13 Great Centennial RVs – 4 of 13
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The roots of the Travco coach — considered to be the world’s first production-line motorhome and the first built of fiberglass — can be traced back to the mid-‘50s and a farmer/engineer by the name of Ray Frank. At the time, travel trailers were the rage and many self-propelled “house cars” tended to be ugly, homebuilt affairs. However, the vehicle that emerged from the Frank barn outside Brown City, Mich., drew accolades from neighbors — and, more to the point, created a demand for more. Frank called his machine a “motor home” — he’s credited with coining the term — and in 1958 began churning out Frank Motor Homes. While the vehicles were top-notch for their time, it was Frank’s decision to use a Dodge truck chassis that would ultimately fuel the company’s success.
By 1961, the relationship was paying dividends. Dodge threw its promotional savvy behind the new RV industry and offered a nationwide network of dealers. To take advantage of this distribution, the motorhome was rebadged “Dodge.” In 1963, it became a fiberglass Dodge as Frank’s visionary practices led him to begin experimenting with the then-new medium. By 1963, the company developed huge molds capable of casting a 26-foot coach in ‘glass, using two full-length sections joined down the middle.
Unfortunately, Frank proved to be a better engineer than he was a businessman. The move into fiberglass became a real financial drain; by the time the motorhome was renamed the Travco in 1965 — a move instigated by Dodge, which by then had two more motorhome chassis on the drawing boards — it had been sold to Detroit businessman Peter R. Fink and would cease production in 1979. As for Ray Frank, the ideas never stopped flowing. He developed the Xplorer before retiring in the late ‘70s; his family continued to run that company until 1995.