Winnebago brings back the Brave and its iconic eyebrow
Ah, the 1960s, possibly the most important and crazy decade in American history. Those of us who experienced this decade remember well the counterculture, political unrest, hippies, the drug scene, free love, the peace movement, the war — and the Winnebago eyebrow.
That whimsical structure jutting out over the two-piece windshield became one of the most iconic motorhome design elements of all time. In 1967, the first Brave rolled off the assembly line, sporting an unusual-looking edifice that became known as the Winnebago eyebrow, popularizing the Brave — in its original form — for more than 10 years. This Winnebago trademark was later modified to reflect a less intrusive look until it disappeared from the exterior lines in the mid 1980s.
There are a number of these classic Class A’s still on the road and when someone sees one, it brings back memories of a colorful but turbulent time — and the days when RVs were simple. So touring California’s central coast in Winnebago’s reintroduced 2015 Brave was like taking a tour in a time machine.
How fitting to cruise California’s coastal towns in a retro-looking Brave that sports a Mello Yellow paint job and a Good Vibrations interior, clearly themes that had West Coast beach town beginnings. While technology and current components bring the new Brave to modern levels, Winnebago retained the look and feel so closely to the original that onlookers stopped traffic to tell me what a good job I did on the restoration. Right on, dude!
As a matter of fact, there’s not even a slideout in the model 26A (one of two models), which confuses gawkers into thinking the prototype we had on the road was refurbished rather than a new 2015 motorhome that should be on dealers’ lots this fall. The exterior lines are still simple and only the smooth side walls, one-piece windshield and protruding leveling jacks are giveaways that something’s different.
It didn’t even dawn on me until two days into the preparation stage of the test trip that there was no slide. I simply didn’t miss it. Attribute that to big windows, the cheery off-white with yellow-accented upholstery, unusually open floor space for the size of the coach and unique componentry that converts to serve multiple functions — à la a Transformer toy for grown-ups.
What you see initially is not the complete picture — it gets even better. For example, the front living room is one of the most versatile ever conceived. Across from what appears to be a normal-looking couch (forward of the entry door) is a modified dinette that has a bench on one side and a captain’s chair on the other. The captain’s chair is a great idea. It swivels to face the cockpit chairs, and a round table (stored in the closet) can be set up to increase dining capacity. It’s very comfortable for lounging, watching the TV that’s mounted on the wall adjacent to the entryway, or working on a computer at the table. Others who want to watch TV will have to do some neck craning unless seated on the cockpit chairs. But I got the feeling that this motorhome is made for adventure and family exploration, not hanging around watching the tube.
The couch is a real “sleeper” in more than one way. It offers good
support as a lounger and jackknifes into a 41-by-72-inch bed using common motions. As a bed it’s better than most we’ve slept on, but this one is pretty nifty. Flip the bed up against the wall, lock it in place and push a button and a full-length table rotates into place propelled by an electric motor. Outta sight when you want it to be; ready for additional place settings or craft projects in seconds.
Need more sleeping? Push another button and a platform motors down from the cockpit ceiling and turns into a 38-by-89-inch bed. Access is via a ladder that can be hooked onto the edge of the bed frame. Presto, four kids now have a place to sleep in the front section of the motorhome — and mom and dad can still hang loose at the dinette.
The overhead cabinets above the dinette and couch are really cool. Sliding frosted-glass panels of yesteryear offer exceptional access and there’s plenty of space to store personal items. Décor continues the simplistic theme and the aforementioned large windows have minimal valances that blend in nicely, and are fitted with MCD blackout shades, which class up the place substantially. No black lights in this motorhome, just plenty of LED fixtures to keep the interior bright, if desired, when the shades are down or during nighttime hours.
The galley is the first thing you see when entering the Brave and the gnarly faucet is a real attention-getter. The spring-enhanced high-rise neck can separate for closer work in the double stainless-steel sinks and it’s much more practical than it looks. Counterspace is limited, but a large flip-up extension helps with food prep. While the overall space relegated to the galley seems rather compact, well-placed cabinets and a closet absorb stored items with little complaint. There’s even a cooktop and oven in case the microwave is too modern for those practicing retro livability.
At 6 cubic feet, the refrigerator will likely be full for families, but it’s well-placed below a cubbyhole that can be used to store entertainment components. Sorry, no nostalgia here; the hookups are HDMI only, but it’s really OK to add a Blu-ray player. A deep, multi-shelf cabinet/pantry next to the refrigerator will handle a lot of stuff.
The setup in the back is a corner-bed-adjacent-bathroom arrangement with a number of twists. A sectional mattress allows the bed platform to fold out of the way for additional floor space, which visually and physically opens up the rear area tremendously. The concept is great and the almost-true-queen-size mattress (60 by 77 inches) makes it sized right for two; removing the sheets and blanket every day and remaking the bed to fold it out of the way will likely get old. A sack bedding system is certainly in order here.
While we were stoked about the versatility of the rear sleeping accommodations, getting a good night’s sleep was not easy. Gaps in the mattress were not kind on our backs. We added a padded mattress pad, but it only helped slightly. What’s really neat is the 29-by-72-inch bunk that comes down electrically adding another sleeping location or a place to store bulky items; clothing can be stored in the rear cabinet with the same sliding doors. Well-placed windows ward off any claustrophobia caused by the confined master bed.
Opening a solid door reveals a bathroom that’s bigger than expected. The shower is roomy and closed off by the standard-type curtain, which could benefit from one of those rods that fold out to keep the curtain from attacking our bodies. A smallish stainless oval sink in the lavatory structure does the job and there are no issues using the residential-size plastic toilet. Bathroom cabinet space is not abundant, but suitable for the intended use of the motorhome.
Driving the Brave is as much fun as living in it. The Ford chassis is certainly not retro and the lightweight stature of the motorhome contributes to its spirited get-up-and-go and good road manners. No one will miss the underpinnings of the 1960s, which rode and handled more like a bread truck.
A large windshield and side windows provide a near-panoramic view. Instrumentation and controls are standard Ford chassis fare and are easy to negotiate. What makes the dash hip is the backup monitor/GPS mounted on a specially designed track that allows the screen to slide between the driver and co-pilot. Open the passenger workstation and the co-pilot can stay busy while on the road or when in camp.
While the Brave was one of the tightest prototypes we’ve tested, we had to report a whistling noise while driving at highway speeds and sideview mirrors that were mounted too low. The noise was created by a small gap between the window and edge molding; we covered it with painter’s tape and it silenced the ride. But don’t flip your wig; Winnebago engineers have since fixed the molding and moved the mirrors on production models in response to our findings.
If you’re a retro fan looking for modern appliances and systems and a structure that meets current standards for safety and reliability, the Brave will fit the bill nicely. Construction methods are the same found in any Winnebago, which means the front section will be reinforced with steel and the laminated-wall superstructure will take care of the rest. There’s even a one-piece fiberglass roof.
It’s hard not to fall in love with the Brave. The eyebrow and flying W decal on the sides bring back memories of a decade that had a gigantic impact on the social direction of our country. It also keeps alive the good times everyone had when camping was a lot less complicated. As we sat around the campfire watching the light dance on the side of the Brave, it was evident that Winnebago has reintroduced a motorhome that will keep owners and onlookers smiling and that’s groovy!
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