75 Years of Trailer Life: End-of-the-Millennium RVing
September 28, 2016
Filed under Feature Story
From soaring stocks to quintuple slideouts, the 1990s struck it rich
Trailer Life celebrated its golden anniversary in 1991 at the dawn of a decade when stocks boomed, dot-coms bubbled, and the RV industry got its groove back. Ever-roomier recreational vehicles met the needs of baby boomers, snowbirds and full-timers, beefing up square footage with as many as five slideouts. Even truck campers adopted slideouts, and a new breed of hybrid trailers boosted sleeping quarters with soft-sided bed platforms springing from otherwise solid walls. Toy-hauling trailers with ramp doors opening to a garage full of motorized playthings turned heads and lured RV rookies to join the ranks.
In the 1980s, pickup trucks had become the go-to tow vehicles, and the magazine continued to test the best and report on technical innovations, increasingly comfortable cabs and, of course, towing prowess. In “Small-Block Shootout” (April 1993) and “Triple Turbo Towdown” (July 1994), the Big Three duked it out in head-to-head comparisons of gas and diesel pickups pulling identical trailers.
Sport-utilities took center stage in the ’90s, and Trailer Life obligingly reported on the trendy tow vehicles with “the heart of a truck and the amenities of a car.” In October 1990 the editors put the new Ford Explorer through its paces, predicting it was “destined to be a winner,” and in December 1991 they tested the reengineered GMC/Chevy Suburban, saying it “inspired driver confidence.” Between then and a survey of 25 tow-worthy SUVs four years later, the Explorer would become America’s best-selling sport-utility, but it was the 7.4-liter V-8 Suburban 2500 that the magazine crowned “king of the hill” for its 10,000-pound tow rating.
That roundup of 1995 SUVs also showcased AM General’s $40,000 civilian Humvee, called “a humdinger of a tow vehicle.” By the time the turbo-diesel Hummer made a splash on the August 1998 cover towing a 24-foot Coachmen Catalina Lite at California’s Pismo Beach, General Motors had taken over the brand, and the sticker price had nearly doubled.
Considering the Hummer’s 8.5 miles per gallon towing the Catalina and the following year’s introduction of the Ford Excursion, nicknamed the Ford Valdez for its hungry fuel consumption, it didn’t hurt that the price of gas remained low throughout the ’90s, fueling the rise in U.S. sport-utility ownership from 7 million in 1993 to 20 million in 2000, just as fees at the pumps suddenly took off and the value of stocks tanked. But that’s the story of the next decade.