The History of Hymer Motorhomes - page 2

The first of the ‘second generation’ Hymer motorhomes was unveiled at the Essen Caravan Salon in 1971.MOTORHOME’A dream on wheels’ the brochure called it. In reality the ‘Hymermobil 550′ comprised a caravan body mounted on the Mercedes L508 D, the big Transporter known as the ’Düsseldorfer’, and stretching a point might be called semi-integrated in current terminology. Eriba chief Armand Proteen expressed his doubts that any significant numbers would be sold.

In 1973, also, Erwin Hymer became head of Hymer KG following the death of his father. Five years later he was in the driving seat at Eriba, this time after the tragic death of Herr Protzen in a road accident, and then two more years passed before he brought the two companies together as Eriba-Hymer GmbH.

From the beginning Hymer built the motorhomes separately from the caravans and then as production increased the company changed from individual construction to a proper production line in the 1974/75 season.

Fully integrated styling arrived with the first 660 model, although it still retained the original one-piece Mercedes windscreen and front grille. In 1974 the Hymer gained a distinctive face all of its own, now sporting a split windscreen and a stepped front roofline with luggage rack in the style of contemporary ‘camping bus’ conversions. The 600 was joined by a flagship 720. The latter’s layout of kitchen opposite side dinette, a high-mounted fridge alongside the wardrobe and opposite the washroom and a rear lounge/diner familiar in many motorhomes since – and by smaller 620 and 520 models. Now there was a range from 5 metres to 7.25 metres, variety in floor plans and in the top models cabinetwork in real teak veneers – the fashion of the moment. Output in 1975 totalled 237 units and by 1977/78 had topped the thousand. In Germany Hymermobil was becoming synonymous with luxury motorhome just as Dormobile was applied here to any van conversion and to not a few coachbuilt models as well.

Hymer had picked the right time to branch out into motorhome production. In Germany in 1971 just 701 new motor caravans were registered. That figure had doubled by 1973, after which the market was hit by an oil crisis, and then by 1979 new registration had soared to 4750. And although Hymer had started with top-bracket models they were quick to add more affordable van conversions and then a ‘budget’ A-Class to their range.

The van version of the Hanomag-derived Mercedes L206 served as basis for the conversions. For the cheaper integrated model, the 521 launched in 1976, the foundation was the Bedford Blitz (the German market version of the Bedford CF which found much favour for motor caravans here) and this model was also the first to have a swing-down cab bed. The 521 broke new ground to provide comfortable beds for a two-plus-two complement within a 5-metre motorhome and was the fore-runner of what Hymer later called their ‘B Class’. In the period 1976-1982MOTORHOME2000 of the 521s and larger 581s were built.

For their mushrooming motorhome production Hymer needed more space and in 1976 the No.MOTORHOME3 works was built, still the firm’s headquarters and main production unit in Germany. Now with three halls each of 2000 square metres, the model range could be added to again. The new Mercedes ‘Bremen’ transporter (307/308/310) had arrived and was the basis for the Hymer 650. This was a landmark model, the first to employ Hymer’s ‘PUAL” construction. The name derives from Poly Urethane ALuminium; a sandwich of aluminium outer, plywood inner over a steel frame and with PU foam filling. And with the new body structure came a new construction procedure – now the interior fittings were built up on the floor section and then walls and roof added.

The Hymer policy from day one with caravans and then with motorhomes had been practicality and value-for-money before sheer showiness. With the new works, however, they had the opportunity to exploit a new niche market.

In the ten years from 1976 they built around a hundred ‘supervans’ for the super-rich namely the oil-rich sheiks of the Gulf states. Mostly these were fifth-wheeler style with a commercial tractor unit hauling a trailer which would have been over-dimensioned to travel legally on European roads, however there was plenty of room in the desert!

Experience with the super-luxury ‘sheik-mobils’ was no doubt the trigger to Hymer building a Supermodel for European, and American, buyers in the millionaire bracket. The 900, actually 8.8 metres long, was based on the Mercedes LP 813MOTORHOME7.5-tonne chassis, showed obvious influences from the American RV world and with air-conditioning and on-board generator boasted every luxury. The floor plans offered two forward layouts, five alternatives for the rear and a common central arrangement, thus allowing buyers considerable individuality. Just a small number of the 900 were sold after its launch in 1978 but the model laid the groundwork for both the new S-Class which followed in 1979 and the present 2001 S-Class models.

The new S-Class brought rounded frontal styling and a smoothly curved, double skinned and insulated GRP roof. Technical advances included crumple zones, crash-tested seatbelt mountings in the cab and a double dinette with flip-over front seat so that all four occupants could face forwards for travel. Cosmetically the interior took clues from the 900 but, carried on the Mercedes ‘Bremen’ chassis, one could buy a new 660 S-Class for half the price of a 900.

In 1980 the 660 S-Class was joined by smaller 550 and 590 models as the Hymer concern continued with a decade of vigorous growth and a proliferation of new ranges and models. The older integrated models meanwhile were upgraded and became the new B-Class with the Bedford Blitz giving way to the Ford Transit and then the new generation of so-called ‘Sevel’ chassis – Fiat Ducato, Peugeot J5 and Citroen C25MOTORHOME– as their foundations.MOTORHOME1980 also saw the arrival of a van conversion with elevating roof, named the ‘Tramp’, and 1981 the first cab over motorhomes. Initially badged as Eriba-Camps, these latter were built by the Hymer associate company FFB in Blankenheim and were based on the Transit.