Home » This Rare Art Deco Camper Has An Interior Cozier Than A Cabin In The Woods

This Rare Art Deco Camper Has An Interior Cozier Than A Cabin In The Woods

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If you’ve ever taken a trip with a motorhome or a travel trailer, you’ll know that most RVs try to emulate fancy hotel rooms or nice apartments. Some try to look like the inside of a space station. This 1950 “M” System travel trailer is different. It started life as an Art Deco family camper and it retains that glorious look outside today. But inside is something else, where you get to sleep in what looks like a place more cozy than a cabin in the woods. Even better, it isn’t even that expensive!

Over the past couple of years I’ve seen hundreds, perhaps thousands of new RVs sprawled out over RV shows. The vast majority of them are similar. You get a white or black box and inside, you’re sleeping in what has the vibe of a fancy hotel room or maybe a new, somewhat “premium” apartment. Some campers, and my family’s Heartland Mallard M33 is a good example, will have a vaguely farmhouse-like aesthetic, but even that feels a bit half-baked.

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I’ve said it before, but if you want something that stands out, vintage RVs and custom builds might be your pick. Sure, you can’t get them repaired at a dealership, but you won’t feel like you’re sleeping in a rolling La Quinta. This 1950 “M” System is a great example of this with its art deco-style exterior and a custom interior that is unlike anything new sold today.

The “M” System

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There’s not a lot of information out there about this trailer, but I have been able to piece some history together.

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According to the Vicksburg Post and the Tin Can Tourists vintage camper club, “M” System Manfacturing Co., and yes, that is how the company’s name is spelled out. We’re not sure where that name comes from or what it’s supposed to mean. Those quotation marks are definitely…something!

Anyway, the company was created by Joe Bonelli of Vicksburg, Mississippi. It’s reported that the company opened in 1935 with Bonelli building the trailers. I could not find any further details about Bonelli or why he got into building trailers. However, I did find some advertisements from the 1940s and the 1950s.

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“M” System

In the company’s early days, it sold what it called trailer coaches and in the late 1940s, the trailers ranged from 18.5 feet to 30.5 feet in length. “M” System advertised its trailers as having lightweight tongues, making them easily towed by a car, while also having the amenities of home. In a 1948 advertisement, the company called its products “America’s most wanted trailer coach.” Like many trailers of the day, “M” System coaches featured steel frames and aluminum bodies. Some trailers were also offered with Masonite construction.

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“M” System

According to the documentation that I could find, 1949 brought a major styling change to “M” System trailers. Just the year before, the Universal Trailer Corporation introduced what are called “Hollywood Windows,” which are curved forward windows made of glass. That year, the company marketed the 33-foot Suburbanite residential trailer. The Suburbanite was pitched as the trailer that had all of the amenities of home, but was still able to be towed by a car.

The 1940s “M” System models also had wet baths in them, but it’s noted that these bathrooms were so tiny that you could shower, take your Morning Dump, and brush your teeth all at the same time. By 1951, “M” System changed its designs once more. The company’s trailers used to be Art Deco coach style, but then the company shifted to what is sometimes called “caravan style” with flat, corrugated sides and a flat roof. “M” System also introduced multi-pane jalousie windows.

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“M” System via the Army Times

Going into the 1950s, “M” System changed its trailers and marketing. The company now catered more to the mobile home market and began building trailers in lengths as long as 40, 45, and even 50 feet. “M” System, which became a division of the Mid-States Corporation and moved to Texarkana, Texas, advertised its trailers as having more features than a single-family home priced perhaps three times more. The monster 50-foot mobile home boasted three bedrooms.

It’s not known exactly what happened, but it’s believed that “M” System trailer production ended in the early 1960s. So many of the company’s trailers have been lost to time, while a handful were saved and restored in the modern day. That’s what we’re looking at today.

This 1950 “M” System Trailer

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The seller doesn’t note what model this trailer is, but from my digging, this could be “M” System’s 25.5-foot Special Deluxe. That said, even if we knew the exact model it wouldn’t matter because this trailer has been renovated into something completely different.

Starting with the exterior, this “M” System trailer sits on a single axle and features the company’s newer rounded window design. The seller says this example has an aluminum body and it appears to be in decent shape with a recent paint job.

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You don’t have to look too far to find customization. One of the side windows has been blocked out with wood while the front window has more wood and supports a window air-conditioner unit. At the very least, the stained wood blocking out those windows was used to make rub rails around the trailer, so the wood doesn’t look totally out of place.

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The rear of the trailer shows an interesting choice in lighting. This “M” System trailer came from the factory with a single taillight that I would imagine would be too dim to be safe today. I’ve seen other “M” System trailer restorations embed new period-correct LED lights into the body. This trailer retains the factory light but adds two boat trailer-style taillights to a shelf.

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Another oddity is displayed on the left side of the trailer, where there is a second entry door. Many trailers have multiple entry doors on one side, but many “M” System trailers could be accessed on either side. This door appears to hev been disabled, so now the only entry is from the front right door.

Inside where things go completely out of the box. An “M” System trailer from the factory would have had a classy wood interior. This trailer keeps with that theme, but turns it toward the direction of a cozy cabin.

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A lot of woodworking is featured throughout the trailer from the floors and shelves to the ceiling and decoration. Something I like is that the same wood wasn’t used for everything, so there’s something new everywhere you look. The seller says the renovation was completed recently and while no explanation was given for the build, it doesn’t seem to follow the factory floorplan.

Still, the trailer seems like a nice place for a couple to sleep while traveling the country. There’s a writing desk for work on the road, a dining table for eating, a dresser for your clothes, and a queen bed to plop down into.

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In terms of equipment, you get a sink with a waterfall head or detachable head, a new vintage-style refrigerator, a microwave, a two-burner stove, and an electric fireplace. That air-conditioner up front is a 5,000 BTU unit that you’d normally find in an apartment bedroom.

This trailer likely had a wet bath when new, but that was gutted and in its place is a cassette toilet. Unfortunately, the only shower facilities are outside, which is sort of a bummer. Also a bummer is a lack of information about the trailer’s weight, any tanks, or tongue weight. Overall, I like what I see, even if it could use some improvement.

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The 1950 “M” System trailer was recently sold in Florida. Back then, it had an asking price of $22,000. The trailer’s current owner removed a ton of clutter and knick-knacks from the interior, making it look a lot cleaner today. The asking price is now $25,000 from a seller that is in Fort Myers, Florida. I’m not sure if that’s a good price to pay for such a weird restoration job, but it’s still more affordable than most new trailers out there.

The build, from that air-conditioner to the cheap trailer lights, gives the trailer a DIY vibe. That’s fine, of course! It seems like a cute travel trailer for a couple and their dog. I’m sure someone with the skills could install a roof air-conditioner, restore that front window, and give the trailer proper taillights. The shower problem might be a little harder to solve, but aside from that, I think this camper is the business. I bet it would look pretty sweet behind a Chrysler New Yorker!

If you know anything about the “M” System company, I’d love to know. It seems to be one of those brands that disappeared almost without a trace. Send me an email at mercedes@theautopian.com.

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Freelivin1327
Freelivin1327
26 days ago

Yeah, the history is very interesting and it looks kinda nice, although it’s to the point where just looking at the pics just made it weird where you feel like you’re inside a house instead of an RV- I mean it’s because of all the wood/couch/etc and since we’re all so used to the “normal” look and feel of most RV’s. Also, all that real wood adds up into a lot of weight. Great article!
Also I have to add this since I’m a huge Seinfeld fan & when I read this line I started laughing!
“Over the past couple of years I’ve seen hundreds, perhaps thousands of new RVs sprawled out over RV shows.”

“You think I’ve never ridden in a Cadillac? I’ve ridden in a Cadillac hundreds of times…THOUSANDS!”

One of my favorite lines

OverlandingSprinter
OverlandingSprinter
26 days ago

Speaking from experience, potential buyers of vintage trailers need to inspect for signs of water damage carefully. In the photos, it appears the luan or plywood around the bed may be delaminating, which is a very bad sign.

It’s funny how designs become viral. This M looks a lot like Silverdome, Shult, Roycraft and Spartan trailers from the same era.

I don’t like household window AC units in travel trailers. I understand why people use them ($$$) but they are so unsightly and ruin the exterior aesthetic in vintage trailers. A small mini-split would cost more, but be easier to install, more visually pleasing, and quieter.

Logan King
Logan King
26 days ago

It looks fine normally but under direct sunlight the exterior looks like an 80s PC from a house with smokers.

Morgan van Humbeck
Morgan van Humbeck
26 days ago

Agh, why did they opt for storage above the bed instead of headspace?? Turns it into the most beautiful unliveable space in the world

Is Travis
Is Travis
26 days ago

THAT! Is a fantastic looking object both inside and out.
Just oozes style and character. And weirdly decently priced, considering.
I love it. Probably would camp with it twice and sell it because of the impractical layout, but hey, worth the spin.

Drive By Commenter
Drive By Commenter
26 days ago

Looks complete. I’d want to see it in person to assess the quality of the build. But considering the average camper is one step above (literally) flaming hot garbage it probably clears that bar. They’ll have to find the one other person who shares their vision to sell it. Some of those choices are definitely different.

Ranwhenparked
Ranwhenparked
27 days ago

Looks like that could be some original (birch?) paneling around the bed?

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