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The Travco motorhome was an aerodynamic Class A Recreational Vehicle built on a Dodge motorhome chassis from 1965 until the late 1980s. The Travco design originally emerged as a 1961 model called the "DodgeFrank Motor Home" and marketed with the assistance of the Chrysler Corporation, who were the makers of its chassis. One hundred thirty one were produced the first year, with an average price tag of $9000. The Travco/Dodge Motor Home design and fiberglass body were refinements by Ray Frank to the original Frank Motor Home, a conventional box-type design based on the Dodge chassis and built in Brown City, Michigan from 1958-1962. Ray Frank, founder of Frank Industries,also made up the name "motorhome" and went on to develop Xplorer Motorhomes. Mr. Frank has been inducted into the RV/MH Hall of Fame & Museum(RV/MH Heritage Foundation,Elkhart Indiana) as the father of the motorhome.
Travco enjoyed a large market share of the budding motorhome market, its success played a part in the demise of more established makes such as the Corvair-powered UltraVan, and opened the market to lower cost makes such as Winnebago. Travco's use of the Dodge Motor Home chassis established Dodge chassis as the most popular make of motorhome chassis for twenty years.
The original Dodge Motorhome Chassis used for the Travco and many other makes was powered by the Chrysler 318 "Polysphere" engine, many heavy duty refinements were made to this outstanding small engine to increase its durability hauling the heavy motorhome body, GVW's could exceed six tons, but the small and efficient 318 engine with the distinctive parabolic combustion chamber design netting around 200 horsepower could manage to keep up with traffic and had a top speed slightly over 70 mph in most configurations. The 318, and later 413 and 440 engines were mated to the Chrysler Torqueflite 727 transmission; until the 1964 model, these transmissions shared the 'pushbutton' selector quadrant used on other Chrysler Corporation vehicles. From 1965 on, Torqueflite used an instrument panel mounted selector lever similar to Corvair Powerglide. All Dodge motorhome chassis engines were specially improved 'truck' versions, that operated on regular gasoline, with special durability features such as improved valves and stress relieved castings and forged crankshafts. The Dodge chassis utilized a live dual rear wheel axle and an 'I'-beam front axle, suspended on semi-elliptic leaf springs, both ends.
Travco offered a variety of lengths and floorplans over the years, its 27 foot model was the most popular model.
The Travco Corporation challenged the tax law on RV chassis, which were considered 'trucks' and taxed at a higher rate than private motor vehicles- Travco won its case in 1971 and the IRS accepted Motorhome Chassis would be taxed at the lower rate. This was a significant victory that served all manufacturers in the industry.
The 1962 Dodge Motor Home (later Travco) design was revolutionary due to its shape and fiberglass-over-steel construction, thus eliminating paint jobs and dry rot. It was sold as the Frank Motor Home from 1958 to 1963 until the company went bankrupt. Two investors bought the RV body molds and the patent rights, and opened up Travco Corporation a short time after, incorporating as PRF Industries.
A little known fact is that Travco's sister company, Gemini, built the interiors of the GMC Motorhome between 1973 and 1974 in Mt. Clemens, MI. Production of GMC Motorhome interiors shifted to GM's own factory in Pontiac, MI with the 1975 models.
In 1964, Travco Corporation (contraction of Travelers Company) took control, the windows were enlarged and various other cosmetic modifications were added. The mid-1960s Travco was offered in six colour combinations. The design changed very little from 1964 to 1980 except for a choice of grille designs that hurt the look of the well-designed RV. Four sizes were offered; the 21-foot 210, the 27-foot 270, the 29-foot 290, and the 32-foot 320. Out of the four, the 270 was the best seller, and the best selling color in the 1960s was white with a red band running lengthwise around the center. The popular colors in the 1970s were any shade of earth tone with or without a two-tone. Eventually, the "Atomic Age" design failed to impress most buyers, despite the more modern-looking grille introduced in the mid-1970s. As part of the Loan Guarantees to the Chrysler Corporation during its financial crisis in the late 1970s, Chrysler was told to abandon the medium duty truck market (including Dodge Motorhome Chassis) and concentrate on building light trucks- International Harvester was told to do the reverse, and get out of light trucks and concentrate on medium and heavy duty vehicles as part of their agreement with the US Federal government. This stopped production of both the very popular Dodge chassis, the 440ci big-block V8, and contributed to the demise of the Travco, which was identified strongly with the Chrysler Corporation. Other factors, including management changes and extraordinarily high fuel costs and interest rates in the 1979-era contributed to Travco's difficulties. However, the body shells were used by a luxury-RV maker called Foretravel until around 1990. The Travco body-shell molds have probably been destroyed, so no more replacement body parts will be made.
In a side note, Travco also offered van conversions called "Family Wagons" as well as class C Minihomes called "Family Wagon", with aluminum sides similar to Winniebago's "Minnie winnie" and a fiberglass version call " L'sprit"
Travco motorhomes, regarded as among the very best in the industry in contemporary reports and now considered a classic RV on par with Airstream, Avion, Silver Streak, Sportscoach and Spartan, were owned by both the famous and ordinary families. The country music star Johnny Cash owned and toured in several Travcos (many of which are included in documentaries and films about him) over the course of his career; William Shatner of 'Star Trek' had a specially customized 1979 Travco with four wheel drive. Travco was considered a leader in the industry, and was the first manufacturer to create a vehicle that defined the modern day Motorhome. Almost every feature regarded as typical of the class A motorhome originated with Travco and its Dodge Motor Home/Frank motorhome predecessors, from central air conditioning, to self-contained electricity generation, to a toilet ("Destroilet") that incinerated its own waste.
In a recent survey of all time highest quality and desirable makes of RV on the RV.net website, Travco models were in the top three postwar RV manufacturers. Even within the Travco company, their product was affectionately referred to as 'the tank'- a reflection of its toughness and stout lifetime construction.
Early Travco coach interiors were arguably the most well-made and practical. Upholstery pieces featured simple patterns in durable vinyl. Carpets and interior trim was functional and durable. The mid 70's and the 80's brought twin swivel chairs under a crank-out bunk bed. A dinette table was located across the way, with cabinets above, and the kitchen was fully equipped with not only the expected four-burner range/oven, double-door refrigerator and double sink, but some even came with built-in toasters and coffee pots. Interior fabrics and floor coverings were more ornate. The bathroom was large, and it was fully equipped with marine toilet, sink, and shower. A large closet was across from that. A tiny bedroom with bed, a mirror, and numerous storage areas occupied the rear end of the motorhome.
Over the years, floorplans varied from the luxury 27 foot "Dodge Mahal" in the early 1970s which offered posh comfort intended for just two, to family floorplans sleeping up to ten. The "SightSeer" economy motorhome was a basic, stripped down and shorter model directed at the economy market typified by Winnebago. Sightseer was a conventional box-style motorhome that did not share the distinctive flowing aerodynamic Travco signature body style.
A fourth season episode of The Donna Reed Show titled "The Caravan" which premiered on May 10, 1962, extensively showcased a 1962 Dodge Travco. As the Stone Family travels West on vacation the Travco is shown in a variety of locations on the Columbia Pictures/Screen Gems backlot as well in numerous live action sequences along the Las Vegas strip and at the Riviera (hotel and casino). Throughout the show Donna and the Stone Family affectionately refer to the Travco as "our House Bus."
Charles Kuralt and his "On The Road" crew for CBS News traveled about the country in a motorhome from 1967 to 1994 to come up with unique feature stories that appeared on the CBS Evening News and later on the CBS News Sunday Morning program, also hosted by Kuralt. One of the motorhomes used by the On The Road crew was a Travco.
Mobiles Mansions by Douglas Keister (March, 2006) has an informative section on the Frank Motor Home, Dodge, and the Travco.'
1. Keister, Douglas (March, 2006). Mobile Mansions. Gibbs Smith, Publisher, 106-109. ISBN 1-58685-773-8.