The moment Andrew and I saw a Clark Cortez motorhome, it was love at first sight. Truly.
Honest to goodness, the moment I saw it, I gasped so loudly that I even covered my mouth. Andrew sort of had a similar reaction, except he took my laptop from me while exclaiming, “That’s awesome but what the actual fuck is it?!” Listen, there are two things Brits are passionate about and that’s beer and cuss words, and I’m not tryin’ to change my man.
Plus, he had a good point: What the heck is a ‘Cortez’?
Besides being super cute, we were drawn to this vintage beauty because of one word: unique. This is why even though we had never — ever — seen a Cortez, an answer was seamlessly solidified: We were ready. After years of talking about restoring a classic vehicle and dreaming about a life of travel, we were ready to take the plunge and only this motorhome would do. Therefore, with determination to find and buy one, we set out to research all we could on the motorhome’s history . . .
Images courtesy CortezCoach
The move to build motorhomes seemed to be smart too because the vehicle immediately filled a void in the market.
Unlike motorhomes before that were “big, tall, ponderous, rough-riding, crude-handling and thirsty,” the Cortez had a different chassis, which revolutionized life on the road because it was now compact, efficient, and advanced.Paul niedermeyer, curbside classic
Basically, all of this means the Cortez can easily fit into one standard parking space.
It should be noted too that this engine has around 140 horsepower, which is medal-worthy for the vehicle’s size and time of built. All in all, drivers touted great handling but that wasn’t it either.
“[O]wners tell me it rides better than a luxury car of the same era. That’s quite a statement.”Tony Barthel, stressless camping
The Kents were larger (21 feet) and had features that I personally love, such as bringing back the passenger door with (applause) a side door (though the side door came at the compromise of no rear door). Unfortunately, the success of the Kents came and went quickly too and so the company gave up a short time later.
From there, in an effort to keep the Cortez alive, twenty-six coach owners/fans purchased the production line and created a new company. They continued to build motorhomes and made a few, but the work proved to be too hard for them as well and they had to call it quits in 1978.
From there, production for the last of these RVs were funded by the bank so that the one of the last motorhomes were made in 1979.
Interestingly, one year later in 1980, someone purchased a few unfinished units, tools, and spare parts before moving operations to Lafayette, Louisiana. Here, the company Cortez, Inc. took shape, and it is where Cortez and Kent owners could pay for parts and service, and Cortez owners could get Kent drivetrain conversions. Andy and I have messaged this man’s son, who has been so kind and helpful as he has shared memories and information of his father’s business. While there is information online about Cortez, Inc. producing one very last motorhome before the company — and all Cortez production after — ceased, we’re told this is not true. A final motorhome was not made; however, a new shell, along with all parts, tools, and more were purchased. The son added, “It was fun to walk around inside it [the shell] and see all the structure though. I was just a kid and then teenager at the time; this was my Dad’s endeavor and we were just along for the ride so to speak.” What an wonderful memory!
Overall, only 3,221 motorhomes were produced in sixteen years — and in the 1965 year alone, there were only 394 Cortezes made! Today, it is estimated a little more than 1,000 are still expected on the road, though some have theorized even less — only a few hundred.
A 1971 film called Switching Channels had a Cortez zoom past. By the way, this production logs top players: Burt Reynolds, Christopher Reeve, and Kathleen Turner.
In 1965, the Cortez was used in a musical called A Swingin’ Summer, starring actress and model Raquel Welch.
Along with this, the RV was found on location for the film Dirty Dingus MaGee, which starred actress Michele Carey.
The President’s Analysis movie in 1967 featured shots with Cortezes in the background ….
along with the 2014 movie called Child of Grace, which had the RV shown many times.
Moving to music, singers and musicians, such as Janis Joplin, can be seen laughing next to the motorhome.
Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers’s lead guitarist Mike Campbell posed in front of the RV, too.
Lastly, many simply adored the Cortez …
They include Journalist Kathleen Mudge, who became known as “Lady Cortez” — and I confess that I love reading about her. She was one of the first brand ambassadors due to being a Clark Cortez demonstrator, which means she roamed America in her Cortez demo. Along with gathering material for a book she was researching, she was a contributor for Family Motor Coaching magazine. She also attended Family Motor Coach Association conventions, answering questions about the Cortez. Overall, she racked up 12,000 miles on her demo as she traveled with her poodle, named Dutchess or Dutch (websites report two different names).
Another journalist, Charles Kuralt, wrote his CBS reports while traveling in his RV.
Others fans include Vincent Price, Francis Ford Coppola, cartoonist Bill Mauldin, and artist Peter Hurd.
Regardless of time period though, the Cortez has maintained a fan base. Even now, it still has original owner’s clubs, such as the Cascade Cortez Club. Many of these owners have kept their Cortezes too or they have handed their motorhomes down to family through the generations. For new owners (such as Andy and me), being accepted into clubs like this are more than helpful due to the knowledge and experience club members offer.
So back to our original story: The moment Andy and I saw the Cortez, we truly did fall in love and the more information we learned about this vehicle, the further we realized this motorhome was the one for us.
“Do you think we can find one for sale?” I asked Andy with hope and hearts and dreams in my wide pleading eyes.
For more on how you can track down a Cortez, read Where to Rent and Buy the Cortez Motorhome.
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Interested in more Cortez history and images? Here are the incredible websites I referenced:
- Cascade Cortez Club
(Thank you to all of the members that helped provide historic information and pictures.)
- The Van Project
(Thank you for your help, advice, and support from the start!)
- Curbside Classic, which features various vehicles with the slogan “Every car has a story.”
- Cortez Coach
(Thank you so much to site owner John Menke for these fantastic images!)
- Stressless Camping
- Classic Camper Club, which reportedly showcased the Cortez as their featured vehicle for ten years.
- Cortez promotional video
(Thank you to Jimmy Krantz for sharing this video and memories. We have been honored to talk with you.)
- NSS Magazine
- Jalopy Journal, which says its purpose is to “spread the gospel of traditional Hot Rods and Kustoms to hoodlums worldwide.”
- Family Motor Coach Association’s Family RVing