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The Carchive: The 1979 Coachmen RV range

Chris Haining January 5, 2018 Cars You Should Know, The Carchive 16 Comments

I reckon I was a tortoise in a previous life, such is my love for taking my home with me on adventures. It’s one reason that I love yachts, and a big part of the reason that I spend an inordinate amount of time under canvas in the “summer”, being pelted with hail and at risk of being blown clean into the sea. Paradise.

Truth is I quite fancy a motor home, but the kind I can afford closely resemble a damp panel van with padded shelves to sleep on. It’s certainly a far cry from the gin palaces that roam North American freeways, in loose processions between Niagara Falls and the Grand Canyon, often with somebody of a certain age at the helm.

So after last week’s Alfa Romeo 90, now for something completely different. It’s the 1979 Coachmen RV lineup. Welcome back to The Carchive.

Clickety the piccetys for enbiggenry

“The 1979 Coachmen Motor home is everything you asked for, and more”

No kidding. The Coachmen range was far from the top of the RV tree in ’79, it was kind of the Camry of Class A campers. And there’s nothing wrong with that. Hell, these things trundled around with furnishings and equipment that could embarrass a modest urban apartment – truly all the trappings of a (comparatively inexpensive) home with four wheels and an engine.

Compare it to the typical Transit-with-a-sofabed that UK holidaymakers aspired to at the time, and North Americans would be hard pressed to believe that actual humans would put up with existing in such cramped, convenience free conditions – let alone while on vacation. A 6 cu-ft refrigerator and a four-burner range were more than some English country homes could muster. 23-31′ lengths were available, and even the entry-level was termed VIP.

Gosh.

“Everything you need for complete travel comfort. Marine toilet, lavatory, medicine chest and tub or shower. Water systems feature 12v demand pumps, 6-gallon fast recovery hot water heater and freeze resistant polybutylene plumbing lines”.

When you think about it, an RV has a pretty simple job to do. A chassis, an engine and a void full of furniture. Perhaps this is why this ’79 machine looks more or less interchangeable with RVs a decade newer. It’s the same with buses, or at least used to be – the MCI MC5 looked broadly the same in ’65 as the MC12 did in the ’90s. Compare the difference in cars during the same period.

Engine choices were GM or Dodge – 454 or 440, gasoline V8. In late ’70s North America, where petrol and urine had roughly the same fiscal value (and octane rating), the resultant single-figure fuel economy was just about bearable. In the UK, hiring a private jet would probably have a similar cost per mile traveled.

Marvellous, though, how the interior of the brand new, press photo-ready RV in the brochure somehow looks like it’s carrying 38 years of family wear and tear. The images somehow exude the aroma of wet dog, long-spilt milk and the lasting legacy of that period before smoking was bad for you.

Staggeringly, and I mean, staggeringly, this brochure was actually issued in the UK. The dealer was located in London: Brixton, to be exact, in a location that Google Maps suggests is now occupied by a low-rise apartment building with a supermarket on the ground floor. Of course, South West London would have been fairly handy for those capital-dwellers deep-pocketed enough to afford such a leisure leviathan in the late ’70s, and the relatively manageable real estate values in SW2 at the time would have allowed a dealership big enough to accommodate a few demonstration models.

I struggle to recall seeing one on the road, though. There are a fair few big American RVs haunting more salubrious Chiltern campsites today, but none seem more than a few years old – anything older is likely a personal import. Second hand examples seem to plummet in desirability, too, and reach a stage where an owner can afford to buy one but not run or maintain it – and the next stage is a long period of neglect and decline, before somebody eventually buys it as a V8 engine donor.

Speaking of which… Dodge 440. Hmm. Couldn’t be too hard to put a Hellcat in.

(All (blurry) images are of original manufacturer publicity material, photographed by me. Copyright remains property of Coachmen, who are still a well-regarded maker of RVs and travel trailers, and whose website holds images.)

 

  • Is there any indication they bothered to produce a RHD version? The unmodified Family Pleasing Floorplans would suggest they did not.

    • Seems not, for added fun on winding country lanes. I’m not entirely sure why they reprinted the exact same plans for the price list, seems a little redundant.

      • outback_ute

        All the better for judging how far away from the hedge you are – and letting the oncoming vehicle sort themselves out!

        I’ve seen a couple of RV’s from this era imported on the over-25yo basis (can stay LHD) as they are much cheaper than local stuff. I’d expect they would be converted to run on LPG though, which is significantly cheaper than petrol.

        On that basis I was told about a guy who converted a bus including running on natural gas (CNG) which could only reliably be obtained at bus depots in the state capitals – it had a range of over 3000 miles!

  • Maymar

    But can you get a briefcase glovebox?

    • Sadly not. File this among the 99.9% of vehicles that were inadequately designed in that respect.

  • Looking through craigslist I’ve found quite a few RVs in the “older than 20 years” class for very little money: less than $5K. They range from Cousin Eddie condition to pretty nice. Why buy a “tiny home” when you can have a claasy vintage motor-home in great retro colors?

    • Sjalabais

      My neighbour bought a brand new, Fiat based RV at half the price of our house. He has had a metric barfton of issues. The undercarriage was only partly painted and thus rusted heavily here in Norway. Something was off with the wastewater tank and the engine has had lots of parts shifted under warranty. All the time it looks like a flimsy, giant, white fridge on wheels.

      I’d definitely prefer an older vehicle with this stuff sorted out, and something that is not based on a utility vehicle with an expected life span of five years. Also, there will be those that are infected with mold and those that smell like someone tried to smoke cigarettes through their underpants.

      Btw, I am firmly not in the RV buying demographic, so I have no control of the local market in general.

    • P161911

      I have never understood the tiny house movement. Here in rural America we have had tiny houses for years, even communities of tiny houses. They are known as single wides and trailer parks, usually not the best neighborhoods.
      RV buyers seem to fall into two categories, retirees looking for a nice new one to tour the country and blow a big chunk of their 401k savings or everyone else. Oddly, even during the crash of 2008 new RV sales stayed strong.

      • Luxury Lexus Land-yacht

        As someone who bought a 1999 40′ diesel pusher on a Freightliner chassis back in 2002, then traveled with my lovely wife and our two cats from 2005-2009, I can say the RV industry took a beating, along with the rest of the economy, in 2008, thanks to the Great Depression II.

        Between 2006 and 2008, sales of all RVs, from tent trailers to seven-digit coaches, fell 30%.

        Hell, one of the biggest names in the biz, Fleetwood, the company which made the ‘house’ on mine, went under.

        53 RV manufacturers didn’t make it through the pain, some of them major players and/or makers of high-dollar machines.

        Just a few names people may recognize:

        Alfa Leisure
        Bigfoot
        Bluebird Wanderlodge
        Carriage RV Inc.
        Chinook
        Country Coach
        Monaco
        National RV
        TravelSupreme
        Western RV Inc

        RV sales have never been all that strong, fewer then 500K units, total, with many a manufacturer being only slightly better off than someone living paycheck-to-paycheck. 2008 clubbed the industry over the head, much like the Great Depression did to the automotive industry in the early-30s.

    • boxdin

      My 28 yr old Chinook goes up in value every year as long as I keep it pristine. Ford E350 w EFI 460 & OD trans gives me 12mpg cruising at 7000 ft altitude. In fact I like 1990 ford vans so much I bought a short one too.

  • ConstantReader

    This reminds me of a TV show about 2 guys in Albuquerque, NM who…nevermind, different RV.

  • Citric

    You can almost smell the stale cigarettes looking at those interior shots.

  • Rudy™

    These things (large 70s RVs in general) used to clog up any highways or two-laners that led up into the mountains. Not only were they slugs, it seems you couldn’t climb 1,000 ft. without passing three four with the hoods open, steam pouring out, puddle of green anti-freeze growing beneath them. Luckily you don’t see that anymore.

    They sure do burn hot though. I have passed a couple alongside the road in years past that were on fire. Still remember passing one, four lanes over, windows rolled up, the radiant heat from the fire was uncomfortably hot. I could only imagine how it felt for the firefighters battling the blaze.

  • boxdin

    Coachman also made those tacky vans w a sofa bed in the rear.

  • SlowJoeCrow

    Class A motorhomes represent a particular niche in the vast US market. In 1979 VW Westfalias were still selling strongly as were Econoline and Tradesman based vehicles (frequently made by Coachmen). You could also still get the Bluebird motorhomes and the Airstream Land Yacht at the top end and courtesy of Chinook, such oddities as the Chevrolet Blazer Chalet and Toyota HiLux class C motorhomes

  • theskig

    Space balls!

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