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Big Tow: 1978 Elite 188 Towlounge Chevy Van

I don’t know why I always think of hauling motorcycles when I see something like this, but I do. This is a 1978 Elite 188 Towlounge Chevrolet Van with a fifth-wheel hitch in the back for pulling a fifth-wheel trailer. Or, a person could remove the hitch and turn it into a pickup-type box in the rear for hauling.. motorcycles.. It’s on craigslist with an asking price of $1,400! This unique tow vehicle is located in Shepard, Michigan and thanks to Todd for sending in this tip!

Here’s a photo from a 1978 magazine showing the concept. Have you ever seen something like this on the road? The 1970s were probably the sweet spot for the RV/travel industry with dozens and dozens of motorhome and camper manufacturers making all sorts of rigs for hauling folks out into the wilderness, or wherever else they wanted to go in their RVs.

This Chevrolet G-series van chassis appears to be in decent condition but the seller mentions that this vehicle will need a full restoration. The engine isn’t currently running, but they say that when it was running it could be powered by either gas or a 100-pound propane tank! Now that’s fairly unique.

It’s a very, very good thing that I haven’t won the Powerball yet, I would buy this thing, and pretty much every other vehicle shown on Barn Finds. Yes, I’d be a vehicle hoarder. This unique topper comes off, as you probably already guessed. It covers the fifth-wheel area, which looks like this:

I don’t know what would be involved in the restoration of a fifth-wheel system but I’m guessing that there are a few of you who have owned a fifth-wheel trailer and/or tow vehicle and would know. It’s too bad that there aren’t better photos of the bed area and also the interior.

The interior of the cab looks fairly nice and it doesn’t look like it would be overwhelming to bring it back into really nice condition. The cab-over bed area looks to be in decent condition, as does the very 1978-looking orange seating area that folds out into a small bed in the rear of this TowLounge. There’s also a small icebox behind the driver’s seat, or “captain’s chair”, as they may have referred to it in 1978. There are no engine photos, unfortunately, but from decoding the VIN, it appears that this would have had a 175-hp 400 cubic-inch V8 with a 4-barrel carburetor.

Do you think this fifth-wheel TowLounge is worth saving? It is sure unique and even if it wasn’t used for hauling a fifth-wheel trailer I think it would be a unique way to haul motorcycles or tow a boat or a trailer with a regular trailer hitch. Have you seen one of these before? It has to be worth $1,400, doesn’t it?


  1. autotech182

    somebody sure needs to save this thing it would be a tragic waste for it to just fade away

    Like 3
  2. steve m

    Go camping with the wife…….when she gets pissed, you have your own place to sleep. I like it……LMFAO

    Like 0
  3. geomechs geomechs Member

    I saw one of these when I was working for GM. The Ford version(s) were more popular, probably because you could get one of them with a 460. These were limited to the SBC 400 which didn’t have a good reputation as a good long haul trailer puller. I sometimes wonder why I even had one in my own truck. But then I had very few problems with mine, and the vans we sold have very few problems either. In fact, the only ones that gave trouble were in 4x4s, like mine…

    Like 5
  4. JW

    Would be great towing a fifth wheel car trailer to out of state car shows.

    Like 1
  5. Rod

    Perfect unit to tow your car hauler with your favourite toy to various shows.

    Like 0
  6. boxdin

    I’ve pulled a lot of heavy stuff, this would be seriously underpowered pulling that trailer pictured. Of course in 1978 even a 454 would have a tough time pulling any trailer that heavy. Thats why Cummins & Dodge partnered.
    Its not worth “restoring”, but it might make a good work truck.

    Like 0
    • Howard A Member

      Bingo, boxdin, that’s the 1st thing I thought. That, and the fuel this thing will burn in a stiff head wind, up hill. Big, one piece, motorhomes really hadn’t caught on yet, and this was about the only alternative, next to a bus and from a camping point of view, makes some sense, as you can drop the trailer, and still get around fairly well, unlike a motorhome. By itself, I think it would be ok, but make no mistake, like you say, going to be under powered, rough ride and that makes for a long trip, trust me.

      Like 0
      • Cooter Davenport

        Full size Class A motorhomes had already been well established by the early ’70s with Travco, Winnebago, Barth, and others. This was part of a wave of fifth wheel trailers that continues until this day.

        Like 0
  7. Chris W.

    I’d use it to haul from campground to campground with my Toys on the back with a ramp (ATV’s) and a Stripper pole that would double as a post for a Double Hammock!!!

    Like 0
  8. Nick Member

    Would be easy to upgrade that motors power.

    Like 0
  9. Big Mike

    Having had 5th wheel camper in the past all that needs to be done to this one would be clean it up and get it freed up and coat with a good oil and keep it clean. I always would spray mine down with a good silicon base spray and before hooking up would put a light coating of grease on it.
    I would like to have this rig, it would be nice like mentioned to trailer some of the cars to car shows, and it would give you a place to stay other than a hotel when at a weekend show.
    My Parents had a 78 Chevy motor coach back in the day it had the 400 sbc in it and it never gave them trouble that I can remember, I do remember it was a pain in the back side to tune up, the easiest way to change the back 4 spark plugs was to take the front tires off.

    Like 0
  10. DW

    The advantage of these was you could put the kids in the trailer and mom and dad have the whole “TowLounge” to themselves (kids have to have the unit with the bathroom otherwise mom and dad get no privacy lol)

    Like 0
  11. tugdoc

    There are a lot of great features about a rig like this. Several current gas and diesel engine transmission combos would be nice. But the proof in the pudding would be when you open the side door and take a wiff! That generation cabover campers all seemed to leak around the front window. Yea I know makes the bunk more of a mouse house than a good nights sleep. Trouble with this type of rig by the time you can afford one your too old to drive it!
    Lots of old Canned Hams looking good going down the road, if this is your thing jump on this deal and enjoy your fruits!

    Like 0
  12. D

    I like it!!!!!

    Like 0
  13. Danny74

    Does anybody know what happened to this rig? Or has anybody tried contacting them interested in buying it? I know the Craigslist ad is long gone by now I just want to know if anybody knew what happened with it or if the owner just let the ad expire.

    Like 1
    • Albert

      I bought it from the guy who bought it from this add. July 18, 2020. It’s in rough shape. I plan to restore it. Very cool vehicle.

      Like 0
  14. chad

    2day BF archives. This one is too old I think…post the admin.

    Like 0
  15. Dustin

    This is one of the most interesting motorhomes I’ve ever seen. It would be great to tow your fifth wheel to a KOA, then go on a short expedition, and if you don’t make it back before sunset, you can just sleep in the cabover bed!

    Like 0
  16. James Rogers

    Put a 5.9 12 valve in it and go where ever you like. I put a 5.9 in my 1989 ford E-350 Pick up and love it bigger injectors and turbo turned the pump up 400 hp.

    Like 1
    • geomechs geomechs Member

      The 5.9 is definitely an adaptable engine although it would be somewhat of a challenge to put into that bay. You can get a lot of power out of those although I’ve seen a number of them melt the last two holes, especially #6. Just can’t get enough coolant circulating back there…

      Like 0
  17. Albert

    I bought it yesterday. July 18,2020 seriously. It’s in rough shape. I’m going to restore it.

    Like 0
  18. Albert

    Update. I bought this vehicle yesterday about 20 mins south of Shepard in St Louis Michigan. I plan to restore it, it is in rough shape. I’d like for an administrator to get ahold of me if like to post pics for anyone interested or maybe start a new post. I’m not very internet savy.

    Like 0
    • Jesse Mortensen Jesse Mortensen Staff

      Thanks for the update Albert. You can just email them to us.

      Like 0
  19. Craig pardue

    Is this truck for sale
    I would be interested in it and bring it back to life

    Like 0
  20. John

    Nice find. Are you still restoring this unique tow vehicle? Are you interested in selling it? Thanks.

    Like 0

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