This Type C manufacturer continues to innovate while maintaining long-standing design features on which the company has built its reputation.
By Lazelle Jones
How can a Type C motorhome builder, located in the northwest quadrant of a state where the mainstays are corn and soybeans, continue to remain on the cusp of building quality luxury touring coaches? Development continues at Humboldt, Iowa-based Born Free Motorcoach; in fact, during the open house this past June at the company’s factory/showroom, three new models were unveiled.
That brings the total of Born Free models to 11, which range in length from 21 feet to 31 feet, with a slideout room available in some models.
Recently I headed into the heartland of America to visit Born Free headquarters and to review one of its three newest models: the 23-foot Front Lounge.
In terms of design, engineering, and construction, Born Free Motorcoach has been “getting it right” for years, which has led to the observation by some that the 2006 model looked like the 2008 model that looked like the 2010 model. Model-year 2013 has built upon the company’s previous successes, but with several substantial changes to the basic Born Free motorhomes that have been crafted for the past 40-plus years. It’s these enhancements that break with the observation noted above.
Let’s begin with what’s new inside the 2013 Born Free 23-foot Front Lounge model.
One change for 2013 is a new choice in wood, which simply knocked my socks off! From the cockpit back through the coach-wide rear bath that is incorporated into this 23-foot Born Free floor plan, hickory is used for the cabinets, doors, drawers, panels, etc. The Born Free cabinet shop finishes and stains this wood during the fabrication process to bring out the rich but muted multitone wood grain. The cabinetry exudes a feeling of residential coziness and warmth.
For model-year 2013 a new Ultraleather wall treatment is being used, which is neutral in color, soft to the touch, and more than willing to play its intended role of complementing the appointments that lace the motorhome interior. Stylish new residential lighting fixtures make their own contribution to the elegant ambience. The configuration and style of the ceiling lighting is so “not RV.” The sculptured wood fixtures have individual small circular lights integrated into the structure.
Born Free designers use a faux-granite, solid-surface galley countertop that is accented by a subtle backsplash of inlaid ceramic rectangles finished off with neutral-colored grout. These small, intricate ceramic tiles merely suggest an accent tone and texture without distracting from the gorgeous granite-looking countertop.
The motorhome floor from front to rear is dressed with individual tiles made of a composite material. Although these tiles look and perform as ceramic, granite, or marble tiles would, they offer the advantage of flexing with the movement of the motorhome as it goes down the road. Plus, they are low-maintenance, easily cleaned with a damp mop.
Also new for 2013 is the faux leather upholstery that dresses the sofa, which converts to a queen-size sleeping quarter at the touch of a switch.
New also for the 2013 model year are two other functional yet smart-looking features. In the living area, the space opposite the sleeper sofa traditionally has been occupied by swivel chairs. In place of these seats in the 23-foot Front Lounge I tested, a matching solid-surface shelf ran below the window on the curb side, positioned between the 7-cubic-foot 2-way refrigerator-freezer and the passenger’s seat in the cab. The shelf protrudes from the wall approximately 8 inches. Dual hickory doors housed below the shelf conceal a complex that includes a 40-inch Sony HD flat-screen television. At the touch of a wall-mounted switch or a remote control, the TV rises vertically out of the shelf. What a great way to have a television onboard but to have it visible only when you want to watch it.
But there is more. Open the door on the cabinet below the solid-surface shelf, and a dining table with fold-out legs swings up. The additional table leaf stows behind the driver’s seat and measures 32 inches by 44 inches. It mechanically fastens to an inner support structure so it can be pulled toward the sofa and utilized by those seated on the sofa.
I had the opportunity to test the first 23-foot Front Lounge to be built. Born Free officials noted that in subsequent models, the locations of the sofa and solid-surface shelf have been switched; the standard layout now positions the shelf on the street side, with the sofa opposite it on the curb side. Customers may request the original configuration if they wish, but company officials explained that the new layout has been widely accepted.
New in the 23-foot Front Lounge is a second Fan-Tastic Vent fan, one in the living/galley area of the coach and now one in the rear bath. With two of these air-circulating/ventilating units, the air inside can be quickly evacuated at various speeds.
The coach-wide rear bath in this floor plan deserves its own individual attention. To begin with, a full-size shower occupies the entire street side of the bathroom. A porcelain toilet is positioned on the opposite side, with a wardrobe and storage closet above it. Between them stands a vanity with an under-mounted brushed-aluminum sink topped by the same granite-looking solid-surface material used in the front of the motorhome. A large window is incorporated in the back wall of the bathroom.
Electric day-night shades cover the windows throughout the coach. The day shades give all the privacy those inside might want, and the night shades (which are light in color to match the new fabric that covers the walls) lower to provide both total privacy and an additional thermal barrier to prevent heat transfer through the windows.
Aside from these innovations, the quintessential features that are characteristic of Born Free motorhomes continue in 2013. This 23-foot model, like all Born Free units, boasts a well-thought-through luxury interior that is warm and pleasing to the eye, functions well, and feels like home each time you enter it. This one happens to be built on a Ford E-350 chassis.
Along with its good looks, the street-side galley is appointed with a stainless-steel sink that is disguised by a cover fabricated from solid-surface material that matches the counter; this provides extra work space until access to the sink is needed. A three-burner propane cooktop is accompanied by a smoked-glass cover that is hinged along the back and adds counter surface when the cooktop is not in use. The 1,000-watt microwave-convection oven and cabinets and drawers round out this area.
Because of the way the house portion is designed, the living area has more headroom than the rear of the coach does. However, the interior height in the rear bath and galley areas is still a full 6 feet 4 inches. Because the floor-to-ceiling height increases from rear to front, Born Free designers created a stair-step effect in the overhead storage cabinets that line either side of the living area. Each of the three individual cabinets on either side is slightly larger in size and storage capacity as you move forward.
The queen-size mattress above the cab now features memory foam, selected because of its sleeping comfort characteristics. The queen bed mattress folds lengthwise down the middle when it’s not in service, facilitating movement between the living area and the cab. The cab-over bed area features an electric privacy shade that lowers as needed.
The curbside main entry is positioned toward the rear of the coach, between the refrigerator and the coach-wide bathroom. This means that space is not lost in the living area.
The exterior features four storage bays, as well as compartments for the house batteries, dump valves, and propane tank. The 4-kw gasoline-fueled auxiliary generator draws its fuel supply from the main chassis fuel tank. This gen set is correctly sized to power all 120-volt-AC electrical appliances simultaneously, including the 13,500-Btu roof air conditioner with heat strip, which is directly vented into the cabin. The bottom of the roof air conditioner and five ducts allow occupants to tailor exactly where they want the cold air to go. For colder times, the 30,000-Btu forced-air propane furnace is centrally ducted, including back to the rear bathroom. A fully electronic digital wall thermostat lets occupants select the preferred temperature.
One design feature that Born Free began incorporating a long time ago, and that endures today, is the smooth, contoured exterior surface found on every one of the company’s models. This aerodynamic design helps the coach to slip effortlessly down the road. The rounded surfaces where the walls meet the roof and where the cab-over sleeping area joins the coach continue to be dressed with high-gloss fiberglass.
In addition, every Born Free comes with a roll-bar system. This does a couple of important things. One, it helps to integrate the walls and chassis into a unified structure, and two, it provides additional safety. For years Born Free has also incorporated residential-style fiberglass insulation into the roof and walls, and I have seen firsthand the excellent results of this type of construction. Several years ago at an ice-fishing competition in northern Minnesota during the month of February, I joined a group of Born Free enthusiasts who had parked their motorhomes out on the frozen lake overnight in anticipation of the derby that would follow the next day. The world inside these motorhomes was warm and cozy while the outside temperature dipped to unbearable lows.
With a full tank of fuel (40 gallons), a full fresh water tank (29 gallons), and 19.6 gallons of propane, the 23-foot Born Free Front Lounge I reviewed had a gross weight of 11,460 pounds. With a gross vehicle weight rating (GVWR) of 12,500 pounds, another half-ton of passengers and cargo could have been added. For those who tow a vehicle behind their motorhome, this unit is rated to tow 5,000 pounds.
The base manufacturer’s suggested retail price (MSRP) of the Born Free 23-foot motorhome is $107,100. Fully appointed, the MSRP is $118,130 with these options: 40-inch TV, satellite radio adapter, satellite TV, Ultraleather furniture, cherry cabinetry, window awnings, and leveling jacks. Standard features include a 4-kw generator; in-dash Sony touch-screen AM/FM/DVD/CD receiver with Bluetooth, TomTom navigation, and backup camera; Super Spring suspension; awning; oak raised-panel cabinetry; premium 32-inch LED TV; Blu-ray player; on-demand tankless water heater; and synthetic tile flooring.
Born Free motorhomes traditionally have been sold factory-direct at the company’s Humboldt, Iowa, manufacturing facility/showroom. However, near the end of 2012 the company entered into a partnership with RV retailer Lazydays to also sell its Type C motorhomes at the dealership’s locations in Tampa, Florida, and Tucson, Arizona. In addition, Born Free exhibits at key RV shows around the country, including FMCA Family Reunions; the Pennsylvania RV and Camping Show; and the Florida RV SuperShow. For a list of shows they’ll be attending, you can call Born Free direct. Or you can visit the Humboldt, Iowa, facility where they are made.
Born Free, 1505 13th St. N., Humboldt, IA 50548; (800) 247-1835; www.bornfreemotorcoach.com
23-foot Front Lounge
Front Lounge with trundle sofa bed
6.8-liter Ford V-10; 305 horsepower @ 4,350 rpm; 420 pound-feet torque @ 3,250 rpm
electronic 5-speed automatic
(6) 6LT225/75R16E all-season
power 4-wheel disc antilock
Super Spring suspension upgrade
Ford, standard; Bilstein shocks available as an upgrade
cruise control, tilt steering wheel
chassis — 1,650-amp;
coach — (2) deep-cycle on pull-out tray
4-kw Onan gasoline
23 feet 8.75 inches
9 feet 9.5 inches
6 feet 4.5 inches
GROSS COMBINATION WEIGHT RATING (GCWR)
GROSS VEHICLE WEIGHT RATING (GVWR)
GROSS AXLE WEIGHT RATING (GAWR)
front — 5,000 pounds;
rear — 8,500 pounds
front — 3,420 pounds;
rear — 8,000 pounds;
total — 11,460 pounds
OCCUPANT AND CARGO CARRYING CAPACITY (OCCC)
roll bars in house construction
FRESH WATER CAPACITY
HOLDING TANK CAPACITIES
gray water — 21 gallons;
black water — 35 gallons
19.5 gallons; usable amount 80 percent of capacity
30,000-Btu forced-air furnace, centrally ducted
13,500-Btu roof unit with heat strip
7-cubic-foot, two-way (propane/120-volt)
chassis — Ford 36 months/36,000 miles bumper-to-bumper, limited;
coach — 36 months/36,000 miles limited; 10-year fiberglass warranty against corrosion
BASE MANUFACTURER’S SUGGESTED RETAIL PRICE
PRICE AS TESTED