Winnebago has high hopes for the Brave, a reinvention of its original ’60s-era motor home. its colors—such as mello yellow—are aimed to appeal to nostalgic boomers.
It’s been a trip. Founded in Forest City, Iowa in 1958 as a travel trailer company, Winnebago’s name is now synonymous with motor homes. It hasn’t always been a smooth ride for the company in the boom-and-bust RV industry, but Winnebago has kept rolling along. (When the tough got going, founder John Hanson, was famous for rallying his troops: “You can’t take sex, booze, or weekends away from the American people.”) Indeed. Here’s a look back at just a few of the models and moments from the company’s 56-year history.
In the late 60s, Americans were captivated by the possibility of hitting the road in a house on wheels. Magazines dedicated to the pursuit flew off the presses. This one, a May 1968 issue of Mobile Life, captures that enthusiasm with features like “How to Buy a Camp Lantern!” and “Turnpike Camping: New York to Chicago!” That’s a Winnebago on the cover, of course.
The 1974 D-25 Chieftain was considered a luxury vehicle with an “expansive rear bath”—complete with “big tub and shower” and a “deluxe medicine cabinet.” Carpet was still en vogue, and Winnebago made vacuum cleaners a standard motor home feature. The model is similar to the 1973 Chieftain that protagonist Dale Horvath drives on The Walking Dead. Lone Starr also piloted a Chieftain (a 1986 model, with wings) in Spaceballs, the 1987 Mel Brooks comedy.
Winnebago rolled out its 100,000th motor home, a 29-foot Elandan II luxury model, in 1977. A crowd and cameras—Time, Popular Science and Field and Stream all covered the event—were on hand in Forest City for the occasion. The company has since celebrated its 200,000th (1986), 300,000th (1998), and 400,000th (2007) vehicle.
Well on its way to 500,000, Winnebago has freshened up its product line-up in recent years (the carpets are long gone). The company’s fastest-selling vehicle is the Travato—the product was introduced in 2013 (a 2015 model is pictured)—a conversion van or Class B motor home that is designed with a sportier RVer in mind.