not a new invention at all!

According to Petit Robert (2007 edition), the term motorhome is a false anglicism commonly used to denote a habitable motor vehicle. If the term is attested since 1974, however, other terms can also be used to designate this vehicle: “camper van”, “camper van” or also “camper van”; the latter two are also used in Belgium. In Quebec, a province that defends the French language, we use autocaravan and it is even recommended to avoid the term motorhome.


An English camper van model; a very compact machine compared to the oversized machines made before the first war. Photo DR

Pioneers always there

Let’s start the story with familiar names: Autostar, Digue, Notin, Westfalia… Westfalia started transforming Volkswagen vans in 1950; Notin, first name Joseph, caravan specialist since 1928, built his first motorhome in 1948.

Digue, given the first name André, was a Paris wheelwright when he released his “Passepartout” in 1950 based on a 1,000 kg Renault. It offers space for two to six people in three sizes. The 2.3-litre petrol engine delivers 46 hp at 2,800 rpm, served by a 3-speed gearbox.

The Loiret dates from 1913 on a Renault chassis.  Photo DR

The Loiret dates from 1913 on a Renault chassis. Photo DR

Pioneers before the First World War

In these 1950s, it is the gradual disappearance of crafts. Before that, there were already hand-made motorhomes. Jules Secrestat was one of the very first to create “La Bourlinguette” in 1903. A body by Henri Lafitte was installed on a 20 hp chassis by Panhard and Levassor; On the program: electric lighting, mahogany furniture, tapestries and engraved crockery.

The vehicle is 7 meters long. In the United Kingdom, the first specimens are attested from 1908 in Liverpool. In 1913 the Loiret was a 2.7 tonne camper van on a Renault chassis; a collector’s item that has been restored.

Rear view of a preserved Ford TT at the Autoworld museum in Brussels.  Note the quality of the interior design.  Photo DR

Rear view of a preserved Ford TT at the Autoworld museum in Brussels. Note the quality of the interior design. Photo DR

After the first war place of crafts

In the United States, Ford invents a mini-apartment positioned on a Model T pick-up: the “telescopic apartment”. In 1924, the Ford TT chassis became a real camper with a wooden body.

Some recycle military trucks that are no longer useful. Raymond Roussel had his “nomadic villa” built from a luxuriously equipped Saurer truck; it is 1926.

In 1925, then 1931, Charles Louvet produced two machines of his invention: the Carling Home 2 and 3; the first is 10 m long and the equipment is impressive: kitchen with two gas burners, table and chairs for five people, fridge and phonograph, living room-bedroom with library, bathroom with bath, toilet. Ventilation is built into the walls, there is electric lighting and even a photo lab.

Notin 1951 based on Renault Goélette.  Manufacturing quality is one of the hallmarks of the company.  The 46 hp engine struggled on the hills.  Photo DR

Notin 1951 based on Renault Goélette. Manufacturing quality is one of the hallmarks of the company. The 46 hp engine struggled on the hills. Photo DR

Beginning of the motorhome in the fifties

In France, coachbuilders are particularly active in this field. In 1955, Henri Heuliez converted some units of his 1400 kg Renault-based Robustacier bus into a camper van.

At Notin, motor home activity represented up to 70% of the workload in the 1970s. The first vans were either Hotchkiss trucks (heavyweight license) or Renault Goélette 1,000 kg chassis. Then the carriers multiplied: Ford Transit, Peugeot J7 for the lightest, and Mercedes 408 and 508 for the heaviest.

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