This Goofy Looking RV Was One Of The First Motorhomes To Be Made From One Huge Piece Of Fiberglass - The Autopian

Fiberglass is a wonderful building material for an RV. Going with a fiberglass build reduces the number of places water can find its way in. A fiberglass RV also often weighs less than other materials while giving the camper a bit of a weird look. Many campers are built out of two or more pieces of fiberglass, but some companies have made entire RVs out of one uninterrupted piece of fiberglass. One of the first is this, the Ungers Crown Commander, a one-piece fiberglass motorhome from 1971 that has stood the test of time.

In my over three years of writing about campers, I’ve noticed that sometimes companies will use the same term differently. A perfect example of this is the “one-piece” fiberglass RV. Some companies will claim that their RVs are built out of one single piece of fiberglass, but then you’ll find evidence that two pieces of fiberglass were joined together. For example, Escape Trailer says its fiberglass trailers are one-piece units, but an entire page explains how the trailers are made from two pieces of fiberglass that get overlayed together. chopped carbon fiber

This forms a strong unit that should stand the test of time. However, the seam formed by joining two pieces of fiberglass together can become the source of a water leak, as the owners of some vintage fiberglass campers can tell you. The solution? Some companies have gone as far as to make a true one-piece fiberglass design, where there are no seams to worry about. One of them is the oddball Ungers Crown Commander, a product of the Ungers Coach Company.

This story takes us back to the early 1960s. It was only a few years after the term “motorhome” was popularized thanks to mid-20th century RV pioneer Raymond C. Frank and his Frank Motor Home, later the Dodge Motor Home and Travco Motor Home. What made the Frank/Travco motorhome stand out was not just the name, which endured long enough to become an umbrella term today, but the fact that the motorhome was built with a fiberglass body. This gave it a futuristic shape and better build quality than the coaches with wood framing and aluminum siding.

The Ungers Coach Company would take fiberglass a step further. In 2010, David Ungers, the son of Paul Ungers, explained how the Ungers Coach Company came to be. He explained that the company traces its roots to 1935 when his grandfather mated a wooden body to a White truck chassis. The truck was described as having a chain drive, solid rubber tires, and house siding over the wood-framed box. David believes it might have been this house car that inspired his father, Paul, to create his own motorhome decades later.

In 1964, Paul Ungers joined forces with David’s uncle, Matt Ungers, to form the Ungers Coach Company. David explains what made this new company different:

They designed and built the motor homes themselves. It began with a ply‐wood shell (body) in order to make a fiberglass mold which, in turn, made the fiberglass molded shell (body) with steel and wood roll‐bars which are laid inside the shell (body) and are fiber‐glassed in place. By “all hand laid up”, I mean laid by hand, rather than sprayed with chop‐guns as they are today, which makes it more of a durable shell design. The first few motor homes off of the assembly line were called “Redi‐Go Traveler”. These were on a Chevy chassis with a straight‐6 cylinder engine. After a few years, they were renamed the “Ungers Crown Commander”. Though the Ungers Crown Commander used a Dodge chassis and an International chassis, the Dodge chassis was the most popular with about 800 motor homes being manufactured within the 10 years of business.

As I explained above, many fiberglass RV manufacturers create multi-piece molds that are joined together somewhere in the middle. They could be joined together at the beltline like a Scamp or bisected vertically like a U-Haul. Ungers Coach did things differently, forming each coach by hand for one long seamless piece of fiberglass. The completed Ungers shell was then lowered onto a Dodge or International Harvester truck chassis.

The 1974 Starcraft Starcruiser was claimed to be the first motorhome to be built out of a single piece of fiberglass, but the Ungers Crown Commander beat it to market by ten years. Glastron also made a motorhome that was claimed to be handmade out of a single piece of fiberglass, but it was still later than the Ungers Crown Commander as it was a product of the late 1960s. I cannot say if Ungers was the first true one-piece fiberglass motorhome design, but it is earlier than other claimed first designs.

Of course, some of you may wonder. If building a coach out of a single piece of fiberglass is such a great idea, why isn’t it a big thing today? Well, David offers some insight on that. The Ungers Coach Company lasted a decade, dying in 1974 after the first oil crisis. David admits that building a massive single piece of fiberglass entirely by hand is more expensive than slapping together a couple of separate molds.

The average RV buyer isn’t going to know the difference, so your marketing also has to explain why your fiberglass coach is different than a Travco. David’s piece shows an advertisement that did just that.

Ultimately, David cited falling sales, high gas prices, and the high cost of production as reasons why Ungers went under after just a decade. That leaves roughly 800 Ungers Coach RVs out there, and who knows how many have survived to the present day. This 1971 Ungers Crown Commander is a great example of what the Ungers men created all of those decades ago.

Right from the jump, the seller of this Ungers Crown Commander shows us a coach that appears to be in remarkably good shape. The fiberglass body, at least in photos, appears without major damage and when you view the coach at certain angles, you’ll see the gel coat still shining.

The seller says the RV has been “gone over” inside and out, and I imagine some of that work was cleaning up and refreshing the exterior. Certainly, the addition of LED lighting is evidence of this. But also don’t discount the original work carried out by Ungers. According to the company, each coach was built with tubular steel roll bars under the fiberglass to provide additional strength as well as protection in crashes. The floors of the coaches were also beefy, consisting of a 4.5-inch insulated sandwich encased in fiberglass. The company was so confident in its build quality that it said its coaches wouldn’t rot ever.

Moving inside, Ungers was also a bit serious about safety. In addition to the steel roll bars, the company worked to remove bits and pieces that could cause injury in a crash. That meant giving the driver a padded dashboard and adding a padded ceiling, cabinetry without protruding knobs, flush drapery, and other small changes. In theory, this would allow the coach to crash without having someone impale themselves on a knob, I guess?

Well, that’s how it was from the factory, anyway. This Ungers Crown Commander now has a new interior, one with enough dark wood to remind me of a cabin in the woods.

It’s unclear when this conversion was done, but I spot newer appliances, a newer bathroom, and newer electrical outlets. Yet, the seating in there also looks a bit older. Some older equipment does remain, like that stove. I’m generally a fan of the use of real wood over particle board with veneers, so I love what’s going on here. Though, I might have gone with brighter wood so it doesn’t have the vibe of Adrian’s lair.

The biggest change is under the driver’s seat. The original engine in this coach was likely a 413 cubic inch Chrysler RB V8, which would have made 238 HP to 265 HP in its original form. It’s unclear what this coach weighs, but I bet that gasoline V8 was a thirsty beast. The drivetrain has since been swapped out for the legendary 5.9-liter 12-valve Cummins straight-six diesel.

The engine had 80,000 miles when it was installed and there is a new transmission of unstated origin. The Cummins power probably didn’t make the coach any faster, but I wouldn’t be surprised if fuel economy and reliability doubled.

Other goodies included in these coaches were air-conditioners and a generator. I spot the air-conditioner unit, but the status of the generator is unclear. Sadly, we’re missing other information as well, including holding tanks, length, interior height, and the exact Dodge chassis used underneath. These coaches are so rare that I have not found a single proper brochure or specifications list.

The Ungers Crown Commander is a great example of the ideas crafty individuals had decades ago in the RV industry. Ungers tried to build the ultimate fiberglass motorhome, then fell victim to the oil crisis. Now, only morsels of evidence of the company remain. Such is the case for so many motorhome builders over the past century. Many have come and gone and their memories are maintained only by the smallest shreds on the internet. I’ve come across many brands without any information about them at all on the internet or even in the internet archive, which is sad because so many of these RVs have stories to tell. Many of those stories might be lost as time goes on.

Of course, buying an RV that has been out of production for 50 years means you’ll be put into a funny place. If it ever breaks, you’re on your own for repairs. This is doubly true for a custom unit like the one here.

Still, the seller wants just $20,000 for it. Between the one-piece fiberglass shell and the Cummins firepower, I bet this motorhome from 1971 would last longer than some new motorhomes. If you want it, this Ungers Crown Commander can be found in Portage, Pennsylvania. If you buy it, be sure to stop by my neighborhood on your way home, I want to take it for a spin!

Assuming the engine and trans are in decent usable condition, you’ve already covered about 10 grand in costs and that doesn’t include any swap parts and labor. Looks like a heckuva deal to me. Biggest concern is how does it handle on the road, might need some suspension / brake upgrades if you plan to do any distance touring.

Winnibego used a one piece fiberglass roof on a lot of models for a few years that requires a very specific training for a tech to install when one gets blown off under insurance. Long story short, they have something like a half inch of play on all sides when the replacement shows up, absolutely no trim extra. It is a set and seal process that you get once chance at and not many place in the country do it. Thankfully a shop in Denver did when the roof blew of my parents’ RV while in storage.

In summary, this thing is basically unrepairable without knowing someone who will do the custom work when it comes to the roof and outer shell.

I look at all these vintage postings and I’m fascinated by them, but with very rare exceptions, I’d never see myself buying one. The simple reason? I believe the very best invention in RVs and Trailers is one thing: the slide.

I cannot imagine plunking down good money on any RV or trailer without slides these days. Now I’m gonna get all kinds of replies with “oh, those are unreliable because they leak or jam” or some other issue, but I’ll say, as slides have improved, those problems have gone away in my experience. Personally, I’ve never had a problem on my trailer, and I’ve never seen a problem on any trailer that was not traced to poor build quality (and thus warranty covered) or lack of maintenance (which is yeah, something you have to do, RTFM). But with all that hassle, opening up slides takes a trailer and turns it into a massively spacious home away from home.

The only reason why I would argue against slides is for weight savings or if you are overlanding and need something minimal. Otherwise, goodness…. give me slides.

As far as a vintage trailer, yeah, if you gave me something like a Bowlus, completely lined with a curved wood interior and polished aluminum exterior, then the sheer luxury of the thing would convince me to be less concerned about slides, but for those of us in the real world, where we, say, only have $35 – $45K for a trailer, slides are the luxury.

What an interesting RV. To me it looks like an early 1950’s mobile home with the hitch cut off and the wheels in odd places. Neat find Mercedes!

Wow, these are neat and interesting. It’s looks pretty nice inside too. Yeah, would last longer than new ones. I want it! Great article

The driver’s side side view reminds me of a horse trailer. Those little windows …

Okay, I had a train of thought last night, and this is probably the place to get someone to poke holes in it.

One of the obstacles to a battery electric RV is to get decent range, you gotta cram a huge battery in there. But that can get expensive and heavy really fast. Also, the bigger the battery, the longer the charge time.

So I got to thinking why put in one big battery? Why not put in two smaller batteries? Most RVs have an on board generator for camping in places that don’t have shore power. Could you drive the RV on one battery, then when it’s at, say, 10%, switch to the other battery, and gave the on board generator charge the depleted battery? When the generator is out of fuel, it’s just a matter of minutes before you’re back on the road.

This would be kind of complicated, but it is my understanding that BEVs cannot be recharged while driving, so this could be a solution. Like a dual tank, but for electricity.

Am I way out of line here? Is there something I’m not aware of? Could you take an RV like this one, shove the drive train from, say, a Model X under it with duplicate batteries, and get 300-400 mile range out of it?

Very interesting question. Don’t range extenders push juice to the battery while it’s operating?

I dunno. Doesn’t the range extender on DT’s i3 power the wheels directly?

Not certain. I thought not, but I’m totally prepared to be wrong.

There’s a lot of problems with this. Suppose you had a normal looking class A–like the one in this article (but a current model). The wind resistance is fierce. The Hummer EV has a 200 kWHr battery pack, basically the largest in an EV, weighs 9000lbs and gets 300 miles range. See the problem? You’d need twice that, plus a range extender to get what you are looking for, on just a ballpark for weight and the windfront of the vehicle. And that Hummer EV costs $110K. So you’ve got about $240,000+ before you’ve even started the actual RV part of the conversion. That range extender is not going to be a normal RV generator, it’s going to have to push a lot more power than a normal one at a sustained level. So at that point you have to ask, why even have a BEV based RV? It’s not exactly and environmental win, and it’s not saving much money either. You’d need a 200kWHr battery just to get 100-150 miles in a conventional class A or class C body.

By way of comparison, the Tesla Semi has a 1 Megawatt custom charger and gets about 400 miles range with a trimotor configuration. It has been estimated to have about 900kW-hr battery pack. You can see the math involved and again, that’s not including the fact that it’s a semi. Presumably you wouldn’t need a battery of that size, but 500 – 600kW-hr is probably accurate and the weight is going to put you into semi-chassis territory. And charging is going to really be an issue. Most RV parks won’t let EVs charge on their networks because of the strain.

This is why the future of BEV RVs is probably something that is more like a PHEV that is battery first, but also does things like reduces the wind front, as in, the roof lowers, etc. Trailers will probably have their own batteries and powered wheels to assist, or to boost the tow vehicle, and then will be able to plug into chargers separately as the tow vehicle charges. Either way, it will be some time before RVs and trailers are truly “green” unless battery tech improves dramatically. And it will be pricey.

I looked at the picture at the top of the article, and my very first thought was ‘Bookmobile’. Suddenly I was in grade school again, checking out ‘Garfield Vol 4’.

Mr. McGuire: I want to say one word to you. Just one word.

Mr. McGuire: Are you listening?

Benjamin: Exactly how do you mean?

Mr. McGuire: There’s a great future in plastics. Think about it. Will you think about it?

My parents had a Winnebago of roughly the same vintage (maybe 1973) with a 413 in it that got 5 mpg consistently. This thing looks far more modern than the Winnebagos of the day.

I know the article says this coach most likely had the Chrysler engine, but the front view picture looks like it’s wearing an old-style International Harvester “IH” logo. (The one sometimes called the “Man on a Tractor” logo.) So that might make it one of the less-common chassis as well. Interesting!

To me, it doesn’t read like a 1964 design. There’s only so much you can do with a big rectangular box, granted, but it looks a lot newer than that, I’d say you could build it now and it would fit right in with modern RVs, maybe just change the headlights

Also, I suspect the beadboard in the interior might actually be lighter than it appears in photos, could be the camera and lighting making it come off darker, there’s a couple shots where it seems to show up as a lighter stain. Would say, maybe roughly 1990s Dairy Queen sunroom color

nice, very cool old buggy.

Mercedes, my wife and I are contemplating moving into a tiny home or rv full time, and all of these awesome vintage rvs you’ve been posting are messing with my head. This is only $20k, with a Cummins 12v? And that GMC was what, $90k? That’s my favorite RV over all else (woohoo EM50 Urban Assault Vehicle!).

It’s neat! I have no need for it, but I kind of want it.

I do have to wonder about covering the plate in the photo–I suspect someone willing and able to get too much info from the plate could also look up the registration of what is likely the only Ungers around there.

But I don’t see much value in blocking the plate, regardless, so I definitely don’t have the same mindset as this seller.

I also like the look and just the fact that it is still out there. I always wonder about drivetrain swaps on these “lighter” RV’s.

As for blocking the plate, I usually just chalk it up to more paranoid individuals.

“just because you’re paranoid doesn’t mean they’re not out to get you.” fox mulder.

I believe the original person to make this quote was the late, great Joesph Heller. Author of Catch 22. Not that it matters though. It’s the thought that counts.

i believe you to be correct also. haven’t read the book in (quite) some time, coincidentally just saw the episode…i prefer the x files version 🙂

So do I. When this topic came up elsewhere, I asked a fervent advocate of this what the scam would be. Here’s what came back – crickets. Anyone can photograph my car and its plate in a parking lot, so I don’t see the inherent danger. With a rare item like this RV, though, I might feel differently.

With a rare item like this RV, though, I might feel differently.

If someone can get any usable information via the plate, searching registrations for the make will get you there. In my mind, it makes more sense to hide the plate on a common vehicle, since it would be harder to search. Not that it matters, because you are right that there’s no angle for the scam.

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