Classic Ride: It’s a Family Affair
By Ann Eichenmuller
March 30, 2017
Filed under Feature Stories
A tale of two motorhomes, three decades and four generations
We get a lot of things from our families: our grandmother’s eyes, our uncle’s forehead, our father’s adventurous spirit and so on. But for the Elliotts, their inheritance wasn’t limited to just the love of travel — they also got the classic RVs to go with it.
The Elliotts have always been a camping family. Carleton and his wife, Toni, started early in their marriage with a travel trailer, which they then swapped with his parents in 1981 for a 28-foot Winnebago. This was later replaced by a used 1979 Newell purchased specifically to make a three-month trek across the United States with their young children, Tyler and Tara, in 1986. While on the trip Carleton decided to trade that motorhome for yet another Newell, this time a 36-foot 1983 unit that they picked up at the Newell factory in Miami, Oklahoma. At the time, it wasn’t a popular move with his wife.
“We had just bought one motorhome, and now I turned around and got another one. I don’t think she talked to me until we got to New Mexico,” Carleton remembers with a laugh.
Fortunately, that coach proved to have staying power. It became the foundation for 26 years of travel as their brood grew to five children and later stretched to include a bevy of grandchildren. Still, the Newell was not the reigning monarch of the family reunions at Lake Powell; that honor went to Toni’s grandparents’ brand-new 40-foot Prevost. Purchased in 1990 and custom-converted to their specifications, it was the family’s pride and joy.
“I never even thought about owning it myself,” says Carleton. “We never thought Grandpa would part with that motorhome.”
So it came as quite a surprise to Carleton when Grandpa handed him the keys three years ago. At 95, Toni’s grandparents could no longer travel as they once had, and the Prevost had been sitting, unused, for several years. They felt that by giving it to their granddaughter and her husband, they would at least know it was going to a good home. It was an offer Carleton and Toni couldn’t refuse.
It was clear from the start that the Prevost would need some updating. Mechanically, the unit was in excellent condition, with about 100,000 miles on the Detroit Diesel 8V92 500-hp engine and six-speed Allison transmission. Prevost has a well-deserved reputation for building quality bus shells, and this conversion coach was no exception. But the motorhome had seen years of heavy use, and the exterior paint and interior appliances, flooring, cabinetry and furnishings all showed wear. In addition, Grandma had been fond of gold, rose and Victorian frills, resulting in a décor that did not quite fit the Elliotts’ style. They made the decision to undertake a total renovation, a task that took about 18 months. Carleton did most of the work on weeknights in the shop of the family’s California-based business, with the help of his now-adult son and co-owner, Tyler.
“I basically started with the front bumper and ended with the back bumper,” Carleton says of his renovation plan.
That included essentially gutting the interior. The old flooring was removed and replaced with ¾-inch plank wood flooring in the main living area. In the kitchen, all the cabinetry received a new lacquer finish, cabinet fronts were replaced with glass and backlighting was added. Carleton added soapstone countertops, a stainless-steel barn sink and new plumbing fixtures for a more modern look. The old appliances were removed, replaced by a double-door residential counter-depth refrigerator and a convection microwave. Instead of a traditional stovetop, Toni and Carleton chose to optimize counterspace by using two portable induction plates that could be stowed in the drawers instead.
The carpeting in the bedroom was replaced, as were the striped-and- flowered pink wallpaper and the brass bed. The cabinetry was lacquered in contrasting pale gray and cream, and the window treatments updated. Recessed lighting was also added throughout.
The bathroom became one of the highlights of the renovation. The shower walls were covered with 6-by-12-inch black porcelain plank tiles, laid vertically and fitted tightly so that they give the illusion of a seamless, solid surface. The shower seat and floor were both done in river rock, and the old rose-embossed shower door was replaced. A new vanity was added, as was a tiled backsplash. The final result rivals the bathroom in any upscale penthouse.
The main living area includes a sofa and loveseat as well as a dinette, with all of the upholstery done in easy-care dark ultraleather “because we have grandkids in here nonstop,” said Carleton. Woodwork was lacquered to match the kitchen cabinetry, with all of the hardware picked out by Toni. In terms of entertainment, an in-motion satellite dish was added, as were new televisions and sound systems.
One difficulty in undertaking a remake of this magnitude was getting the old furnishings and appliances out and the new ones in. The door simply wasn’t wide enough, so everything had to go in and out through the front windshield. However, the most challenging job of the entire renovation, by far, was updating the front dash.
“I had to take every single gauge off, but I had to leave it wired in because I still had to be able to drive it around. I wrapped each one in a zip-lock bag and kept all the wires separate so nothing got mixed up,” Carleton says.
Tyler remembers coming in the next morning after his father had started on the dashboard.
“I took one look at it and said, ‘What in the world are you doing?’” he laughs.
“I really didn’t know what I was getting into. I started it up every other day just to see if it still worked,” Carleton remembers.
In addition to the interior renovation, the Prevost also got new exterior paint, and Carleton added three new 15,000-Btu roof air conditioners, new brakes, shocks and tires. Thus far, he has been thrilled with the results.
“I really have no unfulfilled dreams so far as this motorhome goes,” he says. He knows that the lack of slideouts and the extra square footage they provide might be considered a detriment to some, but “there’s a lot to be said for nonslideouts when you are driving.” The couple has put about 25,000 miles on the Prevost since the completion of the work in early 2016, including business trips and family vacations.
And what about the Newell that used to park side by side with the Prevost over more than two decades of family camping?
It’s in good hands — son Tyler’s hands, to be exact. He and his wife, Christa, and their toddler were already following in the family tradition, first in a 1977 Winnebago, and later in a 1992 American Eagle. However, when the opportunity came to purchase the motorhome he had traveled in as a child, Tyler jumped at the chance.
Newell is well-known for producing a high-end, high-quality product, and since this coach had been meticulously maintained by his father, it really didn’t need much work. Two of the rooftop air-conditioning units needed replacing, so Tyler installed Coleman-Mach 8 15,000-Btu low-profile units. He did not want to alter the retro feel of the coach, so he kept his changes small: upgrading most of the lighting to LED, replacing the older televisions, and adding a skylight in the kitchen area. Otherwise, the coach still has the original leather upholstery, black Formica kitchen countertops, original LP-gas stovetop, convection oven and Dometic refrigerator. Tyler likes the nautical feel inspired by the interior decor, and right now he says there isn’t much about the Newell he would change except possibly to replace the old Kohler generator with a quieter new Onan for dry camping.
“And, in a perfect world, maybe a Detroit Diesel 8V92 for a little better hill-climbing speed,” he adds with a smile.
Tyler loves the vintage look of the Newell with its rounded aluminum skin and striped paint, noting that the coach tends to garner a lot of attention in campgrounds. The attention doubles when the Newell is accompanied by his parents’ Prevost, and Tyler notes that “it’s fun to the tell the story whenever I get the opportunity.”
As for Toni’s grandparents (Tyler’s great-grandparents), they are now 97, and Tyler says they are thrilled to know that the Prevost retains its spot as the family monarch.
“It is great that it is always there, and that both of these motorhomes are still camping side by side. They may have changed generations, but they are still part of the family,” he said.
And that, more than anything else, is why this 1990 Prevost bus conversion and 1983 Newell are truly classic rides.
No amount of money can purchase the family history these motorhomes share, but both the Newell and the Prevost bus conversion are excellent choices for anyone in the market for a used motorhome. A 36-foot Newell from the early 1980s can be found for between $29,000 and $69,900, depending on condition. A 1990 40-foot Prevost Xl conversion coach is a little harder to come by — in researching this article, more than half of those listed were already sold. The average asking price hovered around a range from $65,000 to $100,000.