There’s that Texas phrase where they say that someone is “big hat, no cattle”; they talk a good game but the fact is they don’t have the goods to back it up. Sadly, it seems like the Autopian staff might be described in a similar way if put it in the context of motorhomes. Our site is well-known for our coverage and expertise on motorized campers but an official, physical Autopian motorhome simply doesn’t yet exist. Believe me, we’ve been looking, and it’s getting tiresome to see the constant parade of weird and wonderful Craigslist and Facebook marketplace examples such as the famous GMC front wheel drive home or even the Corvair powered Ultravans, all of which seem to sell before we can make up our minds or even get out to see the damn things.
The unfortunate fact is many of these machines on offer are in need of more than a few things, and with almost any of these we’re talking at least a $20,000 investment to get anything even remotely close to a workable solution (which wouldn’t be an issue if every one of you reading this site would get a membership or upgrade your entry-level status to something more substantial, but don’t feel guilty). Many of the unique motorhomes we dig (like that pictured Ultravan, listed at $38,000) can rival the cost of a new motorhome when fully finished and roadworthy. In terms of fixing up sad examples, we can say that we’ll “do it ourselves” but pumping out a post every hour takes time, and after work we want to chill our families (just kidding, we want to wrench on our OWN personal rides). We might need another solution.
Often, the answer to something is right under your nose and you don’t realize it; that might be the case here. No, I’m not referring to the Nova Bus RTS that Mercedes Streeter owns and, for whatever reason, doesn’t want to donate to the cause. That’s cool, but it would be a whole lot cooler if she did, since we had a pretty dope ass concept for tricking this thing out as the ultimate Autopian tour bus complete with neon undercarriage lights and a PA system.
There is, however, already a motorhome in the collective Autopian fleet you might have forgetton, or don’t even know about. If you’re a Jason Torchinsky superfan, you might remember that long ago he bought a 1977 Tioga motorhome in Los Angeles while working at a different car website. The purpose of this purchase was apparently to provide comfortable transport for the family from the land of In-N-Out burger across the country to their new home where they give you vinegar-covered barbecue and fried, doughy round things called “hush puppies” (it’s actually good stuff).
The Tioga is a classic “Class C” motorhome, a style of camper that really hasn’t changed much in the ensuing decades. The formula for a “Class C” is a cargo van chassis (in this case a Dodge Tradesman) with the body chopped off aft the front doors and a bespoke cabin stuck onto the frame behind. Jason’s is quite similar if a few years later than the example on the brochure below:
If I were to say “1977 motorhome interior,” what picture would appear in your mind? I already know; take a look at that Harvest Gold goodness below:
Jason’s example completed the nearly coast-to-coast trip, but then like the Bluesmobile (also Chrysler 440 V8 powered) it simply collapsed when its job was done. Jason’s rather scientific explanation about what transpired was that “it just cut out on the road one day.” His solution was to have it towed back to his house, where it has been parked as a guest cottage likely since the Obama administration.
He thinks it “might be a timing chain or something” but it’s rather clear that he just doesn’t know, and the lawn furniture and ivy surrounding it says he’s in no hurry to find out. Still, there was reportedly no giant bang or smoking connecting rods on the ground when it “failed to proceed” as the British say so one would assume that getting an old Mopar up and running again would be a rather simple, or at least it wouldn’t be like getting a long-dormant nuclear sub running or- worse than that- starting up a VW Phaeton or E32 750il. Now, things like brakes and power steering really benefit from sitting outside for a decade, so once the engine is fired up it’s likely that this Dodge motorhome will stop and steer like a 911GT3 immediately. Right. Anyway, here is sits:
Having never been in a snow-and-salt environment the Tioga still looks remarkably clean, the dangling rubber trim channel being the only out-of-sorts thing visible on it. Jason did say that extensive work was done on the plumbing system since apparently bears shit in the woods but automotive writers do not. Paint and chrome appear to be in great condition, and with a power washer, buffer wheel, and interior scrubbing (mold remediation?) it would likely clean up a treat. Mechanically, I’m sure a camper service center would charge thousands to get it going again, but a little elbow grease from somebody who knows what they’re doing would likely get it going in short order (incidentally, a person named S.W. Gossin lives in the same state as Jason, and this motorhome looks like a Pebble Beach winner next to some of the hopeless stuff he’s rescued…just sayin’).
Why has the Autopian staff ignored this thing? Maybe it’s just too “normal”? That’s fair to say, but it’s a not-too-big-not-too-small size, easy to work on, and would have lots of power (440 V8!) if it ran. Do the Autopian staff really want to try to drive through the mountains in an air-cooled underpowered camper that looks like a big bean? What if the Toronado drivetrain gives out on your just-refurbished-$40,000-investment GMC Motorhome in the middle of nowhere?
I do wonder if a stock, vintage home might be a good look with some simple graphics. I mean, it is a classic design with period graphics, in brown naturally:
Yeah, I know that’s a non-starter. You guys want more, something outrageous and unexpected, and I’ll give it to you for a minimal investment.
Vinyl wrapping (combined with those one-way graphics on the windows you see on buses) can give us pretty much whatever we want on the seemingly acres of canvas the Tioga gives us. We need some inspiration, and as a GenXer I have to use appropriate cultural touchstones from my formative years. For example, we’ll start with a Stephen J. Cannell classic:
In 2022, a crack team of writers escaped the New York interwebs to the Los Angeles interwebs and started a new site. Today, they survive as champions of the underdog car. If you have a car subject nobody else cares about, and if you can find them, maybe you can contribute to… “
The beauty of the pre-1979 Dodge van is the flat, rectangular grille that could fit other noses rather easily, such as a 1971 Charger front end with covered lights.
We could even add matching ’71 Charger bumper and taillights in back. Note also the electric dumb waiter- do you really expect us lazy asses to lift lawn chairs, beer and burgers to our rooftop deck? Of course not. As George Peppard said, I love it when a plan comes together.
Lastly, let’s represent the Golden Era of sports car racing with the Gulf livery on our Tioga. As luck would have it, the famous made-for-NASCAR-homologation nose of a 1969 Dodge Charger Daytona is about the same width as the van, and there’s one for sale on ebay right now. I mean, that would have to improve gas mileage by a good twenty percent or so, too, right? I’ve also added a makeshift spoiler below to direct airflow up to the slot below the nose for cooling, and recesses for driving lights.
We can work with the inside later, with options ranging from just cleaning up or reupholstering seats all the way up to making some of the ideas for the RTS bus like VW Beetle taillight chandeliers a reality (Jason CAN weld, you know). Up front, I can see maybe adding digital gauges or a touch screen infotainment system with Carplay to bring up Jason’s navigation directions or favorite tunes from William Shatner’s The Transformed Man album. With an initial purchase price of zero dollars, that will leave a lot of money for modifications.
[Editor’s Note: The problem is that the RV is on the wrong coast, and 2500 miles divided by 9 MPG times $3.50 a gallon is… actually, that’s only a grand. Maybe this IS the move?! -DT].
So what’s the verdict? Does the endless search continue, trying to get what we think we want instead of wanting what we already have? Please, dear readers, tell us what you think!