Wanderlodge is a high end brand of Class A motorhome recreational vehicle that was built by the Blue Bird Body Company (now Blue Bird Corporation) in Fort Valley, Georgia, from about 1963 until 2009. Production started with a 31-foot (9.4 m) gasoline-powered forward control (front engine) model and expanded to include larger diesel engine powered pusher (rear engine) models up to 43 feet (13 m) in length. They remain highly prized by their owners and have an extensive service network.
For many years, the Wanderlodge was in a separate class of motorhomes alongside brands like Prevost and Newell. Until the latter years of its production run, Blue Bird priced many examples comparably to a medium-sized American home. Features of the Wanderlodge that were unique when introduced included a built-in safe, redundant heating and hot water systems that used electricity, engine heat or diesel, and fuel tanks offering a driving range in excess of 1,000 kilometres (620 mi).
Through its production run, examples of the Wanderlodge were sold around the world to celebrities, dignitaries, and heads of state. Notable owners include the former President of the United States, Jimmy Carter, country music superstar Johnny Cash, and King Hussein of Jordan, among others.
By the early 1960s, Blue Bird Body Company had expanded from its beginnings in rural Georgia to become the fourth-largest manufacturer of school buses in the United States. While the company had become an industry leader, Blue Bird company leaders sought to create new product lines in order to generate consistent revenue streams. As motorhomes became distinct from trailers in the 1950s and early 1960s, Blue Bird saw an opportunity to develop its own motorhome.
In 1963, Blue Bird designed the prototype for the Blue Bird Transit Home, based on the Blue Bird All American school bus. Built in Fort Valley, Georgia, the Blue Bird Transit Home was manufactured by subsidiary Cardinal Manufacturing. In a tour to market the vehicle, Blue Bird showed off the prototype to potential dealers and buyers at a number of campgrounds and RV parks throughout the United States. The Transit Home received little attention until a 1965 article featuring the vehicle was published in House Beautiful magazine; soon after, the company secured five orders for the $12,000 (approximately $81,000 in 2010 dollars) vehicles.
A key feature of the design of the vehicle was its body commonality with the Blue Bird All American school bus. In making use of the school bus chassis and an all-steel body, which was intended for daily stop-and-go driving not usually subjected to any motorhome.
After the first five orders for the Transit Home were completed in 1965, Blue Bird began full-scale production of the vehicle in 1966. Powered by a Ford Super Duty V8, the Transit Home was externally distinguished from the All American by its center-mounted entry door (and the customer-specified paint in place of school bus yellow).
For 1968, several changes were made to the vehicle. The Blue Bird Transit Home name was dropped in favor of Blue Bird Wanderlodge, a slight portmanteau of wanderlust and lodge. Additionally, the roofline of the bus saw a redesign along with the front of the vehicle, with the headlights changed to a vertically-stacked configuration.
During its lifespan, the first generation of the Transit Home/Wanderlodge saw relatively modest mechanical changes. For 1977, to improve the fuel economy and low-speed performance of the Wanderlodge, Blue Bird introduced the Caterpillar 3208 diesel V8, which replaced the Ford gasoline engines entirely after 1978. In 1982, a rear-engine version of the Wanderlodge was introduced with a Detroit Diesel 6V92 (an 8V92 became an option in 1986). In contrast to the All American Rear Engine, Blue Bird built the chassis for the rear-engine Wanderlodge, which was also fitted with a rear tag axle.
By the end of the 1980s, as part of various updates, Blue Bird began to differentiate the Wanderlodge from the All American. In 1987, the Wanderlodge gained a new front-end design, the roof camps were shared with the school buses for the last time. Although the All American-based chassis and its all-steel construction allowed for durability and a reputation of quality, by the end of the 1980s, the design of the Wanderlodge had started to work against itself. Federal law restricted school buses to a maximum width of 96 inches (2.4 m), while motorcoaches that were now competing with the Wanderlodge as a luxury motorhome were all built in a width of 102 inches (2.6 m). In response, the first 102" Wanderlodges (Wide Body Pusher) were introduced in 1988. While based on the previous 96" pusher sold alongside it, the 102" version introduced fiberglass roof caps and front bodywork that moved the Wanderlodge even further away from its school bus origins.
While the use of a school bus body for the Transit Home/Wanderlodge provided for fairly conservative design, Blue Bird marketed the vehicle based on its high specifications and high degree of customization, built entirely to order. By the end of the 1980s, a Wanderlodge was available with nearly 200 standard options. Along with the common bedroom and bathroom (fitted with a bathtub), the Wanderlodge could be fitted with full kitchen, a gas grill, a doorbell, and a central vacuum system; a popular option among owners was a programmable horn with 60 different sounds. While also purchased by celebrity owners and heads of state, Blue Bird found that the typical Wanderlodge buyer was a couple with the funds to afford the purchase and a high desire to travel the country by road.
At the end of 1988, Blue Bird gave both the front and rear-engine All American school buses their first redesign since the late 1950s. The last Forward Control Wanderlodges were sold at the end of the 1989 model year. In 1991, the rest of the Wanderlodge lineup (two pushers; single and tag axle) received extensive exterior facelifts to look even less like school buses.
In 1994, as a replacement for the single-axle pusher (dropped in 1992) and as a lower-cost model; Blue Bird introduced the BMC (Blue Bird Motor Coach) model of the Wanderlodge. Unlike all previous Wanderlodges, the BMC had a chassis produced not in-house by Blue Bird, but by custom chassis manufacturer Spartan Motors of Michigan; Spartan also had ties in school bus chassis manufacturing. In 1995, a 42-foot (13 m) long model was introduced, the first Wanderlodge over 40 feet (12 m) long. The Wanderlodge BMC was produced until the end of 1997.
For 1998, a new generation of Wanderlodge debuted; all versions were produced entirely by Blue Bird. Side by side, the most visible change was the much larger windshield. Initially, there were 3 models: the 40-foot (12 m) long LX, the 41-foot (12 m) LXi, and the 43-foot (13 m) LXi. In 2003, Blue Bird supplemented the model range with the Wanderlodge M380, a single-axle version 38 feet (12 m) long that largely replaced the BMC. Also starting in 1999, Wanderlodges were produced with slide-outs as an option to increase interior space while parked. In 2002, all Wanderlodges were produced with slides.
During the late 1990s and early 2000s, Blue Bird Corporation underwent financial difficulties, with the company changing hands twice by 2005. A key part of Blue Bird's recovery plans was to refocus all production on its school bus lineup. Blue Bird sold off the rights to its transit bus product lines and ended its motorcoach production. In 2007, the Wanderlodge line and the production facility was sold to Complete Coach Works, a California-based company specializing in bus refurbishing and remanufacturing. In April 2009, the last Wanderlodges were produced, as they closed down the Georgia production facility.
Alongside the Blue Bird Transit Home and Wanderlodge, Blue Bird offered a second motorhome designed around the same concept. Based on a conventional-chassis bus body, the Blue Bird Inn was intended as a lower-priced entry model. However, due to low sales, the Blue Bird Inn was discontinued in the early 1970s.
Based on the 1994-1998 Blue Bird/Spartan Wanderlodge BMC, the Blue Bird QMC was used as a coach marketed to business users seeking a mobile command center or hospitality suite. Essentially a business jet on wheels, the QMC featured an on-board kitchen and a reconfigurable interior designed for business presentations.Ford
Ford Super Duty V8 (391 to 534 cubic inches)
Caterpillar 3208 (NA or turbocharged) V8