Home » This Aluminum Barth Motorhome Was A High Mark In 1970s Camping Luxury, Now It’s A Vintage Bargain

This Aluminum Barth Motorhome Was A High Mark In 1970s Camping Luxury, Now It’s A Vintage Bargain

Barthconst1
ADVERTISEMENT

The words “luxury,” “cheap,” and “motorhome” don’t tend to mix together well. A luxury motorhome might be a million-dollar Ford F-550 with a growth on the back while a cheap camper that tries to be luxurious can be a hilarious pile of crap. But, fear not, if you’re the kind of person who likes bringing a giant hotel room around with you, there’s still a way to do it for not a ton of dough. Just take a few steps backward in time and check out something like this 1977 Barth 34T motorhome. When this camper was new, it represented high-end luxury for the 1970s. Today? Its $7,500 price tag is cheaper than most new campers.

Readers keep asking for offbeat inexpensive campers and your wish is my command! Sometimes it’s fun to gawk at some seriously expensive camping hardware, but a motorhome like this Barth is something many of our readers could conceivably buy today without ending up in the poor house. It helps that with some elbow grease, it can look rather spectacular. In an era where RV design currently consists of some swoop decals or, if a manufacturer is feeling spicy, jagged decals, a rig with some real shapes is refreshing.

Vidframe Min Top
Vidframe Min Bottom

357446303 317476473936814 760070

Even better, this 1977 Barth is, at least on paper, built better than some campers that are 46 years newer. See, this camper’s body isn’t that of weak plywood walls with fiberglass adhered to it, but with a unitized aluminum body with riveted aluminum walls and an aluminum roof.

A Short-Lived Name For Quality

Barth2
Barth Inc.

Barth Inc. of Milford, Indiana, was a company that didn’t stick around too long. For the couple of decades it existed, Barth marketed itself as the ultimate motorhome. Barth advertised its coaches as being built piece by piece and by hand, like the cars of decades past. And each Barth was built to the customer’s exact specifications. I’ve scoured archived brochures and found that Barth didn’t even advertise prices. Of course, with a high-end coach like this, your final price was based on whatever coachwork you wanted done.

ADVERTISEMENT

As a hint about what these motorhomes cost their buyers, Barth marketed its coaches as saving you money if you just bought a Barth first instead of buying a starter motorhome before trading up for another motorhome. So, a Barth cost you more than a regular coach, but apparently less than two motorhomes?

Img 5783 1024x1024@2x
Barth Inc

According to RV Travel, Barth traces its roots to the Beeline Trailer Company, a manufacturer of yellow and black canned ham-style campers. Bob Barth was the owner of Beeline and in 1963, he left the company and founded the Barth Trailer Company in Milford, Indiana. At its launch, the goal of Barth was to build all-aluminum travel trailers with a focus on quality. Aside from standouts like Airstream, Avion, Travco, and some others, most campers were built out of wood with aluminum siding. Barth’s campers were built with the long haul in mind.

Bob Barth would produce his all-aluminum trailers out of his Indiana factory from 1963 to 1968 when he sold the business to banker Mike Umbaugh. The latter businessman saw Barth as an investment opportunity and as Tin Can Tourists notes, he didn’t have experience in the RV industry. Soon, Umbaugh discontinued travel trailer production in 1970 and the company focused on motorhomes, which were quite popular at the time. Much like how Barth’s travel trailers catered to a higher end of the market, Barth’s motorhomes would compete on a level higher than that offered by the likes of GMC and Winnebago.

Barth Brochure 11
Barth Inc

Barth’s calling to fame is its construction. The coaches rode on a common Chevrolet motorhome chassis, which Barth advertised as providing ease of service thanks to a wide service network. For Barth, it was what was on top that was innovative. Instead of wood framing, Barth built its coaches using a patented unitized aluminum body. The motorhome bodies started out as a frame that would attach to the chassis. Built on that frame were aluminum extrusions, aluminum studs, aluminum walls, and an aluminum roof. Inside all of that metal was insulation for the floor, walls, and roof. Completed bodies would be lowered onto the motorhome chassis and then finished out. Barth advertised its “aluminum aircraft construction” methods as keeping durability high while keeping the weight low, along with a lower center of gravity.

On top of the durable build, Barth advertised near-infinite customization opportunities. Wanted your Barth to come with an ice machine, spotlights, and a hidden vacuum? Sure, you got it! Barth offered a variety of floor plans and finishing options, but the company said that it could fit your motorhome with “virtually any custom feature you may have in mind.” Because of the highly custom nature of a Barth motorhome, Tin Can Tourists notes that the company never constructed more than about 300 units a year.

ADVERTISEMENT
Barth Brochure 10
Barth Inc

Of course, you’ve likely noticed how I said these started hitting the road in the early 1970s. Well, the Oil Crisis of 1973 pumped the brakes on America’s adoration of RVs and a number of companies began struggling. To stay afloat, Barth built its RVs but also expanded into building mobile intensive care units, mobile dentist offices, sales offices, mobile libraries, and or really any kind of mobile business platform. Barth was willing to build these coaches in sizes ranging from 21 feet to 35 feet.

This 1977 Barth 34T

357412848 317476363936825 263110

That brings us to this Barth 34T for sale in Traverse City, Michigan. It has traveled just 32,916 miles in its life and at least to my eyes, looks ready for many more miles and smiles. The Barth 34T rides on a Chevrolet P30 motorhome chassis and is powered by a 454 cubic inch V8 engine. No power figures are listed, but I’d expect this unit to make about 240 HP.

This triple-axle beast looks a little weathered, but you can still see some shine in that aluminum and the paint is also still mostly there. Notable, to me, anyway, is the fact that all of the lights still work. I don’t know about you, but I’m used to seeing so many vintage campers with non-working lighting that this is actually worth pointing out.

357451146 317476423936819 904150

ADVERTISEMENT

The interior looks even more inviting. The seller notes that the unit has two air-conditioners, a newer refrigerator, a new toilet, a new water heater, and new airbags for the tag axle. Otherwise, the coach appears to be in original condition and even includes a 6.5 kW Onan generator. The interior appears to have held up pretty well. Its ceiling has what appears to be a couple of stains, largely near one of the air-conditioners, but it’s pretty clean overall. I’d definitely check for water leaks in that area, but the good news is that in a motorhome like this, a water leak isn’t immediately a total loss. Remember, the structure is aluminum!

Standard features include a Turbo Hydra-Matic automatic transmission, front disc brakes, an automotive heater with two blowers, tinted windows, a full kitchen, two cigarette lighters, a 60,000 BTU furnace, a full bathroom, and hand-finished cabinetry. In terms of holding tanks, you got 35 gallons for fresh water, 56 gallons for wastes, and a 50-gallon fuel tank. You got all of that in a vehicle with a gross vehicle weight rating of 15,000 pounds.

357376201 317476450603483 772897

Barth3

In 1977, Barth offered three base floorplans for the 34T. You could get a floorplan with a big bathroom in the rear, a floorplan with large sofas in the rear, or a floorplan with a lounge back there. I like the floorplan with the sofas in the back because the middle of the camper is a bar and there’s a liquor cabinet where the dinette would be in the other floorplans. Clearly, that’s the booze cruise model!

ADVERTISEMENT

This 1977 Barth 34T appears to be Floorplan FP3, or what I just called the booze cruise model. The bar is there, but instead of the factory bar stools, you get dining room chairs.

Barth5

The factory sofas are now just what appear to be twin beds. Up front, where the liquor cabinet would normally be is a dinette. This looks original, so I wonder if this layout was customized by the original owner to not have the liquor cabinet.

Bargain Luxury

357108135 317491403935321 532102

Either way, you’re getting a lot of motorhome here for an affordable price of $7,500. If we didn’t already have a motorhome in our crosshairs, I would think this rig would be a contender for the official Autopian camper. But, trust me, what we have in mind is way weirder than this is. If you’re looking for a lot of coach with a dash of history and not a huge price, contact the seller in Traverse City, Michigan to start your journey.

ADVERTISEMENT

As for Barth, sadly, the company wouldn’t make it to the new millennium. In the 1990s, the company expanded into diesel pusher coaches built with the same high quality. Barth continued to make motorhomes and mobile business vehicles until 1998 when the company ceased operations. The Barth unit was sold to Keith Leatherman, who attempted to move the company to Albion, Indiana.

Ultimately, Leatherman was unable to restart Barth production, and the company’s story ended for good in 2001. Today, the Barth legacy lives on in a strong community of owners who keep these coaches alive. With just 75 Benjamins in your pocket, you could keep this classy motorhome going.

(Images: Seller, unless otherwise noted.)

Support our mission of championing car culture by becoming an Official Autopian Member.

Image17

ADVERTISEMENT

Share on facebook
Facebook
Share on whatsapp
WhatsApp
Share on twitter
Twitter
Share on linkedin
LinkedIn
Share on reddit
Reddit
Subscribe
Notify of
50 Comments
Inline Feedbacks
View all comments
James Colangelo
James Colangelo
11 months ago

This is unbelievable at that price.. someone please buy it ASAP.

Drh3b
Drh3b
11 months ago

I know what kind of motor home A Barth is getting.

Last edited 11 months ago by Drh3b
Mindy Mattics
Mindy Mattics
11 months ago

My husband and I are in this 1970 Luxury Vintage Motorhome. We would love someone to text or call us. You can reach us via email: mindy_79@msn.com or call us at: (Mindy)My number: 801-597-5020. My husband ( Johnny) 801-518-4087. We look forward to hearing from you

Thanks
Mindy Mattics

Is Travis
Is Travis
11 months ago

The inside is way cleaner than it has any right to be, and at that price you have to assume mechanically something is up.
And it has the 454?
How it hasn’t sold is… something is up or the market is cooling off.
What do you think Mercedes?

Mark Peterson
Mark Peterson
11 months ago

I’m sorry, but when I hear the name “Barth” I can’t help but think of the cook from the Nickelodeon TV show “You Can’t Do That On Television”

Ranwhenparked
Ranwhenparked
11 months ago

It seems like almost every camper manufacturer that tried to sell quality and durability went the same way as any domestic airline trying to sell better comfort and service in coach (people looked at the price tag, bought something shittier for less money, and the quality offerings were either forced to downgrade to the competition’s low, or go out of business)

BigThingsComin
BigThingsComin
11 months ago

Baby got back . . .

Hugh Crawford
Hugh Crawford
11 months ago

Of course, you must always keep a copy of this book in the Barth. Maybe even name the RV John?
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_End_of_the_Road

Steve Lee
Steve Lee
11 months ago

The three different roof levels is certainly a design choice.

Pedro
Pedro
11 months ago

2 words: Electric conversion. At this starter price, it would be very feasible. Electric drive, heat pump water heater, heat pump heater heater, and disc brakes, a new interior, some solar panels, a missile launcher …. ahh the dream of the open road.

Bradillac
Bradillac
11 months ago

Mercedes — I was so glad to see you move over to Autopian. But, I’m wondering if a more prudent choice for you would have been to an RV site or magazine. I’d prefer more car-related stories, please.

A. Barth
A. Barth
11 months ago

Speaking as one of the weird motorcycle types: can confirm.

I have had some fairly interesting vehicles, but now (and will for the foreseeable future) have one car and *mumble* motorcycles. I don’t know much about RVs, but like the idea of a portable house and it’s interesting to be exposed to something new.

3WiperB
3WiperB
11 months ago

I love the RV content and hope you get that Ultra Van. Then we can have the Autopian camping weekend, even if it’s just boondocking in a Troy, MI Walmart parking lot.

Doctor Nine
Doctor Nine
11 months ago

I am certain The Autopian would be poorer without peculiar motorcycles and RVs.
Please carry on. I suspect that a plurality of us are here specifically BECAUSE of that stuff. I’ll even read the Smart Car articles you write, despite the fact that I hate those little roachmobiles, simply because you are so enthusiastic and entertaining.

As they say, stay weird. Life is too short for boring.

Vic Vinegar
Vic Vinegar
11 months ago

I like the variety. Better than a review of a Rolls Royce or something that I’ll never own. I could buy this! Plus RVs are interesting.

BigThingsComin
BigThingsComin
11 months ago

I have zero interest in owning or driving an RV, but your articles at least make them interesting. You have a good eye for that.

Harrnack
Harrnack
11 months ago

Mercedes, I just love your love of these majestic rigs. Don’t ever change 🙂

Last edited 11 months ago by Harrnack
Alan Christensen
Alan Christensen
11 months ago

All that being said, this Barth would be banned from most RV parks because it’s over ten years old.

3WiperB
3WiperB
11 months ago

It’s a concern. I wouldn’t say most, but you do need to check ahead. We have a restored 1966 trailer, and our main camper is 16 years old. I’ve never had an issue with being allowed in a campground. The ban does seem to be more of a thing in certain areas of the country. In Michigan, it’s very rare to have a limit on age, and it’s typically enforced more in the high end RV resorts.

Manwich Sandwich
Manwich Sandwich
11 months ago
Reply to  3WiperB

The words “high end RV resorts” sounds like a contradiction to me.

UnseenCat
UnseenCat
11 months ago

With respect to high-end RV resorts, I’ll take Groucho Marx’s approach… “I don’t want to belong to any club that would accept me as one of its members.”

The best thing about those resorts’ “10-year rule” is that there are enough of them that it puts a non-trivial downward pressure on used motorhome pricing after 10 years of age, particularly for some of the higher-end diesel pushers which are popular at those resorts. They’re purchased as trophies, spend most of their first years parked, and then get sold off by the “No exceptions” resort-goers. (Yes, as a matter of fact, these are the same people who measure grass height and squawk to the HOA board if the neighbor’s lawn is 1/8″ too tall.)

3WiperB
3WiperB
11 months ago
Reply to  UnseenCat

You sum it up well, and I agree… I’m not interested in being anywhere near a “high-end RV Resort”. They sound like HOA’s to me too, and I won’t live in an HOA either. An HOA will never approve of the 2 campers I keep in my yard. Heck, I’m waiting for the day when the town says I can’t have more than 1.

Ranwhenparked
Ranwhenparked
11 months ago
Reply to  3WiperB

I think its more common on the west coast and also just generally in areas where campgrounds have reason to fear people overstaying their reservation and deciding to squat

ADDvanced
ADDvanced
11 months ago

Those are all just boomer centric anyway

Andreas8088
Andreas8088
11 months ago

Most of those 10 year rules are just a way for them to have an excuse to turn away ratty looking rigs. If your RV is restored or maintained in good condition so it’s not an eyesore, I found that none of the places with these rules would turn me away. (I traveled from 2012 to 2015 in an older-but-well-maintained RV.)

UnseenCat
UnseenCat
11 months ago
Reply to  Andreas8088

Yeah, it’s a little bit nuanced, but as someone who’s also travelled in an older rig, it mostly works like this — There are major resorts in the Sun Belt which have pretty much absolute, uncompromising 10-year rules. They started the trend, and then municipalities all over the country took up the idea and twisted the arms of campgrounds, particularly those with seasonal sites, to add it to their rules in order to keep ratty RV’s away. So in a lot of general campgrounds, it’s 10 years old or with management’s discretion for anything older.

I never had problems the 20- and 30-year-old rigs I’ve driven — but they were in nice, if imperfect, cosmetic condition — clearly both well-kept but also well-travelled. It also helped that we avoided overly commercialized or “snooty” campgrounds. We traveled and camped to have fun, not to re-create suburban life.

Unfortunately, I’ve been off the road for a few years, so I don’t know precisely how things are now, but at the time, being a member of the FMCA (with the prominent numbered “goose egg” plaque) helped remove doubt when talking to campground managers. FMCA members field a lot of interesting rigs, vintage, custom, as well as modern. And since FMCA members tend to be active travelers, their rigs tend to be in decent shape regardless of age. Nowadays, I’d add Tin Can Tourists to that list as well — they even have a directory of vintage-friendly campgrounds. Personally, I’ve found that the drivers of “vintage” and older RV’s are a pretty good bunch to hang out with, and they’re frequently the ones who are there to lend a hand when somebody’s shiny-new rig is having issues.

3WiperB
3WiperB
11 months ago
Reply to  UnseenCat

I agree that the owners of “Vintage” RV’s tend to be much friendlier and interesting to hang out with. It’s also more fun to camp with something interesting. People are always interested to talk about our ’66 “Canned Ham” and sometimes we’ll even let them take a look. Our 2007 is a 23′ Airstream so that always gets some interest, but not nearly as much as the vintage one. The nice thing is that both groups have a “club” with camping rallies. It’s a great way to meet people with similar interests and socialize while camping. Open house days at a Tin Can Tourist rally are a ton of fun. I prefer the rallies. We camped last weekend just with our family of 5 crammed in the Airstream, but our neighboring campers never said more to us than a quick hello, which always seems so odd to me. But the rallies are social events. At the last Airstream rally I cooked pizzas in an outdoor pizza oven for about 20 people, and we had potlucks and played games, etc.

Dave
Dave
11 months ago

This thing is amazing, and the price makes it more so. Pick it up cheap, refresh the interior and the mechanicals and you’re still in for less than a moderately priced C class, never mind A class. Great find Mercedes!

Boxing Pistons
Boxing Pistons
11 months ago

Would an aluminum Barth be called an “A-Barth” for short? That wouldn’t be confusing or anything..

Cheap Bastard
Cheap Bastard
11 months ago
Reply to  Boxing Pistons

Needs MOAR scorpion for that:

https://www.abarth.com/meet-the-scorpion

A. Barth
A. Barth
11 months ago
Reply to  Boxing Pistons

No more confusing than a site having an excellent automotive transportation journalist named Mercedes. 🙂

Phil Lindberg
Phil Lindberg
11 months ago

Thanks for including a rare reference to Beeline camping trailers. I grew up with an 18 foot Beeline that made many cross-country trips. Good times!

ADDvanced
ADDvanced
11 months ago

Mercedes, you have been absolutely killing it lately. Love learning about stuff like this since I have almost no knowledge of it.

Paul B
Paul B
11 months ago

So they managed to make a 34′ motorhome with 3 axles that weighs 4000lbs less than the 27north Ascender.

Let that sink in a bit.

Doctor Nine
Doctor Nine
11 months ago
Reply to  Paul B

Well, with the 3 axles, it won’t sink into the mud as fast as the 27North Ascender…

Sklooner
Sklooner
11 months ago

I was set on buying one of these but couldn’t find one I liked other than one that needed windshields that were unobtainable ended up with a Winnebago’

3WiperB
3WiperB
11 months ago
Reply to  Sklooner

That’s a good point. I was thinking most of the drive train stuff should be available, but I didn’t think about the glass. Looks like there is some clouding around the bottom edge of the existing windshields too.

Sklooner
Sklooner
11 months ago
Reply to  3WiperB

That’s what reminded me of it- later ones had a common windscreen but the early ones are not available- I have seen some kludges involving sheet aluminium and urethane to fix

Crank Shaft
Crank Shaft
11 months ago
Reply to  Sklooner

You can 100% get a custom replacement windshield for basically any vehicle. I’m not saying it would be cheap, but you can absolutely get one if you want.

Idiotking
Idiotking
11 months ago
Reply to  Crank Shaft

I recently looked into buying new curved rear glass for my ’63 Travelall. I was quoted $2500 for one side, one pane. Luckily I found an inexpensive donor in Ohio and I now have the piece I need wrapped carefully in a custom wooden box until I can install it.

Taco Shackleford
Taco Shackleford
11 months ago

I really hope The Autopian is eying up the Mauck MSV with millionaire doors.
Insert gif of Russ in Silicon Valley

A. Barth
A. Barth
11 months ago

So, a Barth cost you more than a regular coach, but apparently less than two motorhomes?

That sounds about right. 🙂

Andrew Wyman
Andrew Wyman
11 months ago
Reply to  A. Barth

I wondered if you would show up! Now you can buy a Barth that is big enough to fit your other Barth into.

3WiperB
3WiperB
11 months ago

Good find! This seems to be in great condition for the price. Vintage camping is a ton of fun and this would get plenty of attention at a Tin Can Tourists rally. You could embrace the 70’s or the possibilities are endless for a remodel. That ladder to get on the roof is amazing!

Last edited 11 months ago by 3WiperB
Drew
Drew
11 months ago

That price for that mileage seems a little too good, though I admittedly do not know this market at all.

Gubbin
Gubbin
11 months ago
Reply to  Drew

Seems like used RV prices are less about the miles, and more about the years it’s been sitting in the driveway.

Data
Data
11 months ago
Reply to  Gubbin

It’s not the years, honey. It’s the mileage.
*Cue Raider’s March

UnseenCat
UnseenCat
11 months ago
Reply to  Gubbin

100% correct. Depreciation of RV’s, especially motorhomes, tends to be age-based.
That said, age and sitting can take a toll on a motor vehicle just as mileage can, but often in different ways.

In this case, the price is probably (refreshingly) realistic. The already-mentioned windshield panels are an expense waiting to happen. The appliances are aging, and parts are likely to be NLA — which means that any minor fault that needs a part to complete the fix can turn into a rebuild/replacement of major components instead. (The listing mentions a newer fridge, but that leaves the stove and the water heater as major question marks. Another hidden cost is the AC-to-DC power converter; they often get weak and/or noisy due to issues with the transformer and its cooling fan.) Twin beds are OK for some uses, but it would be more marketable if the bed area was converted to a full-size bed. And in a non-slide design, if the length of the bedroom area is too short (where the foot of the bed is up against the partition) then all you can do is set the bed crosswise, which can make crawling in and out of the far side a bit of a hassle.

Mechanically, the Chevy P-series chassis is serviceable and reliable, but given its age is likely to have its quirks to iron out. 454 engines in motorhomes are particularly prone to needing their exhaust gaskets replaced due to heat buildup under the floor, and they’re often a pain in the neck to get to because of the engine placement. (Always, always let a 454 in a motorhome idle down for at least five minutes when parking, especially after running highway speeds. It goes a long way to preserving the exhaust gaskets.) And there’s no mention of the tire age — they could be due for replacement based on age alone.

Ixcaneco
Ixcaneco
11 months ago

Very cool. Thanks sharing.

50
0
Would love your thoughts, please comment.x
()
x