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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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:
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.