#CAMPER/CONCEPT: Ford Once Considered Making A Low-Slung Sporty RV That Doubled As An Office

1960 Ford Unitron RV Concept

BY Mercedes Streeter—Some of the greatest motorhomes in history have come from companies deciding to think outside of the box. The GMC Motorhome still has a forward-thinking design even decades later and Wanderlodge showed that Blue Bird had more tricks up its sleeve than just school buses.

Ford has also flirted with the RV world and one of its ambitious projects was this, the Unitron. While this vehicle never got further than a non-functional model, it showed a possible future where RVs could have been dual-purpose vehicles closer to a van in size.

This wild RV is making the internet rounds right now thanks to a video by YouTube channel Retro Car, but it’s a story that’s been around for a while. It’s always fascinating to see a company outside of the motorhome space attempts to build an RV. Sure, car and truck manufacturers provide donor cutaways and chassis to RV builders, but the two industries are usually separate. The GMC Motorhome is the most famous example of a company usually outside of the RV space experimenting with RVs. Perhaps the wildest example was when Orlando Helicopter Airways teamed up with Winnebago to make the Heli-Home flying RV.

Ford has thrown its hat into the ring more than once. In the 1970s, Ford joined forces with Starcraft RV to create the American Road, a fiberglass camper with automotive glass designed specifically to attach to the bed of a Ford truck. The Ford Unitron concept dates even further back.

Ford Gets Interested In Camping

Photo: Ford Motor Company

Camping, like most other forms of recreation, took off in the boom after World War II. Americans wanted to hop in vehicles and explore their nation. Many of those motorists also wanted to sleep on the road during those journeys but didn’t want to stay in hotels or motor hotels. These urges to get outdoors helped the RV industry take off. Why stay at a motel when you could just bring your home on the road?

The late 1950s were a time of explosive growth in the RV industry. It was around this era that Raymond C. Frank coined the term “motorhome” with his own innovative coach. Ford was watching the rapid development of the RV industry and decided to launch some design studies into possible Ford entries.

Photo: Ford Motor Company
Photo: Ford Motor Company

In 1958, Ford took a 1959 Country Squire Station Wagon and turned it into what Ford called a “pushbutton camper” concept. At first glance, this just looked like a wagon with a boat on its roof, but there was more to the concept than that. At the push of a button, a complex motorized system lifted the boat up and out from the vehicle’s roof from a pair of arms.

Pressing another button launched the wagon’s embedded tent, which was cleverly stored under the boat. Now, two people could sleep in the wagon’s roof tent while two more people slept in the wagon itself. Finally, pressing a third button deployed a kitchen out of the trunk. The Country Squire was built to be a fully functional camper, including running water, a water heater, and even a shower that also deployed from the car’s roof.

Photo: Ford Motor Company

The Country Squire camper was a brilliant idea, but Ford decided against putting the camper into production. Instead, the functional car was meant to be inspiration for a third-party company to do something similar. Perhaps it’s good that Ford didn’t put the camper into production, because I can’t imagine the maintenance on that deployment system to be anywhere near easy.

This wasn’t the only RV concept Ford worked on in the late 1950s.

The Unitron

Photo: Ford Motor Company

As Mac’s Motor City Garage writes, a Ford executive sent a suggestion down to corporate vice-president of design George W. Walker. This was for another ambitious RV and this time it wasn’t going to be a Country Squire with a weird boat on top.

The idea went to Ford’s Advance Studio, where it would fall into the hands of a fresh face: Dean Beck. The young Beck loved automotive design since he was a kid and wanted to be a car designer. Beck joined the Navy in the 1950s and later enrolled in the Art Center College of Design in Pasadena, California. He graduated in 1959, scoring a job at Ford later that year. Beck started off in Ford’s Design and Engineering department before moving to the Advance Studio in 1960, where he would work with Elwood P. Engel.

Photo: Ford Motor Company

It was early in his career with Ford, but Engel gave Beck a prompt to design an RV for the future, an RV that could transcend markets. Beck, with help from Gale Halderman, nailed the prompt. They first drew up sketches for the vehicle called the Unitron. It’s not known exactly what Unitron was supposed to mean, but reportedly, it’s believed Unitron was Engel’s name for future vehicles.

A sketch for the Unitron seems to suggest that the name “Campero” may have also been in consideration, too.

Photo: Ford Motor Company
Photo: Ford Motor Company

The Unitron was intended to be a vehicle sitting in multiple classes. Sketches displayed a camper with a built-in tent, a mobile office, a commercial van, and a pickup truck. Beck saw the Unitron being any of combination of those vehicle types. By late 1960, the design team decided to build a full-size clay model of a dual-purpose RV and mobile office Unitron. Development continued into 1961, when the studio built a fiberglass glider on a car chassis.

Reportedly, Beck’s forward control multi-purpose vehicle was intended to be rear-engine, but development never got far enough for the powertrain to be realized. Like the Country Squire camper, Ford didn’t greenlight production.

Photo: Ford Motor Company
Photo: Ford Motor Company

Perhaps that was for the best. The Unitron’s roof was just 56 inches off of the ground. While that might have been okay for a camper with a deployable tent, that doesn’t sound like something you’d want to use as an office. Still, the Unitron looked far ahead of its time. Change those headlights to LEDs and the Unitron looks like it could be a concept motorhome from today. Beck also went on to put his name on other Ford vehicles, including the 1967 Mercury Cougar and the 1986 Ford Taurus.

Sadly, these Ford concepts are just more examples of how the Big Three have flirted with the RV industry and didn’t make it. While Ford did sell the truck camper noted above, neither of these concepts ever left the concept stage. Of course, GMC was more successful, but even the mighty Motorhome didn’t have staying power. Maybe one day the automakers will figure it out.

Source: theautopian.com. No copyright infringement intended.

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