American RV installs a set of Lance cabover struts on TCM’s Chevy 3500 for a test and review. Will the struts fix the dreaded highway ga-dunk ga-dunk?
The History of Cabover Struts
Thanks to Bob Livingston, Publisher at Good Sam Enterprises, and some very generous readers over the years, I have accumulated a fantastic collection of Camper Coachman magazines from the late 1960s and early 1970s. Camper Coachman was the first dedicated “truck camper magazine”, only it was published on something called paper, and physically delivered through the postal mail. What a concept.
When researching how we were going to tackle a test and review of cabover struts, it made sense to start with the history of the concept and product. A cursory exploration of any copy of Camper Coachman immediately reveals a stark truth; cabover struts were very common in the 1960s and 1970s. If the photographs of truck camper rigs in my Camper Coachman collection are any indication, about 40% of all truck campers had cabover struts in this time period, possibly more.
I was also shocked (no pun intended) to find not one, but many manufacturers of cabover struts in the pages of Camper Coachman. Even more fascinating, there were several competing designs and approaches to cabover struts, all of them designed to tackle two key problems; highway porpoising and excess camper motion.
Above: Larson Shock-Eze Camper Stabilizers, Bounce-A-Way, Camper Dampers, Rieco Stabilizers, Coast Fab, and Limiter Stabilizers (click photos for details)
What exactly happened to cabover struts? How is it that forty years later there is only one cabover strut manufacturer?
What Happened to Cabover Struts?
It may be hard to believe today, but there were literally dozens of truck camper manufacturers in the late 1960s and early 1970s. In fact, there were at least fifty small independent truck camper manufacturers all over the United States and Canada during the industry’s early 1970s peak.
Then, starting with the fuel crisis of 1973, it all started going south for the truck camper industry. By the time the 1978 fuel crisis hit, the truck camper market was struggling. Already weakened, only the strongest truck camper manufacturers would survive the recession of 1981 and 1982.
During that same time period, motorhomes became the popular trend. Camper Coachman was rolled into another magazine in 1975 and phased out soon thereafter. By the time 1985 rolled around, truck campers, like Camper Coachmen, were all but irrelevant to the greater RV marketplace. Although truck campers are a successful product category today, they still remain a small niche of the overall RV industry.
To answer the question, “What happened to cabover struts?” you need to answer the question, “What happened to truck campers?”. When the truck camper marketplace collapsed starting with the fuel crisis of 1973, so did the truck camper gear marketplace. Again, any copy of Camper Coachman from the late 1960s and early 1970s reveals fifty or more truck camper gear companies and products that no longer exist today. When the truck camper marketplace collapsed, so did the cabover strut companies.
Cabover Struts Today
Of course that’s not the whole story. One manufacturer, Lance Campers, still offers and promotes cabover struts. In stark contrast, no other truck camper manufacturer or gear company currently sells or recommends cabover struts. Essentially, the once popular cabover strut has become a one company crusade.
So another important question to ask is, “Why don’t non-Lance manufacturers and dealers recommend cabover struts?”
The answer to this question is a bit more complex. First, significant advancements to the design and manufacturing quality of truck campers has greatly improved the weight distribution, center of gravity, and overall quality of modern truck campers.
Second, significant advancements to the design and manufacturing quality of trucks has greatly improved the handling, payload capacity, and overall quality of modern trucks. When properly matched together, modern truck camper rigs generally handle better and suffer less from the very issues cabover struts are designed to address; highway porpoising and excess camper motion.
Finally, many of the truck camper industry leaders of the late 1960s and early 1970s are no longer participating in the industry. These are the folks who once designed, manufactured, advocated, and finally installed cabover struts. In their absence, cabover struts have simply lost their voice.
Today, most truck camper industry leaders and consumers see cabover struts as old fashioned band-aids that are no longer necessary with modern truck campers. The next question is, “Are they right?”