A common complaint I read about motorhomes is that the things are just too big. Indeed, many motorhomes sit high above the ground and feel and drive like you’re commanding a brick with a bed inside. Back in the 1960s, one man sought to fix that problem by building campers that weren’t using trucks as a base platform. The extremely rare Great Dale House Car didn’t sit high or drive like a truck thanks to the fact that instead of a pickup, it rides on a comparatively low-slung Dodge Coronet. Let’s take a look!
This 1966 Great Dale House Car has come up for sale on Bring a Trailer. It’s estimated that around 50 or 60 of these were ever built. So, chances are it will be a long time before you see another pop up for sale. That’s a shame because the concept is solid. While a lot of folks are fine with gargantuan RVs, others would rather travel the country in something that still drives closer to a car, but still has RV amenities. Throughout RV history, builders have tried catering to this market of buyers with RVs from the compact and thrifty Winnebago LeSharo to the Champion Ultrastar. Don’t forget the famous Aironado Airstream! In more recent years, we have Wingamm and its shorty Oasi 540.1.
The Great Dale House Car is the same concept but done in the 1960s. This one has been restored and it looks awesome.
Upcycling Crashed Cars
The fact that this camper uses the front end of a Dodge Coronet is really only the beginning of why it’s so cool. It’s also a form of upcycling.
The Great Dale House Car was the work of the Great Dale House Car Company of Denver, Colorado. According to a Great Dale House Car tribute page, the camper’s story starts with Dale Wasinger. As the story goes, Wasinger got into the auto body repair business in the 1940s. One of Wasinger’s skills was mating two halves of cars together. Apparently, he would buy two wrecked cars, bring them to his shop, cut the cars in half, and weld the good halves together.
Alongside this business, Wasinger had a used car dealership and some real estate. Wasinger was also an avid gambler and developed a system he thought would help you beat the house at a casino. Helping him along was his wife, who aided in keeping the businesses running while also assisting with the car mating process.
In late 1960, Wasinger ran across a new 1961 Cadillac that had been in a rear-end collision. He decided to do something a bit different with this one. Reportedly, Wasinger had a problem with the motorhomes of the day. He wanted one, but after getting injured in a car wreck, Wasinger found it difficult to drive a truck. Thus, he decided to put his talents to work in creating a car-based motorhome that you didn’t have to climb into.
Check out this archived news story on Wasinger:
Wasinger started by hacking the 1961 Cadillac apart, leaving just the front clip and drivetrain. He then took the vehicle to a Denver area camper builder to have a truck camper body mounted to the front clip of the Cadillac. The camper builder was too busy to do the custom job, so Wasinger decided to take matters into his own hands. Wasinger, with the help of his wife, turned that Cadillac into a motorhome. Soon after, Wasinger found a 1962 Cadillac that had taken a side hit and he turned that one into a camper, too. The Great Dale House Car was born and Wasinger would build them in a small shop with his wife and sometimes some part-time helpers. There were no brochures, and there were no advertisements. Wasinger would find a wrecked car, turn it into a camper, then sell it by word of mouth.
For the most part, Wasinger’s campers relied on a supply of cars that had gotten into crashes with damage behind the front clip. He worked with domestic vehicles including Buick, Cadillac, Chrysler, Dodge, Ford, Lincoln, Mercury, Oldsmobile, and Pontiac. Apparently, he favored building campers on an Oldsmobile chassis as he thought Oldsmobiles had an optimal power-to-weight ratio for a motorhome build.
According to an archived newspaper story, Wasinger built the motorhomes by cutting out everything behind the driver seat. He would then bring in the rear two-thirds of a three-quarter ton Chevrolet pickup chassis and weld the pickup truck to the front clip of the car. Wasinger also added the truck’s suspension to the donor car clip so the completed vehicle could handle the weight. From there, Wasinger and his wife built a wood-framed, aluminum-sided camper on top, which was supported by channel iron welded to the truck frame.
Here’s what the underbody of these things looks like:
The resulting vehicle was a small motorhome with the strength of a truck but rode low to the ground like a car. As I said, most of these builds started off as wrecks, but Wasinger was willing to cut apart a new car if a customer brought one in as a donor. Reportedly, Wasinger also attempted to score a deal for new front clips from Oldsmobile, but no deal was worked out. It took Wasinger and his wife about three to four weeks to construct each camper.
From 1962 to 1966, Wasinger built between 50 and 60 examples. When the newspaper asked Wasinger about the campers (the clipping is undated), he believed many were still on the road. Unfortunately, the handful of people who bought them didn’t really report back to Wasinger about the conditions of their campers. Reportedly, Wasinger called it quits when the cost of materials went up and building the campers became unprofitable. After his small Great Dale House Car Co. shuttered, Wasinger started a vehicle salvage business and continued his gambling ventures.
This Great Dale House Car
For the price of $4,800 to $7,200 ($47,334 to $71,001 today), plus whatever you paid for the donor car, you got to turn a wreck into a camper. High-end Great Dale House Cars came with such luxuries as air-conditioning, a shower, and a refrigerator. Remember, during these days, many campers came with ice boxes for refrigeration and you were cooled by opening a window.
According to the Bring a Trailer listing, this 1966 Great Dale House Car started life as a 1965 Dodge Coronet. The front clip from the donor car remains, but everything from behind the fenders was cut out. The body appears to be in good shape, and that’s thanks to repairs and new paint. According to the listing, the Coronet’s body panels have been repaired, the windshield replaced, and the aluminum siding of the camper shell was also replaced.
The restoration process continued inside, where the cab of the camper was reupholstered while the living space was refreshed and updated. Modern equipment in the cab comes in the form of a Garmin GPS, a JVC stereo deck, PolkAudio speakers, and a rearview camera.
Move behind the cab and you might have to blink a few times to adjust your eyes from the red of the Coronet to the teal-ish color of the living space. The interior restoration stayed largely period-correct, but you do get a new refrigerator, a memory foam bed, and a new electrical system. Sadly, there isn’t a bathroom, but you do get a cassette toilet! That electrical system is said to consist of “a 200Ah LiFePO4 house battery, a Renogy DC to DC battery charger, [and] a Xantrex PROwatt 600W inverter.” I like the period touches such as the Marmoleum flooring and lighting. You don’t get an air-conditioner, but you do get a roof fan for cooling and a Camco catalytic heater for those cold days.
Other goodies include a three-burner stove, composite countertops, an oven, a sink, and new holding tanks. The listing notes that both the fresh and grey tanks are 15 gallons, each. Like most campers, the dinette also transforms into a bed, so this could sleep four adults if it needed to.
Badging on the side of the front clip suggests this car started off life as a Coronet 440. Its original V8 engine was replaced in 2016 with a 489 cubic inch V8 lowered into its place. According to the book of service records included with the camper, the engine is 383 V8 from a Coronet 440 with a stroker kit. Modifications to the engine include camshaft and lifters, aluminum cylinder heads, electronic ignition, a 600cfm carburetor, an aluminum radiator, and more. The seller does not estimate power output but does say that a TorqueFlite 727 three-speed automatic was installed at the same time.
The camper comes in at 20 feet, 3 inches long, 7 feet wide, and 8.42 feet tall. Add the roof vent and its cover and the camper maxes out at 9.25 feet tall. The seller says the camper weighed 6,300 pounds before restoration. Now, it should weigh about 7,000 pounds. Included in the sale is a color-matched storage box that hooks onto the back. You also get a tow hitch in the rear so you could haul a trailer and a tow ball up front as well. It’s noted that original Great Dale House Cars ended up only a bit heavier than their donor cars. Despite that, at least one review stated that driving a Great Dale House Car was “fun,” not something you often hear about any RV.
If you want in on this piece of history, you might be able to get it for an affordable price. As of right now, bidding is at $5,500 on Bring a Trailer with four days to go. If you need any more evidence of how cool this camper is, the owner says the rig has been on a track and even drag-raced other campers. You won’t see a modern Class A coach doing this!
(Images: Bring A Trailer seller Chris Werstiuk, unless otherwise noted.)
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