Under new ownership, Xplorer motorhomes will be produced partially in Elkhart, Ind. Then they’ll be shipped to Brown City, Mich., where the one-piece, chassis-mount coaches will be outfitted with fiberglass shells, then perhaps returned to Elkhart for finishing.
It is, admittedly, an unusual way of doing business. “The people who understand how they are built and who created Xplorer in the first place are in Brown City,” said Bob Helvie, who acquired the assets of Xplorer Motorhomes Division of Frank Industries Inc. during an April auction.
“And the molds are so big that it probably will be easier to build the coaches there and then bring them back to Elkhart for refinishing,” added Helvie. “We haven’t determined for sure whether we are going to do that, but the raw material that we need for the first step – the aluminum – is only about three blocks from here (in Elkhart).”
Helvie has rented a 20,000-square-foot factory on Elkhart’s north side where he intends to do the aluminum work before the assembly is shipped to Brown City where fiberglass will be applied to create a one-piece shell.
Helvie said plans are to restart production by late August. Where the coaches will be finished is still up in the air.“That hasn’t been decided,” Helvie said.
Helvie is president of Starship Custom Vehicles Inc., a company that builds and equips units for specialty purposes such as medical labs and clinics, along with a sister company – Startrack Custom Lifts Inc. – manufacturing lifts that assist people into vehicles.
Brown City bills itself on welcome signs as “Birthplace of the Motor Home.” Xplorer was founded by industry pioneer Ray Frank as Frank Motor Home Corp. in 1958 when motorhomes were still called “house cars.” The company’s name was later changed to Travco Corp., and in 1979 was sold to Foretravel Inc., Nacogdoches, Texas.
That same year, Frank founded Frank Industries Inc., which did business as Xplorer Motor Homes. Ray Frank’s son Ron sold controlling interest in Frank Industries in 1995 to Joe Murray, the company’s national sales manager at the time, and David Bockstanz, a Michigan Chrysler dealer.
The company shut down with little fanfare late in 2004, and Helvie purchased Xplorer’s molds, trademarks and miscellaneous manufacturing equipment at auction for an unspecified sum.