Home » Someone Improved A Horribly Slow Winnebago By Splicing In A Ford Windstar And I Have Questions

Someone Improved A Horribly Slow Winnebago By Splicing In A Ford Windstar And I Have Questions

Lewindstar Ts
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The Winnebago LeSharo of the 1980s tried to be different. When most motorhomes were large, it was small. When most motorhomes were thirsty, it got 22 mpg. It was a winning combination for some, except for the fact that the Renault Trafic van underneath couldn’t climb hills and reached a top speed of 80 mph at best. Two decades ago, someone rectified that issue by tossing out the Renault and splicing in a Ford Windstar. You read that right, someone decided a Ford Windstar was an upgrade over the dreadfully slow Renault that was there before. Even better, the build doesn’t look bad!

While this camper looks plenty weird, it is but one way someone has modified a LeSharo. There are entire Facebook groups dedicated to removing the Renault from the Winnebago and replacing it with something else. Apparently, there have been LeSharos perched on Ford F-Series pickup chassis, there’s a LeSharo with a Buick 3800 V6 engine swap, and more. Conversions at the extreme end of the spectrum involve removing the base Renault Trafic entirely for different running gear. At least one LeSharo was converted into a travel trailer!

Vidframe Min Top
Vidframe Min Bottom

Here’s one that became a Ford Econoline, and another with a 350 SBC and 4-wheel drive with locking Dana axles.

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eBay via Bring a Trailer

That 4×4 camper is a fantastic remix of the concept of the LeSharo. It’s still a small and aerodynamic camper, but now it has reliable running gear and can climb a mountain to boot.

Then you’re left with this LeSharo Windstar that I found on Facebook. It isn’t a LeSharo that’s become a 4×4 or a LeSharo with stout Buick power. Instead, someone placed a Ford Windstar where the Renault used to be. I bet it’s still an improvement.

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Facebook Seller

Why People Convert These Campers

Back in the 1980s, Winnebago sought to solve a problem with motorhomes. In those days, which weren’t much different than today, motorhomes were often gargantuan rigs with an appetite for fuel and the driving dynamics of a brick with some wheels attached. Cars in America were also recovering from being battered by oil crises and an effort to reduce emissions and increase fuel economy. Given the focus on fuel economy in the 1980s, a motorhome that got single-digit fuel economy probably didn’t look that great to a lot of potential buyers.

For Winnebago, the solution to the era’s automotive woes was to sell a motorhome that slipped through the air and sipped on fuel compared to the typical RV. How would Winnebago deliver a fuel-efficient RV? It looked to Europe for help. From my retrospective:

Winnebago

Over there, Winnebago found the first generation Renault Trafic van. These vans featured a low floor thanks to their diesel front-wheel-drive powertrain. Winnebago struck a deal with Renault, allowing the former to create a different kind of motorhome. Renault shipped Trafic cabs, drivetrains, and rear axles to America, where Winnebago would build them out into the LeSharo motorhome. The first LeSharos started hitting the road in 1983 and Winnebago marketed them as something revolutionary:

Winnebago wasn’t far off; the LeSharo had a ton of good ideas going for it. By choosing the Trafic as a donor vehicle, the Winnebago LeSharo enjoyed a low and largely flat floor that sat just 10 inches above the ground. This is great for people who don’t quite have the mobility to climb stairs into a coach. It was also great for keeping the center of gravity low, which helped Winnebago’s objective to build a motorhome that drives like a car. The only places the floor steps up are in the cab and the dinette.

A Winnebago LeSharo was also a compact camper. The first-generation LeSharo was just 19 feet, 7 inches long, which makes it about the size of today’s camper vans. And with a gross vehicle weight rating of 5,770 pounds, it maxed out with a weight less than some of the trucks that you could buy today. Winnebago didn’t skimp out on quality in keeping the weight low, either. LeSharos have steel unibodies, fiberglass end caps, and aluminum is used in the roof.

Winnebago was quite proud of the LeSharo. In its advertising, the RV builder touted its quality by saying: “Most Manufacturers Don’t Offer 5 Year/50,000 Mile Protection. Maybe They Know Something You Don’t.”

Winnebago

While quality may have been good for the day, the LeSharo had some undesirable quirks. The first LeSharos had a 2.068-liter diesel four-cylinder borrowed from the Trafic. It made all of 66 horsepower and 94 lb-ft torque, delivered to the front wheels. If those low numbers somehow didn’t scare you already, consider that given the LeSharo’s GVWR of 5,770 pounds, this RV weighs three times as much as Smart Fortwo while having less power. You may have been able to score 22 to 24 mpg with a LeSharo, but you weren’t getting anywhere fast.

The LeSharo hit the road in 1983 and a year later, Winnebago tried to help the low power with the addition of a Garrett T04 turbocharger. That bumped output up to 75 HP. By 1985, a 2.2-liter Renault gas engine arrived on the scene and offered up 100 HP. The LeSharo was granted a second generation in 1987 that lasted until 1992. The 2.2-liter engine was the only choice for second-generation models. If you scroll through LeSharo forums, you’ll find claims that these campers can hit about 80 mph at most, and speed can be reduced by wind or hills. Keep in mind that when the LeSharo was in production, there was a 55 mph national speed limit, so you didn’t have a legal reason to go faster.

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However, the highways of today have speed limits of 70 mph and sometimes higher, meaning the little LeSharo might not have enough power for some people. Only making things worse is the fact that the LeSharo had a choice of either a 3-speed automatic or a 4-speed manual. If you could live slowly, maybe the LeSharo itself let you down. Reportedly, these can have drivetrain issues ranging from engine overheating to transmissions that get stuck in a gear or don’t shift. Regardless of the reason, some people have traded the Renault bones for other stuff, and this LeSharo Windstar is probably one of the weirder builds.

This LeSharo

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Facebook Seller

Introduced in 1995, the Ford Windstar was Blue Oval’s follow-up to the Aerostar. The Windstar was Ford’s answer to Chrysler’s highly successful minivans. The Aerostar was a rear-wheel-drive van with a unibody featuring full rails. This gave it a truck-like 5,000-pound tow rating, but it wasn’t a direct competitor to something like the Dodge Caravan. That would be the job for the Ford Windstar. As the Orlando Sentinel reported in 1989, development on the Windstar began in 1988. The new van would better compete with Chrysler’s vans by adopting a front-wheel-drive layout and carlike driving dynamics.

Perhaps the neatest part about the Windstar’s development was the fact that women led the van’s design. Ford saw women as the primary buyer of the Windstar, so Ford decided to let women design, engineer, and market the van.

Access 1995 Ford Windstar Lx Neg Cn315007 1016
Ford

This resulted in handy features for the women who might be found behind the wheel of a Windstar. The driver seat gets close to the pedals, there’s a hanging pull strap on the tailgate, and the seatbelt adjusts so that it wouldn’t cut into the driver’s neck. All of this was done to make the van easier to live with for shorter drivers. In addition to the features for shorter drivers, the design team gave the van a low floor so women wearing dresses or skirts could get in and out easily. Dashboard controls were designed to be operated by someone with long nails. The seats and doors were even designed so that a pregnant woman wearing high heels could secure a baby in the minivan. This feminine touch also extended to the rear cupholders, which were shaped just right for juice boxes.

All of these made the Windstar a fine minivan. I grew up riding in one of these and while it wasn’t as cool as a Chrysler van, it got the job done. For the LeSharo, swapping out the Renault for a Windstar gave the camper some big gains.

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Facebook Seller

In 1998, the base engine of the Windstar was a 3.0-liter Vulcan V6, good for 150 HP and 172 lb-ft of torque. Right out of the gate, that’s a big improvement over the original Renault Trafic. However, the engine in this Windstar LeSharo on Facebook Marketplace is the 3.8-liter Essex V6 good for 200 HP and 225 lb-ft of torque. That’s double the power over the base Renault!

The transmission is an improvement also, with the Windstar’s 4-speed automatic offering one more ratio over a Renault-underpinned LeSharo’s 3-speed auto. In theory, this LeSharo Windstar should be much faster than stock. The seller also notes that it still gets 15 mpg, so the fuel economy hasn’t been entirely ruined. What might be of concern is weight. The original LeSharo was designed to weigh as much as 5,770 pounds. The Windstar? It has a GVWR of 5,380 pounds, so it might not be happy pulling a loaded LeSharo.

Weird Lesharo
Facebook Seller

Aside from getting a new nose, the rest of the LeSharo is business as usual. The seller says the camper still has an electrical hookup and features include two beds, a cooler, a stove, a microwave, a bathroom, and more. From the pictures, it would appear that the interior layout changed slightly where the Windstar was attached. The interior also appears to have seen better days. There’s a nightstand sort of shoved where the factory refrigerator sat and there’s a mess on the counter obscuring whatever could be going on there.

The seller states that the conversion was done in 2002 by a fabricator. Despite how the interior looks, the seller also says that the camper is functional and it was last camped in about a month ago. Sadly, the seller doesn’t say why the fabricator went through with this project. Did something break in the original Renault? Was it in a crash? How did they achieve the conversion? I have so many questions!

Weird Lesharo1
Facebook Seller

What I can say is that like the Aironado Airstream, the LeSharo Windstar is sort of internet famous. You’ll see pictures of the van on camper forums and even on Reddit, but no story ever follows those pictures. I reached out to the seller and will update if I hear back.

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Until then, the seller wants $5,000 for this 1985 Winnebago LeSharo with a 1998 Ford Windstar. You just have to go to Buchanan, Michigan, to pick it up. Is that too much? I don’t know, but I love silly custom campers like these.

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NosrednaNod
NosrednaNod
7 months ago

My guess is it was the Windstar because that’s what they had laying around.

LTDScott
LTDScott
7 months ago

I feel incredibly bad for the poor transaxle. I was a Ford tech from ’98-’01 and there was a point in time when I could pull the transmission from a Windstar with my eyes closed because I did it so often.

TXJeepGuy
TXJeepGuy
7 months ago

I’d like to see this with a newer Caravan with the Pentastar.

Clark B
Clark B
7 months ago

It’s a good idea, but it looks to have added a decent amount of length to the whole affair making for a more unwieldy vehicle. I wonder if a more snub nosed van could have kept the length down a bit, since the Windstar has a longer, almost car-like snout.

Ffoc01
Ffoc01
7 months ago

Today I learned why Ford rear seat cupholders of the late 90’s were so weirdly shaped. Never in a million years would I have thought it was for a juice box.

Redblock542
Redblock542
7 months ago

Wind-ebago

Tbird
Tbird
7 months ago

Hey – a new use for the 3800 powered TransSport featured in Shitbox Showdown!

Electronika
Electronika
7 months ago

I am trying to decide if this is closer in concept to the Great Dale House Cars which we were all talking about last week, or a scaled down version of the GMC Motorhomes of the 70’s. In looks, it looks like a “Modern” well 90’s version of a House car with a passenger vehicle grafted wholly onto a camper’ish thing but in actual execution and final product, the front wheel drive unibody RV this really is just a scaled down version of the GMC.

That being said, its a shame its seems so ratty and poorly executed on the inside because these are actually really cool on the inside when stock.

GreatFallsGreen
GreatFallsGreen
7 months ago

The Windstar? It has a GVWR of 5,380 pounds, so it might not be happy pulling a loaded LeSharo.

Should be fine, the Windstar engine and transmission here are famously durable with no record of problems, a few extra hundred pounds won’t stress it any further at all. /s

Bizness Comma Nunya
Bizness Comma Nunya
7 months ago

I don’t remember how many stupid Windstars I had to work on, but I hated most of them. Not that they are hard to work on, it’s just that they weren’t great quality (some years, at least). Head gaskets, intake issues (I think with the split port design), transmissions that didn’t hold up, no driver’s side door when they came out (putting them almost immediately behind chrysler).

I would have rather had Ford redesign the Aerostar, throw a drivers side door on it, maybe put in the independent rear suspension from the t-bird/cougar/Mark VIII for a lower floor height, etc…

GreatFallsGreen
GreatFallsGreen
7 months ago

If they had been at least a year or two earlier to market than they were they might have made more inroads against Chrysler.
There were several years they offered the Vulcan 3.0 as a base powertrain and those are reportedly fairly trouble-free in the Windstar, just a much slower pace without that extra 50 lb-ft of torque or so to pull the weight of it around.

Bizness Comma Nunya
Bizness Comma Nunya
7 months ago

Vulcan motors were probably some of the most durable ford motors at the time. They did have some issues here and there, some cracked valve springs, but overall durable. Which is why the SHO V6 was so good, it was already based on the durable vulcan. The vulcan’s problem is that it was still bolted to the same AXOD, AX4S, AX4N transaxles that were all shitty.

The vulcan motors biggest issue was the owners just didn’t care about maintaining them, that’s when they had issues…but they’d still keep chuggin along.

I’ll never forget someone had a vulcan Taurus that was in for service, they claimed it would get hot sometimes but they just kept driving it for a very long time, like months. I took the water pump off and it had no blades, it just looked like a pizza slicer…moving almost zero water around (and this was summertime).

threw a new one on, flushed the brown shit out of the cooling system. Thing just kept going for a long time after.

PaysOutAllNight
PaysOutAllNight
7 months ago

The SHO V6 was good mostly because Yamaha replaced the Ford Vulcan cylinder heads with a 24 valve DOHC design of their own, and redesigned the block for additional strength as well. The stock Vulcan wasn’t a bad starting point, though.

OverlandingSprinter
OverlandingSprinter
7 months ago

If memory serves (warning! warning!) Winnebago and Renault exchanged lawsuits or threats of same regarding warranty claims on the LeSharo drivetrain. Renault’s position was Winnebago loaded the chassis above spec, and Winnebago’s counter-argument was that Renault knew Winnebago’s plans all along and approved.

Again, if memory serves, dealers needed special lifts to tilt the LeSharo to conduct routine maintenance, such as oil changes. I may be mis-remembering that.

Love the idea of a compact, fuel-efficient C class RV. Here, Winnebago swung big and missed on the chassis choice.

David Frisby
David Frisby
7 months ago

The low slung compact camper thing could easily be repeated now with the Ram ProMaster as the base. Probably 80% of European campers are based on that model as all the Stellantis brands are the same vehicle. Fiat will sell you just the front end specifically for this purpose. Actually Google throws up an interesting article about this from New Zealand
https://www.motorhomesforsale.co.nz/blog/fiat-ducato-series-8

Doctor Nine
Doctor Nine
7 months ago
Reply to  David Frisby

Oh yeah. Rams make a great base for an RV:

https://www.ultimatetoys.com/promasters/ultimate-campervan/

JJT554
JJT554
7 months ago

1) Yes on the lawsuits, although Renault definitely knew what was being done with their chassis.
2) No on the special lifts/tilts for servicing. “Special” tools, yes. (ie specific to Renault and metric as most US RV dealers at the time were strictly SAE) They were actually fairly easy to work on through the hood or from underneath while up on a standard lift.
3) These were “B” class. Unfortunately, Winnebago had very limited choices as they needed an available FWD, fuel efficient chassis for the project to work as intended. I agree it was a lackluster choice, especially in retrospect. The LeSharo/Phasar was followed up by the Rialta on a VW T4 chassis, some models with the 2.8 VR6!
Bonus: Winnebago had similar concepts in the 70’s (both “B” and “C” versions) based on the Olds Toronado chassis, but in the end GM would not supply, at least partially due to the GMC motorhome. It was to be named the Warrior which name was used later on full-size “C”, micro “C” and class “A” models.
They also produced their own chassis (less powertrains) for the W series step vans and the Spectrum 2000 class “A”.
Edit: spelling

Last edited 7 months ago by JJT554
Rust Buckets
Rust Buckets
7 months ago

“The original LeSharo was designed to weigh as much as 5,770 pounds. The Windstar? It has a GVWR of 5,380 pounds, so it might not be happy pulling a loaded LeSharo.”

Yeah but the GVWR is limited by suspension and hubs and tires in almost all cases, not by drivetrain capability. I’m guessing a Windstar’s GCWR is at least that 5800lb, probably significantly more.

Of course that’s only 400lb over, so realistically it was probably already fine.

Last edited 7 months ago by Rust Buckets
Ranwhenparked
Ranwhenparked
7 months ago

This might be the only time in history that adding a Ford Windstar to anything would be regarded as an improvement, and I’m not even sold on that.

Last edited 7 months ago by Ranwhenparked
3WiperB
3WiperB
7 months ago

You may have missed the “Lasharo” 6000 edition that Furhman16 posted in the Discord in October. It had a Pontiac 6000 grafted on the front. Apparently someone bought it! https://www.facebook.com/marketplace/item/876788277384087/?mibextid=dXMIcH

Last edited 7 months ago by 3WiperB
StillNotATony
StillNotATony
7 months ago

You are very diplomatic, Ms Mercedes.

William Handley
William Handley
7 months ago
Reply to  StillNotATony

As someone who spent a little time learning to drive in a 6000 (which was still way too much for that utter turd) and seeing that, I’m just going to stick with the phrase, “If you don’t have anything nice to day, don’t say it”.

StillNotATony
StillNotATony
7 months ago

I prefer the saying “If you don’t have anything nice to say about someone, come sit by me.”

Sklooner
Sklooner
7 months ago

I knew an RV tech who put a Chrysler V6 in his and a slide out, don’t think he ever finished it

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