Home » This All-Metal 75-Year-Old Camper Is Built So Well It’ll Probably Outlast An RV Made Today

This All-Metal 75-Year-Old Camper Is Built So Well It’ll Probably Outlast An RV Made Today

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It’s no secret that the bulk of today’s RVs are built worse than art made out of macaroni. The units of today are sometimes sold new with rusty frames and failed safety equipment. It’s amazing to see how far things have fallen because, in the very early decades of RVs, longevity was a bigger selling point than where the toilet was located. This restored 1949 Palace Royale may be 75 years old, but I bet its metal body will continue to outlast the rigs built today.

I’ve long said that some of the best style in RV history comes from decades past. Today’s boring white boxes covered in swoops don’t have to be that way! History is full of beautiful designs that won’t look obnoxious in a campground. There’s another benefit in going old, too. A number of long-dead camper builders were dedicated to quality rather than just cranking out units as fast as possible.

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One of those companies was the Palace Travel Coach Corporation. The company didn’t just build campers but pitched them as units that were as luxurious as a palace and as sturdy as a castle. You can’t say that about a lot of modern units.

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The Palace Royale is the work of the Palace Travel Coach Corporation, a company surviving through a blip in history from 1929 to roughly the 1960s.

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The Palace Travel Coach Corporation was opened in 1929 by David D. Arehart in Flint, Michigan. There isn’t much said about Arehart’s history, but it is clear that he was an inventor. A patent search reveals that Arehart was dreaming up new ideas from the 1930s into the 1950s.

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United States Patent and Trademark Office

Most of Arehart’s inventions focus on improving the coupler between a trailer and a tow vehicle. Among his patents include a weight distribution hitch, a hitch with multiple couplers, and trailer anti-sway devices. Many of these inventions look like the ancestors of today’s towing equipment.

Arehart’s other inventions focus on the trailers themselves. In 1939, Arehart invented a trailer with a third wheel at its tongue. This trailer featured a wheel on a swivel that supported the trailer’s weight, relieving pressure on the tow vehicle’s rear end. Arehart also invented a trailer in 1941 with a wooden superstructure of individually-construction sections. However, Arehart’s largest claim to fame was his all-metal roof trailer, which began production in 1937.

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United States Patent and Trademark Office

Arehart was ambitious about his business. In 1936, he published advertisements claiming that his trailers were about to be as big of a deal as the car was back then. The company, later shortened to Palace Corp, also claimed to be America’s second-largest camper producer of the 1930s.

Palace marketed itself as a high-end, high-quality trailer producer with distribution through car dealer owners. Back in 1937, Palace boasted features including electric refrigerators, water heaters, showers, bathtubs, chemical toilets, kitchens, electric brakes, a third wheel, and more. Palace coaches were luxurious, sturdy, and supposedly as smooth going down the road as a car. Prices ranged from $595 ($13,253 today) for the smallest trailers to $1,900 ($42,321 today) for giant three-bedroom models with sleeping for up to eight.

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Palace Travel Coach Corporation
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Palace Travel Coach Corporation

The Palace Travel Coach Corporation also didn’t stick to just making travel coaches. Arehart patented a design for a collapsible building. This design would be implemented as the Palace Expansible Dwelling and Utility Unit. These were pre-fabricated, expanding housing units containing a full bathroom, kitchen, laundry room, and office. Palace offered a variety of options for these dwellings including units fully furnished and decorated from the factory to more basic structures that didn’t even have a bathroom.

The idea behind the Palace Expansible Dwellings and Utility Units was that the 1940s-era military could deploy temporary housing quickly. The Palace Expansible Dwelling was also pitched as emergency housing after disasters. There was concern that America could have been attacked in World War II, and the Palace Expansible Dwellings would have been used as housing outside of destroyed cities.

This Palace Royale

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This trailer did not serve the wartime industry. Instead, it was a part of the post-war camping boom. The Palace Royale comes from a time when Palace built its trailers out of all-metal bodies for durability. The fact that this one has survived so long is a testament to what building a quality rig can achieve.

According to an archived brochure, the body of the Royale is die-formed like the era’s cars and it featured up to 7 feet of interior headroom. Royale’s selling points included ventilation, large windows, and a lot of air space. The Royale measures about 24 feet in length and a weight of roughly 3,500 pounds or so. That number comes from Palace owners, not the company, so it’ll be wise to weigh it to be sure. Below the Royale was the shorter Prince and above it was the longer Majestic. Palace said these trailers were the only ones on sale at the time with car-like bodies.

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eBay Seller

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This 1949 Palace Royale has been restored, but stays as faithful to its original state as possible. Original parts include the refrigerator, some floor paneling, and what appears to be some wall panels. The rest of it has been refreshed with new equipment from the tongue and electrical system to the interior wood and plumbing. There’s even a vintage heater onboard for those cold nights.

Other good news comes in the form of a sizeable kitchen with a dual-basin sink, a four-burner stove, oven and plenty of countertop space and cabinets. It looks like there was some water damage in this trailer’s past, but that appears to have been fixed.

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Unfortunately, this Royale was sold new without a bathroom of any kind. Instead, there are cabinets filling the gaps. So, if you’re someone who likes a self-contained RV, you’ll need to do further remodeling to install a bathroom. You may also want to install an air-conditioner somewhere, too. The seller also notes that there isn’t a black tank or a gray tank, so you’ll need to add those if you don’t want to be married to a campsite with a sewer.

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Overall, it looks like you’re getting a pretty sweet space for a couple to camp out in. Yes, buying a vintage camper does come with risks. You aren’t getting this serviced at Camping World and you aren’t going to have a good time finding parts when something does break. And you can forget about wiring diagrams. Yet, unlike today’s rigs, you can probably take it out at least a few times before you have to start worrying.

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The next question is if it’s worth the price. The seller, out of Arroyo Grande, California, wants $19,000 for the trailer. While it’s not the cheapest thing in the world, it’s also not outrageously expensive for a cool piece of American RV history.

Still, even without the bathroom, this is a solid camper. It’s sure to turn heads at the campground and its construction should mean many more years of fun camping. At the very least, it should last longer than an RV built during the pandemic, though that is not a high bar to clear.

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(Images: Facebook Seller, unless otherwise noted.)

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Elhigh
Elhigh
15 days ago

I’m not keen on the Palace Expansible Dwelling, or at least I don’t want to be known as an avid fan of them. Nobody wants to be called a PEDophile.

James Carson
James Carson
15 days ago

Oh yeah! The interior brings on flashbacks of my departed grans place. Very cool machine and it does look well built unlike the garden sheds on wheels being sold today.

Aaron
Aaron
15 days ago

…several decades ago, RV builders actually cared about making things last.

Survivorship bias. I love this semi-regular feature on classic campers. I love Mercedes’ camper content in general. It’s way better than the “look at this thing” based influence media that dominates the topic. But mainline RVs have always been built like crap. It’s no coincidence most of the units featured in these articles were low-volume and/or premium models for their time. Comparable units from today could very well stand the test of time 40-70 years from now (with proper maintenance and restoration as the featured units doubtless receive). The Coleman Lantern equivalent of the 1952 disintegrated in a forest somewhere by 1958.

Last edited 15 days ago by Aaron
Aaron
Aaron
15 days ago

I hear you on that. There’s a definite lack of focus on quality within mainstream brands, for sure, even if it’s just in what the communicated selling points are! As with most other things, there’s too much focus on tech and/or value… unless you’re going for a Scamp, Casita, or (maybe) Lance.

Manwich Sandwich
Manwich Sandwich
14 days ago
Reply to  Aaron

And you can still get good quality trailers today… but they’ll cost you. Just look at the trailer makers that are geared toward the commercial space like the movie industry like this company:
https://starsuites.com
https://generalcoachtrailers.com/reward-travel-trailers/
https://www.miamiproductiontrailers.com/
Or you can get a commercial-grade office trailer and then build out the interior to suit your needs
https://millerofficetrailers.com

And here’s a link that gives you an idea of what these cost:
https://www.totaltrailers.com/all-inventory?category=office

TOSSABL
TOSSABL
15 days ago

Metal construction and only 3500lbs? That’s pretty impressive. No mention of tank capacity—and I imagine it’s quite a bit less than more modern units—but still seems like a decent deal for $19k if you need a big trailer camper.

Yeah, you’ll need to figure out toilet & AC, but at least you start with a solid platform

3WiperB
3WiperB
15 days ago
Reply to  TOSSABL

There is probably no tank unless one has been added. Camping was different then. I have a 1966 trailer with no bathroom, and it just came with a pump faucet (pump from a container under the sink) and a piece of tubing for a drain that just runs out the bottom of the camper. We added a city water inlet and a cold water faucet and carry a 7 gallon container that we put under the trailer to capture the grey water from the tube.

Michael Beranek
Michael Beranek
15 days ago

Those collapsible dwellings could be a way to help solve the homelessness crisis, but I’m afraid that there are too many people who don’t want it solved.

Last edited 15 days ago by Michael Beranek
Aaron
Aaron
15 days ago

My eyes automatically roll whenever someone mentions a “tiny house”, but I think these collapsible dwellings are worth a procrastinatory deep dive!

Hangover Grenade
Hangover Grenade
15 days ago

My city council is looking at using old 40′ shipping containers to house the homeless. They ran the numbers, and it didn’t work for single occupancy. But double occupancy worked.

I have a 20′ shipping container on my property that I use as a shed, and can confirm it would be miserable to live out of.

Last edited 15 days ago by Hangover Grenade
Michael Beranek
Michael Beranek
15 days ago

Less miserable than a doorway, park bench, or culvert pipe, I would bet.

MEK
MEK
15 days ago

We use 20′ boxes all the time for storage onsite (construction industry) and that’s debatable. If they are well insulated, probably. Poorly insulated, big maybe. Uninsulated, definitely not. Those things turn into incinerators in the August sun even in a moderate temperature zone. My guess would be that as homeless housing, insulation will be midgrade at best so these may be borderline uninhabitable after a few days of unrelenting summer sun.

DadBod
DadBod
15 days ago

The shipping container craze was born of the glut of containers on US shores after China stopped importing stuff. It’s a terrible idea for so many reasons, and has been debunked in building science circles for years. An unventilated steel box with a low ceiling is not a great place to start when constructing a dwelling. You can stick frame a similar sized house on a pier foundation in one or two days.

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