Home » Ford Made A Fiberglass Truck Camper That Was Way Ahead Of Its Time, Then It Was Killed By The Oil Crisis

Ford Made A Fiberglass Truck Camper That Was Way Ahead Of Its Time, Then It Was Killed By The Oil Crisis

1975 Ford Fiberglass Ts
ADVERTISEMENT

Camper ownership has some disadvantages that perhaps aren’t talked about enough. Towing a trailer, hauling a truck camper, or driving a motorhome can be a white-knuckle experience in high winds. If your choice of camper is of the truck slide-in variety, choosing the wrong unit can damage your truck or cause an unsafe driving condition. And that’s not even talking about one day having to battle water leaks. Back in the 1970s, Ford decided to partner up with Starcraft RV to solve the problems it saw with truck campers. The result was the American Road truck camper, a design ahead of its time with automotive glass, a one-piece fiberglass body, aerodynamic shape, and strategically-placed tanks designed to fit Ford trucks. Then, the Oil Crisis killed it.

If you look at the truck camper marketplace of today, it’s not hard to find a design meant to battle crosswinds while standing the test of time. You can buy truck campers made out of fiberglass, truck campers made out of aluminum, and truck campers built to be banged up off-road. Sadly, not all truck campers are like that. Many units past and present are more than capable of falling apart just like a traditional travel trailer is. A search for “truck camper leaking” will give you a number of depressing results.

Vidframe Min Top
Vidframe Min Bottom

Ford and Starcraft’s unit sought to eliminate those quality worries while at the same time providing an improved hauling experience. The brands even thought of the people who would be inside the camper, too. One of these has come up for sale on Bring a Trailer with a matching 1975 F-350 Ranger Super Camper Special, so here’s your chance to own a rare purpose-built truck slide-in.

1975 Ford F 350 1000041734 82712
Bring a Trailer Seller

Starcraft RV

Ford’s partner for this groovy camper, Starcraft RV, didn’t even have roots in making campers. Starcraft was founded in 1903 by Arthur Schrock as Star Tank Co. in Goshen, Indiana. The company’s first products were tanks for feeding and water tanks for livestock. Star Tank kept with these products until 1915, when it decided to get into creating boating products. Star Tank’s first boat was a rowboat, and in that same year, the company changed its name to Star Tank & Boat Co.

S L1600 (57)
eBay Seller

By the 1920s, Star Tank & Boat Co. was building fishing boats out of galvanized steel. Star Tank aluminum boats would come after World War II, followed by fiberglass boats in the mid-1950s. It’s noted that Star Tank was an early innovator in aluminum boats at the time.

ADVERTISEMENT

Star Tank & Boat became a camper manufacturer when, in 1964, it launched a line of three pop-up tent campers. What made the Star Tank campers special was the fact that they utilized a crank-based lifter mechanism patented by employee Lloyd J. Bontrager, who would later start Jayco. Star Tank’s early trailers featured hard roofs, pull-out beds, an aluminum screen door, and more. The campers were pretty novel for their day as the common tent trailer back then had soft tops.

107 Bg About Header
Starcraft RV

Those tops were also opened by deploying beds. Bontrager’s crank mechanism allowed for a hard roof that telescoped upward. It’s a technology that worked so well that tent campers of today still use the same basic concept. Bontrager wasn’t the first to come up with a telescoping roof, but his idea did appear to help popularize the type of tent camper.

Somewhere along the way, Bontrager began running Star Tank’s operations. The company changed its name to Starcraft Corp. in 1966 before Bontrager left in 1967. A year later, Bontrager’s name would show up in the RV industry again with the founding of Jayco. In a cruel twist, Jayco would end up purchasing Starcraft in 1991.

American Road

Access 1974 Ford Recreation Vehicles Brochure Ar 96 212010 13224 1
Ford

The collaboration between Starcraft and Ford happened after the 1966 passing of the former’s founder, Arthur Schrock. After his death, Starcraft was sold to Bangor Punta, a conglomerate of other companies. Bangor Punta was known for its ownership of a variety of companies from Smith & Wesson to Piper Aircraft and Ranger Yachts. Under Bangor Punta’s ownership, Schrock’s son, Harold, ran Starcraft.

As Truck Camper Magazine writes, Ford began a collaboration with Starcraft’s RV division in 1973. The pair would create a truck slide-in camper that stood above the rest. Ford and Starcraft started with the body. Recognizing that many truck campers were built with wood framing and weren’t particularly aerodynamic, the American Road’s shell would be made out of a single piece of fiberglass. This would eliminate a bunch of sources of water leaks while providing a strong structure. The American Road was rounded out for aerodynamics and automotive glass was used for additional durability.

ADVERTISEMENT
Img1069 181378
Ford via Troxel’s Auto Literature

More good ideas happened under the skin, as Ford and Starcraft placed storage compartments down low. The camper’s 27-gallon fresh tank, 23-gallon grey tank, and 10-gallon waste tank were all placed under the floor. This helped ensure a lower center of gravity. Baffles were added to the tank so the truck hauling the camper didn’t experience a push thanks to shifting fluids. Another touted benefit of the camper’s plumbing system was the ability to clear all the lines either by gravity or via a pump, which would have made storing the camper a bit easier.

Inside, Ford and Starcraft attempted to make a home away from home. The floor was covered in carpets while the cabinetry and countertops were supposed to resemble what you may have in your own kitchen. Ford’s advertising boasted the fact that the over-cab bed had a bubble over it, allowing an average adult to sit up without banging their head.

Camperspec
Ford

Despite the good interior design, it’s notable that the American Road didn’t come with most amenities stock. The bathroom was an option, as were a 12v/110v/LPG refrigerator, jacks, sound system, hot water heater, toilet, air-conditioner, and furnace. I have not been able to find any MSRP data for these campers, but one saved dealership listing suggests a price of $4,760, or $34,308 today.

What is reported is that the American Road truck campers were priced toward the top of the truck camper market. That’s a lot of money, but the trick was that if you bought a Ford F-350 Super Camper Special, you could buy one of these from a California or Great Lakes Ford dealer and plop it right down onto your truck. The American Road was built to be hauled by that truck, so you didn’t have to worry about if it was going to fit properly or screw up the balance.

Screenshot (742)
Popular Science

A review of the American Road camper appeared in a June 1973 issue of Popular Science, where Herbert Shuldiner commented that Ford and Starcraft’s camper handled better than other campers he piloted. Shuldiner also complimented the camper’s performance in wind and in corners, saying that most of the time, the truck could go 80 mph without issues. The exception was a stretch in Tucson that was so violent that Shuldiner had to slow down to about 45 to 50 mph. Shuldiner noted 75.2 to 79 inches of headroom, and 36.5 inches of space above the over-cab bed. Also noted in the review is the fact that the camper had two inches of foam insulation in the walls and a second floor separated from the main floor by six inches, allowing all-season operation.

ADVERTISEMENT

The 11-foot, 8-inch camper weighed about 3,000 pounds, which fell well within the Ford F-350 Super Camper Special’s 4,675-pound payload.

Img1068 181377
Ford via Troxel’s Auto Literature

While the camper was not light, it seemed that Ford, through Starcraft, built an advanced camper for its day. Certainly, they were built well enough that you can still find them for sale today, 50 years later. Unfortunately, the American Road was a case of horrible timing, as the 1973 Oil Crisis made owning something like this a bit uncouth. While Ford planning on sales well into the future, even creating a 1975 brochure, production ended in 1974 after less than 1,000 units were built. That made the American Road a rare camper even back then, let alone today.

This American Road Plus Matching F-350

This groovy package is offered for auction on Bring a Trailer. Let’s start with the truck. Under the camper is a 1975 Ford F-350 Ranger Super Camper Special.

1975 Ford F 350 1000041633 85002
Bring a Trailer Seller

Ford says the Super Camper Special was designed to carry 11 to 12 foot camper shells in its bed. The automaker says that Super Camper Special trucks have new stabilizer bars, a 140-inch wheelbase, a heavy-duty frame, a 9,500-pound GVWR, and a spare tire located to the side of the bed. All of these are supposed to make hauling a camper less painful. Other upgrades include extra transmission cooling, a built in camper wiring harness, and a 70 Ah battery, and a 55 Amp alternator.

1975 Ford F 350 1000042045 78235
Bring a Trailer Seller

Inside, you get seating and a dashboard matching the exterior’s shade of green. The listing states that a radio and air-conditioning are present, though the latter does not work. Power comes from a 390 cubic inch V8, which sends power through a three-speed automatic to a Dana 70 rear axle with 4.10:1 gearing.

ADVERTISEMENT

Of course, this truck isn’t complete without its American Road camper unit.

1975 Ford F 350 1000041413 23628
Bring a Trailer Seller
1975 Ford F 350 1000041287 07867
Bring a Trailer Seller

The camper appears to be a time capsule back to the 1970s with its dark wood paneling and blue countertops. Thankfully, this model is a high-end American Road with a bathroom and refrigerator, but no air conditioner. The fiberglass shell itself appears to be in decent shape, but the camper has seen better days. There’s a piece of steel covering damage to the camper’s roof vent, and the few seals the camper does have look to be in horrible shape.

I’m not surprised, then, to read that some wood in the camper is rotting. The linoleum floors are damaged and curtains are torn as well. The floors and the curtains are an easy fix, but that wood and the dead roof seals will need to be parts you’ll have to repair eventually.

1975 Ford F 350 1000041612 85379
Bring a Trailer Seller

If you want this rare combination, the Bring a Trailer auction is at $7,000 with two days to go. Given the rougher condition of both truck and camper, I don’t expect these to go for a pile of cash.

If you do buy and repair the American Road, you’ll have a rare and durable camper that should last you many more years. Fiberglass campers are not maintenance-free, but it should require less work to keep one alive. It’s admirable that after 50 years, the damage to his one isn’t that bad. That’s a testament to how good fiberglass campers can be.

ADVERTISEMENT
Image24

Share on facebook
Facebook
Share on whatsapp
WhatsApp
Share on twitter
Twitter
Share on linkedin
LinkedIn
Share on reddit
Reddit
Subscribe
Notify of
35 Comments
Inline Feedbacks
View all comments
Eric Smith
Eric Smith
3 months ago

Sold for $14,500. I’d have to think hard about saying no to someone if they offered it to me at that price. Well, I hope its new owner gets the thing water-tight and fixed up. Looks like it has potential to be a pretty nifty vacation RV. Looks like the new owner signed up just to bid on this one, so maybe he got the tip off from Mercedes, and in that case here’s to hoping bovey59 will invite her for a tour when finished 🙂

Last edited 3 months ago by Eric Smith
Gilbert Wham
Gilbert Wham
3 months ago

It is so very 70’s-tastically green and brown, and I want to live in it down by the river so very very much.

Last edited 3 months ago by Gilbert Wham
Rust Buckets
Rust Buckets
3 months ago

Can I just point out the 4,675lb payload with a 9500lb GVWR? Meaning the whole big block, automatic, one ton, all iron American fullsize pickup weighed 4,800lb, or less than most half tons nowadays, and they need aluminum bodies and v6s to be even that light. I didn’t know a 1973 f350 Super Camper Special was that light.

Also, the reviewer said it was stable at 80mph, but that doesn’t mean anybody is actually going 80mph with 4.10 gears and no overdrive. That’s maybe a 60mph pickup, but probably less.

Super Bonk 3000
Super Bonk 3000
3 months ago

Where’s the pernandle? No visible shifter, no PRNDL on the top of the column.

Rust Buckets
Rust Buckets
3 months ago

Some people might not know that Elon Musks idea of removing shifters from cars in favor of AI guessing is not a new one. Starting in 1969 and being discontinued during the oil crisis, Ford offered an optional telepathic shifter system using an insanely complex hydromechanical governor bolted to the left side of the transmission. It measured the movements of tiny weights influenced by the gravity of the driver, which actually changes minutely with intent. The telepathic shifter was a very expensive option and known for being failure prone, and less than 1500 were ever produced.

Gary Lynch
Gary Lynch
3 months ago

Was in high school during those years. The higher gas prices really nailed the RV industry. America became obsessed with gas mileage. Overly obsessed.

funny thing is, at least for gas RV, mileage then pulling or towing is not much different than what we see today.

Bruce Smith
Bruce Smith
3 months ago

My dad bought one of these combos when they first came out and it was a nice upgrade from the 3/4 Ton GMC with a Caveman slide in. Mom didn’t like it and felt it was time for a motorhome as this was their 4th slide in. Dad kept the Ford forever, but the slide in went away and a Commander motorhome appeared in their driveway.

Speedway Sammy
Speedway Sammy
3 months ago

Am I the only one who looked at the pics and immediately thought – that camper looks like it was styled 50 years after the truck was? Smooth and sleek vs boxy utilitarian?

Rust Buckets
Rust Buckets
3 months ago
Reply to  Speedway Sammy

50 years after the pickup is right now. If I had to guess, I’d say that camper looks early 90s, which is still quite a bit newer than the early 70s.

TOSSABL
TOSSABL
3 months ago

This could be a good deal for someone willing to do the work. I do wonder what is lurking in the bed under the camper, though. I respect 70s Ford trucks—but have also dealt with 70s campers and their layered construction.

So, it’s not for me: I’m far too lazy these days. I do hope it shows back up on the highways in a year or so, fettled & shined up and ready for more decades of wandering: it’s a great snapshot of the time.

Slow Joe Crow
Slow Joe Crow
3 months ago

At first glance I thought it was a slightly less rounded Chinook since the shape,is similar to a Blazer Chalet or Toyota class C. I knew Starcraft did campers but not fiberglass ones. Too bad it didn’t work out, although FWIW Ford sold a ton of Econoline RV chassis over subsequent decades.

Space
Space
3 months ago

I would like to submit a “What if” idea, what would the American automotive landscape look like if the oil crisis never happened? This camper could be mass produced, highway speed limits might not exist in certain states, maybe we can get the Bishop to photoshop something up.

Ranwhenparked
Ranwhenparked
3 months ago
Reply to  Space

Well, the Big Three’s full-size cars reached their greatest size right around 1971-1974 (and also the AMC Ambassador) – its a bit hard to imagine that trend continuing without peaking and going through another right-sizing like in the early 1960s, before starting to grow again. But, we wouldn’t have had the drastic downsizing of 1977-onward, FWD probably would have taken longer to gain favor in the midsize and full-size segments, V8s would have stayed popular, and CAFE would never have been implemented, so light trucks probably would not have gained in popularity and it would still be about large passenger cars.

However, you would have still had the EPA emissions regulations, so the Malaise horsepower decline would have still been a thing.

AlterId
AlterId
3 months ago
Reply to  Ranwhenparked

If I remember correctly, GM had already planned to downsize its full-sized cars before the 1973 embargo, which is why they had a two-year head start over Ford and Chrysler, which didn’t introduce downsized full-sized cars until 1979.

Ranwhenparked
Ranwhenparked
3 months ago
Reply to  AlterId

Possibly, they sort of had nowhere to go but down given how gigantic they had gotten, and GM did the same thing in the ’60s. Also, their first round of downsizing with the full-size cars in 1977 and the intermediates in 1978 were very well done, which might suggest they had more time to work on them, but after that, they seemed to increasingly lose the plot as they rushed to get product out. And the next big wave of downsizing in the mid ’80s was a complete disaster and shouldn’t have happened in the real timeline, definitely would not have if the ’73 and ’79 embargoes hadn’t happened

Last edited 3 months ago by Ranwhenparked
The Dude
The Dude
3 months ago
Reply to  Ranwhenparked

Makes me wonder what would have happened to the Japanese car companies. Not only did they have fuel efficient vehicles, but they were also reliable. Would reliability alone been enough to convince buyers of that era?

TOSSABL
TOSSABL
3 months ago
Reply to  The Dude

Interesting exploration of an alternate timeline. As I recall, many mechanics were quite dismissive of the Japanese cars, and were only forced into dealing with them by the sudden proliferation of them brought on by the fuel crises. So, I guess the question is, would the Toyotas & Hondas have achieved cult status like the VWs did if everyone hadn’t been forced to buy them for efficiency? I would guess they would—but it would have taken far longer to get to the point where you could have them fixed in almost any small town. Most humans don’t like change.

Kurt Hahn
Kurt Hahn
3 months ago
Reply to  Ranwhenparked

Im not sure if CAFE stands for the Californian emission standards, but those weren’t implemented because of the oil crisis, they were needed because of Los Angeles smog getting worse. Check out pictures of LA in the early seventies, and it’s unbelievable how thick the smog was , they needed to do something.

pupdog311
pupdog311
3 months ago
Reply to  Kurt Hahn

Corporate Average Fuel Economy. It’s why for a long time the big 3 had efficiency cars and barges, trying to balance each other out.

Speedway Sammy
Speedway Sammy
3 months ago
Reply to  Kurt Hahn

I went to the Bondurant racing school at Ontario in May 73. In the afternoons, my lungs were burning from the smog. It really was nasty stuff.

Kurt Hahn
Kurt Hahn
3 months ago
Reply to  Speedway Sammy

On news reports of the time, when they were showing pictures filmed from a helicopter, during rush hour, it looked as bad as some Chinese cities a few years ago (remember when these pictures were all over the internet?)

Ranwhenparked
Ranwhenparked
3 months ago
Reply to  Kurt Hahn

CARB is California emissions (California Air Resources Board), CAFE is Corporate Average Fuel Economy- the federal thing that punishes automakers for building 25mpg big sedans and station wagons but encourages them to build more 18mpg trucks and SUVs instead

Kurt Hahn
Kurt Hahn
3 months ago
Reply to  Ranwhenparked

Thank you. I think CAFE is a good thing, but as always, it depends on the execution/implementation.

Richard O
Richard O
3 months ago
Reply to  Space

Keep in mind that the oil crisis and it’s fallout was a big technology driver. I’d guess electronic fuel injection and turbos would be a decade behind where they are now

Kurt Hahn
Kurt Hahn
3 months ago
Reply to  Richard O

On the other hand, almost all of these technologies have been there for decades. In most cases, it wasn’t possible to manufacture them cheaply enough or to build them reliably enough before the advent of modern electronics. I’m sure the oil crisis made them work harder to bring these technologies to market, but they probably would have been introduced anyway. Almost all of these things not only make cars more efficient , but also more reliable and easier to use.

Ranwhenparked
Ranwhenparked
3 months ago
Reply to  Richard O

Emissions rules would have forced fuel injection anyway, probably in exactly the same timeframe. There was that weirdo transition period in the 80s to early 90s where you’d still have some cars with carburetored 49 state engines and fuel injected California ones

Jack Trade
Jack Trade
3 months ago

Wow…in the ’60s, Ford worked with Kar-Kraft, and now I find out in the ’70s, Starcraft. Really wish it turned out that it worked with some company named FarCraft or similar to import TRX wheels or make graphic equalizers in the ’80s.

Andy Individual
Andy Individual
3 months ago

Following that corporate history, all I can think of is:

“In business news, 3M and M&M have merged to form, get this…

Ultradyne Systems”

I think they are called Stallantis now.

Anthony Henderson
Anthony Henderson
3 months ago

Not, M&M&M&M&M?

pupdog311
pupdog311
3 months ago

S&W&M&M&B&M&P&G

Ranwhenparked
Ranwhenparked
3 months ago

When an inflation-adjusted $35,000 was the higher-end of the camper market – campers have gone through the same suprainflationary pricing surge over the past few decades as general aviation aircraft

Andreas8088
Andreas8088
3 months ago
Reply to  Ranwhenparked

Yeah, amazing how back in the day, I knew regular people who owned airplanes. GA is not really so much a “thing” anymore, except amongst the very wealthy.

Ranwhenparked
Ranwhenparked
3 months ago
Reply to  Andreas8088

It’s insurance and regulatory costs mainly, since the same planes have been in production for decades. A Cessna 172 was $12,500 in the early 1970s, which inflation adjusts to $85,000 now (basically a decently loaded F-Series or Ram), however, a brand new 172 actually stickers at $432,000 today. It’s the same story across the industry, GA plane models that have been in production for 50, 60, 70 years have gone up in price 4-5 times the rate of inflation.

Andreas8088
Andreas8088
3 months ago
Reply to  Ranwhenparked

Yeah, it’s a shame. My dad flew when I was a kid, and I always figured when I got to be a grownup I’d get my pilot’s license as well, but by the time I did, it was so prohibitively expensive, I had to give up on that dream, and now I’m old enough that I’m probably not going to bother. Rather spend it on a nice place to live and a home workspace for vehicles.

10001010
10001010
3 months ago

Excuse me but I need to head to Sonic for one of their limeade cream slushes.

35
0
Would love your thoughts, please comment.x
()
x