A Classy C

Bob Livingston

Bob Livingston, Publisher
October 22, 2012
Filed under MotorHome Blog

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When I got hooked on the RV lifestyle, motorhomes were a novelty. The motorized segment of the industry was experimenting with various configurations, many of which were quite comical when compared to today’s motorhomes. Pickup campers were plentiful, and probably were considered the most common “self-propelled” RVs of that era. Somewhat of a stretch, indeed, since campers were mounted on trucks and not really motorized. But the field was packed with campers that fulfilled the desire to wander without towing a trailer.

Undoubtedly, pickup campers provided enthusiasts with an RV that could go anywhere; most owners of campers were considered adventurous, wandering into places like Mexico and America’s backroads. But there wasn’t a lot of room inside these compact RVs. In 1969, John Dodgen, the founder of Born Free Motorcoach, hung an extra axle in the back of an extended-length pickup camper and although onlookers were scratching their heads at first, the extra space afforded by the larger profile expanded the boundaries of camper livability. Dodgen’s clever design made it possible for pickup trucks of that day to handle the extra weight and bulk. Who knew Dodgen’s unique approach to building RVs would lead to a company that builds one of America’s premier Class C motorhomes?

The Born Free motorhome is a true American icon, as is its founder. Dodgen’s quest to build a rock-solid, high-quality Class C coach never succumbed to passing fads and trends during the last four-plus decades. That philosophy has earned Dodgen’s company a reputation for building one of the best motorhomes on the road. I might even go as far as labeling the Born Free a cult motorhome. It certainly has an active following of loyal owners.

Born Free’s latest iteration, the 29-foot Rear Island Bed, might be considered a coach created out of legacy thinking in today’s slideout-driven market, but that feeling is not universal among all potential owners. While it’s a toss up whether most owners will miss the slideout, I think I could live without it in this coach. Some say building a coach without a slide is behind the times, but Born Free has the experience to best utilize available space. The company has always boasted proven construction techniques, precision craftsmanship and Old-World integrity, which are key elements that put these coaches at the high end of this segment. And it has quietly added slideouts to some models.

Class C’s are an institution in the RV industry. The basic configuration hasn’t changed since its inception: cutaway van chassis, cabover bed (or an entertainment center), van-type cockpit and a driving position that most closely emulates driving passenger cars and pickups. Most floorplans follow templates that allow for rear beds, corner or split baths, center kitchens and front living rooms with a dinette and couch. While slideouts have enhanced floorplan versatility, the quintessential Class C still gives owners a lot of bang for their buck. Throughout the years, Class C’s have been graced with rear party lounges, bunks, gourmet kitchens and comfortable cabover beds, which I believe is the game-changer when it comes to sleeping accommodations for families.

While many people think a Class C is a stepping stone to a Class A — and most media coverage seems to focus on the big Class A’s for their inherent bling — a lot of long-time owners are giving up their ultra-large coaches for the convenience of a mini-motorhome, the original category designation for Class C’s.

My wife, Lynne, and I took our first motorhome trip in a Class C, and that adventure to Oregon and California’s redwoods was certainly as much fun as any trip we have taken in a large Class A.

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