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.
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!