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20th Century Conestoga

Published in blog.hemmings.com

Photos by the author

What could be more apt than criss-crossing the country in a motor home from the same company that sent hundreds of Conestoga wagons down the Oregon Trail?

Believe it or not, this isn’t the first Class C-type motor home we’ve seen built on a Studebaker truck chassis of this era, although it is the first time we’ve had the privilege of inspecting one “in the tin” so to speak. This 1962 Studebaker Transtar showed up at our Cruise Night on June 23 and imagine our surprise when we found out that it had come all the way from Ohio and was on its way to Rhode Island to complete its tour of the 48 contiguous states.

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Owners Robert and Debbie Dean, New Albany, Ohio have owned this motor home since 1991 and believe they are the third or fourth owners. Unfortunately, they don’t know much of the vehicle’s history but that hasn’t stopped them from driving it everywhere and using it just the way it was intended. Robert has even made some sensitive but practical modifications to provide a more modern camping experience, including the addition of an on-board bathroom.

Further amenities are a cab air conditioner with under-dash outlets and another air conditioner for the living space. The Stude is still motivated by its original 289 V-8 coupled to a five-speed manual transmission with overdrive. Originally equipped with ram-style power steering, Robert eliminated that feature because of the breakage it was causing in the tie rod.

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Despite a 9000-pound curb weight, the Transtar is still capable of 80 mph on the freeway and will cruise easily at 55 to 60 mph in regular driving. It is capable of only 8 to 9 mpg, but Robert tells us it is still typically cheaper to vacation in the Studebaker than it is to use hotels. In a quarter century of driving it has only failed to return home once, when a dropped valve in Shamrock, Texas caused the Studebaker to be laid up for a week while repairs were made—and Robert reports the ’62 has never left them on the side of the road.

This Studebaker is very similar to a 1952 example built by Vista Leisure Coaches of Toole, Utah. The Vista Leisure conversion involved adaptation of the original Studebaker bed into the bottom of the camper body and was sold new through a Studebaker dealer in Fresno, California.

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We typically think of the Class C-style of motor home as being more of a ‘70s thing than a ‘50s thing. Who out in the Hemmings Nation knows more about the history of the type?

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