Archive for April, 2013

RVs of the Apocalypse, Part 3: Dodge Vader?

Posted in Cars with tags , , on April 24, 2013 by David N. Brown

While the 1960’s saw the rise of the commercial motorhome, there’s a strong case to be made that the most prolific decade of production was the 1970’s.  Despite the impact of the energy crisis, manufacturing of all types of RVs proliferated, including quite a few (awkward pause…) interesting experiments.  The decade saw plenty of outright weirdness, especially from the “homebuilt” category.  (See the Beetle Minihome covered in the first installment of this feature.)  But there was no shortage of improbable offerings from commercial manufacturing, and I nominate the following as quite possibly the most truly and awesomely post-apocalyptic specimen of the prolific decade:

1975 Woodsman

This is the 1975 Champion Woodsman, first brought to my attention by, the immediate source for the image above.  21 feet long and built on a Dodge chassis, the Woodsman was notable for having four-wheel-drive, probably the only commercial RV ever to have that capability as a “standard” feature.  It is also distinctive for a tapered shape, most visible in the pyramidal superstructure,  consistent with a “tumblehome” style of design which author Douglas Keister has compared to Darth Vader.  Woodsman was either a product or distinct division of Champion Home Builders, a minor but reasonably successful RV manufacturer.  According to Keister’s book Mobile Mansions, Champion continued to build motorhomes until at least 1985, by which point the RV market had experienced a severe contraction, not improbably in large part because motorhomes simply did not suit the fashions of the emerging “yuppie” generation.  The site Offroad Action has several posts with additional information about the Woodsman, including photos of another specimen with an external rack for fishing rods that looks equally suitable for keeping your guns at ready to fight off raiders, zombies and prehistoric monsters.  Clearly, if one is in the market for an RV expressly for the purpose of surviving an apocalyptic disaster, you can’t do much better than this!

RVs of the Apocalypse, Part 2: The Winnebedsel

Posted in Cars, zombies on April 17, 2013 by David N. Brown

As a second installment of this series, here’s another entry on the vein of car conversions: the one and only Edsel motorhome.

This vehicle came to the attention of RV enthusiasts through an ebay listing in 2011 and an amazing site called “Weird RVs”, source for the link and image above.  A post at Autoblog offers a gallery of pictures of this surreal creation, including a few interior shots.  I incorporated it into my “Zombie Vegas” series, giving it the name Winnebedsel, and featured it on the original “cover” of Volume 4 in the ebook version of the series.  I retired the image for continuity with other volumes as well as copyright concerns raised by others, but the retired cover has been restored in the Barnes and Nobel edition.

Naturally, the Edsel saga is a matter of very longstanding interest to me.  Most discussions tend to sharply divide into two camps, apologists who characterize the Edsel as an at least reasonably sound vehicle that simply failed to capture a changing market and critics who characterize it as a true lemon.  Personally, I think it’s fair to say that the Edsel was a mediocre car at best, but no more so than any number of cars of its time.  By almost all accounts, the main factors in its lasting infamy was Ford’s own marketing campaign, which in hindsight might as well have been a controlled experiment to test the hypothesis that there IS such a thing as bad publicity, and genuine problems with experimental features and overall quality control, undoubtedly compounded by the mind-boggling practice of sending cars to dealers with parts still awaiting installation.  I believe one shouldn’t underestimate the role of the infamous “toilet seat” grill, which if nothing else ensured that the Edsel would be immediately recognizable.

As a bonus, here’s some Edsel lore I unearthed recently.  First, here’s a web page with what is reported to be a 1953 concept sketch for the Edsel.  The sketch (assuming authenticity) offers confirmation of accounts that the vertical grill was originally meant to be far less obtrusive, though it would appear that the aesthetics were problematic enough before being enlarged into the iconic “toilet seat” of the original 1958 model.  The vertical grill was subsequently shrunk on the 1959 models, and retired in the final 1960 model year.  The later model years also saw the retirement of the notorious “Teletouch” push-button transmission.  Second, I discovered information on a line of Edsel ambulances, or “amblewagons”, which I couldn’t resist working into “Re-Deanimator”. It appears that the Edsel was one of a number of cars used by a company that converted station wagons into ambulances, naturally begging the question what emergency could be worse than riding in an Edsel.  Even more ironically, similar specialized Edsels were used as hearses, and provisions appear to have been made for converting an ambulance into a hearse.  Here’s my favorite picture from the “amblewagon” page.

1958 Corsair Ambulance


RVs of the Apocalypse! Part 1: The Beetle Minihome

Posted in Cars with tags , , on April 10, 2013 by David N. Brown

So, I’m back with a new feature.  It’s one of the ironies of my career that, way back, I was strongly drawn to utopian literature, and the appeal came through in a lot of my earlier work, including the “Naughtenny Moore” stories where the exotrooper Zaratustra first appeared.  But, I have ended up doing a lot more in the post-apocalyptic vein, including the junkyard-tech atmosphere of the Exotroopers franchise.  In the process, I got to be a self-taught scholar in the field of mobile homes.  Just from a practical perspective, a mobile home is the perfect vehicle with which to flee the fall of civilization.  To my thinking, a mobile home also fits the post-apocalypse atmosphere, especially if it’s a homebuilt specimen, and better still if it’s the variety where the motorhome or trailer has been improvised from the components of an existing car.  The results can be awe-inspiringly weird, and they don’t get much weirder than this…


The images above are among quite a few floating around the internet of the VW Beetle-based Minihome.  Details of their history are predictably sketchy.  Per an especially informative article at Weburbanist (the immediate source for the images above), the Minihome first appeared sometime in the 1960s, probably as an evolution of Beetle pickup conversions.  At least two manufacturers made the homes commercially, and plans are still available online.  In 1977, the Minihome was featured in Mechanix Illustrated, which was evidently the source for a detailed exploded diagram of the Minihome.  These specs indicate a total length of ten feet, and accommodations that included two fold-out beds, and a fridge, a kitchen stove and sink that could slide out for outdoor use.  It is safe to assume that many different variations of the concept were built.  Here is a concept I created for Re-Deanimator with a Gypsy influence:


As a bonus, here’s a second Beetle-based concept.  Quite a few vintage Beetles ended up being turned into cargo trailers, usually with the rear end being used.  I had the idea of turning the front end into a teardrop trailer, probably the oldest style of mobile home to see commercial production.  The hood and wheels didn’t give the right shape or length, which I figured could be resolved with “leftovers” from the cab:


The result has been dubbed Eric, the Half A Bug!

David N. Brown

Mesa Arizona