Vintage charm with modern-day features embody this travel trailer.
By Gary Bunzer
Stepping inside the Retro 157 travel trailer — the newest floor plan produced by Riverside RV — transports RVers back to the early days of camping. A closer look reveals that along with its quaint, classic appearance, the little house on wheels delivers the modern amenities today’s RV owners expect. To be sure, the vintage-look Retro 157 will attract attention when it pulls into a campground.
The lightweight, retro-looking yet fully modern camp trailers created by the designers and craftspeople at Riverside RV can be towed behind a plethora of vehicles. The Retro 157 can be hooked up behind the family SUV just as easily as my parents towed our RV with their car back in the 1950s.
Riverside RV began in 2008 with just a handful of employees. The Retro line sprang up in 2010. Staffed mostly by Amish craftspeople, including members of the senior leadership team, Riverside RV and its Retro line embody the company’s motto: “Classic Adventure, Contemporary Construction.” Today, about 100 employees complete 10 units per day at the company’s facility in LaGrange, Indiana, near Elkhart.
As simple as a Retro appears on the outside, under the exterior skin, modern design and assembly materials are prevalent. This is certainly not my family’s stick-and-tin travel trailer from days gone by.
Beginning with a prefabricated skeletal network of welded aluminum tubing, employees assemble the framework and attach it to the chassis, and then they install the interior paneling. The result is a rugged but lightweight structure. Each Retro is fully insulated, with batts of R-7 insulation filling every square inch in the spaces between the aluminum frame members. Prior to the installation of the exterior skin, the entire enclosure can be covered in an optional radiant barrier that provides additional protection against heat transfer and keeps cold out. Finally, employees hang the outer aluminum skin.
The Lippert chassis underneath is powder coated, and industry-standard Darco exterior barrier covers the bottom of the undercarriage. The holding tanks, however, remain exposed. The floor decking consists of a single piece of 5/8-inch OSB (oriented strand board) topped by striking black-and-white checkerboard sheet vinyl from Shaw Floors. Gentle to bare feet, the Shaw flooring is rugged yet easy to clean and slip-resistant. Perfect for active RVers.
The exterior of our subject coach reflects an iconic look and includes a front window stone guard that comes with the Retro’s option package 1. Also part of that package, the rear of the trailer is buttoned off with a square tube bumper and a spare tire with a cool moon hubcap. Moon caps are standard on the other tires as well. The roof surface, as favored by many manufacturers, is synthetic TPO (thermoplastic polyolefin) and supports the Dometic air conditioner that comes with the option package. At each of the four corners of the frame, Riverside designers provide manual scissor jacks for solid stabilization while parked.
A quick walk around this 15-foot-6-inch-long unit reveals a single 20-pound DOT propane cylinder mounted on the A-frame of the trailer, with additional space for a battery or two. Larger Retro floor plans are equipped with twin DOT cylinders. Attractive, functional diamond plate protects the lower third of the front of the trailer. A standard hand-crank tongue jack facilitates hitching and unhitching. In most cases, I would rather see an electric tongue jack on conventional travel trailers, but with the Retro 157’s dry weight just a little over a ton and a half, that upgrade really is not necessary. In fact, depending on how much personal cargo is stored, one seemingly could connect the trailer to the tow vehicle by manually lifting the coupler onto the hitch ball.
The new model 157 boasts a front galley design with a kitchen window positioned on the curbside front corner. The entry door is placed just forward of the single axle. Directly behind the axle, the 16,000-Btu forced-air furnace is mounted on the floor, with access to it via the exterior storage compartment at the left rear corner of the trailer. An exterior duplex 120-volt-AC receptacle and awning rail also grace this side of the trailer.
On the right side of the trailer, just behind the axle, a handy exterior showerhead and faucet assembly are mounted into the sidewall, along with the gravity fill for the fresh-water tank, the city water inlet, an optional prewired solar connection, and a 6-gallon water heater. The refrigerator is located over the axle, and a detachable 30-amp, 120-volt-AC shore power cord is positioned just below the refrigerator’s bottom vent. With two side vents, no roof jack is needed for the absorption refrigerator. The fewer roof penetrations, the better! Two small storage compartments, one atop the other, are mounted at the front left corner on the street side of the trailer.
Inside this cozy unit for two, the galley stretches across the front two-thirds of the trailer. A two-burner cooktop, a generous-sized double sink, and under-counter drawers and cabinets are set beneath the front window. A nifty two-space cubby is mounted directly to the left of the sink and likely would be dedicated as pantry space.
The wet bath, which has a powered roof vent, stands directly across from the entry door. Though obviously not designed for larger occupants, it remains utilitarian and functional for most. I suspect many owners would take advantage of the campground’s facilities when feasible.
The attractive dinette that stretches across the rear of the trailer spotlights the retro theme. It comfortably seats six adults, and it converts to a full queen-size bed to serve as the only sleeping berth in the Retro 157. The beautifully stitched dinette coupled with the checkerboard flooring really sets this area off nicely.
Since my early review of the Retro 157, a large rear window that provides a view of the outdoors while seated at the dinette table has been added as a standard feature.
Attractive birch paneling lines the interior spaces. A hallmark of vintage trailers, it brings back fond memories of the good ole days of early camping trailers. Prospective owners can choose from a variety of interior and exterior design parameters. Retro interior color choices include the red of our review unit and also aqua and gray. Two other interior color choices are camel and hazel.
Cornices above the radiused windows inside the Retro 157 double as knick-knack shelves while the unit is stationary. Interior cabinets are adorned with mitered moldings that add to the distinctive craftsmanship. One example is found atop the wardrobe closet and drawers, which are positioned directly to the rear of the entry door, between it and the dinette ensemble. The front-facing section of this cabinet houses the monitor panel.
Across from the wardrobe, an absorption refrigerator nests between the wet bath and the dinette. Above the refrigerator, Riverside designers included a stereo system that connects to ceiling-mounted speakers; an optional microwave oven; and yet another storage cabinet.
The AC-DC power center is mounted directly below the refrigerator, at floor level, along with the combination CO monitor/propane leak detector and a removable access panel for the shower drain. At the side of this cabinet, facing rearward, Riverside designers placed a couple of 120-volt-AC receptacles, a 12-volt-DC outlet and USB charging station, a cable television connection, and a reinforced location for a future wall-mounted television. An access panel hides the plug and a receptacle for the microwave oven. A handy HDMI plug is provided.
Looking intently for items of concern, especially in the area of fit and finish, the only surprise I detected was how the folks at the factory sealed the Suburban furnace intake/exhaust assembly on the exterior of the trailer. Counter to other construction details I studied, it appears they could have done a neater job. Certainly not a deal-breaker; in fact, this easily could be cleaned up during a professional predelivery inspection by the dealer, but still, it was not indicative of the rest of the detail work in and around the trailer I reviewed.
I also would suggest that Riverside install a couple of simple plywood partitions inside the L-shaped storage compartment under the dinette area. Accessed from the exterior compartment door or from the interior below the dinette seats, some stored cargo could effectively block the return air to the furnace or damage the exposed sensors and wiring located on the fresh-water tank. With this being the largest area to store camping gear, it would be wise to prohibit the shifting of that cargo into either the water tank or the furnace enclosure while the RV is moving down the road.
As noted, the unit I reviewed was equipped with option package 1, which included the following items: air conditioner, microwave oven, spare tire with a moon hubcap, front stone-guard window, square tube bumper, dinette storage door, cable TV hookup, USB charging port, exterior solar plug for Zamp kit, and front stabilizer jacks.
All in all, I found the Retro 157 to be a welcoming little unit, perfect for an energetic couple intent on traveling light, perhaps inexpensively, but with an appreciative nod to the vintage wanderings of yesteryear. Riverside RV offers a variety of larger Retro floor plans as well, ranging in length from 16 feet 4 inches to 31 feet, and a smaller — 13-foot-8-inch — version. Ten exterior color combination options are available.
Remember, RVing is more than a hobby; it’s a lifestyle!
Riverside RV, 1775 U.S. 20, LaGrange, IN 46761; (260) 499-4578; www.riversidervs.net
15 feet 6 inches
7 feet 6 inches
9 feet 6 inches
6 feet 4 inches
GROSS VEHICLE WEIGHT RATING (GVWR)
UNLOADED VEHICLE WEIGHT
CARGO CARRYING CAPACITY
FRESH WATER TANK
HOLDING TANK CAPACITIES
gray water — 17 gallons;
black water — 10 gallons
BASE SUGGESTED RETAIL PRICE