Vintage campers offer a kind of romance that you don’t quite get with a new unit. Sure, rolling home in a new Thor is pretty sweet, but most RVs today look like boxes with wheels bolted to them. If you want style, I’d say look to the past, where RV design could sometimes even be described as beautiful. A great example is this 1973 FMC 2900R, a motorhome so attractive you might turn and look at it as you walk away. This motorhome was popular with Hollywood stars and cost the price of a house or two back in its day. Today? It can be yours for the price of a used Honda.
The company that built this RV originally had nothing to do with camping. It’s still around today and still has nothing to do with camping. The “FMC” in this motorhome’s name is an acronym for Food Machinery Corporation. FMC got its start in the food business before diversifying in some possibly unexpected ways. At one point and just for a short amount of time, the company got into recreational vehicles. One of them has come up for sale in exceptional condition and for just a fraction of its original cost.
Check out this 1973 FMC 2900R. It’s just $15,000 from a seller in White Bluff, Tennessee. It’s an awesome piece of RV history for a price that may make it better than getting anything built in the modern day.
If the looks alone aren’t enticing enough, let’s recap the history of this brand and some of the unique machines it’s put out over the decades.
From Pumps To Amphibious Military Vehicles
In 1883, John Bean invented an insecticide pump and started the Bean Spray Pump Company. The company would change its name to Food Machinery Corporation in 1928 after its purchase of Anderson-Barngrover Co. and Sprague-Sells Co. Anderson-Barngrover made a rotary pressure sterilizer that fed sealed cans of food through a cooking and cooling system. Meanwhile, Sprague-Sells worked with canning equipment. With those acquisitions, FMC got into making canning machinery. FMC claimed to be the largest food machinery manufacturer in the world, but it wasn’t done yet. In 1943, FMC purchased Niagara Sprayer & Chemical Co., planting its stakes in the chemical business.
At the same time, FMC was also diversifying into vehicle production. In 1941, FMC was awarded a contract to build Tracked Landing Vehicles for the United States Department of War. Two years later, around FMC’s entry into the chemical space, those landing vehicles were beginning combat tests on the Tarawa atoll in the Gilbert Islands. The food and chemical side of FMC’s portfolio continued to expand and in 1948, the company changed its name to Food Machinery and Chemical Corporation after pulling in Westvaco Chemical Corp. under its umbrella.
In 1961, FMC changed its name again to the FMC Corporation, and the vehicle side of the business began work on some innovative concepts. That year, the U.S. Navy’s Bureau of ships issued bids for a capable vehicle, from FMC Corporation:
A high-speed amphibious ship-to-shore cargo carrier capable of moving over water at 35 knots (approximately 40 land miles per hour) and over ground at the same speed. It had to carry five tons of cargo across water, through the surf, across the beach and inland. The vehicle also had to be quickly loaded and unloaded under combat conditions.
FMC’s bid was the LVHX2, or landing vehicle, hydrofoil. Yep, this vehicle was a truck and a hydrofoil in one! FMC claimed to have the first hydrofoil amphibious landing vehicles for high-speed ship-to-shore operation. Check out the wild LVHX2 above.
Ultimately, the vehicle didn’t go into production. That was just one part of FMC’s role in military equipment as it also produced the M113 Armored Personnel Carrier and worked on the XR311 prototype combat vehicle. It also manufactured firefighting equipment. In 1964, FMC boasted of getting $80,868,318 in contracts to build tracked vehicles. By the late 1960s, these contracts thinned out. As Family RVing Magazine writes, when the tracked vehicle contracts dried up, leaving FMC with around 16,000 workers with nothing to do.
Flipping To RVs
In 1972, the company gave those employees something a bit different to build when it launched a motor coach division in Santa Clara, California. There, FMC would enter the RV market. After some experimentation with 19-foot and 23-foot-long prototypes, the RV division settled on a 29-foot design. The first FMC 2900R hit the road in late 1972 and FMC built them until just 1976. That’s just a blip of time in the RV world, yet these coaches attracted attention from actors Clint Eastwood and James Brolin and race car drivers Mario Andretti and Parnelli Jones.
FMC wasn’t just aiming at building just any coach, but essentially a palace on wheels. It features a 22,000 BTU air-conditioning system, a 30,000 BTU furnace, a master bedroom that doubles as a lounge, and a water heater that has a pre-heating design.
The water heater can warm water using engine coolant flowing through a heating element, which makes for nice and warm water right when you’re ready to stop driving for the day. And if you’re worried about poor water sources, the coach has a water purifier onboard. The engine coolant also flows through a 27,000 BTU heater in the rear of the coach so that anyone sitting in the back can still be warm as the coach goes down the road.
There’s one more feature that these come with, and it’s one that I’ve written about before. You can burn your toilet waste using the onboard Thetford Thermasan system.
Really, there’s nothing in the coach that’s going to blow your mind, but what is there is good quality. Motorhome magazine Trailer Life got to review one and found the interior design to be tasteful and the interior was solid and boasted good build quality. The magazine even went as far as to call the FMC 2900R’s wiring and plumbing “meticulously arranged and anchored.” I’m most amused by the fact that the magazine tested the coach as if it were a sports car.
Located in the rear is a Chrysler 440 V8 in industrial spec. It’s making 235 HP, 340 lb-ft torque, and scoots the 14,140-lb coach to 60 mph in 22 seconds. That’s pretty fast for a coach and the magazine review notes that it rides on a chassis derived from a commercial truck.
Talking about handling is the best part, as Trailer Life says:
In the handling department, it can be driven with utter disregard for its size, with one exception: It’ll take mountain curves considerably faster than their posted speeds with very little body roll and with a feeling of complete control, which is nice to know because we all eventually let a curve slip on us. It can be handled through the curves with one finger on the steering wheel.
The review later concludes that while its floorplans may not suit everyone, on the road it’s “second to none.” I recommend reading the review because it’s rare to see campers reviewed like cars. Adding to the experience is a 60-gallon fresh water tank, 28 gallons for sink and shower holding, and 37 gallons for waste. Again, you’re expected to burn at least some of that waste off as you drive down the road.
You got all of that for a starting price of $27,000 ($196,535 today), or on the level of the median home sold in America in 1972. Fully-equipped? It was $54,500 ($396,709 today), or about two houses.
This FMC 2900R
Back to the RV I found for sale. This 1973 model is said to be in good shape and the pictures seem to back it up. It looks like everything is there, save for the hood for the stove. The seller also states that the motorized step needs a new motor and the Onan generator needs some work. Aside from those little things—amazing, given its age—the seller says that it runs and drives well with 146,000 miles on the odometer. The rig also comes with new tires and enough beds for three people, maybe four or five in a pinch.
FMC’s motorhome venture ended after 1976 before the company pivoted back to military hardware like the Bradley Fighting Vehicle. The company tried to take the 2900R’s chassis and use it as a transit bus, but even that didn’t last. It’s estimated that around 1,000 of these were built with about 135 of them being built as buses. Some of the buses became motorhomes. Owner communities believe that most of them are still on the road.
So if vintage, stylish RV camping is your jam, make sure to put FMC on your shopping list.
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