Camping in a vintage travel trailer sometimes involves compromises. Perhaps your camper doesn’t have a refrigerator and you have to use an icebox. Or maybe there isn’t a toilet to be found. You can get that vintage camper experience and still enjoy modern comfort by finding something like this camper I found on Bring a Trailer. This 1946 Spartan Manor Model 25 is a piece of camping history that’s been sort of resto-modded into a camper that you’d be comfy in today.
The gorgeous Spartan Manor Model 25 was a product of Spartan Aircraft Company of Tulsa, Oklahoma. According to trailer resource site Spartan Trailer, the company has its roots in oil. In 1905, the Ida Glenn Number One discovery well of the Glenn Pool Field struck oil at a depth of 1,481 feet. This well produced about 75 to 85 barrels of crude daily, and it garnered attention. The Glenn Pool Field was the site of the start of Harry Ford Sinclair’s Sinclair Oil and the start of Jean Paul Getty Sr.’s Getty Oil. If that Getty name sounds familiar, it might be because you’re familiar with Getty Images, a company founded by a grandson of Getty named Mark Getty. Or, maybe you’re familiar with how Getty infamously refused to pay for grandson John Paul Getty III’s ransom after he was kidnapped.
Don’t worry, this Getty stuff is going somewhere.
Rooted In Aviation And Oil
Among the number of industrialists to use the Glenn Pool Field as a launchpad was William G. Skelly. He used his 1920s oil fortunes from the field to bankroll his interests in aviation. Skelly wasn’t a pilot, but he loved aviation enough to purchase Mid-Continent Aircraft Company in 1928. Skelly renamed it the Spartan Aircraft Company and it started with an aeronautical school and biplanes. Then came the Spartan Executive, a high-performance luxury monoplane marketed towards corporate executives. Essentially a flying limo that flew at 200 mph with a range of around 1,000 miles, it gained famous owners like Howard Hughes.
As Skelly nursed his empire through the Great Depression, it caught the interest of Getty Sr. and in the late 1930s, the latter purchased a controlling interest in Skelly Oil and Spartan. Spartan built innovative aircraft through the late 1930s before shifting to supporting the World War II effort in the 1940s. During this time, Getty took control of Spartan and, after the war, he decided to take the company in a new direction. Spartan would build something with even more mass appeal than planes. Engineers were already working on a car and a camper. Getty determined that given the high demand for housing in postwar America, Spartan Aircraft would shift to building trailers. In 1945, the first Spartan trailer was produced.
Spartan trailers employed a design similar to its planes, using a semi-monocoque construction where the shell is a stressed element that used stringers for support. But don’t think of a Spartan like a Bowlus or an Airstream, which mostly resembled the travel trailers of today. Spartans were closer to park models or mobile homes.
This Spartan Manor Model 25
In 1946, you could buy a 25-foot Spartan Manor with a 25-foot body for around $3,670, or about $59,848 today. What you got was an aluminum trailer built with the same semi-monocoque construction as the Spartan Executive, featuring art deco styling from J.R. Schutes. This trailer could either be dragged behind a tow vehicle or plopped down on a plot of land and lived in.
This one is said to have been used as a tool shed for 30 years before the seller found it in 2017.
They then embarked on a journey of restoring it from top to bottom. The work done is extensive from new exterior panels to lifting the body from the frame and treating that in POR-15. The seller says that they used to be a cabinetmaker, and they used their experience to craft a custom interior for the camper featuring cherry paneling and cabinetry.
Starting with the exterior, the seller replaced the aluminum panels with 2024-T3 Alclad sheet aluminum. They also replaced the front curved windows with Lexan panels. In addition to the refurbished exterior, the camper gained LED lighting and a beefed-up chassis.
The seller explained that a mechanic extended the trailer’s tongue by two feet. It also got a Dexter axle six inches wider than factory and wider tires to match. You also get leveling jacks and electric drum brakes.
Inside, the trailer was originally finished in mahogany, but of course, three decades of being a shed weren’t kind. The original interior was ripped out and the seller crafted this cherry interior in its place. The seller did a wonderful job here and I love the art deco-style pieces throughout the interior. This interior may not be entirely period-correct, but it looks fantastic.
In the process of restoring the trailer, the seller added an air-conditioner and a modern electrical system. It has shore connections for 50-amp electricity, fresh water, and waste-water disposal at a campground. It also has black and grey tanks, a 12-volt house battery, and connections for solar panels. Tank capacities are not noted and sadly, there isn’t a fresh tank. This is because the seller didn’t plan on camping outside of sites with places to hook up. So this isn’t a rig for boondocking, but that’s fine because this isn’t really meant for that.
Once you do park this at a campsite, you do get everything you need for a comfy stay. There’s a refrigerator, a microwave, a four-burner stove, and even an ice crusher. You also get a wet bath and a bedroom featuring a sizable bed and a hidden TV.
The seller says that the restoration process took three years and they guess that it now weighs 5,000 pounds. While this camper isn’t original, I love it. This is something that you could easily camp in and not have to worry about a vintage electrical system, appliances that have been long out of production, or unobtainium parts for those appliances. You instead get some modern kit in an old package.
As for Spartan, it marched on until 1962 when the factory closed. The business then shifted into insurance as the Minnehoma Insurance Co., while the Spartan name went to the Spartan School of Aeronautics. If you’re interested in this wonderful piece of history, it’s currently bidding at $9,000 with two days to go on Bring a Trailer.
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That trailer is gorgeous, but that green 1948 Ford F1 in the images is one of my dream vehicles. That grill was very short lived, being replaced in ’50 by the teeth.
I feel like that trailer is being advertised on exactly the wrong website.
I love the Spartan Manors and Mansions. They are really solid platforms and this renovation looks really well done. There’s such a great community of vintage trailer owners and it’s really fun to go camping at a Tin Can Tourist rally. There’s always an open house period where everyone opens their trailers to the public for tours. If anyone has interest in vintage campers it’s always a great time and you will see amazing restorations and retrofits. You can also get into this hobby cheap, but you do need to be handy and be on the look out for poor or simply cosmetic restorations. We bought our 1966 Vintage 16′ camper for about $3000 almost 8 years ago. They have a cheaper cost of entry than a new camper and they don’t depreciate in value (mine has probably at least doubled in value). It’s more comfortable than tent camping, but has less amenities. I added an AC unit and replaced my icebox with a dorm fridge to make it more comfortable. We have cold water only for a hand sink, no storage tanks (we use a 10 gallon jug to capture grey water from the sink), and no bathroom or shower. It slept our family of 5 uncomfortably for many years of camping, with a couch that folded into a bed, a fold down bunk, and a convertible dinette. It’s only about 100 square feet, but the room was well planned, and the shellac birch interior is just a great space to be in. We have a more modern Airstream now too, but it’s still fun to camp in the vintage for weekend rallies.
When I was in high school in the mid-60s during the Summer I worked for a mobile home service company. Most of the work we did was in and around Palm Springs. Every mobile home park we went to had a few Spartans and did they ever stand out with the awesome front windows and aluminum skin. New park trailers then were pink or turquoise boxes that were glued and stapled together. Even in high school I camped all the time. My 1952 Chevy 1/2 ton had a basic slide in camper. It was pretty rare to see a Spartan in a campground. They really where for parks. In the late 1970s I saw one around San Diego county mounted to a truck chassis. Very cool motorhome. Around the same places and time was a DC-4 also mounted to a truck chassis.
that’s very tempting, but that’s not the kind of thing I could buy without seeing it in person.
I love the curved windows on the front, and I appreciate the upgraded underpinnings – especially the tongue/frame and brakes.
Ferdinand Porsche said that nothing should be able to go better than it can stop. He probably didn’t have travel campers in mind but the sentiment is still applicable.
Gorgeous trailer, and currently at a fairly reasonable price, particularly for BaT. I fell in love with Spartans about 20 years ago when an ex girlfriend found a Spartan Crescendo for sale in Arizona (we were in Chicago). The idea was to move it to the UP, and it got awfully expensive awfully quickly, and never happened. I still love the design of these ,though. Reading this sent me down a rabbit hole. I found athe same model for sale in Nashville/Austin for many times the cost of that one years ago, but given the right situation I would be all over this.
My wife says I can buy it, in fact she wants me to, just a little issue of dragging it back to Edmonton
Given the lack of tanks, this feels like something I would park in a seasonal site on a lake somewhere. And ya know what, I’m totally good with that. If this were offered by some boutique manufacturer brand new it would cost at least $200k. Thumbs up from me!
That Getty name sounds familiar to me because I went to Getty Elementary in Bakersfield several decades ago.
Wow, what a beautiful example of updating something old to be modern and useful while retaining old-school charm. That cherry wood finish is beautiful.
I was unimpressed looking at the pics until I scrolled to the interior. Need more info on that cherry paneling. https://youtu.be/nfcFn2JWsaQ?t=22
The interior looks a lot like my house, and it gets old quick. I would expect that a modern interior with the retro body would sell better.
Mercedes, you always have the absolutely most interesting articles. Your writing is thoughtful, informative, and entertaining. Thank you!
This trailer is GORGEOUS. It would totally work today. It’s a resto-mod. I’d love to have it. The only problem is the cost to make something like this, with all that woodwork, would likely exceed the price of the average house.