from 1946 until the 1970s. They expanded into full travel trailers in their tenure, one of which was featured in the movies.
The peak of their business happened during the mid-1950s, which is known as the “canned-ham” era. This term is used to denote how travel trailers resembled the shape of processed ham containers. Kenskill models stretched from 10- 24 feet in length among the various models.
From 1973- 1978, GMC built a front-wheel-drive motorhome nicknamed the “submarine.” The engine used the Oldsmobile V-8 Tornado and the motorcoach was built within the chassis. Its ultimate demise was due to GM not seeing a future in the RV industry.
GM has been in and out of the RV industry. In the 1980s and 1990s, they had a Class A chassis. In today’s market, some class B makers are using their Chevrolet and GMC van platforms.
For anyone who travels in a motorhome, you have to thank the “Father of Motorhomes,” Ray Frank. His motorized house car would coin the term, motorhome, and became known as the Dodge Travco. The early models came in either 21 or 27 feet in length.
His son, Ron, would later add fiberglass caps to the front and back to give a better shape to the RV. Originally, you could buy them at RV and car dealerships. If you can find one now, grab it with both hands.
Modern RV manufacturers have gone into their archives to dust off their early blueprints. For those consumers that love the retro-style, but want the modern conveniences, these builders recreated popular RVs from the past. Some were produced for a limited production year, while others are still selling strong.
The Winnebago Brave
A great example of this was when Winnebago reintroduced the Brave. From 2014- 2016, this short class A motorhome had the architecture and exterior design of its 1966-1980 ancestor. There’s no mistaking this motorhome with its signature front “brow” unique to the Brave.
It’s ancestor that debut was in 1966 was built on a Dodge chassis, now sits on the Ford F53 chassis and is powered by the Triton V10 engine. The motorhome came two-toned with color options like Mellow Yellow, Crimson-N-Clover, Woodstock, Aquarius, Bell Bottom Blue, and Tobacco Road. Winnebago offered it in its luxury sister brand Itasca as the Tribute.
In 2015, Shasta produced 1,941 trailers that resembled their 1961 travel trailers. The production amount was specific to the year they opened for business. The original Airflyte measured 17 feet and had a dry weight of 2,180 pounds. The modern versions are 16 or 19 feet long and are light enough for a mid-sized SUV to give those signature silver wings cruising time.
The RV comes with its trademark Z separating the two-tone coloring. Color options include a Polo White base with either a Matador Red, Seafoam Green, or Butternut Yellow trim. Even though they are no longer in production, you can still find them for sale through the country.
Best Retro-Styled RVs Currently On The Market
For those of you who like the retro style, but want the latest that the industry has to offer, these are the RVs in the 2020 line-up. These manufacturers have kept the retro feeling alive with their products. When you pull in to the campground, be prepared to be the “belle of the ball.”
1. Gulf Stream Vintage Cruiser
Gulf Stream’s Vintage Cruiser gives you the best of the 1950s look with 2020s features. There are 12 floorplans with four interior design color palettes you can choose from that highlight that era:
- Crimson & cream
- Teal & cream
- Yellow and knotty pine
- Crimson and knotty pine
The exteriors come in white with matching colored trim, or you can choose the appropriately named “woodie” with the wood trim look.
The versatility of floorplans appeals to many different audiences. They can be family-friendly, or comfortable for couples. They stretch between 20-26.1 feet and range from 2,500- 4,500 UVW.
2. Dub Box
The Dub Box is reminiscent of the VW bus. If you’re into that 1960s or 1970s groove, this is the RV for you. This fiberglass shelled travel trailer has a pop-up roof that adds enough headspace to stand. Since they are so lightweight, almost any standard car or bigger will have no problem towing it.
They come in two different lengths. One of them can be used as a toy hauler. Amenities like plumbing and electricity can be added or left out based on your preferences. With weights under 2,300 pounds UVW and prices under $28,000, these retro RVs can make your adventures
3. Happier Camper HC1
Another super ultra-lightweight travel trailer with a retro appeal is the HC1 by Happier Camper. With its Adaptiv component storage system, you can change the layout by stacking, removing, or reconfiguring the storage bins however, you need them. This cutting edge technology takes place in a nostalgic fiberglass shell reminiscent of a VW bus.
It has a shell length of 10 feet and a dry weight of 1,100 pounds. Since 2015, most passenger cars have been able to tow this five sleeper trailer. Some of the removable cubes are kitchenettes, lavatories, coolers, and other essentials. The HC1 with its starting package has a starting price of $24,950.
4. Riverside White Water Retro
Riverside’s Retro series stretches across many different categories. Its junior models are teardrops that start at 13.8 feet long with a 1,023 UVW. They continue into full travel trailers that are based on their White Water series. There are even two toy haulers where one is 27.4 feet long and 4,220 pounds UVW.
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Its retro styling is based on the 1950s diner-type look. The exterior has a two-tone white and traditional crimson, teal, or other bright colors from the era. The interior walls are clean wood paneling with the two-toned exterior colors used as the covers for the furniture.
Just because it looks like a 1950s RV, doesn’t mean you have to live like that. There are plenty of modern features. State of the art audio and video entertainment is there for you. Contemporary kitchen appliances and other creature comforts of today’s world make this coach a retro glampers paradise.
Charles Joseph is one of the original authors of Camper Smarts from when it first started.
Product data was last updated on 2023-06-03 at 17:52.