Our Clark Cortez motorhome’s story began in 1965 in Battle Creek, Michigan when it was the 683rd motorhome off of the production line out of 3,221. Andy and I are told one owner claimed our steel beast, which would mean from the frigid state of Michigan, it traveled all the way to the sunny state of California. There, our Cortez reportedly was garaged kept for who knows how long. Later, it was presented to a car owner and collector with the goal of selling it. That’s where Andy and I come along . . .
In 2019, I found our Cortez on an eBay listing and, I’m not gonna lie to you — If Andy tried to convince me our dreams could not come true inside of this vintage vehicle, well, he did a horrible job. We placed our bid in the auction with a few seconds left and watched the clock count down until a message popped up saying we had won!
Armed with a burning desire to restore a vehicle, we knew getting our Cortez to us and the all-seasons state of Virginia would be a “right mission” (as my Brit would say) because it did not start and did not brake. To our determined selves though, this only meant treating our motorhome to a bit of luxury in the form of riding on the back of a flatbed tractor trailer as it was hauled across America. (Oh, and if you are even in need of ways to transport your RV — Read here where we highlighted all ways we brainstormed!)
Weeks after booking a tow, our steel beast arrived! The sound of heavy metal chains clanking to the ground and the sight of two massive semi-tractor trailers lowering it meant our Cortez was finally freed.
Sure enough, our seller kept his word because that engine wouldn’t turn over without a spray of starter fluid and those brakes were non-existent. This was okay though because it meant the start to our Cortez story, which was precisely what we wanted.
With Andy’s overdue goal to restore a classic vehicle and my resolute determination to break gender roles, he promised to teach me not only the purpose of every nut and bolt in our Cortez but to also teach me how to do all work. This fueled us to make a promise to ourselves to do all of the work ourselves, which would also be beneficial to keeping costs down. (Interested in how many hours worth of work we’ve put in and how much it would have cost if we paid someone to do the job? Read An Overview of Cost and Labor for more!). And so we began our restoration in one of only two of Virginia’s hottest and most humid months . . .
Equipped with a small toolbag of spanners (yep, thank the British for how I learned mechanics), files, screwdrivers, sockets, and a hammer — We set to work immediately on mechanical work, welcoming dirt and grime and blinking away cuts and scrapes across our knuckles. We focused on our problem areas first — the starter motor and brakes. However, those issues lead to more issues, which was when we discovered our Cortez needed more help in the form of replacing the spark plugs, alternator, shocks, battery, belts, clutch cylinders, bushings, fuel pump, exterior lights, wipers, fuel filler neck, and mudflaps. Other parts had to be crafted and installed, such as the intake and tachometer; still more had to be rebuilt or restored, such as the carburetor, oil pan, fuel tank; others had to be added anew, such as the wiper fluid nozzle and bottle; and still more called for fluid changes, such as the transmission, engine, and coolant. *Whew*
We aim to have our Cortez become mechanically sound in the summer of 2021 — which is two years after first greeting with our steel monster. Since the time we began to now, we could probably open our own shop of power tools and their batteries; our spanners have proven their mission was mass reproduction; and our toolbag has grown to become the largest size available. Where there’s a will, there’s a way so maybe one day we will be able to slap a state inspection sticker inside our beast’s windshield.
Meanwhile, we’ve already gutted the inside of our motorhome so that we do not lose sight of our overall vision: to restore, customize, and modernize our Cortez before travel in it. Full HAZMAT-style suits, along with respirators, became our fashion go-to choices as we took to removing all walls, wires, and pipes.
It wasn’t until our insulation removal gave us the truest look at what we were against though — Part of the insulation was waterlogged so much so that it was dripping when we pulled it down, and the other half had become mouse houses that harbored so much mice poo we could live lifetimes without witnessing (or smelling) that again. In short, living long-term (or, heck, even short-term) in our Cortez’s original condition was not safe so while some tut at demolishing a rare classic, those people are also not the ones that would be living in it with our pup-kit-cat (or, um, our dog, kitten, and cat).
On the topic of not being safe, by removing the insulation, we determined a full demolition was needed to start from scratch so we removed all plumbing, gas, air conditioning, heat, and cork flooring. By bringing our vehicle down to its bare bones we then found multiple interior frames holding up the roof were, well, not holding up the roof up because they had rusted completely through.
This lead us to break our promise to ourselves: We caved and hired a welder. With new frames being welded in, Andy and I moved our eyes to the roof and decided it was time to strip that so our welder could seal all holes and replace rusted panels with new, shiny metal sheets. Hours later, our welder’s job was done and thanks to him, we had before us an RV that was mostly water-tight (hey, those door and window seals are on the list to replace).
Onward our story continues to our first bit of bodywork: Leaving untreated metal was a risk Andy and I didn’t want to take (primarily after all that effort!) so we moved ahead in treating and sealing the roof. Unfortunately, our amateur efforts left the roof in a bit of a mess and so we will politely leave out the cuss words to say instead this, too, is also on our list of Projects To Return To.
Still, our steel beast and mammoth dream do not rest and so we will continue to aim for that rebuild phase, which is so close that Andy and I can already smell the sawdust in the air. With the exception to the cab, the interior will be overhauled — so prepare yourself now for lay-outs and designs and, basically, the creation of our soon-to-be small home.
We will keep this post updated to show the entire story of our 1965 Clark Cortez motorhome so be sure to check back as we continue to move along. Also, you can find a detailed breakdown of every job when we completed it on An Overview of Progress. In the end, thank you for stopping in — We appreciate your support!
Great story and inspiring as I’m doing much the same with an ancient Barth 22ft A class (though thankfully its roof and structure are aircraft aluminum rather than steel so rust will not, hopefully be an issue with the bodywork?) By the way you have got ammeter where I think you intended amateur?
Hi Douglas, Thank you so much for reading and the kind comment! You are right — I just looked up Barth and it is a beautiful old lass like ours, and I love it! What year is yours? Are you restoring it too or is yours good to go on travel? Last question: Do you have any social media accounts like blog, YouTube, or Instagram? We would love to connect with you more there too if so!
PS–Thank you for the spelling correction! I have fixed it now and must confess anyone that finds these errors of mine has found a definite way to my heart! If you ever see more, never hesitate in pointing them out, friend!
L (and Andy)
My Barth is a ‘late’ model meaning 1991 although the 22ft Regal changed little from the 1970’s lol.
I am working on it at the moment. It had seized brakes (rubber hoses swollen stopping fluid return) some rusted out compartments (poor siting of storage) a non functioning generator and a filthy interior..
I’ve washed and resealed the roof and every seam, replaced a broken window, come to terms with the ‘entertainment’ system installed by a previous owner, which consisted of 5 speakers randomly located within the vehicle, joined together with lighting flex! This is being replaced with a state of the art Apple Play unit that pops up discreetly from a single DIN aperture.
I’ll be tackling recovering the engine hump and laying an engineered floor to replace the rancid carpet a.s.a.p…
A Facebook page is on the way! Your site and videos are an inspiration. I am also spanner-friendly as I came to the USA for work too, from Cambridge.
Best regards, Douglas
P.S. the work is progressing at a measured pace in between surgeries for a heart issue, so tends to be frenetic activity followed by… not a lot. Lol
Hi again, new friend!
I do love your Barth — or well, the pictures I am seeing on Google haha I forgot to mention earlier how jealous I am that yours is made out of aluminum and not steel and how you have that extra length! So wonderful! How long have you had it now and what part of America are you in?
Oh man, filthy interior — I was hoping it would be set inside. We were sad to pull our steel beast’s insides but the condition that it was in was honestly disgusting. We hope to get started on layouts and designs soon, which is a bit intimidating (and I find myself laughing out loud now because my husband has taught me that much on vehicle mechanics that I find the building intimidating versus the actual mechanical restoration! haha). Anyway, it sounds like you have done an amazing job so far on yours — and can I ask: Did you use Henry’s Tropi-cool for the roof resealing? Andy swears by it in his research but I’m still skeptical!
Oh and how great you came from England as well! I haven’t been to Cambridge, but it looks beautiful in pictures and I’m always begging Andy to take me there when we return (whenever that shall be due to the virus). When did you immigrate to America and do you still have family in England?
Best of luck with your restoration! I’m sorry to hear about your heart surgery and hope you are recouping well and fast. If it makes you feel better, we are right there with you in part — We have great gains on our Cortez . . . followed by a pace so slow we should called it ‘stopped’ . . . and we have zero reason for this such as you do!
You will have to stay in touch as you continue your restoration — and if you ever want to share pictures, we’d love to see them! Our email is firstname.lastname@example.org
So great to connect with you more! It has been the highlight of my day!
L (and Andy)
Great story. It’s turning into an “Epic”.!! 😁. Onwards and upwards..!