Fun with Fiberglass
Lightweight molded-fiberglass RVs are designed for long-term durability and improved mpg — and they look cool, too
RVs are constructed in a number of different ways, but many follow the same basic blueprint: Start with a steel or aluminum frame, build up the walls with wood and/or aluminum, more framing and composite materials, cover the structure with a roof and wrap the entire unit with either aluminum panels or gelcoat fiberglass. While conventional construction methods work well, another successful strategy has been in place for years and continues to flourish: molded fiberglass.
RVs built from molded fiberglass are sleek and shiny, and share their origins with the marine industry (think boat hull). In a molded-fiberglass trailer, fifth-wheel or truck camper, the rigid fiberglass body actually serves as the main framing element, as well as the interior and exterior skin. The body of the RV is essentially two pieces that clamshell together, resulting in a durable, corrosion-resistant body that is quite strong and can have several advantages over traditionally built RVs.
“The two-piece fiberglass shell has one main seam around the center belt line,” explains Grant Bilodeau, president of Bigfoot RV. “Traditional trailers are made of many separate side, floor and roof panels, and are then screwed together with many moldings and seals. As RVs are meant to travel down the road, a traditional trailer will flex over time, and all the extra seams and joints become higher maintenance and risk points for leaking. With a fiberglass trailer, there is only one seam to worry about.”
“Fiberglass molded trailers are sprayed into a mold with gelcoat and fiberglass,” Bilodeau adds. “The glass content is like the rebar in concrete — it gives you all your strength, as the resin binds it all together.”
Fiberglass construction can also lead to some positive results when it comes to fuel mileage, handling and durability. “Our fiberglass campers are 25 percent lighter than conventionally built truck campers,” says Keith Donkin, general manager at Northern Lite Manufacturing. “They are very aerodynamically designed for improved fuel efficiency, and they feature a very low center of gravity, which eliminates the sway of a conventionally built camper.”
Improved towing characteristics and longevity do come with a trade-off. Molded-fiberglass RVs can be a bit more costly than their conventionally built counterparts. But manufacturers of fiberglass RVs claim the difference in price can easily be amortized over the lifetime of the RV.
“Generally, people like our trailers because they are easy to tow, easy to set up, and they last forever,” reports Kent Eveland, president of Scamp Trailers. “Most of the trailers we built in the 1970s are still in use.”
Robert P. Partee, general sales manager of Oliver Travel Trailers, agrees. “Most fiberglass trailers hold their value over the years much better than the standard-build types,” he says. “Constructing travel trailers with fiberglass has been flying under the radar for years.”
Often eclectic, sometimes retro-chic and always eye-catching, molded-fiberglass RVs are frequently the focus of online communities and club rallies. “We find our trailers appeal to all ages in part because of the nostalgia factor, as well as the simplicity and weight,” says Heather Gardella, president of Dub Box USA.
Check out the following collection of some of the more interesting fiberglass RVs on the market today.
Bigfoot Industries manufactures a variety of travel trailers and truck campers, all featuring clamshell molded-fiberglass construction.
Bigfoot actually overlaps the top shell onto the bottom and uses a special sealant to further guard against water penetration. The 2500 series travel trailers include R-8 insulation, which, when combined with the fiberglass base (less conductive than aluminum or steel), creates a more livable four-season RV, according to Bilodeau. Seven floorplans ranging from 17 to 25 feet are available. The 25B25FB boasts a full rear bath, sleeping space for up to six and standards that include a porcelain toilet, aluminum wheels, heated and enclosed tanks, and a living-area skylight. The option to enclose the A-frame and add cargo space is not only practical but looks great as well. Other options include a solar-power system, 11,000-Btu roof air conditioner, exterior speakers and an electric A-frame jack.
For 33 years, Casita has been building lightweight fiberglass trailers. The 17-foot Casita Spirit Deluxe offers comfortable sleeping arrangements for three, with a bit more space for guests, provided they are of the smaller variety. Both sleeping areas convert to dinettes by day, meaning the trailer can easily accommodate more than it can sleep before the sun goes down. A couch/bunk-bed option ups the ante even more. The surprisingly wide-open floorplan means occupants won’t trip over each other while moving about. In Deluxe models, a large, full-featured bathroom is located at the front of the trailer, as is a roomy storage wardrobe. Standard features include custom marine-grade fiberglass furniture, carpet-lined storage compartments and a powered roof vent. Owners can also opt for LED lighting, a microwave, an electric A-frame jack and a larger gray-water holding tank.
Dub Box USA manufactures lightweight fiberglass trailers reminiscent of the Volkswagen Microbus popular in the 1960s and ’70s. Dub Box trailers are not true Volkswagen conversions but are in fact manufactured from a fiberglass mold made from the vintage VW Bus. Each Dub Box trailer comes equipped with classic moon-style hubcaps, a hot/cold outdoor shower, a two-burner stove, a sink, a 3-cubic-foot refrigerator, an LP-gas water heater, an L-shaped convertible couch with 4-inch cushions, a folding dinette table and Sunbrella weather curtains for the pop-top. Options include air conditioning, solar panels, a luggage roof rack and a storage box on the A-frame. Buyers get to select the paint color for the exterior to match their tow vehicle.
Eggcamper trailers are ultralightweight and offer a fun way to enjoy RVing. Available only from the factory in Grandville, Michigan, and weighing less than 2,000 pounds (dry, without options), the Eggcamper can be towed by almost any properly equipped truck, van or SUV. The all-white trailers may look spartan inside, but they contain all the amenities needed for weekend fun, including sleeping space for two to four, a galley with a stainless sink, a 2.4-cubic-foot refrigerator, available air-conditioner, appliances and a lavatory with a toilet (or a large storage area instead). Plus, the smooth interior makes cleanup a breeze. The Dexter Torflex suspension is a welcome inclusion, as are the power roof vent and radius safety-glass windows with screens and miniblinds. LP-gas options are available, in addition to the electric-only model powered by an appropriately sized AC generator, along with the standard 30-amp converter with charger.
Another big name in the molded-fiberglass market is Escape Trailers. Based in Chilliwack, British Columbia, Escape offers several fiberglass travel trailers and more recently introduced a fifth-wheel. All Escape trailers are compact and lightweight for easy towing, and the Escape 21 is designed specifically for tow vehicles with weight ratings down to 5,000 pounds. But don’t be fooled by the diminutive size. Escape trailers are equipped with full galleys, bathrooms and living areas, in addition to oak cabinetry, high-grade linoleum flooring and an insulated headliner. Other impressive standards include two roof vents, LED ceiling lighting, full-surround overhead storage and a holding-tank monitor. Popular options range from appliance upgrades to a stereo, a water filter and a solar charging system.
In addition to offering vintage restored fiberglass rentals, Happier Camper now builds the unique HC1 trailer. The base-price HC1 begins as an empty shell built using bonded double-hull fiberglass with 1.5-inch honeycomb fiberglass flooring. Grooves are embedded in the flooring to accommodate the modular components (think Legos) that will make up the custom floorplan, including a kitchenette, benches, cushions, an AC/DC refrigerator cube, tables, floor panels — there’s even a portable-potty cube. Buyers can configure the layout exactly as they’d like it, and the price is determined by the selected modules. LED lighting comes standard, as do built-in rear stabilizing jacks and an undercarriage-mounted full-size spare tire. Add-ons include compatible comfort heating, stereos, electric fans and moon-style hubcaps.
A newcomer to the fiberglass-trailer market, Nest Caravans from Bend, Oregon, combines the easy-towing
capabilities of a lighter-weight fiberglass trailer with elegant sophistication and an eye for detail. Nest trailers are available in five color combinations with an array of useful exterior standards, including a nosecone storage box, all-LED exterior lighting, BAL stabilizing jacks and frameless windows. Inside, dimmable switches help control the mood with all-LED lighting, and the galley shimmers with a stainless-steel sink, two-burner cooktop and 3.2-cubic-foot refrigerator. The full-time queen bed can comfortably sleep two. Options include a convertible dinette, natural cork tiles, a microwave and an entertainment system.
Another Canadian manufacturer, Northern Lite Manufacturing in Kelowna, British Columbia, builds fiberglass truck campers designed to withstand extreme weather. The company’s top-selling Ten 2000 EX CD SE boasts some impressive features like 95-watt solar panels, a 10-foot side awning, an LCD TV and DVD player, thermal-pane windows and skylight, solid hardwood and more. There’s even a full 14-inch basement with heated and enclosed storage tanks. Sleep like a baby on the 60 x 80-inch queen bed, or take a warm shower in the large bathroom area. Options include an air conditioner, electric jacks, LED lighting in the electric awning, battery-disconnect, an extended patio bumper, and a boat rack and ladder. With a floor length of more than 11 feet, this camper weighs in at 1,400 to 2,000 pounds lighter than comparable conventionally built campers with the same features, offering buyers the best of both worlds.
Oliver Travel Trailers offers two fiberglass trailers, the Legacy and Legacy Elite II. “Ollies,” as they’re called, begin at the Tennessee factory with dual fiberglass shells. The shells are then wrapped around a hefty 2 x 5-inch aircraft-grade-aluminum box-tube frame, offering additional rigidity and durability. All holding tanks and components are enclosed between the inner and outer shells for superior insulation benefits and protection from the elements. The 2016 Legacy Elite II has a number of impressive features, from the custom-molded-fiberglass spare-tire and LP-gas cylinder covers to LED lighting, marine-grade stainless-steel cabinet latches and eye-catching interior gelcoat walls and cabinets. Options range from fiber-granite countertops to a solar package, plus a tech-savvy selection that includes Wi-Fi and cell-phone boosters, a rearview camera, and satellite antennas and wiring.
Scamp fiberglass trailers are sold factory-direct in Backus, Minnesota. Available in 13- and 16-foot trailers and a 19-foot fifth-wheel, the nimble RVs are ideal for couples and smaller families on weekend getaways. Scamp has always focused on ease of use and maneuverability. Its trailers are durable, lightweight and aerodynamic, and are designed to be towed by properly equipped small cars, SUVs, minivans and trucks.
The 13-footer is available in Standard or Deluxe (upgraded interior), with a convertible sofa or a shower and toilet up front. The options package that includes the lavatory features a 1.9-cubic-foot refrigerator, a screen door, a water pump, a water heater, a gravel shield and a window above the range. Additional add-ons include cabinet configurations, a 2-inch hitch receiver for bike racks, TV hookups and antenna, and an 8-foot awning.
The Little Joe is a lightweight fiberglass trailer that offers two people a comfortable place to stay while on the road. Inside, dual sofas fold down to create the ultimate 78 x 63-inch sleeping area. Although the Little Joe doesn’t have bathroom facilities (those come in Weis Craft’s Ponderosa model for an additional $6,000), a two-burner cooktop and a standard icebox allow for gourmet campsite fare (a refrigerator option is available), and a small freshwater tank lets owners clean up after a long day’s adventure. Options abound in the Little Joe, including a furnace, air conditioning, folding shelves, a three-speed reversible fan and an 8-foot awning. And, chances
are, you already own a vehicle that can haul the Little Joe.