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Hesselbart - Type C 5

RV history: From slide-in campers to Type C motorhomes

In the late 1950’s, slide-in pickup truck campers (originally identified as portable camp coaches) grew in popularity as an alternative to trailers or motorhomes as pick up trucks gained acceptance as family transportation and not just commercial or farm vehicles.

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Truck campers originally were simply 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.

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Other manufacturers had additional height added 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.

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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 popular family camping vehicles.

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By the mid 1960s, as demand grew for larger and 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 between the driving compartment and the camper body.

These became known a “minnie 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 further back for proper balance.

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In the 1970s, these chassis-mounted truck campers then evolved into chopped-off and extended van chassis, which became the Class C motorhomes of today.  Every domestic van manufacturer quickly got on board supplying the RV companies with Chevrolet, Dodge, and Ford all providing specially prepared 3/4- and 1-ton chopped van chassis for conversion into camping or living vehicles.

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Today, the Class C motorhome has further evolved from the van based rigs and reverted to truck based vehicles. But, they now use full-sized commercial highway tractors to create what have become known as “Super C” RVs that can surely no longer be called “minnie” motorhomes as the original examples were tagged — even though they were in fact overgrown truck campers.

About Al Hesselbart

The retired general manager of the RV/MH Hall of Fame in Elkhart, Ind., Al Hesselbart is the author of the RV history book, "The Dumb Things Sold...Just Like That." He also represented the RV Industry Association at two symposiums held in China. He has appeared on multiple TV documentaries and is a frequent speaker at RV events. He can be reached at ahesselbart@aol.com.

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