Home » This Fabulous Vintage Trailer Is Built Like A Plane And Has A Cooler Interior Than Many Campers Today

This Fabulous Vintage Trailer Is Built Like A Plane And Has A Cooler Interior Than Many Campers Today

Built Like A Plane 2
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If you’re looking to buy a camper today, chances are you’re going to find a lot of boring, boxy shapes and flimsy interiors. RV design nowadays also seems to call for swoopy graphics and spaces that look like a hotel room. If you want to arrive in style and sleep in a camper that feels special, I’ve found a fabulous vintage trailer that hits the spot. This 1951 Spartan Spartanette Tandem is an aluminum trailer built by an aircraft manufacturer and it still works today, complete with a beautiful birch interior.

If you’ve been reading my work for long enough, you know that I love advocating for the adoption of vintage campers. I love some of the technology coming out of the RV world right now like trailers that can basically tow themselves and the glorious resurgence of fiberglass as a building material. Still, I love looking at the past.

Vidframe Min Top
Vidframe Min Bottom

Decades ago, RV manufacturers were full of experimentation and released designs that we don’t really see anymore. So, if you have the funds and the patience to keep these old rigs alive, just take a look at what you can get! I found this 1951 Spartan Spartanette Tandem for sale on Facebook. There are a few of these for sale right now; this one might be the best.

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Facebook Seller

From Oil And Aviation To Trailers

If Spartan sounds like a familiar name, perhaps it’s because you’ve read about one of the last times I wrote about a large Spartan trailer over at the old site. Spartan has shown up a couple of times in my RV reporting and it’s because like an old Airstream, these units are captivating.

This trailer was the work of Spartan Aircraft Company of Tulsa, Oklahoma, which has its roots in oil. In 1905, the Ida Glenn Number One discovery well of the Glenn Pool Field struck oil at a depth of 1,481 feet. This well produced about 75 to 85 barrels of crude daily, and it became the stomping ground for rising American industrialists. Harry Ford Sinclair used the field to start Sinclair Oil and the infamous Jean Paul Getty Sr. started Getty Oil from the well.

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Spartan C 3 Side
SDASM Archives

William G. Skelly was another businessman to profit from the field. Skelly made a fortune from the Glenn Pool Field in the 1920s and used that money to fund his aviation interests. In 1938, he purchased the Mid-Continent Aircraft Company, renamed it the Spartan Aircraft Company, and started the Spartan School of Aeronautics.

Some of Spartan’s first aircraft included the Spartan C3 biplane, which was built starting in the late 1920s. Spartan is best known for the Spartan Executive, a high-performance luxury monoplane marketed towards corporate executives. Built starting in 1936, the aircraft had a then-impressive 190 mph cruising speed and a range of around 1,000 miles. The Executive could be seen as the equivalent of a private jet in the pre-jet age. As such, famous people like Howard Hughes bought their own Spartan Executives.

SDASM Archives

Skelly initially navigated Spartan through the Great Depression, but in the latter half of the 1930s, a controlling interest was sold to the aforementioned Getty. Spartan eventually shifted some of its production to military aircraft. In the late 1930s, it built the Spartan Model 8W “Zeus” all-metal military warplane capable of multiple roles. In 1940, Spartan also made the Spartan NP-1 biplane trainer for the United States Navy.

After the war, Spartans fortunes began drying up. As Forbes reports, the Spartan Executive was still in production, but couldn’t compete with military surplus aircraft. Thus, Getty decided to take the company in a different direction with more mass appeal. Spartan engineers were already working on a car and a camper, and Getty determined that a mobile home would be a good fit for the housing needs of postwar America. In 1945, the first Spartan trailer was produced.

Spartan Materials
Worthpoint Seller

 

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One of the marketing points of a Spartan trailer is the fact that like a plane, the trailers were built using a semi-monocoque construction where the shell is a stressed element and internal stringers were used for support. Since Getty was trying to provide a living space, Spartan’s trailers were more geared toward being a cozy mobile home rather than your basecamp during travel.

Today, we might call a trailer like a Spartan a “park model.” It’s meant to sit in one place for a while but is also mobile enough to go somewhere else at a moment’s notice. Some of Spartan’s units spanned lengths as long as 57 feet and widths as wide as 10 feet. Those trailers would be closer to a typical manufactured trailer home today, a trailer that gets plopped down at a site for years.

This Spartanette Tandem

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Facebook Seller

According to archived records, the Spartan Spartanette was a part of Spartan’s trailer efforts from the late 1940s. The Spartanette was advertised as a riveted aluminum trailer designed around lightweight materials and easy towing characteristics. Those early Spartanettes were about 25 feet 3 inches long and about 3,700 pounds with a cost of $2,937. Around 1950, the Spartanette Tandem joined the line as a 30-foot model that weighed 4,975 pounds and had a cost of $3,950.

As the name would suggest, a Spartanette Tandem was a Spartanette featuring two axles, which ride on a 10 gauge steel frame. Marketing materials for a 1950s Spartanette Tandem said the trailers included glass fiber blanket insulation in the walls, doors, and ceilings plus double insulation in the floors. Spartan said these trailers were good for all seasons and that the insulation would help keep you warm in the winter. Further, Spartan says the floor was made out of five-ply plywood with dead air space and the underside of the trailer had a cover to provide more dead air space.

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Spartan says electrical power came from a 110-volt system using cable certified by the Underwriters’ Laboratories. Additional electrical work comes in the form of a 6-volt system for the exterior lights and the trailer’s brakes.

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Since Spartan’s trailers were designed to be in one place a bit longer, they came with residential-style appointments. The Spartanette Tandem included an “apartment size” range powered either by gasoline or propane. You also got full size cupboards, a sink, and a refrigerator. The rest of the appointments are like home including a primary bedroom and a living room. On special order units, Spartan gave the trailer a full bathroom including a bathtub, flushing toilet, forced ventilation, and a vanity.

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Facebook Seller
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Facebook Seller

The seller of this 1951 Spartanette Tandem says the body is in great shape and the trailer even includes period-correct Marmoleum floors. Everything is said to work, including the heater inside of the trailers’s shower. It looks like the trailer has been upgraded where it counts with a new RV toilet present and what appears to be an upgraded electrical system.

The seller also says the plumbing works but doesn’t say if you get any tanks. It was common for these trailers to not have holding tanks, but some owners ended up adding tanks later on. The rest of the trailer is said to be very original, including the original screen doors. All of that wood you’re looking at? That’s birch!

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Facebook Seller
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Facebook Seller

I could not find official documentation for the 1951 model year Spartanette Tandem, so I don’t have the exact specifications. However, by 1953, the Spartanette Tandem got as long as 31 feet with weight as high as 5,925 pounds. Still, that’s not bad for a trailer full of metal and wood! Also good is the 6 feet, 8 inches of headroom in there.

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Facebook Seller

If you’re as enamored as I am but have more money than I do, the seller, located in Prewitt, New Mexico, is looking for $39,000 for this trailer. Certainly, there are cheaper Spartanettes for sale, like one for $25,000. However, this one seems to be the best of all of them. I’ll warn you now, you might need to buy a different vehicle to tow something this classy.

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Joe The Drummer
Joe The Drummer
8 months ago

I’ll be damned – a gutted one just popped up on FB Marketplace right down the road from me.
https://m.facebook.com/marketplace/item/340968088590177/?ref=category_feed

Andy Individual
Andy Individual
8 months ago

If I was the seller, I would’ve invested a few pennies to slap a plate on that AC outlet before taking pictures. Stuff like that can say a lot about how things have been taken care of.

Manwich Sandwich
Manwich Sandwich
8 months ago

Beautiful trailer… and not too heavy given the size and what you get.

Though I don’t think I can tow it with my Honda Fit. And I would have nowhere to store it.

I do hope it goes to a good home.

Chris Kuers
Chris Kuers
8 months ago

Mercedes, There’s a gentleman that’s written a few articles for Haggerty, who happens to have restored and modified a very cool Spartan trailer. If you have time to look up Barry Wolk, you’ll some pretty cool stuff. He’s also active on The Car Lounge for you yellow couch people out there.

AKA Rukh
AKA Rukh
8 months ago
Reply to  Chris Kuers

Barry is the man. He knows his stuff and is really down to earth.

3WiperB
3WiperB
8 months ago

I love the Spartans. The Spartan Mansions are my favorite because nothing else looks like them.

Birch interiors with amber shellac finish are a special place to stay. They have a feel and scent all their own. We’ve had a vintage 1960’s “canned ham” trailer with a birch interior for over 10 years and is fun for a more rustic camping experience (no tanks, no bathroom, no hot water). It was a pretty cheap cost of entry to camping (a bit over $3000), but kind of like buying an old house, there was a lot of sweat equity into it, but unlike a modern camper, the vintage ones don’t really lose value and probably increase in value as long as you take care of them. You have to buy well though, or you end up basically reconstructing it.

Jim Zavist
Jim Zavist
8 months ago

Most impressive? 70 years later and no apparent leaks!

Jakob K's Garage
Jakob K's Garage
8 months ago

Shaping your whole trailer as an aircraft wing isn’t the greatest idea ever is it? …

MrLM002
MrLM002
8 months ago

Maybe if it were upside down acting like a spoiler. However, a lot of tear drops are built in an airfoil shape as well.

Geekycop .
Geekycop .
8 months ago

My experience towing a trailer of a very similar shape was that it worked really well except in a nasty crosswind.

Perhaps the low aspect ratio of span and chord would account for the adequate aerodynamics on these canned ham style trailers. Any other aircraft nerds/ any engineers care to weigh in?

David Escargot
David Escargot
8 months ago

Damn I want an Executive

Eggsalad
Eggsalad
8 months ago

I’ve also seen the modern variant of these referred to as “Destination Trailers”. You buy a piece of land on a lake and hire someone with an F-550 or F-650 to tow it there once, and it becomes your weekend getaway. They’re nicer than your average manufactured home.

Canopysaurus
Canopysaurus
8 months ago

Hitch this to a Dodge Power Wagon, haul it up a meadow in Alaska, and live free. Who needs more than this?

Morgan van Humbeck
Morgan van Humbeck
8 months ago

Many fancy. Such article. Very wood. Wow

Ranwhenparked
Ranwhenparked
8 months ago

Those birch wood interiors are always beautiful, not out of place in an ocean liner or luxury train of the period (actually, that cracked ice Formica in the bathroom and kitchen is the exact same material used in the First Class cabin bathrooms on the RMS Queen Mary, still in place in a few of them 87 years later)

El Jefe de Barbacoa
El Jefe de Barbacoa
8 months ago

As amazing as the slabbed aluminum shape is from the outside, it pales a bit to the warm lush glow of that birch interior in the sun. Stunning!

Mr Sarcastic
Mr Sarcastic
8 months ago

Mercedes a great find and write up. However as you so elegantly described this is a mobile home not an RV. Locate it at an oil field and leave it or sell it decades later when the oil field is done. Not an ideal RV towing it across country using more oil than the field provided and pollute the air.

El Jefe de Barbacoa
El Jefe de Barbacoa
8 months ago
Reply to  Mr Sarcastic

Oof.

Ranwhenparked
Ranwhenparked
8 months ago

And people can and do tow them around like campers, though certain sizes and models are more adaptable than others.

Incidentally, the Redman New Moon in the Long, Long Trailer was intended as a semi-permanent trailer home, trying to use the unwieldy thing like an itinerant camper was a driver of most of the mishaps in the plot (that sucker was 36 ft and weighed over 6,000lbs)

V8 Fairmont Longroof
V8 Fairmont Longroof
8 months ago

I’m 100% seeing a Hudson Hornet towing that!

Nic Periton
Nic Periton
8 months ago

I was thinking more Chrysler Imperial.

415s30
415s30
8 months ago
Reply to  Nic Periton

I’ll go with a slightly older Town and Country wagon

Michael Beranek
Michael Beranek
8 months ago
Reply to  415s30

E D S E L baby

Chris Stevenson
Chris Stevenson
8 months ago

Edsel
Is
Always
The
Answer

MaximillianMeen
MaximillianMeen
8 months ago
Reply to  Nic Periton

While maybe a bit too modern for this trailer, we at least know the drivetrain of a 1st gen Olds Toronado could easily pull the trailer around.

But my personal choice would be a Chrysler Newport convertible. Something about a big 60’s Chrysler convertible pulling a camping trailer screams mid-century postcard vacation to me.

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