Family Motor Coaching, June 1994

Off the beaten path in the Revcon Trailblazer; Family Motor Coaching; June 1994; Lazelle D. Jones

Ingenuity is an interesting thing. For whatever reason, one day someone observes what others have been looking at and in an instant sees new opportunities. Such new ideas fuel the motors of innovations.

Ray Novelli and Revcon Motorcoach Inc. of Irvine, California, are a case in point. Revcon’s new Trailblazer – an all-terrain, four-wheel-drive, luxury motor coach – represents a radical departure from the norm, in tow important ways. First, this motorhome is designed to go where no coach has gone before – literally. Second, the kind of infrastructure required to facilitate such mobility is a radical departure from conventional motor coach construction. To accomplish this task, Revcon has borrowed heavily from aerospace technology.

To understand what’s going on at Revcon, you must first understand the philosophy that went into designing an all-terrain luxury motor coach such as the Trailblazer. Bob Dyke, Revcon’s director of manufacturing, notes that the 1950’s and ’60s hold part of the answer. During that era, the driving force behind the rising interest in RVing was to “get away from it all’ yet enjoy the good life. Today during the warmer months of the year, millions of RV enthusiasts hit America’s highways and byways in an effort to do exactly the same thing. Consequently, “getting away” today presents its own challenges. Revcon has risen to meet those challenges.

With the Trailblazer, paved roads and fair weather are not required. If there’s any semblance of a vehicle trail, even if it’s snowing or raining, this unit – boasting a distinctive four-wheel-drive suspension and optional power wench – gives the driver the capability of reaching that favorite, isolated spot. Furthermore, the snowbird can now stay at his or her warm-weather location well into winter, even after the snow is deep, before heading south to join those who fled earlier before foul weather arrived. The other half of the equation is equally important, too. In no way have the amenities that RV enthusiasts have come to expect in an upscale coach been comprised. The Trailblazer truly is a luxury hybrid.

The construction of the walls and the roof is nothing short of high-tech. Using jigs to ensure consistency and guarantee close tolerances, craftsmen assemble prestressed aircraft style ribs fabricated by an aircraft manufacturer.

Revcon clients come from as far away as Alaska, where they use their Trailblazers year-round, and from Mexico, where primitive, upgraded roads can be the nearest equivalent to an interstate highway system. Revcon even has clients in Saudi Arabia. It makes sense when you think about it; the difficult driving and environmental conditions that exist in that part of the world mandate the need for the kind of utility and prowess that only a vehicle such as the Trailblazer offers. We will look at the interior, its configuration and appointments, but because the essence of the coach lies in its design and construction, let’s begin there.

The foundation of this unit is a Ford F-350, 4×4 crew cab, set on a 1 ton chassis. Dyke noted that among the many pluses Ford offers, one fact Revcon had to consider was that the unit could be serviced in the more remote corners of the world. He explained that Ford has one of the better service networks n Mexico and Latin America, an area where the Trailblazer has generated a great deal of interest. Furthermore, the Ford F-350 chassis offers an excellent payload, towing capacity, and ground clearance. It’s also capable of using very large off-road tires.
Revcon begins by taking the crew cab chassis and adding 24 inches between the cab and the rear wheels. Then 76-inch rail extensions are welded to the rear of the chassis, creating a total overall length of 30 feet.

A Dexter tag axle, designed specifically for the Trailblazer, is installed just aft of the rear driving axle. This is no ordinary tax axle; it does not employ leaf springs as conventional tag axles often do. Instead, it uses an air bag system that lets the driver quickly change the rear suspension to accommodate changing road conditions.
For example, when the coach is being navigated down a rough washboard road, the air bags on the tax axle can be inflated by touching buttons on the dash, thereby allowing more of the load and the roughness to be carried and absorbed by the tag axle instead of the rear driving axle. When additional traction is necessary – when driving through sand, snow, or mud, for example – the air bags on the tag axle can just as easily be deflated, shifting more of the load to the rear driving axle where it should be. Once at the campsite, this air bag system csn also be used to help level the coach. The Dexter axle incorporates its own individually power-boosted Midland brake system. In hard braking scenarios, when the tag axle braking system is actuated, it pulls against the forward momentum of the coach and keeps the coach moving in a straight line until braking has been completed. All six of the wheels are made of custom aluminum, and the four wheels that come from the factory are outset to add another 7 1/2 inches to the width of the wheelbase. As noted, larger tires further augment this already wide wheelbase.

A welded tubular steel subfloor frame is added to the chassis. On top of this subfloor sits a welded aluminum tubular frame, with an exterior sheet of .050-inch thick aircraft aluminum added to seal the coach’s interior form the road. A layer of thick rubber is installed between the aluminum frame and the tubular steel frame to absorb noise and prevent galvanic corrosion form occurring between the two dissimilar metals.

The construction of the walls and the roof is nothing short of high-tech. Using jigs to ensure consistency and guarantee close tolerances, craftsmen assemble prestressed aircraft style ribs fabricated by aircraft manufacturer. These are welded together using horizontal cross members that act as locking devices between the lower and upper sections of the wall. The result is a monocoque, aircraft-style fuselage. Herein lies the strength and the ability of the coach to flex when off-road adventures are in progress and return to its original shape once the flexing is complete. This infrastructure is covered with .050-inch thick aircraft aluminum sheeting. The aluminum sheets are inset into grooves that are machined into the horizontal wall cross members, and a state-of-the-art adhesive is used. The result is a clean, rivet-free coach skin. The rear cap is composed of a single piece of molded fiberglass, as is the over-the-cab compartment. The interior side of these molded end pieces is framed to provide a housing for insulation. The aerodynamics of this coach are such that, unlike a slab-sided unit, air bleeds of the smooth, curvilinear exterior lines. Another of the Trailblazer’s unusual features is the way in which the unit is insulated. First, a chemical insulation is sprayed over the interior of the coach walls. This spray carries an R-3 rating and is used primarily to prevent condensation from forming on the inside of the aluminum walls. Next, Revcon technicians install spun fiberglass with an aluminum face, which has an insulation rating of R-5. Then comes another layer of insulation, which is composed of a double layer of air bubbles and faced on either side with foil; this layer carries an R-15 rating. Simple math tells us that the total rating for the coach walls is a whopping R-23.
Because double-pane storm windows are available an option, as are several large forced-air furnaces and heated holding tanks that use either 12-volt-DC or 110-volt-AC heating blankets for winterization, it’s no wonder that this unit is popular in the most northern venues, even during winter.

Of course, if the coach seals out the cold, it can also seal in coolness. Several different capacity air conditioners are available for the Trailblazer. An optional water-cooled auxiliary generator is also available. Revcon officials note that this type of generator was chosen because in particularly hot operating temperatures, water-cooled generators experience lower electrical losses when power is most needed.

In addition, the Trailblazer’s plumbing system has been modified to allow flexing when the coach is traveling in an off-road location. Stainless-steel pipe couplers securely fasten piping components. In addition, the fuel intake pipe that connects to the exterior nozzle is housed in steel to protect it from external forces.

Exterior storage compartments are located near the rear of the coach on both the port and starboard sides. Two good-sized, hinged underfloor storage bays unlock and pivot downward for ease of access. The spare tire is mounted on a platform fabricated from a heavy-gauge diamond steel plate that extends off the rear of the coach. Should the need arise to change a tire in the field, you don’t want the spare tire located underneath the coach, where it could be difficult – if not impossible – to reach. The spare is connected to a hinged gate that swings out for easy removal. The tire, mounted on a custom aluminum rim, adds to the Trailblazer’s already excellent exterior aesthetics. A rear ladder that begins atop the rear deck affords access to the coach roof, where gear can also be stowed.

Because the Trailblazer is integrated with the rugged Ford F-350 crew cab, as many as four travelers can relax up front in the cab, surrounded by comfortable, reclining leather captains’ chairs and enjoying visibility similar to that of a giant luxury touring sedan. This is also a much safer place for passengers to travel, for lap and shoulder harness fasten everyone securely. And because this luxury motor coach is married to a truck cab/chassis format, the Trailblazer possesses many of the same friendly driving characteristics found in large sedans.

Let’s now turn our attention to livability. As you enter the coach, you ascend via the electric folding step. The curbside door employs specially designed hinges with closely matched tolerances, preventing the door from swinging wildly about banging the side of the vehicle, or closing unexpectedly. Moving inside you immediately find yourself in the galley/dining area. The interior walls and cabinets in this area feature bleached oak,which sets the tone for the rest of the Trailblazer’s interior decor. Ceramic tile flooring which runs from the crew cab to the rear bedroom, is not only smart looking but requires little maintenance. The monitoring panel for the coach’s holding tanks, LP gas, batteries, and the switch for the auxiliary generator are located on the end of the cabinet in the stairwell.

In the dining area, the table features interior edges that can be flipped up to make it easier to sit down or get up from the table, which is flanked by two deeply cushioned bench seats. A large window is positioned above the table. The galley includes a two-burner cooktop and a porcelain sink; the sink is equipped with a designer spout and a nozzle that pulls out when needed and glides back in when not in use. Adjacent to the cooktop is a three-way double-door Dometic refrigerator and freezer, which operates on AC, DC, or LP gas and has a smoked-glass door. A Sharp Carousel microwave-convection oven is positioned above the refrigerator. Diagonally across from the dinette sits a 13-inch, wall mounted color television and video cassette player. A variable speed, high-volume fan is located in the center of this area.

Looking toward the front of the coach, you can choose one of two option; step down easily into the crew cab and take your place up front in one of the four comfortable leather seats, or enjoy the queen-size bed in the cab-over area.

Just aft of the dinette, and across from the microwave and refrigerator, is the bath area, a one-piece molded unit that incorporates the shower and toilet and derives the most utility out of the least amount of space. A high-volume, variable speed ceiling fan above evacuates the air n the bath area in a nanosecond. It also acts as a skylight.
The bedroom is positioned at the rear of the coach. This area includes a full-size bed with storage underneath. Half-length wardrobes hang on either side of the bed with storage underneath. Half-length wardrobes hang on either side of the bed, and above the bed I a window and cabinets. Those who enjoy settling in with a good book or magazine before retiring for the night will appreciate the reading lamps that grace both sides of the bed. The bedroom also contains a place for a second television on the opposite wall.

A sink, a countertop, and a giant mirror are also located in the bedroom area (additional storage is available below the sink). Having the sink in this area rather than in the bathroo0m has its advantages, as one person can use the sink while another is occupying the bathroom.

Another floor plan available from Revcon has this rear area configured as a family room rather than a bedroom. The family room features bench sofas positioned around three sides of a giant table. If desired, this area can easily be converted at night into sleeping quarters simply by removing the table and forming the sofas into a single giant bed; or the sofas can be left as three individual beds. The family room floor plan also comes with an additional wardrobe.

Escalating consumer demand means that Trailblazers are sold as soon as they rollout of the Revcon factory. So, even with Revcon rolling at full capacity, I had to wait my turn in line to obtain a test drive unit. One morning I received a call informing me that a test unit had returned from Mexico and that I could have it for a couple of days. Finally, I would be able to combine a road test with the observations I had made while crawling over, around, and under a dozen units in various stages of production. Although this review did not involve any “off roading.” I was not to be disappointed.

To begin with, the four leather seats and plush interior that make up the crew cab are simply elegant. With leather-covered fold-down arms and the ability to customize the position of the seats to meet the requirements of each individual passenger, traveling in this unit is akin to flying first-class in a 747 jet. For everyone – especially the driver – visibility is excellent. The side mirror/fish eye system works well. I especially liked the big, friendly control knobs that bring to life the heating, air conditioning, and ventilation systems on the dash. Other human factors are also very good. The three speed automatic transmission is augmented with an overdrive that toggles on and off at the end of the column gear selector. Large, visible instruments that monitor the parameters of the fuel-injected, 460-cid engine provide the driver with real time information about power plant performance. The shifting arm that enables the coach to be switched from two-wheel-drive to four-wheel-drive, or to low gear on four-wheel-drive, is immediately handy on the floor but, at the same time, amazingly out of the way. Positioned low and in the center of the dash are the gauges and control buttons of the compressors that let you instantly tailor the air bag modulated tag axle to changing road and driving conditions. Even with the giant off-road “meats” (tires) that transport the Trailblazer into the backcountry, the ride at 65 mph down the freeway is quite. I was surprised at how successfully road noise has been abated. Negotiating in and out of city traffic presented no problems, other than the gawkers who literally stopped what they were doing to gaze at this aesthetically correct motor coach. And even during one of the strong Santa Ana wind conditions for which California is so well known, the Trailblazer felt stable. During my test drive, the coach attained an average of 6.5 miles per gallon. A diesel-powered version of the coach is available as well.

The passageway between the crew cab and the coach is spacious enough to make ingress and egress easy. An aluminum ladder that can be kept on the cab over bed is easily positioned to make gaining entrance to the cab-over bed also an easy maneuver. Pull curtains quickly divide the cab and the coach, providing privacy. Because of the height of the coach window, outside passers-by are prevented from looking directly in.

The Trailblazer carries a base suggested retail price of $74,950. Our test coach carried a suggested retail price of $76,848.

The Trailblazer is offered through factory-direct dealers. Revcon makes available a variety of printed material, as well as a video that depicts the coach operating in various off-road scenarios. Call Revcon at (714) 955-5344 to request these materials, or for more specific information. And who knows? After reviewing this tape, you may just find yourself planning a trip to the factory in Irvine, California, for a firsthand look and a test drive. If you’ve ever pondered what the future has in store for motor coaches, after seeing the Trailblazer you might walk thinking, “This could very well be it.”