If you’ve ever stepped into a modern Class A coach before you’ve probably realized that you have to climb a few steps to hop inside. Riding high is great for storage solutions, but perhaps not so much if you don’t have the greatest mobility. A builder of mobile and modular homes tried to fix that with the Champion Ultrastar, a luxury coach that rode low to the ground. One of them is for sale, and it features an incredible interior.
This week, a couple of readers sent in some awesome historic buses. I will write about them, but I am waiting on some additional research first. As I wait, I decided to see if I could find any of my own favorite buses for sale. I have an example of GM’s famous RTS, but another dream bus for me is the legendary GM New Look. Every once in a while I find one for sale, but I’ve been coming up dry save for a project bus down south. In my nationwide search for a New Look, I found this, a 1991 Champion Ultrastar.
Houses, Buses, And Campers
If the Champion name sounds familiar, it may be because you’ve seen or known about products that fall under the Champion brand. The company was founded as Champion Home Builders in 1953 and the company got its start by constructing mobile homes. Champion expanded into the RV space in the early 1970s, building travel trailers and motorhomes. The company further expanded its line of campers in the 1980s and they were joined by commercial buses. Champion Home Builders eventually splintered the commercial bus line and the RV line into Champion Motor Coach, which continued to build buses and campers until the mid-1990s. By that point, Champion stopped building RVs and in 1998, Thor Industries acquired the bus division. Thor renamed the bus division to Champion Bus, and today, Champion Bus is a part of Forest River. Though, it was reported that the Champion Bus plant shuttered in 2021.
While Champion no longer builds recreational vehicles and buses, the original company still builds mobile, manufactured, and modular homes. To give you a picture of what Champion builds today, here’s one of its homes:
One thing I’ve found that Champion touted in its brochures is a steel skeleton construction. The company said that with its steel framing, its RVs were sturdy and stable. Champion also says in a number of its brochures that its campers were filled with sprayed-in insulation foam to keep the cold, dirt, and grime outside and comfort inside.
Check out this cutaway illustration talking up the construction of a Champion Class A:
Seemingly less-known from Champion’s camper days is this Ultrastar. After some hours of digging I haven’t come up with a ton about this motorhome, but it seems to have been built to solve a problem. According to a single page archived from Motorhome Magazine‘s review of a 1988 Champion Ultrastar, Champion bucked the day’s trends. Motorhome producers were getting into building larger and taller coaches that featured “basement” storage compartments that hauled around your junk.
Since everyone else was going big with basement models, Champion saw a hole in the market that it could fill. From Motorhome Magazine:
Precisely because so many manufacturers are concentrating on basement models, we felt there was a significant segment of the market that was being overlooked,” says Clare Wentworth, vice president of Champion’s RV division, headquartered in Imlay City, Michigan. “A great many people who buy Class A motorhomes are 55 and older, and a lot of them don’t like the idea of climbing in and out of a basement model or driving a vehicle that has such a high profile. It was our perception that those people were looking for something decidedly different. Thus, the Ultrastar.”
In addition to catering to those who don’t want to climb up into their RV, the Ultrastar was meant to show that RVs didn’t have to drive like a brick trying to cut through the wind. Unfortunately, while Motorhome Magazine reviewed the coach and said that excellent road manners are a primary feature, whoever started the archiving process of the article never finished it.
That said, the Ultrastar sounds like a solid concept. When I talked to RV owners at the 2023 Florida RV SuperShow, a number of them noted that they didn’t like climbing up into massive rolling palaces and driving something that handled like a bus. That’s why the Wingamm Oasi 540.1 was so popular during the show. In theory, the Champion Ultrastar would have been great for these people as they didn’t have to climb a staircase and lengths got as short as about 28 feet.
Champion marketed the Ultrastar as having a “tri-level” concept that allowed the floor to ride low and for the coach to be more aerodynamic but still allowed for underfloor storage. The motorhome was also advertised as having unique styling, a plush luxury interior, and the same steel skeleton structure that I talked about before.
Draped on top of the steel skeleton is a fiberglass body with an aluminum roof. You can see the style on this 1991 Champion Ultrastar that I found for sale. While I could not find published numbers about its aero, it does look pretty low and sleek. The body of this example looks to be in good shape despite being almost 32 years of age.
Many of these were built on a Chevrolet chassis, but some of the later ones like this example have a chassis from Oshkosh Corporation and is powered by a 5.9-liter Cummins straight-six diesel backed by an Allison transmission. It measures in at 33-feet-long and the real treat is inside, where the interior was given a modern makeover.
It’s sort of mind-blowing how good this interior looks and if it weren’t for the dashboard and the exterior shots, this looks like something that could have rolled out of the factory not too long ago.
Whoever carried out the remodel didn’t just throw random household parts together like you’d see in some skoolie builds. The motorhome has a Norcold refrigerator that feeds from electricity or propane, the kitchen has an RV stove, oven, and microwave, and the kitchen itself looks ripped right out of a real motorhome.
The bathroom features a nice sink, an RV toilet, and a decent-sized shower with a waterfall head. I also dig what appears to be a skylight in the bathroom.
In the rear of the camper is the bedroom, which holds a queen bed. Additional goodies come in the form of hydraulic jacks, a Sonos sound system, an air-conditioner that runs on electricity or propane, and an Onan generator. The seller doesn’t mention anything about holding tank sizes, but at least to my eye, this is pretty close to the luxury RVs that I’ve seen for $300,000 or more, but for the low price of $18,500.
Of course, you aren’t getting any slides and the powertrain is definitely dated, but for the price, I’m not going to complain. The seller even notes a neat 360-degree searchlight, a backup camera, and LED fog lights for when you really need to see where you’re headed.
It’s unclear how many of these are out there, but I did find just two for sale right now. The seller of the other one took pictures of old pictures for the listing. Owners of these seem to think that they’re rare, but documentation on these things seems to be very light. Even so, this camper is utilizing a common engine and transmission, so getting those kinds of parts shouldn’t be too difficult. If you’re interested, you could find this rig for $18,500 in Las Vegas, Nevada.
It seems that there isn’t much about the Ultrastar out there. I couldn’t even find solid power figures or all that much about Champion’s RV years at all. If you have some information about Champion or the Ultrastar, drop me a line at email@example.com.
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Mercedes, I promise to become a member when you find and start posting about a GM New Look. I’m close to on the fence now, I love this site and a New-Look series would be perfect
Finally, the perfect RV for getting around downtown Durham, North Carolina.
That needs to be a new series here; “Will It 11’8”? It’s not too far from Jason.
So is the McCandless Mopar collection, I really want to see a Torch Drives of the stretched crewcab D-50.
It’s 12’4″ now, but I like your thinking!
Definately more of my cuppa. I am not surprised people dont like stepping up though many solid foundation houses have 2 to 3 steps up to a porch and front door. Though very surprised noone uses an air ride solution. As a person somewhat experienced in metro busses there is a bus called a Gillig. It is used in public transportation and can be lowered to curb height for straight on wheelchair access then raised for the necessary height for city roads. It can also be aquired with an extra bus body attached. So no second story but an additional room attached with a bendy walk through. Certainly a one of a kind. Now I wouldnt suggest Ma and Pa driving this but a retiring CDL Driver would have no issues.
I’m in the market for another motorhome, but this is too long for us. It is pretty cool though. It kind of reminds me of the RevCon slant nose MHs of the 1980s. RevCons were some of the coolest motorhomes ever built.
Do you remember these : https://i.pinimg.com/564x/7c/6d/85/7c6d85ab42fbb169ca8aaabfe4dd431b.jpg
It has a great vehicle ‘face’ IMO. All ‘RVs are serious business’ expression so it has
The Nova LFS platform could make an interesting conversion for reduced mobility folks. You can even go crazy and try to get one of the articulated ones!
Given the prices you’ve been telling us about, I’m really surprised this thing hasn’t sold! I mean, it presumably runs & drives, the interior looks really good (minus maybe the plastic plant hanging in the shower:WTH?), and the powertrain has known names.
I’m rather glad it’s 2,223 miles from me as I quite like it: close to as much usable space as my current abode, low enough that even *I* wouldn’t try to take it places, and very nice inside. Also, the front is just slightly odd enough to suit me.
For sure, pending hidden concerns, this thing seems like a potential bargain relative to what else we’ve seen around this price range.
Transit bus chassis definitely have potential as motor homes. While fitting holding tanks and storage is a little trickier a lot of these units only travel from campground to campground so they can use smaller tanks. The Car Wizard is currently converting a former airport shuttle and the low floor and center entrance with a wheelchair ramp has real benefits for loading and offers a full sized front passenger seat. An extra bonus is a smoother ride than the more common school bus and a rear mounted Cummins B series
The driver and passenger seatbacks with their arms raised and smiling gently into the accommodation area would give me good vibes on any trip.
“Fuggit, let’s go!”
Oshkosh? Cummins? Allison? Damn, this thing is a serious truck. And that interior coulda been done by one of those dorky twin brothers on HGTV.
I wonder if this particular one has been on the playa for Burning Man. Reportedly, the dust out there wreaks havoc on machinery and is a giant pain to clean up. If the driveline is on the way out from the superfine dust, that could explain the price along with a “It runs and drives!…. for now…”
An Onan generator? Ummmmm, what powers it? And do you store the output in your Orgone Accumulator?
All this talk about RVs, but still no mention of why I shouldn’t just load up a double-wide on the back of a semi-truck and take over 2,000 sqft with me on the road.
Tongue in cheek aside, you can only build so big before you need a CDL. Semi would fall under that, obviously.
Man, if I had the spare scratch, I would totally buy that thing, it looks super nice on the inside and that’s all that counts to me.
As a long time RVer, I got to think that if it hasn’t sold at “only” $18k, there is something really deficient about it. With it being gutted and redone with heavier house grade fixtures and construction, I’m suspecting the weight increased significantly. And now it drives and handles like a water bed.
It looks like you would still have to clamber over the engine doghouse to get in the driver’s or front passenger seat. That doesn’t seem to accessible if a couple steps are already an issue.
I have a 92 Itasca and it is low like this too- you do lose some basement but only one step up makes it nicer- but it also is low to the ground so no off-roading