I reckon I was a tortoise in a previous life, such is my love for taking my home with me on adventures. It’s one reason that I love yachts, and a big part of the reason that I spend an inordinate amount of time under canvas in the “summer”, being pelted with hail and at risk of being blown clean into the sea. Paradise.
Truth is I quite fancy a motor home, but the kind I can afford closely resemble a damp panel van with padded shelves to sleep on. It’s certainly a far cry from the gin palaces that roam North American freeways, in loose processions between Niagara Falls and the Grand Canyon, often with somebody of a certain age at the helm.
So after last week’s Alfa Romeo 90, now for something completely different. It’s the 1979 Coachmen RV lineup. Welcome back to The Carchive.
Clickety the piccetys for enbiggenry
“The 1979 Coachmen Motor home is everything you asked for, and more”
No kidding. The Coachmen range was far from the top of the RV tree in ’79, it was kind of the Camry of Class A campers. And there’s nothing wrong with that. Hell, these things trundled around with furnishings and equipment that could embarrass a modest urban apartment – truly all the trappings of a (comparatively inexpensive) home with four wheels and an engine.
Compare it to the typical Transit-with-a-sofabed that UK holidaymakers aspired to at the time, and North Americans would be hard pressed to believe that actual humans would put up with existing in such cramped, convenience free conditions – let alone while on vacation. A 6 cu-ft refrigerator and a four-burner range were more than some English country homes could muster. 23-31′ lengths were available, and even the entry-level was termed VIP.
“Everything you need for complete travel comfort. Marine toilet, lavatory, medicine chest and tub or shower. Water systems feature 12v demand pumps, 6-gallon fast recovery hot water heater and freeze resistant polybutylene plumbing lines”.
When you think about it, an RV has a pretty simple job to do. A chassis, an engine and a void full of furniture. Perhaps this is why this ’79 machine looks more or less interchangeable with RVs a decade newer. It’s the same with buses, or at least used to be – the MCI MC5 looked broadly the same in ’65 as the MC12 did in the ’90s. Compare the difference in cars during the same period.
Engine choices were GM or Dodge – 454 or 440, gasoline V8. In late ’70s North America, where petrol and urine had roughly the same fiscal value (and octane rating), the resultant single-figure fuel economy was just about bearable. In the UK, hiring a private jet would probably have a similar cost per mile traveled.
Marvellous, though, how the interior of the brand new, press photo-ready RV in the brochure somehow looks like it’s carrying 38 years of family wear and tear. The images somehow exude the aroma of wet dog, long-spilt milk and the lasting legacy of that period before smoking was bad for you.
Staggeringly, and I mean, staggeringly, this brochure was actually issued in the UK. The dealer was located in London: Brixton, to be exact, in a location that Google Maps suggests is now occupied by a low-rise apartment building with a supermarket on the ground floor. Of course, South West London would have been fairly handy for those capital-dwellers deep-pocketed enough to afford such a leisure leviathan in the late ’70s, and the relatively manageable real estate values in SW2 at the time would have allowed a dealership big enough to accommodate a few demonstration models.
I struggle to recall seeing one on the road, though. There are a fair few big American RVs haunting more salubrious Chiltern campsites today, but none seem more than a few years old – anything older is likely a personal import. Second hand examples seem to plummet in desirability, too, and reach a stage where an owner can afford to buy one but not run or maintain it – and the next stage is a long period of neglect and decline, before somebody eventually buys it as a V8 engine donor.
Speaking of which… Dodge 440. Hmm. Couldn’t be too hard to put a Hellcat in.
(All (blurry) images are of original manufacturer publicity material, photographed by me. Copyright remains property of Coachmen, who are still a well-regarded maker of RVs and travel trailers, and whose website holds some quite laughably Photoshopped images.)