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Dodge Motorhome History
Dodge campers and motor homes with 1970 details
by David Zatz, based on materials provided by J.P. Joans
There was a time when Chrysler Corporation was a full-line outfit, represented in nearly every type of vehicle. They built tanks, rockets, buses, heavy and medium duty trucks, and most popular types of cars. One of the products dropped after the gas crises of the 1970s was the camper line. Like the buses, these were based on Dodge chassis with upfitters handling the cabins. Unlike the buses, campers continued to be made on a smaller scale through to the present, based on the Ram chassis.
mytravco.com (whose history is abstracted here) noted that nationwide sales of “house cars” began with the Frank Motor Home, a venture of both Dodge Division and Ray Frank’s existing company (started in 1953, with the creation of a motor home on a Dodge Truck chassis); made of wood and aluminum, the motor home was sold in 20 foot, 23 foot, and 26 foot lengths, priced from $6,500 to $7,300, then a fairly sizable amount but still far less than most current offerings relative to the average car.
The involvement of Dodge engineers grew over time, and the Frank motor home was renamed “Dodge motor home” in 1962, complete with Dodge badging on the exterior; the chassis itself had been re-engineered for motor home use and was not merely a stretched truck chassis. A new, streamlined prototype, with a steel frame and molded fiberglass body, was built in 1962, and reached production by 1963; it sold for under $11,000, fully equipped, and included a sewage incinerator. The engine was a 200 gross-horsepower 318 V8, coupled with a pushbutton automatic transmission (for two years; after 1964 a conventional shifter was used.) The Travco motor homes were considered to be very well made, and while the lack of sway bars and the undersized engine were problems, it was a strong seller.
The Frank family sold their new company (with Dodge’s help) in 1965, due to the financial strain of developing the fiberglass body - which would become the standard for motor homes - and the new owners, Peter Fink and Ken Robertson, renamed it to Travco, partly to avoid conflicts with other body manufacturers using the new Dodge chassis. (Thanks, Tim Massey). This plan worked well, as Dodge chassis were used by numerous motor home makers through the 1970s. Frank himself created a new, smaller motor home, the Xplorer 21, to fit in a standard seven foot garage and to be more aerodynamic; the Xplorer was a runaway success.
Chrylser had to leave the motor home business in 1979, to focus on their core businesses in a time of bankruptcy avoidance. Travco, meanwhile, had made numerous questionable decisions from 1973 onwards, and the company was eventually sold to competitor Foretravel at public auction.
In 1970 (based on materials published in late 1969), Dodge offered numerous options for upfitters. The Sportsman based conversions were the most popular form of motor homes due to their low cost; various leading independent manufacturers converted the Dodge vans to campers which would feed and sleep up to five people, yet double as a second car. The Sportsman A100 interior included a range, icebox or refrigerator, sink, water tank, canvas bunks, and dinette table and seats that converted to a double bed. Standard engine was the 198 slant six, with an optional 225 slant six or 318.
Once the B-vans appeared, a new Class C van-cab chassis was added between the chassis-mount motor homes and full-size class A campers. “Mr. Establishment” wrote that a popular setup for these through the early 1980s was the 440 engine with Thermoquad carburetor, Load-Flite automatic, and 4.10 Dana 70 axle. Eralov wrote that Class C motor homes were produced before the B-vans — he owns a 1967 A-series Class C made by Lazy Daze Motorhomes.
The D100 pickups, available in Sweptline and Utiline models, had bodies ranging from a simple cargo cover of canvas or aluminum to stationary or collapsible slide-ons. Maximum payload with 1,400 rear springs and G78-15-D tires was 1,500 pounds. The D200 pickups were the most popular slide-on camper size due to their heavier capacity; they could take up to a 10.5 foot, cabover camper, and with special equipment, could handle a payload of 3,100 pounds. (A W200 pickup option was available with four wheel drive, and a maximum payload of 3,100 pounds; options on this included automatic transmission, front locking hubs, and a front winch with manual transmission.)
The D300 could also carry six passengers with four doors in the cab, taking the same length cabover unit but, when ordered appropriately could handle a payload of 3,295 pounds. Most slide-on interiors had a dinette, kitchen, water, and electric systems, and could sleep five or more people.
The D300 Chassis-Mount system had a three-man cab and provided more room than the largest slide-on campers; they were sent to a body builder for permanent mounting of the camper body, and, with the 159 inch wheelbase, could take a camper 12 to 14 feet long. A special equipment package with 165 inch wheelbase could go up to 16 feet long. These interiors had more floor space, sometimes had a pass-through to the cab, and generally had a side entrance; they also came with kitchens and dinettes.
Pickup models generally came with a 225 slant six as standard equipment, with an optional 318 or 383 (258 horsepower). The standard interior had vinyl covered seats, keyed to the exterior colors, though beige or black could always be ordered, and blue and green were available with several exterior colors. The custom interior included three-tone upholstery in vinyl and nylon with full-foam seat cushions and foam back pads, extra sound insulation, color-keyed trim, foamcore headliner, and molded, bright door moldings. The Adventurer was designed to be "comparable to that of a fine passenger car" with custom features plus color keyed carpet, full foam seat cushions, wood-grain appliques, cigar lighter, and bright door sill plates. Bucket seats were available on conventional cabs, with a center console.
Full-fledged motor homes were also available, using chassis built by Dodge specially designed for motor homes, in wheelbases of 104, 125, 137, 159, and 178 inches. Standard features included power steering, power brakes, LoadFlite three-speed automatic, and a 318 V8 engine (the 413, but not the 383, was optional). Most motor homes had a complete kitchen, often with a double stainless steel sink, a converting dinette, and sometimes a permanent bedroom; most had a shower and optional air conditioning and generator. The motor home chassis included special springs and shock absorbers, front and rear, heavy duty axles, and a rugged carbon-steel frame with deep, heavy-gauge straight side rails reinforced at stress points. Dual rear wheels were standard.
For most of the 1970s, the 440 was de rigeur for full-sized motor homes, complete with the 727 automatic transmission. As one might expect, the 440 in a motor home provided not muscle-car performance, but acceleration more like a slant-six powered Valiant.
Motor home chassis had a standard 3,800 pound front axle (the 178 inch wheelbase had a 4,000 pound axle), with a 7,500 pound capacity rear axle (10,000 on 178” wheelbase); the standard engine was the 318 putting out 212 gross horsepower, but the 413 was also available. Brakes were a dual-system with power assist (single system on 178” wheelbase). A Garrison link-type power steering system was used; the alternator was rated at 50 amps. The gas tank was 25 gallons, outboard right on all but the longest wheelbase, which had a 35 gallon rear-mount tank. Wheels were 7.00 wide by 16 inches diameter, except the 178 inch wheelbase, which has 7.5 x 17 wheels - with dual rear wheels. Equipment supplied by most body builers included heavy duty wipers, two exterior mirrors and one interior mirror, safety glass on all windows, rear wheel mud-flaps, backup lights, clearance and highay lights, 12 volt and 110 volt lighting systems, right and left sun visors, heater and defroster, refrigerator, gas furnace, gas range, water heater, and disposal tank, with optional air conditioning, stereo players and televisions, and other comforts.
The standard transmission with six cylinder A100, D100, and D200 (except crew cab) was the A250 three speed manual; with the V8, the A230 three speed manual (which was also standard on W200). The D300 included the New Process NP435 wide-spaced four-speed manual; the NP445 close-spaced four-speed manual was optional in all but A100 and motor homes. The three-speed LoadFlite automatic transmission was optional across the board (standard on motor homes).
Standard on Sweptlines with the camper package was an easy-off tailgate for dual-use pickups — which had a slide-on camper that was removed for everyday work. Every truck got a standard 25-gallon gas tank (23 gallons in California). D100 and D200 had cushioned-beam suspension system for a smoother, quieter ride and easier steering thanks to a front stabilizer bar. The camper wiring harness, included in camper packages, included plugs for interior lights and equipment, turn and stop lamps, backup lights, clearance, identification, tail, and license lamps; it was shipped in the glove-box.
Options included a 23 gallon auxiliary gas tank, with a toggle switch to control gas gauge readings and a valve under the bed to actually move from one tank to the other; exterior camper compartments to provide cargo space; air conditioning with instrument panel loutlets; power steering and brakes; and AM radio.
Nick Dalzell had a 1973 Dodge Escapade, 440 powered, with a body by Escapade Motor Homes in California and a custom interior from SkylineRV. He noted that the Escapade was a smaller, budget model, on an 18-foot chassis, sleeping four people in two beds, with a rear bed that converted to a dinette. A single-piece shower/toilet was standard; a radiant propane fired Coleman heater, stove, and three-way refrigerator were standard, along with provisions for a single optional A/C outlet. Options in his unit included dual air conditioning, a generator, and the 24 foot chassis with a separate dinette. A similar motor home made by Champion corresponded to a well-optioned Escapade. Construction was mainly of lightweight plywood with rubber coverings. The gas crisis and reliability problems with the body and appliances finished off the Escapade after the 1976 model-year.