Fiberglass campers are in a bit of a renaissance. Companies are seeing demand for compact, durable, and lightweight campers. As it turns out, nobody really likes repairing water damage, and a lot of folks have vehicles without a huge tow rating. Cortes Campers is a new face on the scene with a throwback body and some fresh ideas on the other side of the entry door. It also has a rough past, some obvious fit-and-finish issues, and a pretty awful name.
Late last year, I referenced Cortes Campers when writing about another fiberglass unit, the fabulous Relic fiberglass trailer. When I was at the Indiana RV Open House, I realized that not only had I never written about Cortes before, but I hadn’t ever seen one in real life. It’s time I changed that.
From Lighting And Speedboats To Campers
When I first found out about Cortes Campers, it was early 2021 and the company was still just getting off of the ground. It didn’t even have any campers in production at that time. Cortes Campers is a subsidiary of US Lighting Group (USLG). The latter company was originally founded in 2003 as Luxurious Travel Corp. by Paul Spivak. Luxurious Travel Corp. was a company that developed hotel booking software. In 2013, US Lighting Group (USLG) was founded after a team of engineers allegedly developed an LED lightbulb that could theoretically last longer than two decades. According to this press release, USLG was acquired by Luxurious Travel Corp. in 2016 and Luxurious Travel Corp. changed its name to US Lighting Group at that time.
Since then, USLG has expanded out of the hotel business and away from LED lighting and into different ventures. Fusion X Marine was founded in 2021 to develop, manufacture, and franchise mini speedboats. USLG also owns RVTronix, formerly Intellitronix Corp., a company that was founded in 1981 and used to develop automotive electronics, but now develops RV appliances. Also in 2022, USLG launched Futuro Houses LLC, a manufacturer of prefabricated fiberglass tiny houses that look like flying saucers. That company’s name and products seem to have been inspired by the Futuro houses designed by Finnish architect Matti Suuronen in the 1960s.
Now we come back to Cortes Campers. As Paul Spivak wrote on the Fiberglass RV forums, he toured Elkhart, Indiana RV manufacturing facilities and was astonished to find that wood and staples are still used to build campers just like they were decades ago. He then discovered Scamp, Casita, and Oliver fiberglass campers, but wasn’t impressed with those companies’ tiny dealer networks. Spivak also says he wasn’t impressed with the fact that the fiberglass Airstream Nest wasn’t any lighter than the company’s aluminum offerings and that some owners of existing brands weren’t satisfied with the quality of their units.
Thus, Spivak decided to bring over the engineering expertise from USLG’s boat division to build a fiberglass camper in Cleveland, Ohio, like they would make an offshore boat. Spivak admits that Cortes Campers started off by purchasing a Casita, then the company’s engineers decided to make the basic design larger and switched from forming fiberglass with a chop gun to vacuum infusion.
The Evolution Of Cortes
Spivak admits that Cortes wasn’t started by camping enthusiasts. Apparently, USLG initially didn’t even want to expand into campers. However, it was those tours of those Elkhart facilities that motivated Spivak to start Cortes. Spivak started a thread over at the Fiberglass RV forums where he’s made some rather harsh comments about the quality of Airstreams and other brands. I’ve been following the development of Cortes Campers since 2021 and it’s interesting to see what was once promised to what is now being offered for sale.
Back in 2021, Cortes Campers said its units would be built out of “patent-pending biaxial aluminized fiberglass” and carbon fiber. This aluminized fiberglass is actually a fiberglass honeycomb core with a thin layer of aluminum foil weaved into it. Cortes Campers said this type of fiberglass offered far better strength and insulation than the typical fiberglass camper build. Cortes also said it would use carbon fiber throughout the build of the trailer for even more strength and lightness.
If you’re good with your Google-Fu, you can still find the old pages on Cortes Campers’ site where the company advertised exotic materials for its builds. Today, the company has scaled back and no longer touts aluminized fiberglass or carbon fiber.
The Cortes Campers representative I spoke to at the RV Open House said that the production campers are made out of double-walled fiberglass. While the trailers may not have aluminum foil in them or carbon fiber, the shells are four layers of thick, insulated fiberglass. Walking around the camper and feeling that fiberglass?
It felt stout. The representative went on to tell me that Cortes Campers are built like boats. The floor is a part of the molded fiberglass shell. There is no wood to rot or get soft as you’d find in the floors of some fiberglass campers. Likewise, the walls, cabinetry, shower, and furniture are all strong molded fiberglass. Interior height is 6 feet, 2 inches, so some tall folks should fit.
I do love a lot of the ideas at work in a Cortes Camper, as well. For example, I found the showers in the Cortes trailers to be pretty spacious.
I often have trouble fitting into regular camper showers, but the more open layout chosen by Cortes means I wouldn’t be fighting the shower curtain off of me every second of my shower. I also like the lack of any wood at all. Fiberglass campers are not waterproof. Sure, there are no plywood walls to rot, but a bad enough leak can ruin your subfloor. This trailer won’t have that issue.
Another nice touch is the addition of a Timbren axle-less suspension and a powder-coated frame. Spivak said the choice of this suspension was made for better durability and easier servicing. I also love the Polynt 944 Marine Gelcoat as well as the fact that Cortes rates its campers for four seasons.
What I was not as excited to see was the fit and finish of both of the Cortes Campers on display. I like to brush my hands around a new camper’s interior. A lot of campers will look fine in pictures, then reveal some nasty details when you actually touch them. The fiberglass pieces of the camper felt smooth and sturdy, no worse than existing fiberglass brands.
It was when you started to look at the appliances and fixtures that things started getting disappointing. Both trailers on display had sinks that looked like they were sealed by someone who had never used a caulk gun before. Likewise, check out those thin wires just hanging under the frame. Will those survive years of hard travel duty?
Honestly, this isn’t much in the grand scheme of things. If some bad caulking was the worst my parents had to deal with in their trailer, I wouldn’t have written about how it’s a quality disaster.
Cortes sells the Cortes 16 and the Cortes 17. Now, you might think those numbers have something to do with length, but they don’t. Both trailers are the same total length of 18′ 1″ with a 14-foot box. According to Cortes Campers, the 16 is good for up to three people to sleep in while the 17 is for two people.
The main difference between the two is the rear bed. The Cortes 16 gets a king bed while the Cortes 17 has a double bed. Getting the king bed means getting a two-burner stove and a 2.0-cubic-foot refrigerator. A Cortes 17 with a smaller bed has an 8.0-cubic-foot refrigerator and a three-burner stove. Regardless of your choice of camper, you get the front bathroom with running water, the central kitchen, and a host of features. Standard equipment includes an air-conditioner, a furnace, a Bluetooth stereo, double-pane acrylic windows, an awning, an on-demand water heater, an LED TV, and more.
However, I should note that the website isn’t clear on what is and what isn’t an option. On Cortes Campers’ website, basically, everything from the air-conditioner to the axle-less suspension and the kitchen sink are all noted to be optional, but the Cortes Campers representative told me that this equipment comes with the trailers.
In terms of holding tanks, you get 21 gallons for fresh water, 13 gallons for gray water, and 16 gallons for your waste. Since the trailer is supposed to be a four-season unit, you get tank heaters to keep the fluids flowing. Both trailers come at a dry weight of 2,680 pounds. That places Cortes on the heavier end of the fiberglass camper spectrum. That said, if you do think these trailers aren’t a right fit, Cortes says it has more trailers in the pipeline. There will be the 14-foot Cortes 13, the 22-foot Cortes 22, the aerodynamic Cortes 27, and the Cortes Truck Camper.
I Hope You’re Sitting Down
Cortes Campers has the luxury fiberglass brands in its sights. Thus, its prices are on the higher end of fiberglass campers. The Cortes representative told me that the trailers are sold to distributors, who then either rent them out or sell them to you. By the time money leaves your bank account, you’ll be paying around $39,000 for the Cortes 16 and $49,000 for the Cortes 17.
Now, about that name. Cortes Campers uses a likeness of Hernán Cortés as its company logo. When Paul Spivak hosted a thread on the Fiberglass RV forum, users asked if the trailer’s name is a reference to Hernán Cortés, a man who, putting it lightly, didn’t go down in history for doing great things.
One forum user asked:
Are you considering changing the name from Cortez, given the negative response?
Here’s Spivak’s answer:
What negative response? Sorry if we somehow inadvertently offended someone. We are not named after AOC in NY. Her last name is spelled Cortez, not Cortes. We are named after the Christian Conquistador that landed in Mexico in the early 1500s and was sickened when he saw the Aztecs were committing RITUAL HUMAN SACRIFICES. Because of Cortes, this practice was ended and he is also responsible for converting them to Christianity. Our plan is to do the same to the RV manufacturers out there by using ZERO wood. Would you buy a new car or truck if it had plywood in the floors? If nothing else we are going to raise the bar for all other RV manufacturers. It will take some time, but stay tuned!
Until mid-2021, the Cortes Campers website also embraced this:
Cortes Campers on a Conquest to Dominate the RV market!
Cortes Campers, division of MIG Marine, on its conquest to dominate the RV market, named the company after the famous Spanish Conquistador, Hernán Cortés de Monroy y Pizarro Altamirano, 1st Marquess of the Valley of Oaxaca.
Cortés led an expedition that caused the fall of the RV Empire and brought large portions of what is now mainland Mexico under the rule of the King of Castile in the early 16th century. Escorted by only 500 men using vastly superior technology, Hernán Cortés defeated 100,000 Aztecs in one historical event. Cortés was part of the generation of Spanish colonizers who began the first phase of the Spanish colonization of the Americas.
As many of you know, we try to stay pretty neutral here. With that said, it might not be the best idea to market a camper in such a way. If you want to say that you will dominate the RV industry, say that. Don’t do whatever you just read above. It’s just a camper!
At any rate, Spivak stepped down from his position as CEO in August 2021. He was arrested in June 2021 on a criminal complaint charging that he conspired to commit securities fraud. The United States alleges, through an FBI agent, that Spivak used press releases and promos to inflate share price:
“He describes an alleged “pump and dump” scheme whereby Mr. Spivak obtained and concealed beneficial ownership in free trading shares in US Lighting Group stock and then conspired to promote the stock by coordinating press releases with planned promotional programs aimed at raising the share price and trading volume so he and his alleged co-conspirators could then sell the stock at an artificially high price.”
That case had since grown to include a 47-count superseding indictment. Based on my review of the court documents in the ongoing case, it’s possible that the hyping of aluminized fiberglass and carbon fiber could have been a part of the alleged pumping of USLG stock.
(Correction: The original version of this story noted that USLG was a named defendant of the superseding indictment. USLG is not a defendant, just referenced in Mr. Spivak’s alleged activities. USLG’s current management has, understandably, taken a very different direction than Spivak allegedly has.)
Despite all of that mess, Cortes Campers has been able to move forward, albeit with new leadership.
Cortes Campers no longer proudly links itself to its namesake, but the name and logo stick around. At least the company finally has a physical product that I’m told you can buy right now from many dealerships around America. But, if you wonder why they’re called Cortes, thank Spivak for that. I’m also happy to see that Cortes also managed to pull it off. A lot of these neat concepts always seem like vaporware, so it’s awesome to see a unit reach production.
(Images: Author, unless otherwise noted. Top image: Mercedes Streeter/Real Academia de Bellas Artes de San Fernando)
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