Since I started writing about RVs and campers, a number of readers have expressed their frustration with the prices of a new rig. Even a mid-century modern-themed box on wheels will set you back the price of a nice new car. And at a time when it seems everything is expensive, buying a camper seems out of the realm of reality for many folks. But here’s a reminder that you can still buy a pretty cool camper for dirt cheap, and they don’t have to be total junkers, either! You can even get a fiberglass motorhome for peanuts.
A lot of readers have been flooding our tips line with different RVs that are out there in the wild. We’ve gotten bus conversion projects, fantastic vintage VW Bus campers, and what appears to be a hearse turned into a camper. Some of these campers have actually been pretty cheap, and it’s seemingly sent your favorite Autopian writers looking for inexpensive and cool RVs. We have a stack of these things, and let’s take a look at a few of our favorites.
1974 Starcraft Starcruiser – $2,500
This first one is a camper that our very own David is considering buying. I mean, you can’t blame him when you get this much vehicle for just $2,500. And David makes a great choice. Before the GMC Motorhome challenged the RV norm, motorhomes were commonly giant bricks that hurtled down America’s highways. These rigs sat high off of the ground and designs were often best described as “functional.”
Starcraft was founded in 1903 as Star Tank Co., manufacturing farming equipment in Goshen, Indiana. In 1915, the company expanded into boating, first with a rowboat in 1915. The company’s name changed to Star Tank & Boat Company and in the 1920s, the company began making galvanized steel boats. Aluminum boats followed, and in 1956, Star Tank & Boat made a fiberglass boat. Star Tank & Boat didn’t get into making campers until 1964 with its release of a tent camper. In 1966, the name was changed to Starcraft Corporation. This 1974 Starcruiser was made just ten years into Starcraft’s journey into campers.
There isn’t much information out there on these, but there is one factoid that I love: The Starcruiser is a one-piece fiberglass body. I like fiberglass as a building material for RVs because it means fewer places where you can expect water leaks. For example, my U-Haul camper is two fiberglass molds joined together as one. That means no disasters of water destroying luan walls here.
The Starcruiser is said to be the first, and maybe only motorhome to use a single piece of molded fiberglass. However, an owner disputes this, as they say that they found a seam in the fiberglass, suggesting that two fiberglass molds were combined to make a one-piece body. Likewise, the Ungers Crown Commander motorhome predates the Starcraft by almost ten years. It too made the same claim about being made out of a single piece of fiberglass. Fiberglass campers are generally made from more than one mold combined into one. For an example, my U-Haul was built from left and right pieces of fiberglass joined together.
Either way, it’s not the first or the only motorhome of its kind, but it’s still pretty awesome. Production numbers aren’t known, but after going through seemingly countless pages, I haven’t seen an estimate higher than 50.
Power comes from a Dodge 440 V8 that at one point made around 225 HP, but the seller says that the motorhome has sat for a couple of years. So the carb will probably need to be cleaned out before it’ll run again. Other than that, the seller says that it just needs a new water pipe and bedroom walls finished. It’s in Ferndale, Michigan, and the seller offers to tow it for free.
Now let’s look at other choices. I’m intentionally choosing campers with prices under $10,000. You can find tons of these things all over the place!
1998 Chevrolet C/K 2500 With A Valor Camper – $8,500
This one’s a package deal, and you get an orange Chevy C/K 2500 with a Valor truck camper on top. The seller believes that the Valor is 1996. As J.D. Power notes, Valor ended camper production in 1996. So, if that model year is true, this is one of the last of Valor’s campers:
New Paris Enterprises Incorporated founded the Valor name in 1982 as a builder of camping trailers. Ranging from 11 to 20 feet in length, Valor camping trailers could comfortably sleep up to eight occupants for a weekend getaway. Also focused on the construction of truck campers from the mid-1980s through to the 1990s, Valor briefly produced a unique fifth wheel trailer that possessed a roof that could be lowered by two feet for less wind resistance during transport. Valor ended production after the 1996 model year.
Amazingly, Valor’s history is so short that the only solid information that I could find was from that J.D. Power blurb.
But despite the dead brand, you do get a lot for your buck, from hydraulic jacks and turnbuckles to a real bathroom with a toilet that dumps into a black tank. It also has solar panels, a house battery, a full-size bed, and even a heater for those cold days. And did I say that it also comes with a whole truck with service records and a relatively fresh transmission? Engine isn’t specified, but a common configuration is a 5.7-liter V8 making 255 HP. If you want it, you can get it in Milford, Michigan.
1999 Dutchmen Express 28A – $9,000
Want something that looks and feels modern? Yeah, don’t worry, you can even find one of those cheap, too! Save for the seats, this Dutchmen Express 28A looks like it was built in the past decade and provides 28 feet of living space.
It’s built on a Ford E-450 cutaway chassis and comes equipped with a 6.8-liter Triton V10. In this application, it’s making 305 HP and 420 lb-ft torque.
Dutchmen first opened up shop in 1988, building travel trailers and later fifth wheels. The company positioned itself as an entry-level brand, and grew fast enough to attract Thor Industries’ attention. And it became a part of Thor in 1991. There’s not much to say about the Dutchmen Express, aside from the fact that you get an RV that sleeps six with everything that you’d expect from a camper. The shower doesn’t look too bad, either! This one is in Harwich, Massachusetts.
This is to say that if you want to, you can get some pretty cool campers for dirt cheap. You can even find Class A rigs for under $10,000! I mean, take a look at this 1995 Thor Industries West Manor 3000 for just $6,000. It’s 30 feet of some decent luxury for the price.
This little guy has a huge awning, two air-conditioners, automatic leveling jacks, and the seller says that it doesn’t leak. Specific engine isn’t noted, but it’s fueled with gasoline. I’ve talked about Thor Industries a lot, but have never said where it came from. Thor was established in 1980 when Wade F. B. Thompson and Peter Busch Orthwein purchased Airstream.
You’d think the name would have to do with Norse mythology, but nope, it’s just a combination of its founders’ names. Thor collects different RV brands, but also makes its own motorhomes. Thor Industries West reportedly built Class A motorhomes from 1991 until 1999, when it was spun off into Mountainhigh Coachworks. This one is in Spanaway, Washington.
I’ve frequently written about absurdly expensive RVs, including near-six figure school buses with fire pits on top, Greyhound buses turned motorhomes, and all sorts of new campers that cost north of $50,000. But you don’t need to spend nearly that much to take yourself or your family on a camping trip. Old campers are practically worthless, and there are oh so many out there. Even better is the fact that winter is coming, so you’re bound to find some folks trying to get rid of their campers so they don’t have to pay to store them for the season. So you might get an even better deal.
Of course, as we’ve written about here, RV quality varies, as does the level in which someone has taken care of their rig. If you can, always get an inspection before parting ways with your cold, hard cash. With luck, you can find some sweet deals out there! Keep those awesome campers coming, and if you’re rocking an old RV, we want to know about it!