I had quite an adventure. I made an appointment to meet with Art Himsl, a well-known automotive painter.
Calling Himsl an automotive painter is like saying the lead soloist in the Mormon Tabernacle Choir sings in a church chorus. Photographs of his work prove Himsl is a true artist with hundreds of one-of-a-kind, unique automotive paint creations.
He showed me around his Concord acreage with numerous garages and carports containing customized vehicles, all with elaborate paint designs. In what appeared to be a daily routine, a small, group of old friends, who are also automotive buffs, gathered at the location just to talk about cars with Himsl. It reminded me of the old "Cheers" TV show with an outdoor setting.
Leading me through a maze of buildings and sheds, Himsl showed me one of the unique vehicles I have ever seen. A 1937 Chris Craft Motorhome. I didn't know Chris Craft made motor homes, and it turns out that they didn't. They made one — this one and it is owned by Art Himsl.
According to Himsl, "They started to build this vehicle in 1937 in San Francisco, probably as a prototype as it took from 1937 to 1941 to complete. It was built with an aluminum skeleton covered with Grade A linen aircraft fabric, like that found on old bi-wing airplanes. The fabric was stretched over the entire body except for metal around the windows. The original power plant was a Plymouth six-cylinder engine rated at 82 HP and the vehicle was registered as a "Plymouth House Car."
The engine was adequate as the vehicle was very light because of the fabric body. "Of course, everyone thought the vehicle was very aerodynamic back then," said Himsl.
Looking at the front of the motorhome, the grille and wide rectangular two-piece windshield suggests a look of a king-size version of the revolutionary Chrysler Airflow model of that era. The rear looks like the Goodyear blimp.
Himsl is uncertain of the history of the vehicle.
"I believe the guy who put the money up for it was a doctor in the San Francisco area. He took one long trip in it to the East Coast and back and then sold it. World War II came along, materials were difficult to obtain and it didn't look like a motorhome would be a profitable venture," said Himsl.
That was the end of the Chris Craft motorhome plan.
Himsl said the acquisition was interesting. "One day in 1967 or 1968, I was traveling with a business partner and we were driving through Calistoga. We saw the back of it sticking out of a carport. I slammed on the brakes and gave the guy a song and dance about how we wanted to buy a Winnebago but couldn't afford one," he said.
"The owner said 'Well I use it every weekend for fishing and I'd have to have $1,000 for it.' We couldn't hit the wallets fast enough."
It actually was in pretty good shape and Himsl drove it home that day.
Doing all the work himself, Himsl has completely modernized the motorhome including a 350 C.I. V8 Chevy engine, push button automatic transmission, air-ride suspension, a refrigerator, microwave oven, electric windows, front and rear air conditioning units, a Cadillac tilt and telescoping steering wheel, and a rear backup camera.
He has redone the interior, and metalized the exterior so there is no more aircraft fabric. He says it is easy to drive and he usually drives it between 3,000 and 4,000 miles a year.
The motorhome has two doors, one on each side, behind the driver and front passenger seats. The interior has two leather bench seats, one on each side of the vehicle which convert to a reasonably comfortable double bed. There are no bathroom facilities.
He has no idea of his total investment in his motorhome or of its market value, but it is insured for $300,000. He doesn't know what he has invested in the other 15 collector cars he has either. But it doesn't seem to matter.
"I just collect them," he said. "I never sell them."
If you have seen any of Himsl's work, you would expect the exterior paint work to be magnificent and it is. The primary color is a candy apple red with a cream top and wide accent panel covering the midsection of the body.
In that midsection, outlined in wide orange and black paint is the answer to a viewer's first two questions: who owns it and what is it? It modestly states in bold, but muted lettering "HIMSL ZEPPELIN 1937 ROADLINER."
Have an interesting vehicle? Contact David Krumboltz at MOBopoly@yahoo.com