This Bizarro Universe Airstream Competitor Is An Aluminum Camper Bolted To A Truck

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The 1960s were wild times in the RV world. The era saw the creation of fiberglass campers like the Boler, the popularization of the term “motorhome,” and even the Bedford Dormobile. Here’s another wild 1960s creation, and it involves former American travel trailer manufacturer Silver Streak and former German tractor and truck manufacturer Hanomag. The Silver Streak Matador was meant to compete with Airstream and boasted great fuel economy, but could barely go faster than 60 mph.

History on this exact camper is hard to find. And in fact, I’ve found just a few of examples of them on the entire internet. You might think, as I initially did, that this is a custom job. But it isn’t, and it was supposed to be a super-economical RV.

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Bruce Fingerhood

As the folks of Tin Can Tourists note, Silver Streak trailers were the creation of the Curtis Wright Company. It should be noted that this is not Curtiss-Wright, the airplane manufacturer. I wrote a little bit about the history of Silver Streak in a recent Mercedes’ Marketplace Madness:

As Airstream notes, immediately following WWII, Airstream founder Wally Byam teamed up with Curtis Wright to build an aluminum trailer. Byam already had experience in building the first Airstreams and used it to help create the first Curtis Wright trailers in 1946.

However, as Airstream notes, Curtis couldn’t keep financial promises, and in 1948 Byam went back to building Airstreams. Then in 1949, the company was sold to investors who formed the Silver Streak Trailer Company.

That’s why a Silver Streak looks like an Airstream, and that’s where the similarities end.

Silverstreak
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Airstream explains that its frames and shells are built separately. The frame is constructed separately from the shell, with holding tanks built directly on the frame. The shell is formed and completed by itself before it gets lifted up and lowered onto the frame.

On the other hand, Tin Can Tourists notes, a Silver Streak’s shell was built directly onto the frame. Then the interior was filled out from the inside, with supporting the structure, appliances, and other interior fittings fed through the door. To this day you can find online debate over which company has a better production process.

For its Matador motorhome, Silver Streak took its trailers and attached them to an interesting choice for motive power. Up front is a German Hanomag F35.

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Niels de Wit – CC BY 2.0

According to a German company history site, Hanomag originally started off in 1835 as Maschinenfabrik und Eisengießerei Georg Egestorff. Founder Georg Egestorff opened an iron foundry to build steam engines, boilers, and industrial equipment. This eventually evolved into building farm machinery and in 1846, steam locomotives. In 1971, as the company expanded, it changed its name to Hannoversche Maschinenbau-AG.

In 1912, as farming news site Lancaster Farming notes, the company began making the Hanomag tractor. Hanomag tractors reportedly rose in popularity in 1928 when the company switched from gas engines to four stroke diesels. The site writes that Hanomags are among some of the first diesel tractors. Lancaster Farming goes on to say that back in the early 1950s, Hanomag was the number one tractor manufacturer in Europe.

Hanomag Tractor
Brbbl – CC BY-SA 3.0

And amazingly, while these tractors were for European farmers, some did make their way over to the States. The company didn’t stop there, and over the decades it built economy cars, construction equipment, and military vehicles.

The little truck poking out of the front of a Silver Streak Matador started production as the Hanomag F-series medium duty trucks. Originally built as the Tempo Matador before a 1967 redesign by Hanomag, these trucks are workhorses that became everything from vans and delivery trucks to fire engines. It’s unclear why Silver Streak chose these particular trucks, but they also became RVs, too.

The Silver Streak Matador featured here was filmed on an episode of History Channel’s American Pickers.

The former owner of the camper, Norm, says in the episode that they were built in the late 1960s. He goes on to say that they’re exceedingly rare, with just 23 examples in existence. When asked about a source for that claim, Norm talks about a website. The part about these being built in the late 1960s appears to be true since the F35 is a late 1960s truck.

I did not find that website, but I did find an article from R.V. Express magazine dated March 1989. It seems to confirm the claim that just 23 were made.

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R.V. Express March 1989

Information about these is impressively scarce, but thankfully, someone scanned some documents that give us insight into these unique campers.

According to a scanned advertisement, Silver Streak touted the Matador as “the most economically operated motor home ever built.” What that means isn’t defined, but it seems to be referring to the fact that this is an up to 26-foot-long RV that gets up to 25 mpg. The claim was even made in newspaper advertisements:

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Tucson Daily Citizen, May 13, 1972, p. 29

Before you get excited, I must note that this comes with a huge caveat. See, it’s powered by a diesel four making a ravenous 55 HP and 78.1 lb-ft torque. The engine size or model isn’t stated, but at least one owner says that theirs has a Mercedes-Benz OM615, which makes the rated 55 horses.

Yes, that means that your 26-foot RV has fewer ponies under the hood than a Smart Fortwo. The spec sheet doesn’t mention a zero to 60 mph time, but that may be because 62 mph is all that the RV can go. This may be why Silver Streak advertised the engine’s durability and fuel economy rather than power.

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The oddities with the powertrain don’t end there. You get a four-speed manual transmission, but it’s driving the front wheels. I’ve examined pictures of what few of these seem to exist and it appears that the front wheels may have a different lug pattern than the rears. That makes me wonder if it really is just a trailer bolted to a truck, though the available documentation doesn’t say. However, the documentation does note that a spare wheel for the truck part of the RV was a $62.80 option.

Those who liked the idea of the Matador had a choice of three lengths: a 21 footer, a 23.5-foot rig, and the aforementioned 26 foot-long model. Pricing was $8,970 to $10,400, respectively. That’s $74,651 to $86,552 in today’s money.

Trailer1
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Perhaps just as confusing as the choice of cutaway chassis is who Silver Streak targeted as customers. The company felt that the customers for the 21-foot model would be hunters, fishermen, and others who want to travel. The 23.5-footer, which sleeps the same four people as the 21, was targeted at families. Sadly, we don’t know who Silver Streak wanted to buy the 26-foot model.

What we do know is this RV is self-contained, featuring a kitchen, a bathroom, holding tanks, and sleeping spaces. That part isn’t too surprising since it appears to be a travel trailer tacked onto the back of a truck.

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I haven’t been able to confirm the rarity of these, but a nationwide search for these has turned up a few 1968s and 1969s that sold in the past. As of now, there appears to be just one for sale in the entire country. It’s the one from American Pickers and it appears to be in more or less the same shape that it was when it was on TV three years ago. It isn’t said if the RV’s appliances are working, but everything is mostly there and is delightfully 1960s. I mean, the front seats have a floral pattern and there’s more shag carpeting covering everything than in a conversion van.

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Facebook Marketplace

The seller actually seems to be Mike Wolfe from the show, with interested parties asked to contact his restored dealership. I’ve reached out to confirm, and with some questions about this piece of RV history. I have not received a response as of publishing, but I will update if I hear back.

Until then, the asking price is $7,500, or $500 more than what the show paid for it in 2019. It’s said to be in running shape and the previous owner actually took a road trip in it. So it could be used as a real camper, but it’s probably best to stick to the side roads.

As for Silver Streak, the company continued to make campers until 1997 when it closed up shop. In the end, its Airstream competitor won out. And as for Hanomag, it went through a bunch of mergers and sell-offs. In 1969, the tractor division was sold off to Massey Ferguson and the trucks became a part of Daimler. Today, Hanomag exists only as a subsidiary of construction equipment manufacturer Komatsu.

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44 Responses

  1. Last week the family and I happened to pass an adorable RV of similar age that seems ripe for one of these articles. It helpfully had its name “Ultra Van” emblazoned on the side.

    Some quick googling showed it to be fiberglass, Corvair powered, and well regarded.

  2. Thanks for confirming my suspicion that the cab unit was a Tempo Matador and also that the FWD power pack had moved on slightly from the 30 HP VW Beetle unit in the original Matador.
    FWD is a logical choice for RV conversions since it allows more freedom to lay out the living space, or simply graft on a trailer. Besides the factory built Silver Streak there are some home built Olds Toronado and Airstream mash-ups and I think at least one Eldorado camper. GM also famously used the Toronado package in their motorhome design, which coincidentally was built as a shell with the interior inserted via the bolt on rear panel.

  3. I wonder if the low power and top speed was less of an issue then. The interstate system was still pretty new and most travel was on lower speed state and US highways. Get on an interstate with that today and you’ll get smeared, but back in the day it might have been alright.

      1. Took a road trip with my son last summer and covered 2300 miles with no interstate highways at all. Traffic was so light on those secondary roads I kind of wonder if we broke even on time each day. It was also a lot more relaxing and interesting than the interstates.

  4. Not sure about this one. 7500 is a good price but then restoration costs would probably put it in line with newer much better models.

    It is a personal choice, I would rather have a better newer model vs a piece of rolling history on vacation.

      1. I was thinking a pre-covid model. Still it is worth the time and money if you want to do it, this is a dealer’s choice situation.

        While I wouldn’t at the same time I appreciate those who do. My back and aging body just screams at the thought of the work needed.

        1. The scary thing about that article is that quality was bad and dropping even pre-Covid. THOR has over half the market, Forest River is most of the rest, and Winnebago/GD is a distant third that may still be bigger than the smaller ones put together. Even the ones that are built better structurally use the same trash from Domestic.

  5. My dad had an Anomag based flat bed tow truck (that was in France in the 1980’s). The front wheel drive configuration allowed for small rear wheels and a very low bed. I think it had a gasoline engine, but my memory is a bit foggy… It was not fast but could carry any car that would fit on it. It had a powerful electric winch that allowed pulling cars out of ditches and other places they were not supposed to be. It was also under 3.5 Tons, which meant it could be driven with a car license only.
    It was a major upgrade from his previous “tow truck” which consisted of an Opel Senator and a trailer with a hand-cranked winch.

  6. 55 HP? Holy. The real question becomes how you’d choose to make it quicker, then. My first instinct was that ’90s and early ’00s 1.9 TDIs with rust and/or body damage are thick on the ground, but since the engine it has is a standard, famously-tough Mercedes unit, not an oddball made of unobtanium, turbocharging it (or even swapping in a later five-cylinder) could be worthwhile.

    That seat upholstery’s glorious, at least.

    1. The OM 615 is a taxi engine. Great economy, but you have to be OK with going slow, reliably. Like a million miles, if you treat them right. Very nice engine, actually.

      If you want to move from the NA OM615, you’ll have to go to the 5 cylinder. The fours blow up under pressure, unless you rebuild with stronger internals, lower the compression, and do something aftermarket to get better/more reliable fueling.

      Best for that would likely be an OM 617.951.

      1. The 617.951 was my immediate go-to, too. But, I drove those for ~20 years in various 123s & 126s, so I’m a bit biased. I loved bringing them up to around 2800rpm where the torque really hit & surprising people with them off the line.
        Damn tough beasts.

  7. That camper reminds me of a custom setup I saw at an open-field campground a while back. Someone had taken a vintage Kenworth straight truck, restored it, removed the bed, and then mounted an Airstream trailer (also restored) directly to the chassis. The truck was gloss black with lots of chrome and side stacks, and the trailer was gleaming silver and filled the space aft of the cab just perfectly. It was a glorious thing to behold. I wish I could post pictures here, but you can probably find it if you Google around as there seem to be images of it swilling around in the old intertubes.

  8. Love it, but… looking at the film of dirt on the seats, door cards and counters… I’ve got to imagine whole civilizations have evolved in all that carpeting. One wonders if they are all friendly. I think I’d be afraid to breath inside of that thing.

  9. Anyone else immediately think of the Airstream/fwd Toronado mashup we saw on the other site? At first glance, I thought this was another home-brew like that.
    Cool history-dive–thanks, Mercedes!

    1. That must be Curbside Classic website, which has several articles about the mash-up you mentioned. One is Clark Cortez that used the forklift gearbox to drive the front wheels. Other is Ultra Van using the Corvair engine and transaxle.

    1. Me too. It’s unclear how many of the 23 are still out there. I checked again, and discovered that this isn’t even the first time that Silver Streak attached a trailer to a truck. Apparently, there was another Silver Streak motorhome that rode on the back of a Jeep FC!

  10. The ‘Harburger Transporter’ changed badge 4 times apparently, and there were at some point diesel Hanomag engines used. The diesel engine was actually inherited by Hanomag from Borgward, had 1800cc but only 50hp and installed up to 1973. The 55hp engines in these were 100% 2.0 Mercedes units of the era. As an aside, the petrol engines in these were sourced from Austin, because why not, but had a different power rating, 60-70hp.

      1. Yes, these have a pretty unique history and were a versatile workhorse of a vehicle. Surprised that the article doesn’t mention the next phase of the Hanomag story : that it was then bought by Mercedes-Benz in the 1970’s and the F-Series was rebranded as the 306D and related models. In the European market these Hanomag/Mercedes were extensively converted into campers slightly smaller than this, and there is a small but dedicated following. Also, as an additional trivia piece, Mercedes used these as a platform for one of their first electric vehicles: https://group-media.mercedes-benz.com/marsMediaSite/en/instance/ko/Debut-of-Mercedes-Benz-LE-306-electric-van-45-years-ago-Electric-future-in-1972.xhtml?oid=15724843

        I think these are very cool! I am biased, as I own a quad cab pickup version of the Hanomag F35.

        Also, as a side note – this article is what got me to finally register an account, and I love what y’all are doing with the site.

  11. I would love to restore this thing. It looks like the interior plywood has started to delaminate, so yoou’d need to pull that, fix whatever leaks in the aluminum structure you find, then relaminate the old stuff with some epoxy. But it could be done. And I agree with the Mercedes power. Would definitely use that. OM615.941 prolly. The 2.2L is a little better, because you get better torque with the stroker design.

    Cool ride, Mercedes! Thanks!

    1. West System to the rescue. They make an epoxy specifically for flexible and otherwise hard to bond things. Like aluminum and ABS plastic. That assumes it’s riveted together and never coming apart again. That stuff puts up with some crazy flex and impact.

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