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Winnebago's Brave/Tribute motorhome Winnebago’s Brave/Tribute motorhome

The main attraction at Winnebago Industries Inc.’s exhibit during the Recreation Vehicle Industry Association’s (RVIA) 52nd Annual National RV Trade Show in early December was the Forest City, Iowa-based RV builder’s new retro-style, Brave/Tribute Class A motorhome, one of the more innovative — yet nostalgic — new RVs in the North American marketplace.

Like a few automotive, motorcycle and RV brands lately, Winnebago has taken its essential design cues for the Brave/Tribute from yesteryear – nearly 50 years ago — in developing an affordable Class A that blends a familiar “eyebrow,” a “Flying W” sidewall logo and a classic body shape from Winnebago’s first Braves and Chieftains with the basic elements of a thoroughly modern coach in terms of creature comforts and an up-to-date superstructure.

Designed to appeal to both new and existing motorhome enthusiasts, the Brave/Tribute since its initial public unveiling at the Pennsylvania RV and Camping Association’s (PRVCA) Hershey Show in September has certainly generated plenty of media buzz among RV consumers and industry veterans. Bob Livingston, senior vice president and group publisher of Good Sam Enterprises LLC, recently tested a prototype 26-footer for MotorHome magazine and found that people off the street were following him into gas stations to get a better look at what they thought was a renovated vintage 1967 Winnebago Brave.

In fact, Livingston says he never had more fun testing a unit than he did with that prototype Brave, which is only one of several reasons why RVBusiness has named this truly novel retro Winnebago Brave/Tribute motorhome RVB‘s “RV of the Year.” The price-sensitive coach, retailing for $96,599 to $121,379, is available in three 26-31-foot floorplans on a 362-hp, V-10-powered Ford chassis.

“Speaking for RVBusiness,” said RVB Editor Bruce Hampson, “we felt it was important to recognize authentically original thinking on this kind of a scale because Winnebago has boldly stepped into a place in terms of marketing and product design that no motorhome manufacturer has gone before. The Brave/Tribute is a highly appealing and marketable new coach that will likely gain major traction among North American consumers before all is said and done.”

Retro RVs like the Brave/Tribute, along with Allied Recreation Group’s (ARG) resurrected 2015 Fleetwood Flair and Trek Class A’s and Shasta’s diminutive Airflyte travel trailer (see “Top Debuts” below), tend to project a gut emotional appeal among potential buyers. Winnebago reported that the coach has also generated plenty of social media activity on the company’s Facebook page and elsewhere.

The original impetus for this retro coach, available in suitably named exterior colors like “Bell Bottom Blue,” “Mello Yellow,” “Crimson-n-Clover” and “Woodstock” tan, dates back more than 10 years, according to Winnebago’s senior management team led by Chairman, CEO and President Randy Potts and Vice President of Sales and Product Management Scott Degnan.

“The idea was really actually proposed by a small group of us – myself and a few others – over 10 years ago to the management that was in place at the time,” Potts told RVBUSINESS.com. “They just never warmed up to it and I was not in a position to take it any further. So it sat there in my mind — and in some sketches — through the recession, a time when we were just trying to survive. Then, after we started growing and I rose to a higher position in the company and started changing things around, the idea surfaced again, but this time through a different avenue. This time it was through Scott and (Product Manager) John Millis.”

What followed was a protracted period of trial and error which, after consulting some veteran Winnebago people whose tenure with the company dated back to the era of the original Brave and Chieftain, eventually led to a full clay mockup and a consumer debut at the Hershey Show.

“Nobody else in the motorized industry can do this, at least in a recognizable way like we have,” concluded Potts. “This coach is going to appeal across a very broad spectrum of buyers and if you’re the kind of person that wants to be noticed when you’re behind the wheel, this is the coach that’s going to do it. It’s very unique and people want to approach you. When you’re associated with the coach, people want to talk about it. They reminisce about the ones that they camped in when they were kids, the ones their parents have, the one they saw restored. It truly is iconic and hopefully we’re successful in modernizing that and bringing it to today.”

Montana Montana 3791HD interior

RVB‘s January/February issue will also showcase two runnersup for “RV of the Year,” as well as the rest of its “Top Debuts” for the 2015 model year. They include:

Runnerup: Keystone Montana 3791HD Rear Den Fifth-Wheel: When it comes to camping on a large scale — and we’re talking big fifth-wheels here — it’s really all about the floorplan. How the unit is designed and how the end-user can maximize its comfort is what closes the sale. On both counts, Keystone RV Co.’s Montana 3790 and 3791RD models fit the bill. With theater seating, 40-inch flat screen TV and electric fireplace, the Montana’s rear-den design not only creates a separate living zone, but one that’s comfortable enough that you might actually forget you aren’t seated in your den at home. (By the way, the only difference between the two floorplans is that the 3791 boasts a residential refrigerator.)

EverGreen's Imperial Class B EverGreen’s Imperial Class B

Runnerup: EverGreen’s Imperial Class B: While their actual sales numbers might pale alongside their bigger brethren, there’s no denying the emerging popularity enjoyed lately by Class B motorhomes. Why did we select EverGreen RV’s Imperial? Because it’s not just what the Middlebury, Ind., company did on the inside “” it’s what it accomplished with the Sprinter-based camper’s exterior as well. Designed in conjunction with Andy Mauck of Mauck Specialty Vehicles, the Imperial’s widebody incorporates a one-piece radius fiberglass roof and walls with panoramic windows on either side. In so doing, it takes the classic Class B silhouette in an entirely new direction.

The Rest of RVB’s Top Debuts (in alphabetical order):

“¢ ARG’s Fleetwood Flair Class A Revival.

“¢ ARG’s Resurrected Monaco Trek Class A.

“¢ Airstream’s Interstate Grand Tour Class B.

“¢ Coachmen’s Sportscoach Cross Country 404RB Class A .

“¢ CrossRoads RV’s Reprise of the Carriage Fifth-Wheel.

“¢ DRV’s Full House Fifth-Wheel Toy Hauler.

“¢ EverGreen’s Lifestyle RVAlfa Gold 3905SH Fifth-Wheel.

“¢ Forest River’s Rear-Slide FR3 Class A.

“¢ Forks RV’s Continental Coach High-End Fifth-Wheel.

“¢ Grand Design RV’s Solitude 366DEN Fifth-Wheel.

“¢ Gulf Stream Breeze Side Patio Travel Trailer.

“¢ Heartland’s Upscale Landmark Fifth-Wheel.

“¢ Jayco’s Starcraft Solstice Fifth-Wheel.

“¢ KZ RV’s Durango Gold Fifth-Wheel.

“¢ Lance Camper’s 2612 Travel Trailer Toy Hauler.

“¢ Little Guy’s Cirrus Truck Camper.

“¢ Newmar’s London Aire Class A.

“¢ Shasta’s Retro Airflyte Travel Trailer.

“¢ TMC’s Outlaw 38RE Residential Patio Class A.

“¢ Winnebago’s Spyder Toyhauler Travel Trailer.