I get it. The RV is perceived as a lame, human-waste-filled family hauler that clogs up the left lane while probably being driven by a guy like Clark Griswold. But bear with me here. I’ll admit that, sure, most RVs I see look like they’re more of a bother than they’re worth — piloting a decrepit old vehicle as big as a loaded 18-wheeler filled with a bunch of stuff I don’t need down the highway isn’t quite my idea of a vacation. But as I’ve embarked on my mission to catalog every single rare, quirky “outlier” vehicle ever sold in the United States (follow me on Instagram: @MountainWestCarSpotter), I’ve started to actually appreciate some of these often-misunderstood rolling homes.
Here are a few that are more than just truck chassis cabs with living spaces strapped on the back.
Airstream Sprinter Westfalia camper van.
When I spotted this modern-looking, 11-foot-tall European van in Boulder, Utah, I was drawn in because it’s clearly based on a first-generation Mercedes-Benz Sprinter van, which was never sold in the U.S. Realizing it had a U.S. license plate, I assumed it was a similar deal to the VW Eurovan Winnebago, which was sold here during the mid-2000s despite the Eurovan itself having been pulled from the market by VW at the time. I did a little digging and it turns out the story is a bit more interesting than that. These are known in Europe as the “Westfalia James Cook,” where they’re highly regarded — and in 2005, Airstream imported just 250 examples to the United States, which explains the first-generation Mercedes Sprinter base. Originally selling for about $85,000, they seem to have held their value well due to their desirable form coupled with their extreme rarity, with used examples fetching well in excess of $50,000. This one earns bonus points for towing dirt bikes and wearing BFG All-Terrain tires.
Volkswagen Eurovan-based Winnebago Rialta
Anything built on the back of a Volkswagen van is cool in my book (let’s just ignore reliability for a minute). With about 8,000 built and sold from 1994 to 2005, The Rialta was offered in a number of different space-maximizing configurations that emphasized either livability or sleeping capacity. Like most RVs on this list, the Rialta is smaller and nimbler than your average motorhome and is said to be capable of around 20 miles per gallon on the highway. Toward the end of its production run, there was even an uber cool stealth-looking dark silver version that said to everyone on the road “This vehicle may contain a toilet, or it may be an FBI command center” — and that kind of mystery just isn’t something you get with any old RV. Find a Volkswagen Eurovan for sale
Vixen 21 TD
There’s a chance that by now you’re at least somewhat familiar with the Vixen — the ultra-rare, sleek 1980s “performance RV” that featured a rear-mounted BMW turbodiesel. Personally, my favorite thing about the Vixen is that — thanks to good design — the interiors have aged remarkably well. Combine that with their efficiency, and the Vixen has held its value on the used market over the years.
Produced by the GMC Truck and Coach division from 1973-78, the GMC Motorhome was the original “weird” RV. Featuring a streamlined, low-profile body placed atop a 6-legged front-wheel-drive chassis, GMC viewed the Motorhome as more than just a camper — and they hoped it would become the brand’s halo vehicle. This idea remained more pie-in-the-sky conjecture than reality, however — and, coupled with an interior that did NOT age well, these GMC motorhomes tend to stick out like giant slugs on wheels. For whatever reason, many rolled off the assembly line painted a pale yellow — and today, these examples are almost universally referred to as “Twinkies.” Overall, GMC Motorhomes are an iconic early take on the “RV of tomorrow” — and they’re quite the sight to see on the road.
Chris O’Neill grew up in the rust belt and now lives in Salt Lake City, Utah. He managed to work in the auto industry for a while without once crashing a corporate fleet vehicle. On Instagram, he is the @MountainWestCarSpotter.