This morning, David sent me an ad for a motorhome that I’ve long known existed, but have never written about. I’m not entirely sure why, because these things look like what would happen if a shuttlecraft from Star Trek became a motorhome. This is a Rectrans Discoverer 25, and it’s one of the lesser-known designs by Larry Shinoda, the man associated with iconic cars like the 1963 Corvette Sting Ray and 1969 Mustang Boss 302.
If you haven’t noticed by now, David has been shopping for an old RV. He’s been sending his picks to me and they’ve varied from the unique, but slow Winnebago LeSharo to a Ford that we’re halfway convinced was imported. These are all dirt-cheap machines and if he buys one would mean that at least three Autopian writers have an old RV. Just take a gander at the latest ones David dropped into my feed this morning:
This trio of campers have actually been for sale for quite a while. Sure, the listing says they’ve been listed for a mere 22 weeks, but a little internet sleuthing reveals that they’ve been for sale for at least four years. I’m actually sort of impressed that nobody has come by to sweep them up.
As of right now, the seller says that $2,000 would take one of them or $5,000 would sweep the lot. Granted, I can see why nobody has bought them. Sure, $5,000 is cheap for three old RVs, but the required tows to get them out of the lot would certainly rack up huge fees in no time.
A Lesser-Known Vehicle From A Design Legend
This quirky motorhome is called the Rectrans Discoverer 25 and it comes from the pairing of Semon E. (Bunkie) Knudsen and Larry Shinoda.
As the New York Times reported in 1970, Knudsen was the president of Ford Motor Company from 1968 to 1969, when he was fired from the role. Knudsen’s own history is filled with impressive bullet points, like bringing Pete Estes to Pontiac from Oldsmobile as chief engineer. He also snatched John DeLorean from Packard. Knudsen was vice president and general manager Pontiac in 1956 and, with DeLorean and Estes at his side, he introduced Wide-Track Pontiacs in 1959. Pontiac would eventually become known as a performance division, in part thanks to Knudsen’s changes and its involvement in NASCAR. By 1967, Knudsen ascended to vice president of GM before leaving for Ford in 1968.
The other man in this equation is a legend, Larry Shinoda. As Hagerty writes, Shinoda was born in Los Angeles in 1930. On February 19, 1942, President Franklin D. Roosevelt signed Executive Order 9066, which forced 120,000 Japanese Americans into internment camps. From 1942 to 1944, Shinoda and his family were forced to live in Manzanar, a central-California internment camp. From Hagerty:
“The camp was a mile-by-half-mile, and there were 10,000 people interned there,” Shinoda told me in 1997. “The barracks had not been finished when we moved in and the roofs had no tar paper, so we slept with towels over our heads, which were dirty by the time we awoke in the morning.”
Young Shinoda worked as a cook in the camp and, in his spare time, he built furniture out of orange crates. After the war, Hagerty writes, Shinoda got into hot rodding, building fast cars and even taking a class win in the 1955 NHRA Nationals. Shinoda first worked for Ford in 1955, alongside DeLorean and Dick Teague, before moving to Studebaker-Packard and then General Motors in 1956.
Over at General Motors, Shinoda would have his hands on so many different vehicles, from Hagerty:
Working with [Tony] Lapine, Shinoda would become [Bill] Mitchell’s most prolific hands-on designer during the early- to mid-1960s, helping to shape the Corvette Mako Shark I and II; the Corvair prototypes including Super Spyder, Monza GT and the Monza SS roadster; Astro I and II; the rear-engine XP-819 with John Schinella; Corvette Grand Sport GSIIB; and the Chaparral 2D race car. Shinoda also worked on the designs of two of Zora Arkus-Duntov’s pet projects—CERV I and CERV II.
Those would be great highlights for any career, but Shinoda would follow Bunkie Knudsen to Ford, where he would work on the gorgeous 1969 Mustang Boss 302. As I’ve written about in a Holy Grails, Shinoda also penned the Jeep Grand Cherokee ZJ, though Chrysler reportedly didn’t fully pay him for it. Shinoda apparently signed a contract with Chrysler that called for him getting paid $354,000, but he received only $135,000. Shinoda sued and fought a five-year legal battle, which settled not long before his passing in November 1997.
The Rectrans Discoverer 25
Shinoda didn’t just have his name on famous cars in history, but he also worked on larger vehicles, too. Rectrans Inc. was founded in 1970 by Knudsen and featured Shinoda as its designer. As reported by eBay Motors back in 2017, the two had one goal: Build a motorhome to score just 10 mpg.
Now, this doesn’t sound like much of a challenge. I’ve written about fuel-sipping motorhomes like the Vixen 21 TD, which boasted 30 mpg. Then there’s the Winnebago LeSharo, which bragged about 22 mpg, but was just barely able to achieve 70 mph. Both of those motorhomes are small units barely larger than a van. Here? The Rectrans Discoverer was a larger motorhome featuring a chunky V8 engine and built in the 1970s. With that in mind, 10 mpg might be a big ask. Old gas-powered large motorhomes are notorious for single-digit fuel economy.
To achieve this goal, it’s reported that the Rectrans Discoverer 25 was subject to wind tunnel testing, which resulted in the Star Trek shuttlecraft shape that you see here. The typical motorhome of the day was basically a rectangular box on wheels. And remember, this predates the GMC Motorhome by a couple of years.
The Rectrans Discoverer 25 rides on a Dodge M-300 chassis, which found itself under other motorhomes of the day. Power comes from a 413-cubic-inch Chrysler RB big-block V8. In this application, it’s making 265 HP. It’s unclear if the reported goal of 10 mpg was ever met. I found a few brochures for the Discoverer 25 and none of them even mention fuel economy numbers.
What the brochures do mention is that the 25-foot-long motorhome is constructed out of a fiberglass-reinforced plastic sandwich. The inner layer of this sandwich has polyurethane filler and a vinyl-coated aluminum interior wall. These materials are said to provide strength while allowing the RV to have an aerodynamic shape, saving you money at the pump.
Inside, the motorhome is not much different than the other rigs of the day. You get a kitchen, a bathroom with running water, and enough places for six people to sleep. Rectrans advertised a dinette that transformed into a bed, a 22,000 BTU forced air furnace, a 12,000 BTU roof air-conditioner, and a cockpit that’s supposed to remind you of a sports car.
Other neat features include a 40-gallon water tank, a 40-gallon holding tank, a 10,000-pound gross vehicle weight rating, and the weird Thetford Thermasan waste disposal system makes a showing here as well.
A Rare Piece Of History
It’s unclear how many of these were sold. In 1971, Rectrans became a division of the White Motor Company, known for its commercial trucks. There were smaller motorhomes offered like the Rectrans Discoverer 22 and, according to Popular Mechanics, Rectrans wanted to produce a larger one called the Discoverer 27. That bigger one apparently used a front-wheel-drive Oldsmobile Unitized Powertrain like the GMC Motorhome.
I’m not even sure if Rectrans even made the Discoverer 27 in any significant numbers. I’ve found just a single brochure for it and not a single example of one ever showing up on the internet.
Depending on who you ask, just 3,300 Rectrans Discoverer 25s were ever put on the road before the company fizzled out around 1974. The folks of eBay say that the Discoverer 25 changed the course of motorhome design, but I’m not really sure that’s the case. I’d say that the GMC Motorhome had a greater impact on motorhome design. Consider that the Rectrans was still a conventional motorhome riding on a motorhome chassis, just more aerodynamic than usual. On the other hand, General Motors went above and beyond by designing something different from the ground up.
Still, these motorhomes are a weird part of RV history with a spattering of car history, too. As luck would have it, the above interior photos come from a Discoverer 25 that is for sale. Sadly, it is currently in pieces, but it can be brought back. One of these would totally make a great staff RV; I’d love to see one decked out in Star Trek graphics.
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That thing is one sexy bitch!
Does finding the listing make DT a Discoverer Discovererer?
This RV made an appearance as the “bad guy” vehicle in the movie Slither, of 1973, starring James Caan and Sally Kellerman, Peter Boyle, and others. It was painted flat black and made a jump into a pig sty at one point.
Slither – Trailer | IMDb
It got mixed reviews, but I really liked the anticlimactic ending in that one, it was like an unexpected bit of reality intruding into a live action cartoon
A car from back when people couldn’t tell Shinoda from Shinola 😀
What? No mention that there is not one, but TWO of these RVs in the 1973 Movie Slither. Yes, I remember seeing them in the movie. http://www.imcdb.org/ is your friendly source for cars in movies, a great resource.
I also ran a Slither word search on the article.. Most scary motorhome ever! I guess the excuse is that Mrs. Mercedes isn’t an old fart like the rest of us 😉
Guilty. I remember seeing the movie when it was in theaters.
I cheat. I’m a big fan of Turner Classic movies, so I watch a lot of old movies while I work from home.
I didn’t see that you had already posted this. Yes, I remember that movie too. I posted a link to the trailer that shows one of the vehicles, and its jump into a pig sty.
It looks like a cross between a pufferfish and a Vista Cruiser after decades of steroid abuse.
That said, I kind of want one.
Star Trek graphics and the vanity plates MUST read “Galileo 7.”
The shifter is precious.
Mr. Shinoda also designed the White Road Boss 2 conventional cab class 8 truck, Road Commander 2 high cabover, and Expeditor low cabover in the 70s. Volvo bought White in the 80s but didn’t replace Shinoda’s designs with their own until the mid 90s and the Expeditor is still in production, branded as an “Autocar”. Very impressive design, using the same basic cab design for all 3 trucks.
That RV is so 70’s it should have come with lava lamps. Is it pronounced “disco verer”?
I’m gonna take a wild guess and say… no. 🙂
My childhood memory of from our 413 powered RV was 5 mpg
It’s a perfectly good shuttlecraft.
Hey Mercedes if you check your emails from at least a year ago you will see those 3 rvs from an email i sent to you maybe even as far back as the other world.
Are those some sort of special cleaners that warrant a photo ?
The Corvette Mako Shark I and II, the Chaparral 2D, the Mustang Boss 302 AND the XJ penned by one person? What an amazing career.
The Rectrans Discoverer 25 is of its time, but hasn’t aged as well as Shinoda’s other designs, IMHO.
Larry must have done hundreds of projects. His portfolio was incredible, including race cars and race car liveries, in addition to production cars. There were drag race cars, Indy Cars and I believe he worked on some Mickey Thompson speed record cars too. He was amazingly prolific. I’m glad to see him mentioned.
To name drop, I knew Larry, having interviewed him many times when I was a Detroit based reporter. I’ve seen his actual portfolio too, and yes, it was astounding. Last I saw him was at the SEMA Show, a few days before he died. He always had a new project to discuss and was always very conspiratorial in its presentation.
So, I saw him at a SEMA happy hour event in 1997 and he calls me over. He’s got some Polaroids in his pocket (that’s old instant film) and they’re of some artwork or car concepts he had done years earlier for Smokey Yunick the great race car builder. I believe he was cleaning up the art either for a display or sale – I don’t recall. But it was funny how he opened his sport coat, looked around before he shared his secret and showed me his last project as if I were the only one to see it. Maybe he did that will all reporters, I don’t know, but I have to chuckle when I think about it. And whether I was the only guy to see it or not, it was really cool to see what he was working on!
It’s anecdotes like these and the staff interaction that bring me to the comments section at this site.
The guy was impressive for the quality and the quantity of stuff he turned out. And well versed in manufacturing so that his ideas were buildable. Truly a legend of the vehicle industry.
Excuse me, today is Star /Wars/ Day.
It’s also Cinco de Cuatro, which means Mercedes could’ve played up these things’ resemblance to a ten-dollar banana.
As a 70s to 80s kid, I love that interior!
“…but Shinoda would follow Bunkie Knudsen to Ford, where he would work on the gorgeous 1962 Mustang Boss 302.”
It would seem that they were ahead of their time.
put some whiskers on the front and it will look exactly like a catfish
Epic. I love the weird shape and the sheer volume of windows in the front. Somebody needs to save these!