Thursday, October 11, 2012

San Francisco Street Sighting - 1974 Kent Cortez motorhome

Imagine you want to go into the motor home business. What formula will you use for your vehicle? How will it be constructed? Will you use a donor chassis? What powertrain will you employ? These are all things to consider and they can make or break the resulting camper. Probably for that reason, most RVs are conventional rear-wheel-drive and are often built on an existing truck or bus chassis with a gas or diesel engine powerful enough to propel the big vehicle up a grade with several people and their gear on board.
Now imagine that it's 1963 and you're the Clark Equipment Company. You make forklifts. You want to make a foray into the growing RV market. Where do you start? Well, forklifts are made of steel and have front-wheel drive. The Clark motorhome was designed with an all-steel body from the ground up, and front-wheel drive to maximize interior space with a low, flat floor free of a transmission and driveline hump. Early models were powered by a heavy-duty Dodge slant six hooked up to a manual transmission. The RVs eschewed a truck's ladder frame in favor of unit-body construction and employed four-wheel independent suspension for a smoother ride. What was this new vehicle called? Why, Clark named it after one of the greatest mass murderers, I mean explorers, in history, the Spanish conquistador Hernán Cortés.

The Cortez motorhome received a powertrain upgrade in 1969 which gained a Ford 302 V8 and an automatic transmission. In 1970 Clark apparently decided to get out of the RV business and sold the project to Kent Industries, who facelifted the Cortez and made it larger and more powerful. The '71 Cortez now packed a 455 Oldsmobile Toronado engine and automatic transaxle. This formula lasted until 1975 when the company folded and was absorbed by a band of Cortez owners who kept the dream alive until their venture, too, dissolved. The last Cortez coaches were completed in 1979.

This Cortez hails from the Kent era, so it has the big Toronado engine and the big crossbar grille that makes it look like a GMC product circa 1972. Sadly, the fiberglass front grille isn't nearly as tough as it once looked. The body on this coach is doing what steel does when not taken care of over time. Still, I imagine it's less prone to body flex than a comparably sized fiberglass bodied rig, even one decades newer than this. This Cortez appears to be mostly original, even including the original spare tire cover. The graffiti on the side is added, though. I suspect it's a side effect of being parked in the same place every day for years. Cortezes are pretty rare with only 3211 ever made, so being able to find and photograph one was a treat. I like creative approaches to the motorhome formula, and this suited my criteria to become the second camper featured on California Streets.

1 comment:

  1. i read somewhere that clark equipment company lost money on every cortez they produced. the 1964 i had was ingenious. the transaxle was a manual compound low four speed. the slant six you mention here had a very unique side draft carter carburetor. it had front doors like a van, and a door in the rear. the dining table and seats turned into a bed, as did the passenger seat which folded out, one end against the dashboard and the other end supported by a seatbelt-like strap that hooked into an eye-hole in the ceiling..just a few of the cortez's charms. unfortunately, the one i acquired had leaked around the A/C unit into the roof, under the skin and rust did it's evil work to the structure in the body.

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