Richard Brown and I like unusual and rare RV’s. It’s not a big community that likes these vehicles. In fact, I think it might just be Richard and myself. Here’s a photo of Richard’s favorite RVs in his collection:
Richard’s collection beats me by “1” – I just have two rare RV’s shown below.
Of course we both like other vehicles too and you’ll find out (and I think be impressed) with Richard’s collection of one-off Barris custom vehicles in future stories – many of which should be new to most of you. Today’s story is about the RV that is in the center of Richard’s collection above – the “Marantette”. Let’s turn it over to Richard and learn more about his special RV. Take it away Richard 🙂
The 1966 Marantette “Feather Coach”
By Richard Brown
If motorhome design had a folk art category, that’s where you would find the Marantette “Feather Coach”. Its artist being Lou Marantette of Portland, Oregon. Lou was a creator of several various campers in the 50’s-60’s, but mostly notably, the one that is the subject of our conversation today. But first, a little back story on the man behind this unorthodox roaming chariot.
Born in 1921, Lou was one of four sons, all to achieve degrees in engineering. His brother Bill, even invented some computer circuit boards for NASA, that went to the moon. Lou was also an inventor, and holder of many patents. For many years, he was a mechanical engineer for the company General Metal Craft.
One notable achievement for Lou was the design and build of a hydraulic operated metal elbow former. A sheet of galvanized steel would be fed into it. The machine would cut it into sections, bend and roll it, attach the pieces, and spit out a heating duct elbow. His design and machines are still being utilized today. Coming from a profession that dealt in sheet metal fabrication, Lou started to create some things for himself.
Having a family, and being a bit of an adventurer, Lou wanted to go camping. In the early 50’s, his first creation was a “canned ham” style camper, which he pulled behind the 1952 Ford family station wagon. Unlike other typical “tag-a-long” campers, this one was solid mounted to the car, making it one piece, unsegmented and the axle swiveled underneath on turns.
It proved successful, but he soon realized that this meant leaving the boat behind. For that, his next creation was a Homebuilt Class C Motorhome. Utilizing a 1953 Lincoln sedan, Lou cut the back half of the roof and trunk out, and fabricated a “cab-over” style camper section to the back.
Then soon after, something remarkable happened that brings us to the main focus of the story. The new 1960 Corvair came out, and our man Lou was inspired. Being an instant fan of the Corvair’s platform and drivetrain, he chose this as the basis for his new project. This time, the plan was to build an entire motorhome, from stem to stern. When a second-hand 1961 Corvair Greenbriar truck became available, Lou purchased it, and studied it immensely. He started making sketches, and building a scaled down 3D model of his own design. Shortly after, he went to work.
Lou laid out the Corvair drivetrain members, then built a birdcage type frame around it, from 1” square tubing to create the shape. Ultimately, the new coach would be wrapped in conventional sheet metal, but Lou wanted something different for the front cockpit area. Out of wood, plaster, and sections of Corvair body sheetmetal, he created a mock front end. From that “plug”, he built the mold that would produce this new fiberglass front nose.
To say this front end had character is an understatement. It had Corvair headlights turned on their sides. A center trapezoid light below the windshield that put out a soft glow. A functional ram-air scoop on the roof, for ventilation. The sides sported “coves”, similar to those found on a 1956 Corvette except in the opposite direction. The wraparound windshield is still identified but worked well.
And to top it off, little sculpted fins protrude forward just above the headlight bezels. Phew…..it’s quite busy, with this mixed bag of design characteristics, but with its proportions, arrangement, and placement, it actually kinda works. The body was clad in textured ribbed aluminum sheeting, similar to other motorhomes of the era. Windows were extruded aluminum framed, sliding units.
The coach’s only door for entry was a large double glass sliding door, on the right side of the body. Air scoops on the sides of the body routed the welcoming cool breeze to the Corvair air-cooled 6 cylinder engine, behind the rear axle. It’s overall length was 18.6 ft long, with an 11 ft wheelbase. Proudly painted red, Lou’s new prototype motorhome was completed in 1966. Like his other inventions and tool designs, it was patented and christened the “Feather Coach”. It was nimble, lightweight and quite different from the other behemoth motorhomes of the time.
Plans of putting these into production for the public was in the forefront of Lou’s mind. But like anything, it needed to be tested first. In 1967, Lou loaded up the wife, and 4 kids, and went on a summer vacation around the perimeter of the United States.
This several thousand mile trip really put the Feather Coach to the test. It successfully made the trip, yet Lou learned from it things he could better improve on. One issue was the power from the 110hp motor. Having experience myself with a 1968 Ultravan, (another motorhome sharing the same 110hp Corvair drivetrain), I can attest to the struggle of climbing hills being fully overloaded.
Never being able to sit still, Lou started working on a second “Feather Coach” prototype. Since this one was going to fix all the power problems of the first one, a big American V8 was chosen as the new power plant.
A pink 1957 Cadillac was the donor drivetrain for Coach #2. The problem was, that the original coach design only allowed for the motor to be placed in the rear. The size and layout of the front fiberglass cab, didn’t allow room for a large Cadillac motor, which is naturally housed in the front. Lou had a solution… Let’s make it mid engine! And that’s exactly what he did.
Extensively altering the Cadillac frame, the 365ci V8 was placed behind the front axle, hidden inside a kitchen cabinet built over it. The motor was now directly under the kitchen sink, with access via a cabinet door underneath. The bedroom was in the back with bathroom and shower left of the motor and behind driver seat.
Completed in 1971, it looked practically identical to the first one. This fresh new decade ushered in many different fashionable, hip colors. It was painted Avocado green, with walnut wood grain in the cove, and accented side panels. Different greens and golds decorated the inside interior.
The Cadillac V8 proved to be very robust, and was night and day compared to the Corvair V6. After a few local camping trips, a new problem was discovered which was adequately cooling this big V8. Hidden in the middle of the coach, airflow to the radiator was nil. A second radiator was added to the roof, and seemed to be a sufficient fix while the coach was in motion.
By now, the “Feather Coach” project was at the 10 year mark, and the pursuit to put them into production had subsided. Only two prototypes were ever built. The red Coach #1, which was sold off to Lou’s older brother Jim in the 70’s, and the green Coach #2 that left sometime in the late 80’s. The family remembers ole uncle Jim driving the red coach for many years after. Reportedly clocking nearly 200k miles!!
Jim ultimately sold the red coach, and it’s whereabouts are still unknown. The green Cadillac Feather Coach was lost for nearly 30 years until it appeared on a Portland Craigslist ad in 2017. The coach faired rather we’ll. It was all still intact, and had one remaining Cadillac hubcap. The Avocado green paint had faded, and the wood grain decals were bleached white from years of sun. With about a day of work, it might just run again!
After its purchase, the seller later called with some great news. “Hey, the family of that old motorhome saw the ad, and they want to talk to you”. Well that was good news. Turns out, Lou’s sons were tipped off that Dads old motorhome survived. After many phone calls, emails, and photos, a friendship was made, and a definitive timeline on the Feather Coach was documented.
Some assurance that the green coach will be saved and restored made the Marantette family quite happy. Lou passed away in December, 2003, but his legacy certainly lives on with friends and family who loved him. Much thanks to sons Brian and Tom Marantette for the interesting story, and all the photos.
Now…who’s going to find the red Feather Coach #1 ?
Great thanks to Richard Brown for sharing the story about another handbuilt vehicle – not a sports or custom car this time, but a vehicle who’s story is central to a family and its history. Great job Richard and excellent article 🙂
Richard has promised to share more stories with us – not just on the restoration of this car but many other of his adventures, acquisitions and more. You can see all of Richard Brown’s stories here on Undiscovered Class by clicking on the following link:
Hope you enjoyed the story, and remember…
The adventure continues here at Undiscovered Classics.