If you grew up during the 1960s you may be excused for thinking that Winnebago invented the motor home. So metoric was that company’s rise that the name took its place alongside Kleenex, Kodak and Xerox as a generic description of their product (and many other people’s). In fact, motor camping was well established by the ‘teens, when Henry Ford and his chums Harvey Firestone and John Burroughs, often accompanied by the venerable Thomas Edison, went roughing it in style.
The movement had its own magazine, Motor Camper and Tourist, and that may have been where Victor Toillon saw an ad for the Zagelmeyer Auto Camp Company of Bay City, Michigan. Zagelmeyer offered camping trailers as well as camper conversions on Reo and Chevrolet chassis. What caught Victor’s eye was the Kamper-Kar, a camper body for use on a Model T Ford chassis. Victor already had a 1923 Model T touring car and he longed to travel, so he ordered a Kamper-Kar and installed it himself. As the ad said, the “top automatically rasies to full standing room as berths are thrown open.”
Victor and his wife made one trip in the Kamper-Kar, an 1,100-mile journey in 1926. Afterwards Victor became a farmer and never had another vacation. The Kamper-Kar sat in a shed. Collector John Grunder bought it in the 1960s and gave it a freshening, but it’s still largely original. It has a gasoline stove, storage in back for utensils that can be opened, chuck wagon style, and a radio that Victor built himself. The radio antenna is in the roof. A zinc-lined iced box keeps things cool.
When collapsed for traveling, the Kamper-Kar is hardly larger than a Model T Ford van, but it doesn’t drive as easily. Zagelmeyer said the Kamper-Kar weighed the same as the Ford touring body. That’s an outright falsehood. The Model T’s 22 hp engine has a hard time moving it along, so a two-speed Ruckstell axle has been added along with a Moore auxiliary transmission – giving eight speeds forward.
No, it’s not as comfortable as a Winnebago, nor does it move as fast. But for auto camping in the 1920s the Zagelmeyer Kamper-Kar was mighty up-to-date.