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The Possibilities of the House Car (USA 1906)

The 'house car' (later 'housecar') was the American predecessor of the motorhome. Engine, chassis and accommodation in a single vehicle. The term began to appear in the early 1900s as reports from France of such vehicles emerged in the American press. In 1906 an article in The Motor World speculated about the future of such a vehicle, suggesting prophetically that it had a bright future.

The article is reproduced below, with illustrations added by

The Ford house car of Mr. and Mrs. Robins (USA 1916, postcard)

"Possibilities of the House Car

from The Motor World (New York), 15 March 1906

A German cartoon reproduced in Cycling magazine, 16 Dec 1899. The supposition was that stealing geese would be easier in a motor caravan than in a horse-drawn one

"Ever since the early days of the stage coach of old, cartoonists have had a habit of depicting from time to time, a monstrous vehicle fitted and furnished with all the comforts and conveniences of home, and constituted as a traveling domicile. With the advent of the motor car, the limitless possibilities of caricature were drawn upon still more frequently in the production of ideal house cars, until finally it came to pass that a French enthusiast had constructed according to his own design just such a contrivance as had been shown in the earlier prints. For it has ever been that caricaturists have been the leaders of fashion.

The house car of Frenchman Jules Secrestat (not 'M. Jules, Secretary') as reported in Popular Mechanics magazine, October 1903

"Despite the fact that the several attempts which have been made to construct house cars, and pullman cars, and camping cars, have not achieved any particular degree of notoriety, there is doubtless a not inconsiderable field in just that line awaiting development. The freedom of the motor car from the restraints of the rail, its unconventionality, and the unlimited possibilities of exploration which it unfolds, coupled with the increasing tendency to long tours, make the utility of such machines distinctly apparent. Taking the form of camping cars, equipped with all the paraphernalia of the wayside bivouac, the ideal thing for hunting and exploring parties is developed, where the element of give and take of the out-of-door camp is not to be considered. Taking the form of the caravan, motor driven, equipped for comfort first of all, and making the question of speed but a secondary consideration, a most delightful mode of country travel is obtained, without any of the drawbacks usually attendant on motor touring due to the exigencies of life at country hotels.

The Pierce Arrow Touring Landau (USA 1910)

"The purely ultra types of pullman limousine have proved themselves to be of but little real value to the motorist. They are expensive in first cost and expensive in maintenance, and after all, serve a none too useful purpose. The house car, on the other hand, mounted on such a chassis as is now commonly used for the gasoline driven truck, furnished with a rather plain body, and fitted up in the same general style as is employed in small cruising boats, should be not nearly as expensive, either in cost or operation, and should yield its owner a far greater amount of enjoyment.

"Such a machine, furnished with a four-cylinder motor of not more than twenty horsepower, having the driver's seat mounted over the bonnet, and having a chassis giving from 6 to 8 feet of room in the clear, should provide ample room for a folding berth on either side, possibly for two tiers of berths, a diminutive kitchen outfit, to say nothing of the folding tables and desks now in common use. Ample accommodation for luggage and supplies could, of course, be found on the roof, and at the rear. By sacrificing something in finish and suiting himself with a plain oak interior and an exterior distinguished for its plainness, the owner of such a machine could probably build and equip such a caravan at a cost hardly greater that that of one of the most elaborate limousines in everyday use.

"The range of possibility in this line is infinite, and to carry it into any detail is but a useless flight of the imagination, yet that there is more than idle fancy in the idea is at once apparent, and that the day of the house car may yet arrive seems not at all improbable."

The Furrion Elysium (USA, 2022, source

How right Motor World was in 1906.

Andrew Woodmansey

January 2023


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