Homeless in Vancouver: Patchwork motorhome is a beauty of a beast

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      Last week I heard about this unusual motorhome in the Fairview neighbourhood. It looked like an aluminum Airstream trailer, but you could drive it like a Winnebago.

      I was told it was called a “Tornado”.

      I found it later that very evening. It wasn’t called a “Tornado” but right across the front was the word “Toronado”—once the brand name of a Detroit automobile. It was also labeled in other places as an Airstream—that was curious.

      Curiouser still was how weird it looked—it was incongruous to say the least. The front end was particularly grotesque. So ugly it was attractive.

      But even though the facts were staring me in the face, I still couldn’t put the pieces together. I didn’t realize what I was looking at.

      Luckily the owner showed up just after I finished taking photographs.

      He was a young fellow and he was in a hurry, but as he loaded stuff into the motorhome he gave me a quick precis of the beast’s strange origin story.

      A master mechanic’s labour of love

      The new owner explained that what I saw before me was a 40-year-old automotive mashup—what you got when you combined a bunch of 1970s road ware: an old Airstream Land Yacht Globe Trotter trailer, a Chevy van, and a 1975 Oldsmobile Toronado.

      Rather that was what one fellow—an Italian-Canadian named Nino—got back in the mid 1970s. And it took him three long years to do it.

      Stanley Q. Woodvine

      Who can say why Nino built it in the first place?

      Maybe Nino was inspired by the example of the GMC motorhome, sold by the truck division of GM between 1973 and 1978. It was likewise built around the front-wheel drive of the Oldsmobile Toronado and featured a fiberglass body and a remarkable number of windows.

      Or perhaps Nino the master mechanic just wanted a real challenge—one that called on every skill he had, down to sheet metal fabrication and coach building.

      The current owner characterized the “Toronado-Chevy-Airstream” as a labour of love, and 40 years later it was clear that the object of Nino’s affections had found a new lease on life.

      A monster lives happily ever after

      One of two Airstream brands. This one beside the “front” door. The other is on the back end.
      Stanley Q. Woodvine

      The fellow explained that he had acquired the one-of-a-kind motorhome about three years ago and that he had only just brought it out of storage to begin using it for road trips with his wife who, he added wryly, wasn’t quite as in love with it as he was.

      I imagined it was a voracious gas tank on wheels with the maneuverability of a cargo ship. But while the owner didn’t have anything to say about its fuel consumption, he assured me that it was a real pleasure to drive.

      As for how the monster motorhome looked? He thought it looked great.

      Ah, love really is blind. 

      A two-shot composite to show what a wide beast the Toronado-Chevy-Airstream is.
      Stanley Q. Woodvine

      Stanley Q. Woodvine is a homeless resident of Vancouver who has worked in the past as an illustrator, graphic designer, and writer.


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      Jul 6, 2014 at 9:24am

      I want to shoot it