By Al Hesselbart
In the late 1950s, slide-in pickup truck campers (identified initially as portable camp coaches) grew in popularity as an alternative to trailers or motorhomes since pickup trucks began to be accepted as family transportation and not commercial vehicles. Originally, truck campers were a box covering the bed of the truck into which a cot and a Coleman stove and cooler were placed. The manufacturers of these basic units soon developed the concept of the cab-over bed as a feature to increase available space.
Other manufacturers added additional height so that passengers could ride in a “sky lounge” to enjoy the scenery while traveling. In the early days, riding in the camper was standard procedure especially for the family children who had their own moving clubhouse while on the way to the campground.
Some of these early units were so long that they needed dolly wheels at the back bumper to keep the front end in contact with the road during acceleration. Holiday Rambler built and sold a camper identified as a “Motovan” that was so long it required a full axle and wheels, not just safety dollies.
Today the popularity of the slide-in truck camper has waned in much of the country in favor of travel trailers and fifth wheel trailers, but in the American West they continue to be a popular family camping vehicle.
By the mid-1960s, as demand grew for larger slide-ins, truck camper manufacturers bought pickup trucks, removed the beds and attached their larger units directly to the truck chassis. In these units, the backside of the cab was removed for easy access to the driving compartment and the camper body. These became known as “mini” motorhomes in spite of the fact that they were actually overgrown truck campers. Soon, chassis were lengthened so that the drive wheels could be placed farther back for proper balance.
In the 1970s, these chassis-mounted truck campers were being created on chopped-off and extended van chassis, which became the “class C” motorhomes of today. Every domestic van manufacturer quickly got on board by supplying the RV companies with Chevrolet, Dodge and Ford van chassis for conversion into camping or living vehicles.
Today the type “C” motorhome has further evolved from van-based rigs and has reverted to truck-based vehicles using full-sized commercial highway tractors. These beasts have become known as “Super C” RVs, that can surely no longer be called “mini” motorhomes.