A new coach designed by RV industry veteran John Crean, complete with residential-sized appliances, provides motorhomers with another fine choice.
By Terri Blazell
When a new RV is introduced, the questions to be answered are usually “what?” and “how?” “” “What does it come with?” and “How long is it?” But the new 40-foot gas-powered Flounder motorhome has a big “who” and “why” behind it: Who’s manufacturing it and why?
The Flounder is not a new model introduction by an established company; it is a brand-new coach from a brand-new company created by RV icon, retired Fleetwood founder John Crean, along with his daughter and son-in-law, Susan and Steve Thomas. John’s RVing background goes back nearly 80 years when his own father, Andrew Crean, built an “RV” on the back of a Ford Model T and father and son traveled across the country in it. That trip made a lasting impression on the young boy.
John later went on to found and run the largest RV manufacturing company in the world, Fleetwood. He retired in 1998, but, not content to just play golf, a scant four years later John was back to work developing the Flounder.
What exactly is it that brings John Crean out of retirement? His first response was that he was “bored,” but that’s hardly the answer. Get him talking and the real story emerges. As John saw change after change taking place in the RV industry, he also recognized that not all change is good. As RVs became more sophisticated and expensive, he saw a need for a motorhome that was more affordable and simpler to use “” an “everyman’s” coach, as it were. So he set out to create one that returns RVing to its simplest form “” a functional place to travel and camp that doesn’t require a degree in engineering to use.
In 1998 he began working out his ideas for the perfect coach with Susan and Steve, both experienced in the RV industry as well. The couple had owned their own manufacturing plant for 12 years, supplying cargo doors to the industry, before setting their sights on creating the Flounder. Four years later the first prototype was ready to roll. However, three more prototypes and hundreds of small changes followed before the first official Flounder was introduced to the public. With four years on the drawing board and another four years of development, the result is one awesome coach.
Taking the factory tour in Rubidoux, California, with Susan and Steve was eye-opening. Words such as quality and innovation “” which have been so overused these days as to become almost meaningless “” take on a whole new life here. Steve’s engineering prowess has led him to design an entirely new way to build a motorhome, including inventing some new equipment with which to do it. Tape measures are scarce; there’s no relying on employees to get it “close enough.” Instead, everything is measured using lasers for complete accuracy. The Workhorse chassis is even measured before anything is built on it, to weed out any early problems.
The floor, walls, and roof are mounted in a Flounder-exclusive interlocking aluminum frame system that ensures a strong, straight, lightweight box lined up precisely on the chassis. The floor itself is mounted with its own jig so that it goes down flat and stays flat while the walls are built around it. The floor joints are tightly seamed together, and the floor is sealed and waterproofed from the bottom to keep fuel or other liquids from coming up inside the coach. The result is a sturdy motorhome that drives straight and is one smooth ride. The coach has a gross vehicle weight rating (GVWR) of 22,000 pounds.
From laminating machines that produce insulated walls, floors, and trusses to the cabinet-foiling machines that produce lightweight hollow-door cabinets, as much of the coach as possible is made right in the factory. By controlling the whole process in-house, quality in the materials used and craftsmanship can be assured. Even the smallest pieces of wood are measured by machine to ensure consistency.
Every aspect of the motorhome was designed with quality, practicality, and real use in mind. John Crean and his family don’t just build motorhomes; they travel in them extensively. The Flounder is the accumulation of those experiences. It offers an incredible array of features at an unbelievably low price tag (manufacturer’s suggested retail price: $108,700).
The galley is loaded with real home appliances: full-size Amana gas oven, range, microwave, dishwasher, and refrigerator. The brochure shows a turkey coming out of the oven “” and this isn’t just a photographer’s prop; it’s a real turkey cooked right in the oven. And, once you’ve cooked it, there’s room to store it in the refrigerator. The galley also has a one-piece molded countertop and sink, sink covers/cutting boards, and sliding pantry shelving. I like the fact that there is a counter on either side of the stove, making it much easier to cook, regardless of whether you’re left-handed or right-handed. The coach also includes a Maytag trash compactor and a garbage disposal.
The dinette booth incorporates a very usable 42-inch-by-28-inch table, and the leather-looking cushions, sofa, and chairs are actually wipe-clean vinyl. The sofa and dinette both convert for sleeping. Behind the passenger seat is a drop-leaf table and an extra chair known as the “Donna Table and Chair,” named for John’s wife (and Susan’s mother), who enjoys her nook for playing solitaire. The passenger seat swivels around so two can play as well.
The living area slideout “” the only one in the coach “” is said to offer the tallest slideout headroom in the industry: 6 feet 5 inches. Walking into this coach, you get the impression that you’re in one big room instead of a smaller room with a slideout. This was Steve’s design, made possible by increasing the rigidity in the 7-foot ceiling and roof to support the sidewalls. In fact, the roof has been reinforced so thoroughly that it was tested with 25 people standing on it (this is not recommended by the factory, of course). In addition, even with the slideout retracted, you still can walk through the coach, open the fridge to grab a snack, and take a nap on the bed.
The bedroom is home to a queen-size bed that lifts up easily for storage, a 20-inch flat screen TV/VCR/DVD combo, reading lights on both sides of the bed, and a front-loading stacked washer and dryer. Lighting and cabinets are everywhere. The bathroom features a full-size bathtub and shower with 77 inches of headroom, a wardrobe cabinet, a medicine cabinet, and a linen cabinet. Plenty of shallow drawers in the bathroom provide storage for all the small items that usually get lost in deeper drawers, but there are a few of those larger ones, too, for hair dryers and other bulkier items. If you’ve ever been in a motorhome that’s short on places to hang wet towels, you’ll appreciate the fact that the Flounder sports two towel bars and a towel ring. One impressive feature throughout the entire motorhome is its fully extending drawers. Nothing gets lost in the back corners.
Heating and cooling are accomplished by units in both the living area (25,000 Btus heating, 13,500 Btus cooling) and the bedroom (20,000 Btus heating, 11,500 Btus cooling), with separate controls for each. Run the air conditioner in the bedroom and the cool air blows gently through the living area so you can watch a movie in quiet. While you’re sleeping, turn on the front unit and let it blow through the bedroom for a peaceful night’s sleep. You also can shut the vents to isolate the air to just one area. Even the bathroom has a vent.
The dash lifts up for easy access to fuses, and the front engine cover, commonly known as the “dog house,” is heavily insulated for an unexpectedly quiet ride. The dog house is also designed to be as flat and low to the floor as possible, which allows room for either extra driving essentials or a nifty seating/sleeping area if you travel with a pet. The leveling system, which consists of a few simple joysticks, is the easiest I’ve ever used.
Up front is a 30-inch LCD flat-screen monitor, instead of a television, to which you can hook up your laptop. And the coach’s AM-FM-CD radio was sought out for its ease of use “” it contains very few buttons. Just turn it on, find a station or pop in a CD, and adjust the volume. To make it even easier, separate speakers in the ceiling are designated for stereo and for the television; no switches or zones to try and figure out.
On the outside, the Flounder is equally as impressive. The cargo compartments include waterproof liners with drainage holes. When the compartments get dirty, just hose them out and let them dry. The heavy-duty luggage doors, made in-house, don’t tweak even when opened all the way up and pushed on by two grown men. The electrical cable is on a neat little reel, and the driver’s-side luggage compartments come out with the slide for easy access in camp. The water tanks are centered in front of and over the rear axle, making for a well-balanced motorhome. Rollers on the back ease the coach over any bumps in the road. Hoses and valves are located below the tanks for easy flushing and winterizing.
The Flounder is designed for full-hookup camping. However, the coach also can work quite well for boondocking if the dishwasher and washer/dryer are not used. The batteries will run the refrigerator for two days using the inverter “” possibly three days, depending on outside temperatures. Then the 7-kilowatt Onan generator can be run for a couple of hours to recharge the batteries for two more days. One additional nifty feature is a separate battery just for starting up the generator. In the event that all the other batteries should accidentally run dry (it happens at least once to all of us), you can still be on the road in 10 minutes or less.
Each Flounder is built completely indoors to protect it from the elements during all phases of the manufacturing process. Factory tours are available by appointment. It’s not very often that a company’s owners will conduct plant tours themselves, but Steve and Susan do. Their enthusiasm is overflowing, and you’ll see many more aspects of the coach not described in this article.
My overall impression of the Flounder is that it is well-thought-out and well-made. Steve and Susan predicted that a person brand-new to RVing can use it after only about 30 minutes of instruction. While not brand-new to RVing, I did take it on a test drive. At 5 feet tall, I was pleased that the driver’s seat, mirrors, and steering wheel could be adjusted for me, and yet they can be readjusted for someone like Steve, who’s over 6 feet. The wide steering wheel made the coach very comfortable to control, and turning was much easier. It drove smoothly and straight, and I was surprised at how quiet it was for a gas-powered coach.
This brings us to one final question: why did they name it the Flounder? For those familiar with the Crean history and the origins of the Fleetwood Bounder and Alfa Founder (the latter coach produced by Alfa Leisure Inc., a company founded by John’s son, Johnnie), you may think you already know the answer, but it’s not quite what you think. The Flounder was actually the alternate choice when naming the Bounder way back in 1985. While Bounder won out in that round, John had preferred the other name, and the wait was worth it. The Flounder already has accomplished what other companies spend years and millions to create: instant name recognition. It is definitely unforgettable and, in my view, destined to become a classic.
Flounder Motor Homes of California LLC, 6001 20th Street, Rubidoux, CA 92509; (951) 680-9400; www.floundermotorhomes.com