MotorHome’s 35th Anniversary

It was in 1968 that Trailer Life publisher Art Rouse launched a brand-new
publication devoted to a hot new breed of “vacation vehicle.” MotorHome Life (as
it was called) was an annual buyers guide, but it was the beginning of a journey that has
led to the sleek monthly magazine of today. The commercial production of motorhomes had
begun eight years earlier, when Ray Frank designed and built the Dodge Motor Home in 1959.
Frank is credited with first using the term motor home. (His vehicle, named the Explorer,
was the seed of Frank Industries’ Xplorer Motor Home Division.) Trailer Life ran a
test report on the 26 foot Dodge Motor Home in July 1963. The author noted that the vehicle
was licensed in virtually every state as a “house car,” and hence was governed by the same
road rules and regulations as passenger cars. In September 1964, Trailer Life ran
an article on “The Big and Plush Motor Homes,” which featured 17 vehicles being
manufactured. In the May 1966 issue, a monthly “Camper & Motor Home Section” was added
to the pages of Trailer Life. That coverage continued until the launching of
MotorHome Life two years later. The newest type of RV was growing like Topsy. MotorHome
Life
became a quarterly in its second year, then a bimonthly, and was published nine
times a year until it finally achieved monthly status 20 years ago, so this is actually a
double anniversary. Thank you for helping us salute the longevity of America’s first and
foremost monthly for enthusiasts of motorized RVs. We hope you’ll enjoy this special issue
and will continue to give us the benefit of your input to keep MotorHome on course,
regardless of what the future may hold. A thumbnail review of Motorhome’s
first 35 years
In 1968, MotorHome Life was launched as an annual motorhome buyers
guide on American newsstands. The 88 featured models ranged from 18 to 31 feet, priced from
$8,150 to $19,995. At that time, recreational vehicle was abbreviated RecV, and some Class
C’s were referred to as house cars. In 1969, Neil Armstrong was the first person to set
foot on the moon, and the magazine became a quarterly. Articles on Alaska, Mexico, Russia
and Europe, even continent-hopping caravans, showed people exploring the world by
motorhome. Lucille Ball and Robert Goulet were among the spotlighted celebrities who were
discovering the pleasures of family motorhome travel. 1971MotorHome
Life
(MHL) became a bimonthly, and the annual buyers guide listed 250 models. By then,
recreational vehicles were called RVs and those who used them, RVers. Dodge’s
dual-rear-wheel chopped-van chassis, FMC’s rear-engine coach and GMC’s front-wheeldrive
Class A were introduced. 1973 The first diesel-powered motorhome
(Mercedes-Benz’ Motoroam Monarch) debuted. Oil producing Arabian nations ceased exporting
to the United States, leading to long lines at U.S. gas pumps. Three trailer
manufacturers-Airstream, Holiday Rambler and Silver Streak-announced plans for their first
motorhomes, and shortly after, Ford did also. 1974 In August, President
Richard Nixon resigned under threat of impeachment over the Watergate break-in, and his
successor, President Gerald Ford, granted him a pardon. 1975 MHL
incorporated Camper Coachmen and added coverage of truck campers. When the two
were combined, MHL adopted the other magazine’s volume number, creating a gap in its
chronological age. The United States finally withdrew from Vietnam, and on July 4, 1976,
the nation celebrated its 200th birthday. At about the same time, a standby gas-rationing
plan was proposed. 1977 In January, the magazine progressed to nine issues
a year. An article listed 10 ways to cut energy usage in response to President Jimmy
Carter’s plea to Americans to reduce gasoline consumption by 10 percent. Readers were urged
to sign pledges and buy a $1 decal to tell the world: “We’ve cut our travels 10% and our
gas, water and electricity are turned off at home!” Congressman Barry Goldwater Jr.
delivered RVers’ pledges “to conseRVe energy” to the White House in November.
1978Camper Coachmen was dropped from the magazine title. Spring
issues discussed alternative fuels of the future. William Shatner and Steve Allan were
among the celebrities whose motorhome use was spotlighted. Another energy crunch socked the
country in 1979, and MHL readers were asked: “Would you RV at $1.25 a gallon?” A survey
showed most would. MHL editor Mike Schneider defended motorhomers from the “gas guzzler”
label, and Tech Editor Bill Estes discussed dual-fuel coaches. 1980 MHL
incorporated Van Life & Family Trucking and added coverage of those vehicles.
A roundup of low-profile motorhomes showed how quickly that type had caught on. A third
energy crisis pushed gas prices up to $1.50 a gallon, and MHL evaluated a series of gas
savers. The Oshkosh chassis debuted in a Foretravel motorhome. Mount St. Helens erupted in
May, and Ronald Reagan was elected U.S. President in November. 1981 MHL
told readers how to keep RVing with lead-free gasoline. Van Life & Family
Trucking
was dropped from the title. In April, the world’s first reusable spacecraft,
the Columbia, was launched, and in September, Sandra Day O’Conner was confirmed as the
first female justice of the U.S. Supreme Court. Also, MHL added a monthly consumer-advocacy
column, Hot Line. 1982 As part of a redesign in January, MHL’s name was
streamlined to MotorHome. A year later, the magazine went monthly, and Bill Estes
became editor. Overloaded micro-minis, motorhome timeshares and time-share campgrounds were
examined in various articles. Diesel and gasoline engines were compared.
1984 In the early part of the year, a two-part history of motorhomes,
“Home Is Wherever You Park It,” documented the fact that the modern motorhome dates from
Model-T days. In May, Wes Caughlan took over the Coach & Chassis column, previously
written by Estes. In September, the first-ever towed-vehicle guide featured ratings on 85
cars suitable for towing behind a motorhome. 1985 In this year, topics of
discussion included 102-inchwide motorhomes, portable satellite-TV systems and
computer-powered hydraulic leveling systems. Bill Estes was promoted to associate
publisher, Bob Livingston became editor, and Barbara Leonard became editorial director of
MH (and Trailer Life). Fleetwood Enterprises introduced the innovative Bounder,
the first motorhome with a “basement” storage compartment. 1986 In March,
letters to the editor included one about the difficulty of keeping throw rugs in place (to
protect RV carpeting); the topic drew more mail than any other in MH history. In June, TL
Enterprises, publisher of MotorHome and Trailer Life, was purchased by a New York
holding company. Articles helped readers deal with reduced-lead gasoline after an
EPA-mandated change. Following a two-year investigation, the National Highway Traffic
Safety Administration requested recalls by overloaded-micro-mini manufacturers. A
rear-engine chassis was introduced by Vironex, and diesel engines were used in a few
motorhomes. 1988 Ford’s F-Super Duty chassis entered the RV market. In
December, TL Enterprises was sold to Adams Communications and Rick Rouse, then TL
president. (Adams later changed its name to Affinity Group Inc.) The MH towed-vehicle
guide, introduced in September 1984, was so popular when updated in 1989, it has been
published annually ever since. 1991 MH tested the first production
motorhome with slideouts, Newmar’s 37-foot London Aire. In 1992, shortly after Congress
authorized the National Scenic Byways program, MH began its ongoing series on scenic
byways. Bill Estes was promoted to publisher. MH examined EPA-mandated reformulated
gasoline and what it meant for motorhomers. The Coachmen Royal 38-foot diesel-pusher Class
A, which MH columnist Gaylord Maxwell helped design with input from full-timing readers,
was produced. 1993 Toyota ceased producing its micro-mini chassis, closing
a chapter in the evolution of motorhomes. Congress authorized trial entrance and user fees
in recreation sites administered by certain federal agencies, including the National Park
Service, under the Recreation Fee Demonstration Program. And MH marked its 25th
anniversary. 1994 In his column, Estes called 1994 “the year of the big
mini,” referring to longer (over 26 feet) and wider (100-and 102-inch-wide) motorhomes (96
inches is standard), and the legalization of widebody vehicles gradually being approved,
state by state. MH’s first test of a 45-footer featured the Marathon. 1995
The Recreation Vehicle Industry Association (RVIA) added weight-labeling to requirements
for RV manufacturers, addressing an issue that had plagued the industry for years. TL
Enterprises relocated to Ventura, on the Southern California coast. And the federal 55-mph
speed limit was repealed by Congress. 1996 Affinity Group Inc. (AGI), TL
Enterprises’ parent company, announced the purchase of Ehlert Publishing Group Inc. The
Minnetonka, Minnesota, company produces publications for the snowmobile, all-terrain
vehicle, personal watercraft and archery markets. RV chassis choices (gas and diesel) were
multiplying-the Chevrolet G-Cutaway, Ford 6.8L V-10, Freightliner XC, Navistar 530E and
Safari Magnum Air – as gas prices were going up. On the lighter side, a nudist campground
was named the Best Campground/RV Park in the West by the California Travel Parks
Association. 1997 Campsites on federal lands became more accessible with a
new toll-free reservation line. Anti-lock braking systems began to be installed on some
Class A motorhomes. AGI announced its purchase of Camping World Inc., based in Bowling
Green, Kentucky, the world’s largest RV accessories-and-supplies retailer.
1998 In June, MH observed its 30th anniversary. Ford’s and GM’s heavier RV
chassis, permitting longer gasoline-powered coaches, were featured head-to-head in the
October issue. 1999 President Clinton was acquitted of impeachment
charges. Two new lightweight diesel-pusher chassis (from Spartan and Freightliner) began to
compete with gas-powered units. Fleetwood Enterprises’ annual motorhome sales passed $1
billion, an industry first. The California-based manufacturer introduced the innovative
SmartRoom, which converts a 30-square-foot bedroom into an office or a playroom. Highline
manufacturer Country Coach offered independent front suspension in all of its 2000
model-year coaches. And according to a study, 45 percent of all RVs made in 1999 contained
a slideout. 2000 The first Great North American RV Rally was held in
Gillette, Wyoming, jointly sponsored by TL Enterprises with other affiliates of AGI.
Despite the fact that summertime gas prices rose above $2 in some places, the July event
drew 11,000 people from every state and Canadian province. The RVIA added a cargo
carrying-capacity label requirement on all new RVs. A $50 annual National Park Pass was
introduced. Bridgestone/ Firestone recalled 6.5 million tires after widespread reports of
blowouts, mostly on SUVs. Two new MH departments were introduced: Parks With a
Plus
, spotlighting outstanding private RV facilities, and Quick Tips,
practical ideas submitted by readers. And in December, weeks after the election, George W.
Bush was declared the new U.S. President. 2001 MH articles compared the
cost of motorhoming at $2, $2.50 and $3 a gallon for fuel. Of course, the year’s biggest
news was the terrorists’ September 11 attacks on American soil. 2002 In
his January column, Estes wrote that “you can buy a well-equipped and well-appointed new
motorhome for less than it would have cost a decade ago if inflation is taken into
account.” He mentioned two new compact coaches, Fleetwood’s Nex-Gen and Winnebago’s Vista,
and, at the other extreme, the four-slideout trend in highline coaches. In the aftermath of
the 2001 terrorism attacks, many Americans tried RV vacations for the first time instead of
flying to overseas destinations. 2003 Early in 2003, a Winnebago
Adventurer had a prominent role in a critically acclaimed new movie, About Schmidt. It was
an example of the higher profile currently being enjoyed by RVs in America. And, as we hope
you’ve noticed, MH has had a fresh face-lift, thanks to Art Director Susie Lieu Almazan.
TODAY That takes us up to now. What about the future of motorhomes? No one
knows, of course, but we asked several industry members for their educated guesses. Keep
reading for their exciting predictions. Article by: Sherry McBrideManufacturers share their vision of tomorrow’s motorhome’s Want to make an
RV manufacturer blush? Ask him or her to predict the future, which is precisely what
MotorHome did in preparation for our 35-year anniversary. Since we spend a lot of time
looking back in this issue, we thought a look ahead was in order. How can we expect
motorhomes to change, say, 10 years from now? While manufacturers certainly give careful
thought to the direction the motorized field is taking, few are comfortable commenting on
the subject. Trade secrets and such. It’s rarely good business to tip one’s hand. However,
others realize that predicting the future is a sort of playful folly. Few of us could have
accurately predicted the true extent of how today’s motorhomes would look, drive and dazzle
back in 1993, which makes pontifications about the marketplace circa 2013 such an
irresistible proposition.Fortunately for us, manyof the top names withinthe motorhome
industry decided to take the bait. While most differed in their visions of the upcoming
decade, those polled were nearly unanimous regarding what they felt was the biggest
impacting factor to motorhome design: the baby boomers. For years, the RV industry has
prepped for the coming of the boomers, the post-World War II generation suddenly past
middle-age and awash in disposable income with dreams of early retirement. Estimates put
their numbers at between 70 million and 80 million. Better still, this generation is
believed to be wealthier, more educated and more demanding in terms of wanting quality,
luxury and on-board conveniences than any group in history. Their impact on the motorhomes
themselves, say many we spoke with, will be profound. “We’ve been talking about the effects
of the baby boomers for a long time, and they are a different kind of customer,” says
Tiffin Motor Homes President Bob Tiffin, who sees this affluent generation already changing
the way products are built. “They buy the nicest things they can afford; they were brought
up on that. They’re going to want a more sophisticated unit – diesels mostly – with all the
electronics.” Tiffin believes the 40- to 45-foot bus will be the RV of choice for this
ever-self-indulgent wave of consumers, prompting more and more manufacturers to join the
high-end diesel ranks. Born Free Motorcoach President John Dodgen sees the opposite. The
decade-long resurgence of SUVs, he believes, has fostered a desire within these consumers
for a true 24/7, go-anywhere, do anything vehicle, which should create a stronger climate
for smaller, more luxurious motorhomes in the future. “As the boomer generation reaches
retirement status, 72 million people will enter the marketplace looking for a condo on
wheels that’s easy to drive anvides sleeping, eating and bathroom facilities; yet at a
price not much more than an SUV or a Suburban,” says Dodgen. In either event, can
motorhomes get much bigger? Most agree that vehicle dimensions, whether 10 years from now
or beyond, won’t grow much in terms of size, except when set up with slideouts deployed.
Driving restrictions and legal issues should keep future versions near present-day levels.
“We’re limited to a bubble going down the road, 100 inches wide, 45 feet long and about
12.5 feet tall, so we can’t expand much,” said Tiffin. “But there may be other ways to
expand when you’re stopped.” In the vision of Gulf Stream Coach Vice President of Sales and
Marketing Claude Donati, a second floor might yield – and someday soon – an additional
sleeping area or living space upstairs or in a basement. “You’re probably going to see the
advent of some kind of mechanism that would allow us to raise the unit and create a
basement or a two-story motorhome,” he predicts. “It’s really the only frontier left for
us.” Some manufacturers, such as Airstream, are already marketing deluxe rooftop havens for
entertaining, a design growing in popularity. However, space is still at a premium, with
today’s triple and quadruple slideout rooms sparking a debate over the number of expanding
rooms tomorrow’s motorhomes can accommodate. A slideout within a slideout is a possibility,
says Donati, while others see individual slideouts consolidated into an entire coach-length
version, expanding from axle to axle. Whereas slideouts were unquestionably the biggest
coup for recreational vehicles in the 1990s, many agree on board electronics will dictate
the coming decade. “I think we’re just scratching the surface,” says Bob Tiffin, who
envisions an all-in-one device orchestrating navigation, satellite TV, security, online
functions, coach-wide controls and the like. “We’re currently on the threshold of a
coach-wide computer system.” Even more alluring is the fact that all these functions will
be voice-activated, he says, meaning the days of six remote controls may very well be over.
Country Coach’s vision of the future is equally sophisticated. “Motorcoaches will become
increasingly smarter,” says Jay Howard, executive vice president of Country Coach. “We’ll
access information, perform diagnostics and control functions through verbal command and
quite possibly verbal interaction. Complex electronic systems will become simplified, while
still performing sophisticated tasks.” Recreation Vehicle Industry Association President
David Humphreys credits “the wireless generation” as the motivation behind advanced
gadgetry currently finding its way into motorhomes. Expect this trend to continue at an
even greater rate, Humphreys says, “in response to the needs and desires to stay connected,
conduct business and communicate with friends.” Coachmen RV President Michael Terlep
believes that “wireless technology will be the norm.” Sid Johnson, Jayco’s director of
marketing, says motorhomes will be right on the heels of automotive manufacturing trends in
terms of security, navigation and entertainment. “Motorhomes will become even more home
theaters on wheels than they already are,” says Luc van Herle, product planning manager for
Fleetwood. “Coaches will be loaded with the latest in technology …. LCD and plasma TVs will
change how floorplans look.” As on-board electronics and gadgetry become lighter, cheaper
and more flexible in terms of positioning, says Gulf Stream’s Donati, the savings in terms
of dollars and overall weight enables designers to add more amenities, with even moderately
priced motorhomes benefiting from additional upgrades in the future. “Obviously, the
electronics industry is doing some things that are very helpful to our industry, with
flat-screen TVs, projection TVs and sound systems getting smaller and smaller, that will
really help us in the weight battle that we’re always fighting.” Donati also points to the
recent improvements witnessed in the chassis field, with manufacturers forging higher
weight ratings. Within the past year, Freightliner upped its chassis’ ratings from 31,000
pounds to 32,000 pounds; Workhorse managed to gain another 1,300 pounds from its version.
“If I can save 50 pounds, now I can offer up that 50 pounds as marble or stone countertops
or ceramic tile instead of linoleum,” says Donati. “We’re going to trade weight to go after
a residential feel every time.” Floorplans will continue to change, shift and evolve to
meet the needs of a new breed of buyers. While Joe McDermott, National RV’s sales manager,
believes “residential is the keyword for future interior amenities and styling,” that term
may mean different things to different consumers. Buyers are going high-end, off-road and
up on their roofs. More and more motorhomers are working on the road, with as much concern
with where the computer goes as where they’ll sleep when the workday is done. In fact, the
traditional master sanctuary is becoming expendable, says Fleetwood’s Luc van Herle. The
company calls these “bedroom delete” options, ultimately replaced by offices, hobby rooms
and enhanced storage for the mobile business. But not every change will be purely visible,
with much going on under the hood and in the chassis. The ultimate goal, says McDermott, is
for motorhomes to become “more carlike” in terms of driving ease. “There will be a trend
toward more automotive-like performance in the areas of stability, braking, suspension,
noise levels, etc.,” says Fleetwood’s van Herle. Country Coach credits the movement toward
independent front suspension as the source of “more performance, power and better
handling.” Distinctions between gas and diesel products, at one time a monumental
distinction, will slowly erode, says Jay Howard. “The line between common industry
delineations like ‘gas’ and ‘diesel’ will continue to blur, as diesels become more
affordable and maneuverable and gas units gain horsepower, torque and amenities,” says
McDermott. Alternative fuel is one 20th-century holdout that may yet find resolution in the
years ahead, with those championing the cause for gas-or-diesel-less units actually lasting
beyond the current instability in fuel prices. Is a solar-or-electricpowered motorhome a
viable option? Maybe someday, say some, but most likely not within 10 years. Hydrogen power
might prove to be the most likely solution, says Bob Tiffin, encouraged by government
research. That doesn’t mean we can’t squeeze a few more miles per gallon out of our
motorhomes, says Fleetwood’s van Herle. “Fuel-efficiency issues and cleaner-air issues will
force us to look at lighter-weight technology, a return to shorter coaches, hybrid
technology and front-engine diesels,” says van Herle. “Remember when 34 feet was a long
coach?”

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