The Ford Ranger is beloved by fans of cheap, dependable trucks. Go to any Gambler 500 group online and you’ll see countless people cheering these little trucks on as practically indestructible and remarkably capable transportation. Even I’ve owned two old Rangers and those trucks were as trustworthy as a good parrot. I found what might be the ultimate Ford Ranger, and it’s one you can sleep in! This 1984 Ford Ranger Roll-A-Long is a very rare fiberglass camper built on the bones of a Ford Ranger set up with dual rear wheels.
After I finish writing this, I pull up my stabilizer jacks, crank up the weight distribution hitch, and set my path for EAA AirVenture 2023. If this year is anything like last year’s event, there will be countless classic RVs for me to drool over before I stand mouth-agape at some incredible aviation history. Before I do that, here’s a classic camper to gaze at. For $18,500, you’re getting a pretty fully-featured rig with working air-conditioning, cruise control, solar panels, and a real bathroom all in a compact space. The listing mentions Chinook a couple of times, but it’s far more obscure than that. Roll-A-Long isn’t just the camper’s model, but the company that built it!
Roll-A-Long Manufacturing Co.
This camper comes from the era when fiberglass campers were so popular that even U-Haul got in on the game. Plenty of companies sprouted up and disappeared during this time and it would appear that Roll-A-Long Manufacturing Co. of Long Beach, California, was one of those companies.
I haven’t been able to piece together a complete history of this company, but I did find some context. In 1962, El Monte, California-based Roll-A-Long built the Sportster, a camper the state classified as a House Car. The Sportster was available as a 10-foot Standard Sportster for $1,495 ($15,204 today), $1,985 ($20,188 today) for the Deluxe Sportster with a toilet, and the 12-foot Custom Sportster for $2,750 ($27,968 today). Those were the prices for just the campers themselves, you still had to provide the truck for the coach. The Custom Sportster required the truck to be lengthened, which was included in that aforementioned price.
At some point, Roll-A-Long moved from El Monte to Long Beach, where it created the Ford Courier-based Mini Sportster. This was a fiberglass camper riding on a stretched Ford Courier. Prominent selling points of the Mini Sportster was 19 mpg from the 110 cubic inch four-cylinder and stability from its dual rear wheel setup. Roll-A-Long also advertised a 3,530-pound base weight and a 4,100-pound Gross Vehicle Weight Rating, up 185 pounds from the standard Courier.
Also in the 1970s, there was a company doing business as Roll-A-Long Engineering in Placentia, California. This company specialized in taking rear-wheel-drive trucks and vans and equipping them with Dana and Spicer components to convert them into four-wheel-drive. One article I found showed that Roll-A-Long took Ford Couriers and turned them into 4x4s.
I found another article, this one from 1978, showing the 4wd Roll-A-Long Mini Motorhome. It started off as a Ford E-350 chassis cab before Roll-A-Long fitted a Dana 60 axle and built a camper around the cab. This beast of a camping unit was about $19,000 in 1978 dollars, or $92,753 today. While I could not find a direct connection between Roll-A-Long Manufacturing and Roll-A-Long Engineering, the two companies were just 30 minutes apart in California. There’s also a modern version of this company operating today, though its About Us page says nothing about its founding. Apparently, it opened in 1988. So, what gives? Incidentally, this is something our own David Tracy has covered before, and provided the necessary context:
I called up Roll-A-Long just to learn more about the company, since it seems as though it’s still in business, and yet confusingly, its website says it was “established in 1988″—well after this Ranger was built.
Roll-A-Long rep Bruce Landfield picked up the phone, and told me that the original Roll-A-Long company with which he was also affiliated—and which had operations in Anaheim and Placentia—went out of business a while back, but he started it back up and actually plans to make campers out of all-wheel drive Ford Transits.
From what I’ve been able to gather, Roll-A-Long’s specialty was creating small motorhomes and what it tried to do differently was making at least some of those coaches off-road capable. The modern Roll-A-Long is more or less a reboot of that old company and it specializes in making custom vans. That brings us to the Roll-A-Long Ranger we see today.
This 1984 Ford Ranger Roll-A-Long
The base of this camper is a 1984 Ford Ranger powered by a 2.9-liter V6 making 140 HP. That’s coupled to a three-speed automatic driving the rear wheels. One change added to the base truck is a dual rear wheel setup. In the Courier-based Roll-A-Long camper, the changes added carrying capacity. It’s unclear if that continues here.
The base Ranger has been upgraded over the years. The seller states that the truck has LED headlights, a stereo with Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, and a reversing camera. Even better, it seems everything works, including the cruise control and the air-conditioner. Just check out this cab, someone really took care of this rig!
Moving back to the fiberglass coach body, this looks ready to go camping this weekend. The seller states that the Roll-A-Long camper features a full kitchen with bamboo countertops and oak cabinetry. You’re getting a stove, refrigerator, and running water in there. There are two beds inside; one of them is the dinette, which turns into a full bed. The other bed is in the overcab area. You can use the camper with the roof closed but if you want standing room, the roof pops up riding on tracks and assisted by springs.
In terms of electrical power, the seller notes an electrical system that can feed from shore power, batteries, and solar. The truck has a charging circuit for the 100 Ah lithium LiFepo4 battery. You also get two 100W solar panels and a 500Watt inverter. The stove and furnace both feed from propane.
Another great upgrade I love here is the full bathroom, which has both a shower, a flushing toilet, and hot water from an instant water heater. Unfortunately, your showers better be quick because this Ranger doesn’t have much in terms of tank storage. The seller states that it has a 3-gallon fresh tank, 5-gallon gray tank, and 5 gallons for the toilet. Surprisingly, that’s not a shitcase toilet, but an actual tiny black tank. Apparently, there’s room to expand the fresh tank to something larger, so there’s that.
It’s unclear when the original Roll-A-Long ran out of business, but it’s pretty transparent that there aren’t many of these out there. The last time I saw one of these was back in 2019 when David wrote about another one. The one David wrote about was a bargain at $4,300. This one is multiples of that at $18,500, but given the upgrades and the quality of the restoration work inside and out, I think it’s probably worth it. Indeed, it’s far cheaper than any equivalent you could buy new today.
If this had better sleeping capacity, I bet it would be in the running for the official Autopian staff RV. But, since it’s not, one of you should pick up this little guy from the seller in Oakland, California and bring it to Oshkosh before all of the aviation action ends!
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