The Apollo Sceptre was an extremely high-end, diesel-pusher motorhome that first graced the cover of MotorHome magazine 30 years ago in the April 1982 issue and was received with great fanfare and admiration. The “Test Drive” review raved about the countless new and innovative features and boldly stated, “If there were a motorhome today that would seem at home on the highways of the future, that unit is undoubtedly the Sceptre … a luxurious coach that may still be in vogue when we hit the turn of the 21st century.”
My wife, Cheryl, and I grew up RVing with our respective parents and have enjoyed being RV owners since we first met. We initially discovered the amazing Apollo Sceptre in 2003 while traveling in our first motorhome, a 19-foot, 1970 Starcraft Starcruiser.
We were a few years away from a planned early retirement at the age of 50 from our careers as public servants, mine as both a United States Marine and Los Angeles police officer and Cheryl’s as an elementary school principal from West Covina, Calif. We had just started to seriously look for a motorcoach that would better serve us as full-timers when we spotted a motorhome we’d never seen before. The quality and design jumped out at us as we drove past it at 55 mph down Interstate 5 in Southern California. It was at an RV dealership adjacent to the highway at the famous Traveland USA RV sales complex in Irvine. We weren’t able to stop at the time, but could not get this remarkable motorhome out of our thoughts. We returned a week later to check it out. We had seen other motorhomes that we thought might be “the one,” only to be disappointed upon closer inspection.
Our motorhome buying philosophy is to try to disqualify the unit, rather than qualify it. We had successfully done this with a dozen other motorhomes in our quest for a home on wheels that would suit our new life as full-timers. As hard as we tried, we were unable to uncover any red flags with this extremely well built, one-owner Sceptre. It was in showroom condition inside and out, and it was obvious the coach’s original and only owner was very proud of his motorhome.
You see, to become a Sceptre owner back in the early 1980s you had to custom order it to your specifications, pay between $179,000 and $200,000 and then wait the three months it took to handcraft each unit, which were usually on back order. Sceptres were manufactured in limited production between 1982 and 1984, and the official number of documented units built is only 44. We purchased our 1983 Sceptre in September 2003 for $39,000 and spent the next four years customizing it to suit our taste and preparing it for our rapidly approaching retirements.
Apollo Motor Homes Inc., of Carson, Calif., was one of the first motorhome manufacturers to develop the high-end Class A diesel-pusher motorhome market. The concept was simple, build a Class A diesel-pusher motorcoach that would offer all of the quality, comfort and features of the high-end bus conversions, but that would be easier to drive and maintain. The impressive features and amenities on the 1980s Sceptre still hold their own with today’s mansions on wheels and many others are still not offered today, such as stainless steel bumpers, a full-length stainless steel roof rack and a 21-inch-wide stainless steel ladder.
It’s not possible to list all the features of the Sceptre, but a few others include a 7.5 kilowatt water cooled generator, 22.5-inch Alcoa aluminum wheels, air bag suspension, air brakes, 150-gallon fuel tank, 53-gallon LP-gas tank, and 80-gallon freshwater tank with 40/80-gallon black and gray tanks. Also two furnaces, two roof air conditioners with heat strips, two LP-gas furnaces, six-way power leather driver/passenger seats, leather appointments and custom wood cabinetry throughout the coach. It also features a microwave oven, four-burner stove, gas oven, built-in blender, and stainless steel sinks with all copper plumbing and house quality wiring, switches, faucets and hardware.
However, there were shortcomings in the Sceptre and in other pioneer diesel-pusher motorhomes of the time, such as the Foretravel, Vogue and Allegro, and that was the lack of a powerful enough engine to handle all this new luxury. The only two options available were the Caterpillar 3208, non-turbo with 175 hp and the upgrade Detroit Diesel 8.2-liter turbo 205-hp engine. Neither power plant was up to the challenge of pushing a 35-foot, 22,000-pound motorhome uphill while towing a dinghy vehicle on a hot day.
Apollo, however, resolved this situation on the final four units manufactured in 1984 by switching the chassis from Oshkosh to Gillig with the newly upgraded Cat 3208 turbo 250-hp engine coupled with an Allison MT 643 transmission. Although the original owner of our 1983 Sceptre made do with the underpowered Detroit for 20 years, we opted for a complete powertrain conversion in 2006 with the aforementioned upgraded Cat 3208T and transmission package.
Because we were going from a Detroit to a Cat, we purchased a salvaged motorhome and transplanted the entire drivetrain into our Sceptre to reduce the amount of retrofitting needed for such a major project. Now, we are able to travel anywhere, anytime without fear or hesitation and know our coach will be up to the task.
To celebrate the 30th anniversary of the introduction of the Sceptre, we wanted to highlight the joy and pleasure we receive every day from living and traveling in this classic motorhome and report that the bold predictions made by MotorHome in 1982 were realized and still hold true.
Without exception, we cannot drive anywhere without receiving thumbs-ups, smiles and waves from admirers nationwide. Any time we stop for fuel or pull into a parking lot to restock supplies we receive visitors inquiring as to what year and make is our coach. The common question is, “Is it new or restored?” and the answer is neither, it’s just been lovingly maintained its entire life. At campgrounds, we host countless visitors and often give tours of the interior and the undercarriage to the most enthusiastic guest.
Our Sceptre’s outstanding condition has given inspiration to many other RVers and has energized them to take renewed interest in their new or not-so-new motorhomes. We know what it’s like to own and operate a Sceptre in the 21st century, but we can only imagine what it must have been like to be one of the first Sceptre owners back in the 1980s. You cannot be an introvert and travel in an Apollo Sceptre, and we feel obliged to stop whatever we are doing to entertain any and all inquiries from fellow RVers and other admirers who appreciate our unique motorhome.
Cheryl and I have even taken on the task of tracking down and recording as many Sceptres as we can. We have become somewhat of an authority on Sceptres and receive great pleasure in assisting other Sceptre owners whenever possible.
We have located about two dozen Sceptres and have personally seen about half of those and are on the trail of several more. They have been located as far away as Florida, Canada and Australia and as close as the same RV sales lot in Orange County, Calif., where we found our Sceptre. Our goal is to help preserve as many of the original 44 Sceptres as we can because we feel they are an important part of the RV evolution and are capable of bringing many more years of reliable service and pleasure to their lucky few owners.
If you are a Sceptre owner, want to become a Sceptre owner or just have questions, please feel free to contact us via the Apollo Motorhome Owners Group at http://autos.groups.yahoo.com/group/ApolloMotorhomes or on the Apollo Facebook page.
Should you ever see us at a campground, please stop by and say hello. We would love to introduce you to the wonderful world of the Apollo Sceptre!