Truck Rewind: 1963 Cortez Motorhome – What, A Small Front Wheel Drive RV?

Based in Battle Creek, Michigan, the Clark Forklift Company began building the front-wheel drive (FWD) moderately sized, Cortez class A motorhomes in 1963. The Cortez motorhome’s ownership changed a few times with the last examples built in 1979. According to an article on Wikipedia – 3,211 Cortez motorhomes were built.

The Cortez motorhome’s unique design was due, in part, to its FWD layout. This eliminated the need for a transmission tunnel and the unit-body design eliminated the need for a tall, heavy truck frame. The fact that it had a Torsion bar and coil independent suspension, along with its low center of gravity, gave the motorhome an outstanding ride.

Power initially came from Dodge’s famous Slant-six engine connected to a four-speed manual transmission. Later models received a Ford 302-cid V8, still connected to a four-speed manual transmission. Wanting more power and easier driving characteristics, the Cortez got a much larger power-plant. Similar to the popular GMC motorhome, the front wheel transaxle from a Oldsmobile Toronado (with a 455ci engine) was used along with a GM three-speed automatic transmission.

The interior of the Cortez was extremely utilitarian. Seats in every configuration had more than one position, moving from regular seating (in some cases, two-way seating) to various sizes of beds. The setup also allowed for a good sized kitchen and bathroom.

The unique configuration of the Cortez also permitted rear entry, driver’s and passenger’s doors (rare for RVs of the day) and a very low loading floor. The configuration was so highly regarded that NASA used a Cortez motorhome for shuttling its astronauts around the launch sites.

All in all, this motorhome was ahead of its time and it’s gratifying to see them on the road from tine to time. As a young teen, a friend of the family drove us to a Mojave desert camping trip and I was amazed that it drove so much better than our modern (at the time) Class C motorhome.

Truly, an interesting recreational vehicle – no?

Speaking of RVs…

Nathan Adlen
Easily amused by anything with four wheels, Nathan Adlen reviews vehicles from the cheapest to the most prestigious. Wrecking yards, dealer lots, garages, racetracks, professional automotive testing and automotive journalism - Nathan has experienced a wide range of the automotive spectrum. Brought up in the California car culture and educated in theater, childhood education, film, journalism and history, Nathan now lives with his family in Denver, CO. His words, good humor and video are enjoyed worldwide.