Home » Ford Once Considered Making A Low-Slung Sporty RV That Doubled As An Office

Ford Once Considered Making A Low-Slung Sporty RV That Doubled As An Office

Spaceage Camp
ADVERTISEMENT

Some of the greatest motorhomes in history have come from companies deciding to think outside of the box. The GMC Motorhome still has a forward-thinking design even decades later and Wanderlodge showed that Blue Bird had more tricks up its sleeve than just school buses. Ford has also flirted with the RV world and one of its ambitious projects was this, the Unitron. While this vehicle never got further than a non-functional model, it showed a possible future where RVs could have been dual-purpose vehicles closer to a van in size.

This wild RV is making the internet rounds right now thanks to a video by YouTube channel Retro Car, but it’s a story that’s been around for a while. It’s always fascinating to see a company outside of the motorhome space attempts to build an RV. Sure, car and truck manufacturers provide donor cutaways and chassis to RV builders, but the two industries are usually separate. The GMC Motorhome is the most famous example of a company usually outside of the RV space experimenting with RVs. Perhaps the wildest example was when Orlando Helicopter Airways teamed up with Winnebago to make the Heli-Home flying RV.

Vidframe Min Top
Vidframe Min Bottom

Ford has thrown its hat into the ring more than once. In the 1970s, Ford joined forces with Starcraft RV to create the American Road, a fiberglass camper with automotive glass designed specifically to attach to the bed of a Ford truck. The Ford Unitron concept dates even further back.

Here’s that video, by the way:

ADVERTISEMENT

Ford Gets Interested In Camping

1960 Ford Unitron Rr 600

 

Camping, like most other forms of recreation, took off in the boom after World War II. Americans wanted to hop in vehicles and explore their nation. Many of those motorists also wanted to sleep on the road during those journeys but didn’t want to stay in hotels or motor hotels. These urges to get outdoors helped the RV industry take off. Why stay at a motel when you could just bring your home on the road?

The late 1950s were a time of explosive growth in the RV industry. It was around this era that Raymond C. Frank coined the term “motorhome” with his own innovative coach. Ford was watching the rapid development of the RV industry and decided to launch some design studies into possible Ford entries.

ADVERTISEMENT

In 1958, Ford took a 1959 Country Squire Station Wagon and turned it into what Ford called a “pushbutton camper” concept. At first glance, this just looked like a wagon with a boat on its roof, but there was more to the concept than that. At the push of a button, a complex motorized system lifted the boat up and out from the vehicle’s roof from a pair of arms.

Pressing another button launched the wagon’s embedded tent, which was cleverly stored under the boat. Now, two people could sleep in the wagon’s roof tent while two more people slept in the wagon itself. Finally, pressing a third button deployed a kitchen out of the trunk. The Country Squire was built to be a fully functional camper, including running water, a water heater, and even a shower that also deployed from the car’s roof.

The Country Squire camper was a brilliant idea, but Ford decided against putting the camper into production. Instead, the functional car was meant to be inspiration for a third-party company to do something similar. Perhaps it’s good that Ford didn’t put the camper into production, because I can’t imagine the maintenance on that deployment system to be anywhere near easy.

ADVERTISEMENT

This wasn’t the only RV concept Ford worked on in the late 1950s.

The Unitron

17039192 1616240338393388 222321

As Mac’s Motor City Garage writes, a Ford executive sent a suggestion down to corporate vice-president of design George W. Walker. This was for another ambitious RV and this time it wasn’t going to be a Country Squire with a weird boat on top.

The idea went to Ford’s Advance Studio, where it would fall into the hands of a fresh face: Dean Beck. The young Beck loved automotive design since he was a kid and wanted to be a car designer. Beck joined the Navy in the 1950s and later enrolled in the Art Center College of Design in Pasadena, California. He graduated in 1959, scoring a job at Ford later that year. Beck started off in Ford’s Design and Engineering department before moving to the Advance Studio in 1960, where he would work with Elwood P. Engel.

17039043 1616241565059932 810783

ADVERTISEMENT

It was early in his career with Ford, but Engel gave Beck a prompt to design an RV for the future, an RV that could transcend markets. Beck, with help from Gale Halderman, nailed the prompt. They first drew up sketches for the vehicle called the Unitron. It’s not known exactly what Unitron was supposed to mean, but reportedly, it’s believed Unitron was Engel’s name for future vehicles.

A sketch for the Unitron seems to suggest that the name “Campero” may have also been in consideration, too.

17157562 1616241195059969 131858

17039167 1616243071726448 173242

The Unitron was intended to be a vehicle sitting in multiple classes. Sketches displayed a camper with a built-in tent, a mobile office, a commercial van, and a pickup truck. Beck saw the Unitron being any of combination of those vehicle types. By late 1960, the design team decided to build a full-size clay model of a dual-purpose RV and mobile office Unitron. Development continued into 1961, when the studio built a fiberglass glider on a car chassis.

ADVERTISEMENT

Reportedly, Beck’s forward control multi-purpose vehicle was intended to be rear-engine, but development never got far enough for the powertrain to be realized. Like the Country Squire camper, Ford didn’t greenlight production.

17016904 1616242661726489 206922

Ford Unitron Design By Dean Beck

 

Perhaps that was for the best. The Unitron’s roof was just 56 inches off of the ground. While that might have been okay for a camper with a deployable tent, that doesn’t sound like something you’d want to use as an office. Still, the Unitron looked far ahead of its time. Change those headlights to LEDs and the Unitron looks like it could be a concept motorhome from today. Beck also went on to put his name on other Ford vehicles, including the 1967 Mercury Cougar and the 1986 Ford Taurus.

ADVERTISEMENT

Sadly, these Ford concepts are just more examples of how the Big Three have flirted with the RV industry and didn’t make it. While Ford did sell the truck camper noted above, neither of these concepts ever left the concept stage. Of course, GMC was more successful, but even the mighty Motorhome didn’t have staying power. Maybe one day the automakers will figure it out.

(All Images: Ford)

Popular Stories

Share on facebook
Facebook
Share on whatsapp
WhatsApp
Share on twitter
Twitter
Share on linkedin
LinkedIn
Share on reddit
Reddit
Subscribe
Notify of
21 Comments
Inline Feedbacks
View all comments
Drh3b
Drh3b
21 days ago

The AMC Pacer was a shrunk down version.

Drh3b
Drh3b
21 days ago
Reply to  Drh3b

A sedan version, of course.

Adam Rice
Adam Rice
23 days ago

I would drive the hell out of something like this.

Mantis Toboggan, MD
Mantis Toboggan, MD
26 days ago

There’s a mystery in this article. The roof height is given as 56″. The clay model in the picture is said to be full sized. If both of those things are true the man standing next to the model must be around 7′ tall. I’m guessing the model is 3/4 scale or it’s a variant with a lower roofline.

Jade Hancock
Jade Hancock
27 days ago

Thanks for this … when it popped in my YT feed I tossed it off to Torch, seems likely I wasn’t the only one that wanted to share in this glorious retrofuture concept. Totally digging the vibe. Great read!

Michael Beranek
Michael Beranek
27 days ago

The idea of a low-slung RV (like the Vixen) with some sort of pop-up when parked is very appealing.

DubblewhopperInDubblejeopardy
DubblewhopperInDubblejeopardy
27 days ago

Man, if money was no object. I would take a mid 70s Country Squire and turn it into the Unitron. And if it was supposed to be rear-engine, a Coyote would be howling back there.
And all that space, 40 speakers and 19 subs blasting Leper Messiah……

Last edited 27 days ago by DubblewhopperInDubblejeopardy
Chronometric
Chronometric
27 days ago

I guess Ford was concerned that the Corvair Greenbrier was going to be a success.

Vee
Vee
28 days ago

This honestly would’ve been perfect for the era. At the time there was a lot of mobile management, as remote management hadn’t yet become a thing due to the advent of fax machines and national courier services like FedEx. Something like this with an actual office inside that was small enough to drive as a regular car and the company could repurpose as needed likely would’ve been a corporate or low fleet sales darling for the decade. Wouldn’t have lasted past 1974 or so, but then again some designs are entirely time sensitive. Instead the 1960s normalized business air travel, and that has created an entirely different monster from the congestion, pollution, urban destruction, and isolation of mass personal vehicle traffic.

Swing_Axle
Swing_Axle
28 days ago

My forebrain says ‘this is a terrible idea,’ and yet my hindbrain is a screeching toddler, yelling, “I WANT IT I WANT IT I WANT IT.”

Professor Chorls
Professor Chorls
28 days ago

I’d daily it.

Dudeoutwest
Dudeoutwest
28 days ago

Strong Deora vibes coming off of that top drawing of the pickup style thing.

Vee
Vee
28 days ago
Reply to  Dudeoutwest

Engel was the one who pioneered the “obelisk” design language that inspired the Deora originally, and would’ve been peers with Harry Bradley as they both submitted things to the same automotive magazines at the time, so that makes sense. Engel also worked in the Mercury division when the similar looking Ford Nucleon was being developed and so would likely have collaborated with Jim Powers, the Nucleon’s original designer.

Jack Trade
Jack Trade
28 days ago

I was kinda hoping for a pic of what Ford envisioned the office configuration would look like – I’m imaging a guy in a suit talking on a phone while smoking a cigarette, a stack of papers and a highball on a modular desk in front of him that features a recessed ashtray.

Last edited 28 days ago by Jack Trade
CRG
CRG
28 days ago

Sometimes you don’t know you need a thing until you see it for the first time. Unitron, I love you.

J.N.
J.N.
28 days ago

We really need some way out designs….things are so boring these days

Space
Space
28 days ago
Reply to  J.N.

There is the Cybertruck

StillNotATony
StillNotATony
28 days ago
Reply to  Space

Yeah, but it’s the ol’ fine line between genius and madness there…

James Carson
James Carson
28 days ago
Reply to  StillNotATony

Fine? Grand Canyonesque, intercontinental.

Last edited 28 days ago by James Carson
Urban Runabout
Urban Runabout
28 days ago

Now that we have brake/steer/navigate/accident avoidance, etc by wire – and skateboard EV powertrains – now is the right time to bring something like this to market as a sleek and efficient people-mover.

Canopysaurus
Canopysaurus
28 days ago

Striking resemblance to the Dodge Deora show car, which came a few years later. I think either design would make a great platform for an EV truck, van, camper, etc. because a lot of the drive train constraints would be eliminated and modern pop up architecture can fit a lot into a small space. Very interesting read, thanks.

21
0
Would love your thoughts, please comment.x
()
x