SI Vault
Virginia Kraft
June 19, 1961
Streamlined automotive camping vehicles are making life outdoors as comfortable as staying at home and more fun for everyone
Decrease font Decrease font
Enlarge font Enlarge font
June 19, 1961

Family Campground On Wheels

Streamlined automotive camping vehicles are making life outdoors as comfortable as staying at home and more fun for everyone

View CoverRead All Articles View This Issue

More than 50 million Americans will vacation outdoors this season, and many of them, like the family on the opposite page, will enjoy one of the fastest-growing sports in the nation—camping by caravan. The gaily striped awning belongs not to a tent but to a Volkswagen bus, factory-converted (below) to combine the conveniences of indoor living with the fun of outdoor camping. For almost five years VW Campers have been familiar sights on European highways, where caravaning is an established pastime, but in this country they are new.

The first ones were brought to the U.S. by returning tourists, and almost overnight VW dealers were swamped with orders. Last year the factory at Westphalia turned out 2,070 Campers. More than 1,000 will be sold in the U.S. this year, and now Ford and Chevrolet are in the market with models of their own. Part of the appeal of the VW and other self-contained campers is economy (a family of four can vacation for one-fourth of normal traveling costs by carrying their living quarters with them), but the real attraction of such vehicles is the freedom they offer. Food, baggage, bedding and sporting supplies stow inside and do not have to be packed and unpacked at every stop; spacious interiors permit children room to move about and reduce the monotony of hours on the road; and any place reachable by car automatically becomes a campsite.

Even more elaborate accommodations than the VW offers are available in pickup-truck conversions, popularly known as "turtlebacks." Custom-made by several dozen U.S. manufacturers, they are bolted or welded to pickup truck bodies and provide many of the luxuries of wayside motels. Two of the best, the Alaskan and the Sport King, are shown on page 49.

For once-a-year camping, the least expensive self-contained caravans are U-Haul-type trailers that hitch to the rear of the car, stow in minimum space and open to full-size tents. All three types of caravan—bus, turtle-back and trailer—are giving a new and comfortable impetus to family camping trips and attracting an increasing number of Americans to vacation opportunities outdoors.

The interior of the VW Camper (left) combines fine workmanship with functional design. The living quarters are attractive, roomy and efficient. Factory-installed equipment includes built-in storage and bedding closets, full-length wardrobe, ice cooler, stove, 23-gallon water tank, miniature shower, chemical toilet, formica tables and work counter, dining canopy (opposite page), zippered dressing room tent, safety doors, heater, defroster, interior lights, bumper overriders. Couches convert to a double bed and the front seat to two single bunks. Standard equipment includes wall-to-wall carpeting, matching draperies, luggage rack and a bar stocked with thermal glasses. Price complete: $2,953.85.

The turtlebacks, currently enjoying the biggest boom in their more-than-30-year history, arc land versions of streamlined cabin cruisers. A turtleback is a self-contained unit which can be attached (permanently or temporarily) to the bed of most pickup trucks. There are several basic designs, but interiors are generally custom-finished to the buyer's specifications. A leader in the moderate-priced field, the Alaskan, made by R. D. Hall Manufacturing, Sun Valley, Calif., is shown above installed on a�-ton Chevrolet Apache. The unique feature of this 10-foot aluminum conversion is a hydraulically operated roof that can be lowered (from 6 feet 4 inches to 4 feet 9 inches) to reduce sway when driving. The Alaskan (see diagram above) sleeps three on 4-inch foam rubber beds (1), has a 12-gallon water tank (with connections for external water supply) and sink (2), three-burner butane stove (3), Marine folding table (4), 75-pound icebox (5) and areas for bedding (6) and storage (7). It is fiber-glass-insulated to maintain comfortable living temperatures in winter and summer and has both screened windows and a 24-inch-by-16-inch picture window. Additional ventilation is provided by a crank-operated roof window. The price of the Alaskan installed is $1,325, plus $2,300 for the truck.

The most elaborately equipped pickup truck conversion is the Sport King (King Trailer, Torrance, Calif.), shown here installed on a�-ton Ford. An extension of the living unit over the truck cab becomes a separate double bedroom (1 on diagram), with picture window and a partition for privacy. In addition, there are convertible beds (2) in the dining area (3), plus two roll-away cots which may be set up in the center aisle. Unlike many turtle-backs, the Sport King has hot and cold running water from a 15-gallon water tank (4), a fully enclosed shower (5), a flush toilet (6) with its own septic tank, and an interior heater (7). Exterior electric and water connections are standard equipment. The kitchen has a built-in three-burner butane stove (8), an oven with Robertshaw automatic controls, a range hood and a forced-air ventilating fan. There are an electric or butane refrigerator (9) with freezer compartment, and a sink (10) with electrically pumped faucets. Matching inlaid linoleum and formica table and work areas are keyed to birch or ash paneling. Two full-length wardrobes (11), bedding bins and a wall of kitchen cabinets provide storage. Large screened windows and roof ventilator are standard. The Sport King is $2,247 installed, plus $2,360 for the pickup.

Small tent trailers are the most compact and useful—as well as economical—vehicles for infrequent camping trips. They are towed behind the family car and can be converted in minutes to full-size tents. When not in use, they can be stowed in the garage. The two basic types of tent trailers are quite similar when in driving position, but they differ considerably in interior facilities when their tents are erected. A less expensive type, such as the Apache Chief (above), made by Vesely Manufacturing, Lapeer, Mich., has sleeping and living accommodations on ground level. On the road, the Chief measures 7 feet by 4 feet, packs only 42 inches. Its aluminum body has a vinyl-coated traveling cover, directional signals and taillights. It has 42 cubic feet of storage space in four lockable compartments and is furnished with its own hitch. At the campsite, the Apache's 13-ounce Army duck tent encloses a 7-foot-by-11�-foot living area that includes sleeping accommodations on permanently made up Polyfoam mattresses. The tent has a sewed-in floor, windows with zippered closures and screens, and a canopy that provides 52 square feet of floor space. Fitted with a boat rack ($20.40 extra), the Apache Chief holds all camping gear required by a family of four, sells complete for $525.

Higher-priced and more elaborate tent trailers such as the Nimrod Four Star (above), made by Ward Manufacturing, Cincinnati, have off-the-ground sleeping and living space. The Four Star is all-steel construction with baked-enamel finish and leaf springs, tail-lights, turn signals and 60 cubic feet of storage space when traveling. In driving position, it measures 5 feet by 8 feet, is 45 inches high. Opened, it is 11 feet by 8 feet, with 6 feet 2 inches of interior headroom. It has a self-supporting canvas canopy that extends 3 feet beyond the living area, zippered storm flaps with screening and a pull-out kitchen fitted with ice chest and sink. The Four Star sleeps four on two�-size bunks (mattresses are extra at $29.95 each) and can accommodate an additional person in its 36-inch-wide center aisle. A 5-foot-by-8-foot screened extension providing an extra 70 square feet of living area can be installed for SI 19.90 and folds into the unit when closed. Tent and extension are made of 10-ounce Army duck, and leveling jacks permit pitching on uneven ground. A boat carrier can be installed for $69.50. The Nimrod Four Star (not including optional equipment and trailer hitch) sells for $849; a less expensive version, the Three Star (which does not have kitchen or canopy), sells for $695.