Brooks Stevens has his name on a lot of vehicle designs throughout history. Stevens designed such greats as the Jeep Wagoneer, a bonkers car that turned into a boat and yes, the Wienermobile. Perhaps lesser known is his work designing vans and motorhomes like this modified 1941 Western Flyer.
A reader sent me a picture of this custom Western Flyer and I immediately fell in love. I mean, how could you not:
It looks like a streamliner train meant for the road. The history on the Western Flyer is a bit scant. So few of them exist and there does not appear to be much accessible information on them.
To fully appreciate the Western Flyer, take a look at what Stevens was designing in the 1930s. He loved drawing up utility vehicles that looked far ahead of their time. This Zephyr Land Yacht shown below in model form is a great example.
According to the Old Motor, this 35-foot long rig was designed for William Woods Plankinton, a famous freelance photographer of the day. The tractor up front served as sleeping space for the driver and valet while the trailer could sleep up to nine comfortably. The Old Motor and Hemmings say that the truck is built on an International chassis while the trailer is based on a Curtis Aerocar.
Stevens’ next designs would be smaller but just as striking. He started making sales vans for Western Publishing Company out of Racine, Wisconsin. Hemmings reports that these vans were decked out with a basic living space, making them mobile offices for traveling salespeople. It’s believed that 26 variations of these vans were made, including the 1937 Western Clipper sold at a Mecum auction a couple of years ago.
One of the last times the Western Flyer was seen was in an eBay auction in 2016. The van’s exact history is unknown, but it is believed to be either a van made for Winfield M Campbell of the Campbell Baking Company or a van made for SC Johnson.
Either way, in 2011, Howdy Ledbetter — a hot rod builder — discovered the Western Flyer and decided to give it new life.
He took the rotted out hulk of a motorhome and brought it back to life in seven months, modernizing it along the way. The exterior was given a treatment that reminds me of an old train. According to the eBay ad, Ledbetter stretched it by 47 inches. He also chopped three inches from the windows. The grille is from a 1941 Ford cabover that is flipped over and stuck on front.
Ledbetter also added a Buick headlamp above the windshield and a giant tailfin coming off of the back. His design is a bit different than the original, but it looks like it’s from the period the vehicle was actually made in.
Check out the cozy interior! It isn’t just for looks. This Western Flyer has everything from a kitchen to water tanks for camping.
The bones got updated, too. According to the eBay ad, it sits on a 40-foot motorhome chassis with a big 7.5 liter Ford V8 engine up front and bolted to an automatic transmission.
It’s all remarkable work and I doubt you’ll quite see an RV like this on the road. Even an Airstream camper doesn’t hold a candle to the Western Flyer.
Ledbetter tried selling the Western flyer for $150,000 in 2014 on Hemmings. The 2016 eBay ad ended with $70,377.00 on the counter. The Western Flyer appears to have disappeared from the public light after the auction.
Based on the pictures Hemmings pulled from the archives, Ledbetter’s work was a major overhaul. The original interiors of these vehicles looked very different. But aside from the front end changes, paint and chopped windows, the exterior remains pretty original.
As for Brooks Stevens? He never really stopped designing cool vehicles. Aside from the Jeep Wagoneer he also designed a van variant of the Willys FC and the Studebaker Gran Turismo Hawk. The man who designed the Wienermobile was, not surprisingly, known for very unique designs.
If you want to see more outlandish Stevens designs, the Milwaukee Art Museum in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, has an entire archive!
H/T - Andrew!