Video: Hot Rod Motorhome – 1954 Chevrolet COE “Tourliner”

Van life is all the rage these days. People from coast to coast are turning to “living onboard” as a way to cut the cord and live a nomadic life in search of beaches, views, and sunny skies. Not to mention losing nutty neighbors, dwindling space, and the banality of modern American life.

The only problem with all that is most RVs and motorhomes are super “square.” Aside from a few Airstream models and the Bowlus Road Chief, most new trailers and RVs are big, beige boxes with dopey graphic swirls with declarations like “All Who Wander Aren’t Lost,” or  worse, “Born Free…” Inside, most look like Holiday Inns from the 1970s. Definitely not cool.

Photo – Hot August Nights

In response to all that bad taste, a glamping retro-wave hit the RV scene a few years ago with restored spam can trailers and even reissues of old-school campers.  Many folks have taken it to the ultimate conclusion by matching a vintage trailer to their classic car.

Photo – Anne McKinnell

We all have a notion of what the perfect retro rolling home looks like. But now, Rod Authority brings you the definitive hot rod motorhome template by Russ Moen from Vancouver, British Columbia. Five years in the making, Russ built the rig himself (with some help from key friends) out of his home garage, and the result is the glossy black and buckskin beauty you see here, easily setting the global standard for cool motorhomes.

With a very clever mix of old-school and mid-century modern Chevy COE curves up front, and creased Bauhaus Zeppelin design flourishes out back, Russ artfully combined these styling cues from different eras, and christened it “Tourliner.”

Russ told us, “I built it first and foremost as a hot rod, and I drive it long distances to shows and for pleasure. It’s a great highway cruiser with plenty of power.”

Complete for ten years now, Russ took us through the gestation of Tourliner. “Starting with a late model motorhome chassis with its associated modern running gear, I ditched the body and got to work.”

With the chassis liberated of its frumpy frocks, the next step was getting the right powerplant in place. Russ installed a warmed-over 1995 5.9L 12v Cummins Turbo Diesel putting out around 400hp, backed up by a four-speed automatic transmission. It has custom 4-inch exhaust with 4-wheel disc brakes and drums for the TAG axle as well. The low-down stance is achieved by Slam Specialties Air Ride and dual VIAIR compressors.

After some measuring and finessing, a 1954 Chevy COE cab was dropped in place. Russ said he found “12 COE candidates to choose from in California. I brought back two cabs, a complete one, and a spare for parts.”

The old ’54 Chevy cockpit has been treated to a thoughtful rethink. Swathed in chocolate leather and loaded will all modern amenities. Dakota Digital supplied the gauges and JVC/Pioneer provides the tunes. In addition, it has power windows, heated seats, and three rearview cameras. Be sure and check out the vintage restored Chevy steering wheel, one of our all-time favorite tiller designs.

Aft of the cab, Russ made a teardrop, aluminum structure for the living area (and running boards,) and fashioned matching, pontoon fiberglass fenders for the rear tandem wheels. The transition of the two design eras is especially artful with a sympathetic blend, lovingly executed by Russ.

Just when you think you’ve been wowed enough, check out the living quarters. Borrowing creased lines from a dirigible blimp, the aluminum cabin is glorious is its sweeping beauty.  While not apparent at first,  the cabin has no windows to clutter up the shape. Russ had to point this out as I was too high off the beauty of Tourliner to notice.

Originally polished in raw aluminum, Russ told us that exercise, “took a few years off my life,” and when he couldn’t get a wave-free finish, he painted it out in the nicely contrasting tan finish it now wears.

For the interior finishes, Russ collaborated with a boat builder/woodworker friend to help him build out the guts of Tourliner, and the completed space in a knockout. The birch walls sport cherry trim and the floor is cherry and maple in various tones. The cabin beckons with a calming, cozy natural theme. Sepia leather and stainless steel punctuate the woodsy background to a nice effect.

The master suite in back hides the mechanical area of the coach under the bed and a few short steps leads to the stainless steel bathroom with shower.

I met Russ at the 2019 Goodguys Puyallup show to photograph his magnum opus, and it was stunning in person. Coming in at roughly 10,000 pounds, the scale of the thing is incredible. Big and square-shouldered with a toothy smile, it’s a crowd magnet, quickly attracting legions of admirers anywhere it goes.

While we’re on the subject of grilles, be sure and check out the all the accessories and chrome jewelry on the front end of Tourliner’s 1954 Chevy cab. A shining example of GMs’ Advance-Truck Design, it is poetry in motion and a lasting gift from Harley Earl’s legendary “Styling Section” at General Motors.

I must say, the workmanship on Tourliner was impeccable. Razor-straight body lines with meticulous details and execution, the finished rig is quite an achievement. The upholstery and finish inside are top-notch as well. Kudos to Russ for his labor of love. The world is a better place when this thing hits the road (or the grass) at the local car show.

For now, Russ is enjoying the fruits of his labor and is contemplating showing the truck in Saudi Arabia. Until then, if you’re on the West Coast or the Pacific Northwest at a car show, keep your eyes peeled for Tourliner.

1954 COE Chevrolet "Tourliner" Specs

CHASSIS/RUNNING GEAR  

MODIFIED 1995 MOTORHOME CHASSIS

DANA 70 HD POSI DIFFERENTIAL

4 WHEEL DISC BRAKES WITH DRUMS ON TAG

6 SLAM SPECIALTY’S BAGS AND DUAL VIAIR 480C COMPRESSORS

ENGINE

12V 5.9L CUMMINS

UPGRADED FUEL DELIVERY

ATS INJECTORS AND DELIVERY VALVES

BD SUPER “B” TURBO

ATS EXHAUST MANIFOLD

“O” RINGED HEAD WITH STUDS

4-INCH SS EXHAUST AND MUFFLER

TWO ALTERNATORS 120AMP/270AMP

BD 4 SPD. AUTO TRANS BUILT TO HANDLE EXTRA POWER

INTERIOR 

DAKOTA DIGITAL GAUGES, AIR RIDE, AUTO A/C,

JVC/PIONEER 1200 WATT STEREO WITH 19-INCH FLAT SCREEN

3 REARVIEW CAMERAS

HEATED SEATS

POWER WINDOWS

TILT WHEEL

POWER STEERING/BRAKES

BODY

DUPONT SINGLE-STAGE PAINT

CUSTOM ALUMINUM REAR ENCLOSURE AND RUNNING BOARDS

FIBERGLASS REAR FENDER AND SKIRTS

AFT LIVING SPACE

LEATHER INTERIOR 

BIRCH WITH CHERRY TRIM, TEAK AND MAPLE FLOOR

70 GALS FUEL

70 GALS FRESHWATER

25 GALS GREY WATER

VACUUM CASSETTE TOILET

ALUMINUM SHOWER

MOEN FAUCETS

NOVA KOOL REFRIGERATOR

WALLAS DIESEL STOVE

REAR A/C

INVERTER/BATTERY CHARGER

HOTWATER TANK WITH ENGINE PREHEAT

LED LIGHTING

Photography by Dave Cruikshank

About the author

Dave Cruikshank

Dave Cruikshank is a lifelong car enthusiast and an Editor at Power Automedia. A zealous car geek since birth, he digs lead sleds, curvy fiberglass, kustoms and street rods. He currently owns a '95 Corvette, '76 Cadillac Seville, '99 LS1 Trans Am and big old Ford Van.
Read My Articles

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