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.
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
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.
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?
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’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.
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
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.
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.
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!
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.
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.
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.
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.)
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