Lamsteed Kamper on Ford Model-T

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Henry's wonderful Model-T was the maid-of-all-work of the automotive world. During its 19 years in production the 'T' came with a variety of factory and proprietary types of passenger body, whilst the 'T' chassis and the long wheelbase 'TT' version catered for all kinds of commercial applications including even fire engines and vehicles adapted to run on rails. From 1908 until 1927, when Henry Ford finally admitted that the Model-T was past its sell-by date, over 15 million were produced and they were in every corner from Alaska to Zanzibar.

The Model-T was a favourite foundation for early motorhomes and we have featured many in this series, most recently (October 2000) the amazing Zagelmeyer survivor in its American homeland. This Lamsteed Kamper was a contemporary and was produced from 1921 until 1926 by Anheuser-Busch of St Louis, Missouri. In 1922 the Lamsteed unit, complete with full equipment and ready to mount on a standard Model-T Ford chassis, was priced at $535. That was not cheap considering that at the time a basic Model-T 'Runabout' cost just half that price, although the optional electric starter and detachable-rim wheels added an $85 premium.

The Lamsteed Kamper was designed for the kind of vacation one had always dreamed about, proclaimed the company's brochure. 'Go anywhere you wish - stopping at your own hotel, eating your own cooking at your own table - all in great comfort at a price you can afford. Enjoy the splendours of Yellowstone, the majesty of the Grand Canyon, visit balmy Palm Beach...'.

Like the Zagelmeyer and some other contemporary American motorhomes on the Model-T, the Lamsteed Kamper featured foldout side extensions for the beds. The enclosing canvas could be opened on warm nights, as shown in our picture, when to keep out flying invaders we trust that mosquito nets were provided. With its beds 'out in the wings' the Kamper would have retained reasonable floorspace but we have no details of internal layout. No doubt there were lockers for storage, washing and cooking facilities.

In the latter area, the American autocamper had a wider choice than his British counterpart. In addition to cookers fuelled by paraffin or petrol, American manufacturers were already offering bottled gas by the early 1920s. However, the 'Prest-O-Lite' tanks contained not propane or butane but acetylene and were provided with separate outlets and control valves to supply both cooking and lighting appliances. Also in common use were built-in ice boxes and portable refrigerator baskets, the latter relying also on crushed ice - easily available throughout the US - and not a mechanical cooling system. With good insulation and a fresh charge of ice, food could be kept adequately cold for up to 36 hours.

Throughout its 19 year run the Model-T employed a 2.9-litre 4-cyl. side-valve engine developing 20 or 22 bhp at 1600rpm (depending on compression ratio) and 80 lb.f.ft. at 850rpm. It was not famed for its performance but rather for ruggedness thanks to Ford's pioneering use of high strength with low weight vanadium steels. Compared with its contemporaries, idiosyncrasies of the Ford's design included a magneto system incorporated into the flywheel and the two-speed-and-reverse epicyclic gearbox with two-pedal actuation. The latter made for easier driving than the conventional sliding-gear 'crash' gearbox. Henry Ford, never one to readily agree changes, resisted to the end the trend by other makers to fit their cars with frontwheel brakes from the early twenties.

Sold as standard from the early days with just the most basic of equipment, the Model-T was ripe for after market add-ons. Speedometers, petrol- and oil gauges, special horns, anti-rattle devices - they were just the start of a list which grew to over 5000 accessories, modifications and embellishments over the life of the vehicle. There were carburettors and coil ignition systems to lift performance and economy; shock absorbers, road smoothers and snubbers to improve ride and handling. For better braking one could specify Ford's own so-called 'Rocky Mountain' brakes or any number of proprietary kits. Enjoying popularity also with owners of Model-T motorhomes were supplementary gearboxes such as the Ruckstell 2-speeder fitting in the rear axle or the 2-speed Moore attached behind the original 'box to double the number of ratios. There was even a 4 x 4 conversion kit for the 'T' as well as a so-called 'gearless differential' which appears to have brought similar advantages to the modern limited-slip diff.

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?

The longest highway in the world is the Trans Canada highway. It stretches a whopping 4,860 miles across Canada. Beginning on Vancouver Island, British Columbia, the road makes its way across the Continental Divide, 5 time zones, and 10 provinces, and includes several car ferries before it terminates in St. John's, Newfoundland.

Why are traffic lights red, green and yellow? The choice of these colors for traffic signals was based on the colors used as signals to control the trains. Red was an obvious choice for stop. For millennia red has been the color of danger in the wild; red is the color of blood. If it is necessary to stop something, red will get the attention. The other two colors could have been any color and, in fact, there were some changes made in the early days of railroad traffic. Originally GREEN was the color for caution and WHITE or CLEAR meant go. This had problems from the beginning because the white lights in other lights such as street lamps or even stars could easily be confused with the WHITE go signal. The signals lights were colored by using RED, GREEN and CLEAR filters. One railroad crash was caused when the RED filter of a stop signal fell out leaving only the white bulb signalling go. After these experiences, railroad engineers suggested changes. RED would be the stop signal; GREEN, the go; and YELLOW, caution. Under these rules if a lens ever did fall out, the white light would indicate to the engineer that something was amiss.

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