Over the years that I’ve been writing about campers, I’ve often said that if a factory-built RV doesn’t really get you excited, look at something custom. The world of custom campers is magical and includes a little bit of everything from transit buses to airport catering trucks and all points in between. If you’re a fan of classic trucks, an eBay auction might be of interest to you. The selling dealership says this 1957 Ford F-100 Panel was converted by a Ford engineer. Accommodations are small, but awesome in this stylish rust-free classic!
This F-100 Panel is said to be set up like a Class B camper. Today, a Class B rig nets you something like a Ford Transit kitted out as a camper or a Ram ProMaster built as the same. If you want something a bit quirky, perhaps you could pick up a Volkswagen EuroVan MV Weekender. According to RV historian Al Hesselbart, prototypes of every class of motorhome could trace their roots to designs built in the first two decades of the 1900s. However, Hesselbart argues that the first claim to a Class B was made in 1968 when Raymond C. Frank, the man who coined the term “motorhome,” created the Xplorer. That camper was based on a Dodge van, so you could say that Class Bs have been based on vans from the start. Of course, don’t forget classic Volkswagen campers!
Trucks also hold an important part in RV history. They’ve served as the platform for all kinds of slide-in campers, camper tops, and full motorhomes. This 1957 Ford F-100 Panel oozes style and even though it was converted into an RV roughly 50 years ago, it looks similar to the campers you can buy today.
As Hemmings writes, the third generation of the Ford F-Series was a transitional one. Earlier light truck designs featured elegant curved bodywork, rounded cabs, running boards, and just a splash of chrome here and there. Trucks very much reflected the era they were built. Though, unlike today’s big rig-inspired pickups, those trucks didn’t appear as if the engine bay was housing a coal-fired power plant and said power was trying to escape.
For some, the 1957 launch of the third-generation F-Series marked the beginning of the change from the rounded trucks of the past to the muscular trucks of the modern era. Indeed, the then-new 1957 F-Series featured a clamshell hood that ran the width of the truck, topping off the sculpted fenders. The cab became squared off but also introduced a forward-canted A-pillar, a design trait that would become popular at Ford. Even your box choices were very square, though you could still get a Flareside box if you wanted to.
As Hemmings continues, the big ticket change for the third generation was with the truck’s styling. Ford also boasted a stronger cab thanks to the usage of thicker 18-gauge steel. The truck’s frame was also beefed up thanks to some frame gussets. Mechanically, the highlight of the third-generation F-Series was the factory four-wheel-drive, which came in 1959. Otherwise, third-gen F-Series powertrains received better seals, upgraded cooling, and the 292 cubic inch V8 reportedly got a new rotor-type oil pump which provided stronger oil pressure. That engine also got revised combustion chambers with relocated spark plugs. Apparently, this helped the engine run better when fueled with lower grades of gas.
Owners were treated to such luxuries as windshield wipers, hubcaps, a rearview mirror, a horn, a spare tire kit, and a single sun visor. You had to get your F-100 in Custom guise if you wanted a second sun visor, sound insulation, a headliner, armrests, a dome light, and a better seat. Options included an in-dash transistor radio, a lighter, a windshield defroster, chrome, and more.
The third-generation F-Series was also the last generation to have a Panel variant, which offered a truck with a covered cargo area. The brochure for the 1957 F-100 Panel stated that buyers got the same standard features as the regular truck, but Custom buyers got heavy masonite lining in the cargo bay. Ford also advertised new foam rubber-covered seat springs, said to be more resilient while still offering ride comfort. The optional seat in the Custom was also of a three-tone woven plastic. So, these trucks got some features, but they were still very much work vehicles.
The dealership, D & L Auto Sales of Wayland, Michigan, says this truck started life as a panel truck and worked in Texas. Then in the early 1970s, a Ford engineer by the name of Frank purchased the F-100 Panel and converted it into a camper. Frank got a Westfalia pop-top, plopped it down onto the roof, and then built out a custom interior. The camper was then taken around North America from down south into Mexico and as far north as Alaska. Frank reportedly used the truck to tow his race truck and he actually used it to camp all over.
Sadly, Frank passed, leaving behind this truck. D & L Auto Sales picked the truck up from the person who obtained the truck from Frank’s estate. The camper sat for long enough that it needed a restoration. Frank also didn’t update his build, so the truck had 1970s equipment inside that was worn out and no longer worked. That restoration project is now complete and thus D & L is sending the camper, now named Copperhead, off to a new home so it can continue bringing someone smiles.
The shop says the goal was to preserve as much as possible while also modernizing the camper a bit for modern use. Outside, the truck was painted copper and given white accents. The cab has new carpet and the seats come from a 1960s Ford Thunderbird. That driver seat is noted to be a power seat. The dealer states that the air-conditioning is functional, as is the truck’s cruise control. Frank added extra gauges and those are said to be in working order as well. Those gauges include a clock, an altimeter, a thermometer, and a compass.
On the sides of the panel truck body, you’ll find storage compartments. The selling dealer says those were added by Frank and were used to carry extra parts for long journeys through remote areas. Other goodies seen on the outside of the truck are a storage space for a large propane tank, a plug for shore power, and another air-conditioner for the living space. Under the hood, you’ll find space for two batteries, a generator, and a gas can.
Inside, the dealership says the camper originally had a very 1970s wood panel vibe. When restoring the camper, the dealership decided to go with a steampunk theme:
The RV amenities include a jackknife couch that folds down into a 6’3″ long by 3’6″ wide bed. It has a new, removable porta potty, new built-in black AC window unit, 2-burner propane stove top, 12V 110V Mini fridge kitchen and/or bath sink with 12v water pump, 16-gallon water tank, and grey water tank. There are a few drawers and a lot of storage under the bed, as well as an old suitcase that can be used as a bourbon bar, or whatever your drink of choice is. Then there is the pop top! This was originally a VW Westfalia Camper Van pop top that was retrofitted onto Copperhead. While there is no sleeping area up there like a VW would have, it makes it so you can stand up anywhere in the back of the unit. The top works great, and has new rubber seals. The canvas is usable but has some zippers that don’t work. There are both 110V light and a 12V 2-way light over the sink that are original, as well as a 12V light in the cab area. There is also a new blue LED light strip for setting a mood.
When we got this unit we liked the layout, engineering, and amenities that Frank did, we just thought it needed some updating. We decided to go with an ‘Industrial’ or ‘Steam Punk’ type of theme, with a lot of repurposed vintage items, and think it came out great. This unit was Totally Bruced Up! (Bruce did the interior) basically, nothing inside was left untouched, starting with all new flooring. We got rid of the 70’s carpeting and opted for vinyl plank wood flooring in the back and new carpeting in the cab. Bruce then kicked in with the clear coated rusty galvanized metal, copper countertop, all-black appliances, vintage water valve for the drawer handles, industrial-looking water tank level indicator, gears and machinery wallpaper border, black galvanized pipe for the sink faucet. Under the couch is covered with the same decor and the end access doors are repurposed from vintage commercial sewing machine pedals.
The bed has recovered cushions and the wood was replaced and can now be pulled off for spare tire access. So along with the 2 top access doors and the end industrial doors, this space is way more usable than it was originally. Now, about that ‘bedroom’. When the couch is down in the bed position it exposes the drinker’s side wall has all-new wood that has been painted in grey, blue, and purple tones. On the top is a mountain scene that is lit up with a strip of blue LEDs. Bruce’s thought behind this is for a calming effect for nighttime sleep, and to have a contrast from the industrial look all in the same space. Overall a very nice vibe!
In addition to the fresh paint and revamped interior, the dealer’s restoration included upgrades to the truck’s platform. The truck originally came with manual steering and drum brakes on all four corners. Now it has power steering and a power front disc brake conversion. Other upgrades come in the form of a new radiator with electric fans. Meanwhile, the engine and ignition have been gone through.
Powering this majestic camper is a 289 cubic inch V8. Now, the third-generation F-Series did not have a 289 V8 as an engine option. The dealer says this engine was added by Frank and likely came from a late 1960s Ford Torino or Mustang. If so, it could be making around 200 HP.
Overall, it looks like the dealership did a bang-up job in keeping an awesome camper alive. I especially love how Frank’s ideas, from the electrical system to the neat compartments, the pop-top, and the hidden generator, all look like they were professionally done. I’m saddened only by the fact that we don’t get any ‘before’ pictures. The updated interior won’t be for everyone, but at the very least, you can’t call it boring! This is the kind of camper that will turn heads wherever you go. I know a camper like this would grab my attention.
The dealership says that its goal with the build was not to make a perfect restoration, but a modernized version of Frank’s original build. Some of the truck’s existing patina, from imperfections in the body to the stickers from Frank’s travels, were left behind. The idea was to make a camper that could be used today, but isn’t so nice that you’d buy it, stuff it away into a collection, and never drive it ever again. It’s just too cool to sit around doing nothing.
If you think you’re the person to take this camper on more journeys, D & L is auctioning the camper off on eBay. As of writing, bidding is at $12,200 with the reserve not met and a bit over six days to go.
(Images: D & L Auto Sales, unless otherwise noted.)
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