Hindley's 1937 Curtiss Aerocar 5th Wheel

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Is it a motorhome? Is it just a car and trailer caravan? Well, although it comprises a motive unit and a living unit, this outfit was conceived and developed as a whole. The objective was to achieve the ultimate in streamlining or, as we’d say today, it was all about drag coefficients. So, we are stretching a point and opting to classify inventor Angelo Novo’s creation a motorhome.

Novo, from Guadalupe, California, designed and built his ‘vacation equipment’ in the late 1930s and his friends named it the ‘Ritz of the Road’. The tractor unit is based on a Chevrolet chassis with the Chevy engine - probably their 3.2-litre ohv six-cylinder ‘Cast Iron Wonder’ engine designed in the late twenties and in use until the fifties - at the rear. The body consists of a steel frame clad with thin plywood and the vehicle is just a two-seater. It was able to reach 80mph.

The caravan unit - 16ft long by 6ft wide and 7ft high - was on a special low chassis; the sidewalls were of plywood again and the top was aeroplane fabric over a structure of quarter inch laths. Two doors on the right open to a kitchen and lounge/diner at the front and a bedroom at the rear.

Streamlining had more merit in the USA where higher towing speeds were permitted than the 30mph maximum for caravans here in the ’30s. Contemporary comment in ‘Caravan World’, in which this outfit featured in 1937, drew attention to the space limitation imposed by the streamlined style and showed a hankering for the old ‘box-type’ ’vans. The sentiment perhaps lingered on for a good many years and resulted in some of those rather brick-shaped motorhomes which we still remember well.

This custom-made, one of a kind vehicle was built exclusively for the purpose of towing this Aerocar trailer. Initially the trailer was pulled by a 1936 Plymouth coupe, but it soon proved to be somewhat underpowered. In order to realize the full benefits of this travel trailer, the owner commissioned the International Truck Plant in Chatham, Ontario to custom design and build this unique little workhorse.

A 1938 custom D-Une cab and chassis with a shortened wheelbase was chosen as the basic unit. A four-speed transmission gets the power to the dual rear wheels through a two-speed rear end. Powering up the unit is an International Green Diamond (GRD-233) six-cylinder, L-head engine. Bore, 3-5/161'; Stroke, 4-1/21'; Piston displacement, 232.65 cu. in.; Compression pressure, 110-120 Ibs.; Horsepower, 93 @ 3400 R.P.M.; Maximum torque, 181 ft. Ibs. @ 1000 R.P.M.

The body was custom fabricated in Brantford, Ontario by Brantford Coach. Moulded steel panels were fastened to hardwood framing members.

Since this travel unit was chauffeur driven, it was self-contained, even without the trailer. It would seat seven persons; the windows had pull- down blinds, and the six-foot long rear seat opened out to form a double bed. Storage compartments were provided for the heavy-duty batteries, the delco generator, and even a swing-out sink for the chauffeur. An intercom system connected the two units.

At the rear deck, a roll-down covering exposes the "Glenn Curtiss Aero Coupler".

The coupled length of the combined unit is 35 feet and it weighs in at approximately 5 tons.


Note: Article published in Motorhome Monthly, Britain's former number one motorhome magazine, by Chris Burlace, now an author at Motorhome and Campervan Magazine.

Did You Know?

Ontario's first driver's licences were introduced in 1909 as an attempt by the government to crack down on reckless driving. Owners of automobiles were not required to have a driver's licence until 1927 though. Only drivers who did not own their own vehicles were required to have a driver's licence because it was assumed that motor vehicle owners drove carefully in order to preserve their expensive assets. The government did give drivers without cars something that put them in a class all by themselves -- the title of Chauffeur!

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