Home Sweet Home-Away-From-Home: 1980 Dodge Beaver vs 1983 Ford Tioga

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Happy Friday, Autopians! I hope you all had a better week than I did. Let’s just say I’m glad to see the this week disappearing in the mirror. It’s a summertime three-day weekend, so what better time to look at RVs? But before we get to them, let’s check in on our hard-working little trucks from yesterday:

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As I suspected, a Toyota truck is hard to beat for that price. I still like the idea of that D50 for a small-town handyman or mobile mechanic or something. That Toyota is still up for sale as of this writing, so whoever wants it, get on up to Washington and get it.

We here at the Autopian seem to be a fairly pro-RV bunch. Mercedes has her little U-Haul camper, and a couple attempted bus conversions before that, I’m pretty sure Torch still has a broken-down motorhome [Editor’s Note: Yes, I do. It even has all-new plumbing, so you can shit in it, you just can’t really go anywhere in it physically. But you can take your bowels for a spin! – JT] , and I am willing to bet that David has slept in a Jeep or five over the years. My wife and I looked at several motorhomes that wouldn’t pass smog before settling on our little vintage Aristocrat trailer.

It’s not a bad way to travel, as long as you’re not trying to pilot one of those massive land behemoths with a Suzuki Vitara in tow. Keep it down to a manageable size, and RVing, whether self-powered or towed, can be a lot of fun.

I’ve thought about featuring RVs a couple of times during the regular daily Showdowns, but let’s face it: Nobody wants a sub-$2500 RV. Most of them don’t even bear thinking about. But I was curious: what would twice that get you these days? And lo and behold, I found two more-or-less viable candidates practically in my own back yard, both drivable, and both just a little under $5,000. Let’s check them out.

1980 Dodge Beaver 24-footer – $4,900

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Engine/drivetrain: Doesn’t say, but probably a 360 cubic inch V8, 3 speed automatic, RWD

Location: Portland, OR

Odometer reading: 58,000 miles

Runs/drives? “Excellent,” the seller says

The Dodge B-series vans were incredibly popular for the basis for RV conversions. Pop-top campers, high-ceiling fiberglass top campers (perfect for Tupperware demonstrations!), and larger Class C motorhomes like this one frequently had Dodge origins. This one is a slightly later model, with the refreshed front sheetmetal, and it’s too new for the celebrated 440 cubic inch engine by a couple years. I would imagine this one has a 360 under its doghouse.

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The seller says it runs and drives well, and is mechanically ready to roll. But that’s not the tough part when it comes to RVs. Since they’re basically half-van, half-tiny house, and the tiny house part has to be light enough to sit on the van part, RVs aren’t made of the sturdiest stuff. Older ones like this are usually a wood frame with an aluminum skin, and leaks can and do form at the seams where panels meet. The seller says this one is watertight, but take it from me, it has leaked at some point in the past.

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It’s nicely equipped, with a rooftop air conditioner and a retractable awning. The interior looks dated, to put it mildly, but in decent shape. Outside it’s a little banged up, and the overzealous application of RTV sealant on the windows isn’t the prettiest, but if it keeps the water out, then it’s doing its job.

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Overall, it’s kind of a cool retro rig, and cheap enough that you could spend some money making it a little more presentable, and roll up to the campgrounds in style.

 

1983 Ford Tioga 26-footer – $4,500

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Engine/drivetrain: doesn’t say but probably a 460 cubic inch V8, 3 speed automatic, RWD

Location: Eagle Creek, OR

Odometer reading: 99,000 miles

Runs/drives? Yep, but that’s all the ad says

Two feet longer, three years newer, and available for $400 less is this Ford Econoline-based Tioga. This rig is just a tiny bit more modern in design, ever so slightly more aerodynamic, but also a little scruffier. The window seals need replacing; at least the seller is up front about it. The question, of course, is how long have they been leaking?

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Inside, this one is also stuck firmly in the early Reagan years, but those captain’s chairs do look inviting. And to some extent, a kitschy out-of-style interior is part of the charm of these old motorhomes, as it is for really good diners. (If a diner has been remodeled since The Rockford Files went off the air, their patty melt just isn’t as good. I don’t know why that is true, but it is.)

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There is a little evidence of water staining here and there, so it would be worth poking around to make sure it’s just stains and not actual damage. It’s not the end of the world, as long as it’s not too bad, but it is one more thing to fix. And with an old RV, the list of things to fix never gets any shorter; you’re just trying to keep it from getting longer.

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The seller has precious little to say about its mechanical condition besides “runs and drives,” so you’re left on your own to investigate that further. I think most Econoline-based RVs this size had a 460 in them, maybe a 351, but I doubt it. Either way, it should be plenty stout, as long as it starts out in decent shape.

Old RVs like this aren’t for everyone; if you aren’t handy with a wide variety of tools and willing to do the work yourself, best keep walking, and just reserve a cabin at a KOA for your nature getaways. But if you like to tinker and improve, it can be a rewarding project. Which one is the better starting point? I leave that up to you.

 

Quiz Maker

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56 Responses

  1. I think the Dodge Beaver is way cooler. It’s much more rare and a modern Hemi is practically a bolt-in! It would also be easier to strip the interior of that RV and upgrade it’s guts when you need to.

  2. No. And no.

    Personally, I have zero interest in driving/owning/buying large quantities of fuel for a motorhome. And if I did, I sure as heck wouldn’t buy one as, well, used as either of these. You have no idea what previous owner(s) did in them. Or whether they cleaned up after.

  3. We had Dodge Tradesman & Ford Econoline vans at the old cable tv place I worked at many years ago. The Fords were so much more comfortable to drive as the Dodge had you basically twisted at the hip to get your feet into the pedal box – the damn doghouse just takes up all the room unless you’re under 5 foot 6. Even though I can smell the Ford from here, just based on the pain in my hip it’s the one I’d choose.

    1. I agree with you on the comfort thing. A few years back we were shopping for a conversion van and the Dodges all felt claustrophobic in the driver’s seat because of the engine cover. We ended up with a Chevy Express conversion but it had the same tail light issue that all of its siblings did. Luckily, it worked for us otherwise.

  4. Condition is everything, and that is never more true than with campers and RVs. If the Ford looks a little scruffy in the pictures, it will be an utter disaster in person. The reason the ad doesn’t say shit about it, is because the seller knows if they say nothing bad, then they aren’t lying. They’re just hoping to find a buyer that’s too stupid to realize what a disaster that thing is.

    The Dodge is the clear winner here, by a country mile. $400 well spent.

  5. It’s a crap shoot. After looking into RVs for a bit, by the time you are done upgrading and fixing one of these you are in used prices for much better example.

    If you can do all the work yourself, then maybe. Then you have to deal with the 10 year rule at some parks.

      1. Yes, specifically to keep rolling wrecks like these out. Nobody wants a broken down old RV in their park leaking sewage while the owner attempts to major repairs to get it going again.

  6. This was a close one for me. Frankly, I think both are overpriced, but I’m not the target demographic. I’d probably take a far smaller rig if it was ever equipped with the Ford 300 I6 drivetrain, although I have no idea if that was ever an option.

    The interior of the Ford looks nice, especially those captain’s chairs, but the Dodge is cheaper, and the 360 is just fine. To make a really informed decision, though, we’re missing the most important part: pictures of the toilet and shower. I’ll just assume they’re both equally marginal.

  7. Gotta go for the Tioga. What’s the point of owning an RV if not captain’s chairs?

    Plus it already has the fill-in-the-state decal on the back. Score.

    (BTW, on the Rockford Files reference…just perfect. Now all I can think of is Jim sitting in one of these listening dubiously to yet another of Angel’s schemes)

  8. Run away from any $5000 RV being sold in Portland. That is so far under our current market that they are one step away from being abandoned by a homeless person.

    The sticker on the back of the Ford is telling. Someone put one of those maps of the USA you color in for each state you have visited. Since that sticker was applied this RV has visited zero states.

  9. Well…
    The Beaver has Bunk Beds which is a plus for night call without having to climb over your bed mate as you would in the Tioga.
    The Beaver seller shows the roof which is sketchy but they all are on these unless they’ve had a full replacement which is highly unlikely in this price range. Having just done that on my Bounder I’d never do it again.
    I have to say….neither. But if you want to spend some time on You Tube watching a couple buy a really nice Class C of this era and then find out what it’s really like..and proceed to totally rehab it – go to The Endless Adventure and start here https://youtu.be/DsWGuW2H4pA?t=166

  10. “And with an old RV, the list of things to fix never gets any shorter; you’re just trying to keep it from getting longer.”

    One of the best sentiments and true statements I’ve read in a long time.

    Kind of reminds me of my 65 year old body. Just sayin’

  11. First thought was, whichever one has less water damage. This is one of the rare cases where inability to smell things over the internet is a bad thing, but the visible damage in the Ford is still enough to give the Dodge an easy win.

  12. Going with the Dodge in this case. It seems the difference between these two is the Dodge had a bunch of little things fixed on it already… and the Ford needs many of those same types of things fixed.

    Thus, due to being better maintained and much more info in the ad, I’m gonna go with the Dodge even though the Ford has the advantage of having a generator.

  13. Well I used to go to a convenience store called the Tioga street market. I’m not sure what a Tioga is but I know what beaver is so Beaver. Not too mention the beaver is sloppy but sealed the Tioga is sloppy and leaking. The small price difference won’t seal the Tioga.

  14. I’m not voting on this. Both need to be fire bombed ASAP.

    I made the mistake of buying a 1980 Jayco camping trailer about 5 years ago. It appeared to be decent, but when I took it apart to fix the one problem it was advertised as having, it ended up being a cascade of rotten wood and water damage and shit wiring that had me gut the entire interior. Not to mention the leaf springs were cracked, wheel bearings completely shot and the top kept breaking when I opened it.

    In the end I replaced almost all the wood, rebuilt the cabinetry, rewired it, replaced the springs and bearings. And gave it a paint job.

    You know what I ended up with? A trailer that still looked old as fuck with some new wood and paint on it. We camped in it once and sold it. Then we bought a brand new trailer and haven’t looked back.

  15. I purchased a slide-in camper a few years ago that needed work. Investigating materials for window sealing revealed that some sources recommend replacing windw sealing yearly! Thus windows needing to be resealed on a used camper purchase should be factored in regardless of the condition of the seals.

  16. Beaver. It’s harder to find the RV parts for, but the leaks were addressed. Sure the work done to address the leaks is… atrocious in quality. But clearly it was effective. And it was done. That’s the important part. And clearly any water that got behind the paneling was addressed: see also, newer unrotted wood missing the paneling.

    The Tioga’s showing severe water damage all over, especially the roof A/C unit. Lift the side trim on that Tioga and get Niagara Falls. And it’s low, so you’re talking about having to replace the entire rotted out floor and everything that attaches to it. Hell no.

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