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Tuesday, April 23, 2013

1965 Dodge Camp Wagon


The 1964-1965 Dodge Camp Wagon
 North Americans have long burned with wanderlust and as road building began in earnest in the mid-1920s, there was no stopping folks from seeing the magnificence the continent had to offer. Roads were jammed with cars pulling trailers, many of them homemade.

            After World War Two, the travel phenomenon mushroomed out of sight. Manufacturers were mindful of it, early on. Ford offered a sleep unit that could be slid onto a truck bed in 1950. West Germany’s Volkswagen was quick to offer a self-contained Campmobile. 

Willys advertising featured Jeep FCs with camper units.

            Not about to be left out of the travel segment of the market, the boys at Dodge introduced a self-contained camper to the lineup in 1964. 

The 1964 Dodge Camp Wagon
Based on its top-of-the-line Sportwagon model, the home on wheels was a natural addition to the family. Camp Wagon looked mighty smart indeed on the new, compact, 2 286-millimetre (90-inch) wheelbased A-100 body.

            At the factory, Sportwagons destined to hit the highways as Camp Wagons were given the 3.7-litre (225-cubic inch) Slant Six engine, generating 140 horsepower. The 4.5-litre (273-cubic inch) V-8 engine was made available, too. With 174 hot-to-trot horses, the Dodge Camp Wagon could hold its own on the highways with the best of them.
Brekena made a Dodge Camp Wagon in HO scale.
 The mill of choice was mated to the three-speed Type A745 heavy-duty manual transmission or the extra-cost LoadFlite three-speed automatic tranny. Beefy 1,110-pound capacity front springs were installed along with a 997 kilo (2,200-pound) capacity front axle and a 492-kilo (1,085-pound) capacity rear springs.  Oversize six-ply tires, 7.10 x 15, were part of the package.  The rear axle ratio gearing was 3.55:1.

            Optional equipment for the Dodge Hilton included two-tone paint treatment and a fully transistorized radio. A pair of Jr. West Coast dual outside rearview mirrors made driving less stressful. Dress-up items included chrome bumpers, deluxe wheel covers and white sidewall tires. More practical than pretty were the oil pressure gauge, undercoating, an oil bath air cleaner, variable speed electric wipers and a 70-amp heavy-duty battery. Ordering dual horns got the owner a chrome horn ring too, adding a little sparkle to the steering wheel. A unique, “youth-sized” reversible center jump seat could be fitted over the engine hump.

            Completed vehicles were shipped to the Travel Equipment Corporation in Elkhart, Indiana for conversion into Camp Wagons. Here, craftsmen installed wood panelling on the interior walls and ceiling. They added vinyl-covered foam dinette seats that cleverly converted into a double bed. A 203-centimetre (80-inch) long canvas bunk, dubbed the Crow’s Nest, rolled out of sight ran down the centre of the vehicle and stowed away neatly when not in use. Another kid-sized bunk, this one 152 cenitmetres (60-inches_ long and transversely mounted, stretched across the bucket seats up front. 

Canadians could buy Fargo trucks at their Chrysler-Plymouth dealers, not offered in the United States. (1970 model seen here.)

            A fold-up, laminated dinette table, a two-burner propane gas stove, an insulated, non-electric icebox, a stainless steel sink with pressure spigot and a trio of 11.3-litre (three-US gallons) water tanks were bolted into place. Wooden cabinets, a dustproof zippered wardrobe bag, a portable, non-chemical toilet, Hehr combination sliding windows with screens and shades, a 12-volt transformer and a 110-volt outlet were all part of the base package.

Chevrolet offered a camper in its Corvair Greenbrier series for the 1965 season.
            The folks at Travel Equipment cleverly built in plenty of storage under the dinette seats, behind the rear seat and in all the special built-in cabinets. Not a square millimetre of space was wasted in the Camp Wagon, yet it boasted “plenty of room to move around in.”

The industry's benchmark camper was West Germany's Volkswagen Westphalia, a.k.a. the Westy.

            A nifty optional feature was the Elevating Top. Taking only two seconds to erect, when popped into place it offered plenty of “man-sized relaxin’ room” inside for big burly men. In the “down” position, it added a mere ten centimetres (four inches) to the overall height of the Camp Wagon.

Visit my old car website at: The Oilspot Eh!

            Other extra-cost items and upgrades for even more fun on wheels included deluxe seat cushions and a matching garment bag. One could choose drapes instead of shades, vinyl flooring instead of rubber matting, too. A 1.8 metre square (6’x’ 6’) side awning tent with its own self-storing topside zip case added a whole new dimension to camping. An AC generator was most useful. Promising to keep lettuce crisp and beverages cold, an electric refrigerator that could run on AC or DC was a great idea. For keeping toasty warm, the Adventurer #30 Therm’x Safety heater with a 3000 BTU capacity or the larger 4000 BTU model, by the same manufacturer, were hot sellers.

Canadians could choose a Ford or Mercury Econoline Supervan Camper from 1961 to 1965.

            One would certainly want to order Thermasol fuel for the heater and Insta-Lite propane fuel for the range. To help Smokey the Bear prevent forest fires, a fire extinguisher with refiller cartridges was on the options list.

 An optional, glass-lined, aluminum septic toilet was a good upgrade. A separator curtain, located behind the front seat, offered a modicum of privacy.  A window screen for the driver’s front door was an extra cost item. One could also have screens with reversible zippers specially fitted for the tall and wide curbside doors. For those with a serious travel bug, a trailer hitch with ball and a roof rack for skis made perfect sense.
The 1965 Toyota Stout with camper.
The nifty Camp Wagon was given star billing at the Chicago Auto Show in February 1965 in Dodge’s “Work and Play” exhibit. One look at the Camp Wagon would help folks “understand why so many Americans enjoy life a lot more, traveling this self-contained way!” and  “Get away from it all in style, comfort, convenience in a new Dodge Camp Wagon” were the advertising themes. “Travel anywhere—any time!” was yet another inviting lure. The Camp Wagon boasted living facilities for six and promised to be the perfect companion for vacations, weekends, hunting and fishing tips. When not at play, the versatile vehicle was touted as having station wagon utility the rest of the year.

The 1965 Fargo A100 Transline family.

The 1965 model year was a banner year for Dodge trucks. With 45 different models on the market, retail sales hit 119,395 units, making the season the best in Dodge’s postwar history. Dodge could claim fourth place in domestic truck sales. Of that number, 36,535 units produced were in the A-100 series and the Camp Wagon only sweetened the bottom line.

Visit my old car website at: The Oilspot Eh!

Copyright James C. Mays
2005 All rights reserved.

Wednesday, April 17, 2013

1975 AMC Pacer

If Ford’s Mustang had stolen the hearts of Canadians away from the economy-minded Rambler, then American Motors was determined to win  back the market with a radical new people-first vehicle. At a time when passengers were routinely being shoehorned into a long-hood, short-rear deck envelope with seating as an afterthought, Pacer represented a completely new way of thinking about urban vehicles.

Richard, (Dick) Teague was American Motor’s Vice President of Styling. He was a small car champion and world renowned for his savoir-faire in the world of compact design. The design guru began to doodle during a meeting with Group Vice President of Product and Design, Gerry Meyers, in June 1971. 

What unfolded before his colleague’s eyes was a passenger car concept so advanced that it looked like nothing ever seen on four wheels. It embodied common sense concepts that were missing from current design:  a capacious cabin, a low beltline for good vision, a fast slope and a built-in centre roll bar for maximum security. For all the world, it resembled a football married to a set of radials. Top management was intrigued and gave Teague and his team of designers the green light to explore the concept to its fullest. The top-secret project quickly came to be code-named Amigo.

As the brilliant concept unfolded, novelty met reality. Drawings as early as September 1, 1971 show that the mid-ship engine and the rear-facing seat for passengers were dropped for more conventional arrangements. Some things didn’t change, though. It held its groundbreaking cab forward design and the roll bar concept. Amigo carried its freestanding five-mile-an-hour bumpers from the first sketch right through to production.

While under development, potential variants of the Amigo were explored. An attractive pickup truck was sketched out, as was a smaller Gremlin-like companion vehicle with a neo-classic, bustle-back trunk.

Artist Brian Parrish created this four-door Pacer. Used with permission.
A four-door sedan version was discarded; it looked too much like a giant sausage on wheels.

A 1975 Pacer pickup truck was cobbled together and sold in Holland.
When the first full-sized tape drawing went up on the studio walls it carried the name Town Car. The vehicle now featured headlamps sunk deep into the outer edges of the front fenders.

By the time the design was translated into the first clay mockup it sported dual headlamps. A later variation carried hidden headlights.

A full-sized, fibreglass pushmobile was shipped to Atlanta, Georgia in 1972 for evaluation by an elite group of people who had been invited to a special mixed make marketing clinic. Those who came were all current owners of compact and sub-compact cars and under the age of 35. This was the target market that AMC wished to lure into its corporate fold. Guests had no idea what company might build this vehicle. From February 3 through 6 they viewed the car and filled out questionnaires.
This is  a 1977 Pacer mockup.

The 2 540-millimetre (100-inch) wheelbased Amigo was presented with both a flat-floored interior and with a transmission hump. Either way, Amigo had a vast cabin, shamefully larger than Ford’s mid-sized Torino and Chevrolet’s Chevelle.

Those who attended fell in love with the unusual little car and a whopping 93 percent of clinic participants swore that Amigo was their dream car. They begged the unidentified manufacturer to build it so they could buy it.
Pacer was favourably compared to Volkswagen, a 1973 Super Beetle is seen here.

Management was skeptical. A second clinic was organized in Dallas and once again, an overwhelming number of those who attended said this car would be their first choice if it were on the market. Lots of folks remarked on Amigo’s cuteness and compared its distinct design favorably to that of the immortal VW Beetle.

The Pacer name was finally chosen in June of 1973. It was pulled from the corporate shelf of American Motors’ long and distinguished history. The Pacer name had once graced a Hudson model.

A running prototype was cobbled together using a 1972 Matador’s underpinnings. 

A rotary engine was under development, to be shared by the Pacer and Chevrolet's Vega.
Gone was the fast slope because the slim rotary engine under joint development by GM and AMC was scrapped because of its poor gasoline economy. Pacer power would come from AMC’s trusty 4-litre  (232-cubic inch) six banger. In a bid to stay ahead of pending legislation from Washington, steel side-impact bars were welded into the doors.

            Sales were absolutely phenomenal when Pacer hit the market on February 25, 1975. Billed as America’s first wide small car, it swept the nation by a storm. At a time when stagflation had all but crippled the economy, consumers had to have a Pacer.

The AM Van might have been produced if AMC hadn't tied the knot with Renault, an automaker with vans of its own.
Jim Alexander worked in Product Planning at American Motors. He remembers that folks stood in line at AMC dealers to trade in their Lincolns and Cadillacs for the swanky little cars. No one cared if it looked like a goldfish bowl on wheels. It was small and ritzy; it was hot and distinctively identifiable. Pacer was the most unique automobile design of the 1970s. 

It was only the second American production automobile to ever sport rack-and-pinion steering. It was one of the first to feature electronic ignition as standard equipment. The passenger door was nearly four inches wider than the driver’s for ease of entry into the rear of the poshly appointed passenger compartment. Pacer was exceptionally wide for a small car, 1 577 millimetres (61.2 inches) in the front track. To emphasize its width, wickedly clever TV advertising showed a Chevrolet Nova parking inside of a Pacer shell.
Instrument panel of the right-hand drive Pacer for the British market.

AMC’s light-hearted, offbeat brand of humour pervaded the whole concept. Extra cost items were listed out in a comprehensive brochure entitled “Open Wide and Say Pacer Options.” The average purchaser cheerfully dug into the bank account for a full $1,000 worth of extra cost goodies to dress their Pacers to the nines.

In its first full year on the market the little Pacer sold 117,245 units. Everybody on AMC’s management team had reason to be pleased.

A smartly styled station wagon joined the sedan in 1977. A year later the nose was redesigned to take AMC’s V-8 engine. During its six-year run, a total of 280,859 Pacers left the factory.

Pacers were so darned lovable that just about everyone made a toy or scale model of them. Racing Champs has issued a 1:64 scale 1977 Pacer; Corgi has a Pacer Rescue Car and even our old childhood friend, Tonka Toys, made Pacers for the Tonka car carrier.

AMC Pacer by Tonka Toys.

Visit my old car website at: The Oilspot Eh!

Copyright James C. Mays 2004
All rights reserved.