Where once there were many companies that manufactured gasoline-powered type A motorhome chassis, now only Ford and Workhorse Custom Chassis remain.
By Jim Brightly
At one time, all of the “Big Three” American automakers “” Chrysler (Dodge), General Motors (both GMC and Chevrolet), and Ford “” competed in the type A gasoline-powered motorhome chassis marketplace. Of the three, only Ford remains in the fray. Chrysler stopped making motorhome chassis during the company’s reorganization following the federal bailout in 1979; GMC closed the doors on its unique front-wheel-drive franchise in 1978 and sold the aftermarket rights; and in 1999 Chevrolet passed ownership of its popular P Series chassis to Workhorse Custom Chassis of Highland Park, Illinois. In the 1970s, a few other manufacturers tried gas-pusher chassis for a while, but the designs proved to be unpopular for various reasons and were dropped.
That leaves Ford, C405, as the only member of the Big Three that is still in the type A gasoline chassis business with its F-53 Super Duty chassis. For 2004 Ford offers the chassis with four gross vehicle weight ratings (GVWR): 15,700 pounds, 18,000 pounds, 20,500 pounds, and 22,000 pounds, and with four wheelbase lengths ranging from 178 inches to 228 inches. The F-53’s 26,000-pound gross combination weight rating (GCWR) allows from 4,000 to 10,300 pounds of towing capacity (depending on the GVWR), a distinct benefit for FMCA members who pull a towable or large boat. (The chassis comes standard with a Class II-IV wiring system, including electric brake controller wiring.)
This year the company has made several improvements to the chassis’ ride components, including a heavy-duty front track bar (standard on the 22,000-pound chassis and optional on the other three) that is said to improve the stability and the ride of the F-53 chassis by reducing lateral roll and fore-aft pitch on curves and undulating road surfaces. The steering system has been modified with more robust pitman arms, gear housing, and linkage, which are reputed to improve steering geometry.
The F-53 full-channel steel frame has been beefed up and extended to the end of the vehicle on all models for added stability when used with large-body motorhomes or those with multiple slideouts. The height of the 75-gallon fuel tank in relation to the frame is lower for 2004, which lowers the coach’s center of gravity, thus improving highway stability, while the chassis’ approximately 81-inch front tread width contributes to better handling and stability as well.
The F-53’s suspension system also has received some attention for 2004. The front tapered-leaf springs (63 inches long by 4 inches wide) offer increased camber and revised deflection rates. A redesigned variable-rate jounce bumper (a combination shock absorber and bump stop) smooths out those rough, washboard roads by helping to control the transfer of road shocks, imperfections, and jolts to the motorhome. Bilstein gas-pressurized shock absorbers also are included on the F-53 chassis.
Ford’s proven Triton 6.8-liter V-10 engine is again the power plant for the F-53 chassis. Teamed with the same electronically controlled, four-speed overdrive automatic transmission as in 2003, the Triton V-10 provides 310 horsepower at 4,250 rpm and 425 pound-feet of torque at 3,250 rpm.
The F-53 chassis is available with either 19.5-inch lower, wider-profile tires and wheels, or 22.5-inch tires with polished aluminum Dura-Bright wheels. Four-wheel disc brakes with an antilock system also are standard.
For service and support, more than 500 dealerships in the United States and Canada are staffed with certified Ford service technicians. Ford’s 24-hour/7-day-a-week Motorhome Customer Assistance Center Hotline (800-444-3311) is maintained to assist owners who have chassis-related questions or are looking for a service center. This number also can be called by Ford motorhome chassis owners for roadside assistance, which includes changing flat tires, jump-starting a dead battery, delivering gasoline if you’ve run out, gaining access to a locked vehicle, and towing. The chassis comes with a 36-month/36,000-mile limited warranty. Additional Ford chassis information can be found at www.fleet.ford.com/products/specialty_vehicles/motorhome.asp.
The second major player in the type A gas-powered field is Workhorse Custom Chassis, C8291, which purchased all rights to the popular Chevrolet P Series gas chassis in 1999 and immediately began improvements. The first notable change off the assembly line was the introduction of the P-32 chassis with 13¼ inches of added tread width on the front axle to give it the same outer footprint (82.95 inches) as the rear dual-wheel axle. This modification was an immediate hit with drivers because of the added side-to-side stability and easier steering.
Before we get into the nuts and bolts of the two 2004 Workhorse chassis offered, some potential owners may be concerned about where they’ll have the chassis serviced. Unlike Ford, Workhorse doesn’t have a car/truck dealership in every hamlet. To these folks I say, put your minds to rest. According to Workhorse representatives, the company has signed on more than 500 Workhorse Certified Chassis Care Centers “” mostly RV dealers “” and 20,000 qualified RV service personnel for roadside assistance in emergency situations for its customers on a 24-hour/7-day schedule throughout the United States and Canada. The roadside service is provided free to new Workhorse motorhome owners for three years or 36,000 miles, whichever comes first, and is transferable if the motorhome is sold. To find a service center or request roadside assistance, call (877) 946-7731 or visit www.workhorse.com.
Workhorse offers two distinct and separate gas-powered chassis: the P Series and the W Series. Both chassis series are equipped with the GM Vortec 8100 (8.1-liter) big block V-8 engine, of which Workhorse is the exclusive supplier in the type A motorhome marketplace. The 8100 V-8 engine (496 cubic inches) produces 340 horsepower at 4,200 rpm and 455 pound-feet of torque at 3,200 rpm.
In the P Series chassis, the Vortec V-8’s power is routed through a General Motors 4L85E Hydra-Matic four-speed automatic overdrive transmission. This chassis is available in four gross vehicle weight ratings: 14,800 pounds, 15,000 pounds, 17,000 pounds, and 18,000 pounds, and in wheelbase lengths that range from 158.8 inches to 228 inches. The wide track suspension (including independent front suspension) is available as standard equipment in the three heavier-rated chassis and is equipped with 1.65-inch-diameter gas-charged Bilstein shock absorbers. The GCWR for the P Series chassis is 19,000 pounds for the 14,800-pound and 15,000-pound chassis, and 22,000 pounds for the 17,000-pound and 18,000-pound chassis. All P Series chassis are equipped with four-wheel disc brakes and come with an antilock braking system. P Series chassis come standard with a 60-gallon fuel tank, but a 75-gallon tank is available as an option.
The flagship chassis of the Workhorse fleet for 2004 is the W Series chassis, which at first glance appears to look more like a diesel chassis. Developed in 2002 for the 2003 model year and designated the W20 (20,700-pound GVWR) and the W22 (22,000-pound GVWR), both are powered by the Vortec 8100 V-8 engine. But unlike the P Series chassis, the engine is mated to an Allison 1000 Series five-speed automatic transmission with two overdrive gears and a Park Pawl feature that securely locks the drivetrain when the transmission is in “park.” The GCWR for both W Series chassis is 26,000 pounds. W Series wheelbase lengths range from 190 inches to 228 inches for the W20 and 208 inches to 242 inches for the W22. All W Series chassis are equipped with a 75-gallon fuel tank.
New on 2004 models will be Workhorse’s Stabil-Ride suspension, which was specifically designed for use on the W Series chassis, and consists of single-stage, constant-rate, two-leaf parabolic springs on both front and rear axles; “Like-Air” auxiliary springs to control deflection of the parabolic springs; Bilstein shock absorbers; and 2½-inch rectangular stabilizer bars on both the front and rear axles. Michelin XRV tires are standard for both the W20 (19.5-inch) and W22 (22.5-inch), with Goodyear 19.5-inch tires and Alcoa aluminum wheels optional. The W Series steering is a variable-ratio (15.7:1-18.5:1) hydraulic assist, with a 50-degree wheel-cut angle.
The W Series’ ladder-type frame is built from 50,000-psi steel, and the 1/4-inch-thick, 9.6-inch channel rails extend the full length of the coach for more weight capacity and greater stability and structural integrity.
Workhorse will soon add another model to its W Series lineup with the W24. This chassis, with a 24,000-pound GVWR, will be available to manufacturers during the first quarter of 2004.
So, there you have the three different gas-powered chassis available for type A coaches. Next month we’ll take a look at the diesel-pusher chassis offered today.