2002 Winnebago Sightseer 27

reviewed by Philip Greenspun

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Digital photo titled million-dollar-bridge-sign The Sightseer 27C is Winnebago's shortest Class A RV. It sells for about $56,000, including most factory options. It is built on a 14,800 lb. Workhorse chassis with an 8.1 liter GM gasoline engine that sits underneath a hump between the front seats and drives the rear wheels.

This review is based on a unit purchased by the author in August 2001 and driven from Boston to Nova Scotia and back (about 2600 miles over three weeks). We bought ours from Bernard RV, just north of Chicago, Illinois.


The Sightseer, which measures nearly 28 feet long, turns out to be a more than large enough home for two people and one 70-lb. dog. Between the basement compartments and interior cabinets, storage turns out to be just about enough. We comfortably fit the following items: After you've filled up the 75-gallon water tank, cargo capacity is limited by the vehicle's 14,800 lb. gross vehicle weight. Passengers and cargo together can't weigh more than about 2000 lbs.

If ordered fully optioned, the Sightseer contains pretty much all of the features found on larger and more expensive motor homes. The dinette and refrigerator can be slid out about two feet when parked. An awning can be extended to provide shade on the passenger side of the unit. Leveling jacks extend from the undercarriage to stabilize and level the coach at campsites. A 4000-watt generator provides AC power when parked.

The basic layout of the Sightseer provides a large-ish living room/dining room/kitchen in the front of the coach and a small bedroom in the rear. The bathroom facilities divide these rooms. It works out nicely to have the two rooms. Eve was able to lie in bed and concentrate on reading a book while a car stereo installer and I tore apart the dashboard. You can be together if you want; you can be apart if you want.

The living room area consists of the two front seats, which can be rotated to point back into the center of the room, a side chair, which can be detached from its mount next to the front door and moved around a bit, and a dinette, which turns into a 1.5-person bed when necessary. The one thing that the 27' Sightseer lacks is a sofa. You cannot sit next to your companion, canine or otherwise, and read a book or watch TV. (The 30' version of the Sightseer comes with a sofa that turns into yet another bed, but note that the sofa does not face the television.) Headroom is more than adequate for a 6' man, except in the shower where the top bar for the curtain is at the perfect height to put a dent in your forehead. Sadly, none of the chairs in the unit is truly comfortable for reading. It is hard to say why.

There are 120V electric outlets everywhere you'd need one but, considering that this unit lacks a system-wide inverter to generate 120V from batteries, a disappointing lack of cigarette lighter 12V outlets. Some campgrounds do have phone lines to each site, but the Sightseer lacks a phone jack or any internal phone wiring. To use a laptop or wired phone you must crack a screen and run the line out the window. Fancier RVs generally have a phone input in the hookup area and a couple of jacks inside.


On the road, the experience of being a passenger in a Sightseer is fabulous. You have space to stretch out. The view out of the bus-sized windows is panoramic and light washes the interior. The dashboard in front of you is flat and about the size of a desk; spread a map out full size and leave it spread out for the journey.

Before you pull out of the campground, the driver will be smiling as well. The Sightseer's wheelbase is only 158", about the same as a 15-passenger full-size van that you might rent for a soccer team. Thus the turning circle is remarkably small and the Winnebago is maneuverable in tight spaces where you'd expect to get stuck. Once up to highway speeds, however, this short wheelbase causes the RV to wander. Why? The wheelbase is less than half the length of the vehicle. If you look at a Greyhound bus or a standard passenger van, you'll see that the wheels are pretty near the four corners of the body. The Sightseer's body hangs over the wheels front, back, left, and right. This would work great in the vacuum of space. You could mount a Greyhound bus body on top of a Toyota Tercel chassis and the body would follow the wheels. However, in the presence of natural wind or freeway turbulence, the body gets pushed from different angles and ends up generating steering forces on the wheels. This leads to wandering.

How serious is the wandering? It depends on the road. The Sightseer is 102" wide, or 8.5 feet. An Interstate lane is 12 feet wide. Thus driving on an Interstate presents surprisingly little challenge after a few hundred miles of experience. Country roads, however, can be terrifying. In Nova Scotia, they are often about 9 feet wide with a narrow dirt shoulder. They are bumpy. The Sightseer, lacking the fully independent suspension and low center of gravity that you'd find on a car, tends to wander after hitting bumps. The road surface may slope. This causes the 12' high Sightseer to sway. The expensive diesel pusher coaches have air bags in the chassis that are constantly adjusted by an automatic system whose goal is to keep the coach itself level. Such a system would probably make the Sightseer less fatiguing to drive on country roads but it wouldn't eliminate the terror of encountering a heavy truck coming towards you in the opposite lane.

Interior noise level is higher than in any car. On a flat highway, most of the noise comes from wind. Going up hills, the engine, in between the front seats, and remarkably quiet most of the time, makes the expected prodigious noise. Over bumps, the entire coach becomes a cacophony of rattles and crashes. One of the loudest sounds in our Sightseer turns out to be the backup camera video monitor squeaking in its mount right above the center of the dashboard. What is especially annoying about this squeak is how completely unnecessary it is. The backup video monitor is mounted directly underneath the 19" television! If Winnebago had spec'd a higher quality TV with A/V inputs, they could have piped the backup camera sound and picture directly into the main TV (this is the way that fancy diesel pushers work, if they don't have a pop-up LCD monitor). A passenger might want to try Bose noise-cancelling headphones, the $300 ones that they sell for airline passengers.

The windshield is much larger than on a car but the sun visors are only a bit larger. Consequently, it is difficult to drive west during the hour before sunset. The sun will be right in the driver's eyes. Bring your darkest sunglasses.

Driving controls, which are part of the Workhorse chassis, are logical and very similar to those on a 1980 GM car. The chassis includes cruise control, which is a big plus because it lets the driver concentrate on steering. Headlights are not switched with the ignition, which becomes a bit annoying in a place like Canada where daytime headlight use is compulsory. You can't just put them on and leave them on as with a modern car, for example.

The front seats are very soft, very wide, and lack lumbar support. You'll want to get some sort of pillow for your lower back.

Bottom line is that a single driver can't do more than 300 miles per day comfortably on the Interstate and perhaps 200 miles per day on two-lane roads. I would compare the level of fatigue from driving the Sightseer 300 highway miles to what I've experienced driving a minivan 600 miles. Our friend John drive the Sightseer from Chicago to New Hampshire (1100 miles) in three days and, despite his youth and experience with long motorcycle trips, found himself exhausted and in no mood to drive for a few days. With two drivers you can go a bit farther but keep in mind that the high noise level will fatigue both driver and passenger.

Note: when we returned from our trip and started driving our Toyota Sienna minivan, the difference was a shock. We felt as though we were sitting on the pavement. We couldn't see out; the windows seemed so tiny. We felt mushed up against the sides of the car and each other; there was so little interior room.

Heating and Cooling

While you're driving, the chassis air conditioner blows a stream of cold air from the dashboard that is sufficient for cooling the occupants of the front seats. When parked, the rooftop air conditioner supplies 13,500 BTUs of cooling. This requires a 120 volt power source, either shoreline electricity at a campground or the Sightseer's generator. Even in bright sunshine the Sightseer stays fairly cool inside if you leave the windows open. Keep in mind that there is much less glass area than on a car and the glass isn't oriented up towards the sky like a car windshield. Even with the windows closed, the temperature inside the vehicle only gets to perhaps 15 degrees warmer than outdoors. The rooftop air conditioner worked well and was capable of bringing the inside temperature down from 85 degrees to around 75 within 15 minutes. If you're parked in the middle of the afternoon at a shopping mall, you'll find that you need the rooftop A/C. The engine and the chassis get quite warm while driving and they radiate heat up into the coach for an hour or two after you're parked. Remember that the 8.1 liter engine is right in between the front seats.

We ordered our Sightseer with the Motoraid package, an essential $300-ish option. This supplies engine heat to the water heater and, if you throw a dashboard switch, to an air blower underneath the bed in the rear of the coach. If is a cold evening, you can make sure that the entire coach is warm before parking for the night. The only bad thing about the Motoraid system is that there is no indicator light to remind you that the rear heat is on. Even if you look at the three-position switch (low-off-hi), it is tough to tell. So you might have the rear heater on unintentionally on a hot day and wonder why the (separate) dashboard air conditioner isn't as effective as you remembered.

Once parked, heating comes from an LP gas furnace. This is powerful enough to keep the coach warm but it is noisy and the heat is distributed in a very strange way. Most of the air comes out of a huge vent on the floor of the potty room. The only bedroom vent is a small one right underneath the foot of the bed, where comforters and blankets are likely to obstruct it. Bottom line: if you want to be warm in bed, you have to leave the potty room door open all night.

The heater and air conditioner control is a thermostat right in the center of the coach, on the wall of the potty room. Ours has a lot of time lag in responding to a drop in temperature. For example, if it reads "85" when you turn the air conditioner on and the coach is sweltering, 15 minutes later it still reads 85 degrees even though your body tells you that it is now quite comfortable inside. At night, if you set the heater temperature to 77 you'll find that a tabletop thermometer in the bedroom reads 72.

Some of the rooftop A/C units on fancier RVs seem to provide either "heating strips" (plain old resistive electric heat) or function as full-fledged heat pumps, providing heat when it is moderately cold outside. Either would be a welcome improvement, not least because you can run out of LP gas whereas you'll never run out of shoreline electricity. The best system would really be radiant electric heat underneath the extensive kitchen/bathroom tile area. This would have the advantage of silence.

The Sightseer comes with a single skylight in the potty room. This has a very small electric exhaust fan and is not effective at drawing air in from the windows. We decided to add a Turbo/Maxx fan from maxxair.com. This is capable of exchanging all of the air in the coach every minute or two. We thought it would be quieter than the popular Fan-Tastic vented skylights because the Turbo/Maxx's fan is actually located outside of the coach altogether. Also, the fact that the Turbo/Maxx obscures the light of the skylight wasn't much of an issue given that we spend almost zero time in the potty room. Whatever kind of exhaust fan you get, Winnebago thoughtfully provides one window near the entry door that can be safely left open. It is too small for a burglar to get through. It is slightly protected from falling rain by the rolled-up awning. If a bit of rain were to come in through this window, it wouldn't encounter any electronics.

Audio/Video Entertainment

The optional in-dash Panasonic CD/radio player presents an array of tiny little buttons. There are no knobs. To adjust the volume up or down, you reach from the driver's seat, take your eyes off the road to locate the appropriate tiny button, then press it. Sound difficult? It is. It is a well-known principle of psychophysics that it is difficult to move your hand quickly over a large distance and land within a small circle. You can be precise, e.g., when using a computer mouse to move a fraction of an inch. You can move big distances quickly, e.g., when extending your arm for a handshake. But you can't be precise and quick over a large distance, as demanded by the Winnebago-supplied car stereo.

Should you prove dextrous enough to operate the head unit, the sound itself comes out through four speakers. Two are above the driver and passenger's heads. Two are right above the bed at the extreme rear of the coach. All of these are 5x7" oval speakers.

How's the sound quality? When we picked up the coach, the sound was amazingly distorted. It turned out that both of the front loudspeakers were blown out, probably by the delivery driver during the 400-mile ride from the Winnebago factory to our dealer in Chicago. Should we blame this guy for trashing our speakers? Maybe not. Dissection revealed that these speakers were manufactured by Ford in Mexico and rated by Ford to handle 25 watts. Ford stuffs these into bottom-of-the-line cars with 10-watt-per-channel factory radios. The Panasonic head unit by contrast puts out up to 40 watts of power. Aside from the power mismatch, the Ford speakers would probably never have sounded very good. Instead of a separate woofer and tweeter, these consist of only one paper driver plus a paper "whizzer cone" glued to the center that will ostensibly reproduce some high frequencies. Radio Shack will sell you a replacement driver like this for $12; factory cost is maybe $3.

We went to Atlantic Car Stereo in Dartmouth, Nova Scotia ((902) 435-0600) and picked out a set of fairly high quality Boston Acoustics car speakers. For the front, we selected an RX67 coaxial two-way 6" round speaker. Why not an oval? Oval speakers were designed for cars, where it can be tough to find space for round drivers. But oval speakers have inherently higher distortion than round speakers. You will never find an oval driver in a home loudspeaker, for example. The "coaxial two-way" means that there is a real separate tweeter suspended in front and on-axis with the 6" woofer. Installing these speakers required Sean at Atlantic Car Stereo to fabricate a new MDF (fancy plywood) panel with a circular hole and new grille cloth (the Winnebago panels were supplied with a high-frequency-deadening superthick cloth). For the rear we decided to go with Boston Acoustics RX87 5x7 speakers for maximum physical compatibility. These were easy to install. The whole process took about half a day and CDN$650.

With the new speakers in place, it was possible to distinguish words within songs and the stereo was sounding quite good. Unfortunately, the new speakers also made it possible to hear the noise on the pvehicle's electrical system, especially while lying in bed listening to the rear speakers. We replaced the Panasonic head unit with a JVC KW-XC770 double-DIN CD/cassette player. There is plenty of room in the dashboard for a double-DIN unit. The JVC can play cassettes (good for books on tape) as well as CDs. And, most importantly, the JVC has a large volume control knob. The JVC is able to filter out noise from the chassis when it is being powered from the Workhorse battery but not the house batteries. In order to get sound from an MP3 or DVD player into the car stereo, go to www.jvcservice.com and order a KS-U57 for $50. This turns the CD changer input of the machine into a standard RCA jack pair. As a final bonus, the JVC double-DIN head unit comes with a wireless remote control. This makes it easy for the passenger to control the sound. The remote can also be used from the bedroom.

What about video? The Sightseer comes with a 19" television mounted above the center of the dashboard, a VCR a above the passenger portion of the dash, a TV antenna that can be cranked up from the roof, and a cable TV feed from the hookup panel. In addition, there is a tray in the bedroom designed to hold a 13" television. The supplied TV and VCR are "Memorex" brand. The VCR cannot decode the Hi-Fi soundtrack on VHS tapes. Even if you could generate a high-quality stereo signal, the TV has only one loudspeaker and only a mono sound input. Winnebago's basic model of the video world is RF-based. RF comes from the TV antenna. RF comes from the campground cable TV feed. A VHS video tape is watched via the Channel 3 RF modulator from the VCR. Video tape, cable, or broadcast gets piped to the rear 13" TV via the single RF outlet there.

If you're picky about video quality you'll curse Winnebago for choosing a 19" TV instead of 20". It really isn't possible to buy a decent 19" TV these days, whereas Sony makes a 20" WEGA but there is no way it will fit into the over-the-dash slot. The best TV that I could find that could fit into the slot vacated by the Memorex was a JVC AV-20220. This is a stereo television with two A/V inputs and a universal remote control. It cost a bit over $200 and, with the help of a professional car stereo installer at the Charlottetown Future Shop, took me roughly 30 minutes to install. We also chucked the Memorex monophonic VCR and replaced it with an $80 stereo HiFi JVC. The factory VCR is merely taped down with a super Velcro tape that you can buy at Radio Shack.

One feature that car stereo nuts will appreciate is that the entire dashboard tilts up with the push of a finger. Nothing holds it down except gravity. So if you need access to the wires behind your car stereo, it is as simple as pushing up.


The Sightseer includes a Magic Chef three-burner gas stove with oven underneath, a Samsung microwave oven, and a fairly large Norcold refrigerator that runs on either 120V AC or propane. The range is a bottom-of-the-line unit that does not have electric ignition, i.e., you have to light the burners and oven with a match every time you want to cook. Heat within the oven was not very uniform. The microwave works well but only when AC power is available or you're willing to turn on the generator. The range makes groaning/creaking noises as you drive down the highway. These are plainly audible from the driver's seat and very annoying.

One problem when cooking is that Winnebago put the Sightseer's smoke detector only a few feet from the stovetop. Even with the windows open and range hood fan operating, you're almost guaranteed to set off the detector. This detector does not contain a temporary hush or mute button. So it is tough to escape from brain-jarring noise.


The Sightseer comes with a cheap lightweight innerspring mattress. It isn't especially comfortable. Unfortunately, you can't simply run down to the local department store and put in a Stearns and Foster mattress. The Sightseer's mattress is a non-standard 60x75" size ("Queen Short"). And the mattress sits on plywood so that the area underneath the bed can be used for storage and a water tank rather than a boxspring. If you want a fancy bed you'll have to get one from one of the places returned by a Google search for "custom mattress" (a friend of mine recommends www.foam-fabrication.com if you're interested in an expensive European-style viscoelastic foam bed but without the high price; these guys are able to cut to any size).

If you want to be warm at night without cranking up the noisy and ill-distributed furnace (see above), consider an electric mattress pad (see www.sunbeambedding.com).


Fit and finish levels are high. Friends with no experience of RVs were very impressed with the interior and were unable to believe that the whole unit cost only $56,000.

What if you dig underneath the carpet and upholstery? A Texas woman, living full-time in her Monaco diesel pusher, cautioned "don't buy a motorhome unless you're handy". In our first month of ownership, we used the following tools to repair defects and failures on our Sightseer:

A typical example started on a Sunday evening. We were at a gas station on the Trans Canada highway in eastern Nova Scotia. This is a fast two-lane undivided highway with huge trucks bound for Newfoundland passing us every minute or two. I tried to buckle my seat belt but it wouldn't stick in the receptacle. It is illegal to drive in Canada without seat belts. It would be insane to drive without seat belts in a weaving motorhome, at night, on a fast undivided highway.

First we tried screwdrivers, attempting to pry the stuck release button back up out of the receptable. No luck. Then we cracked open the top of the plastic button and pulled on the innards with pliers. No luck. The button kept springing back into the "released" position. Finally we pried off two plastic covers and used the socket set to replace the driver's seat belt receiver with the passenger's. Eve then moved to the dinette, which has two seat belts (of a different design than the ones for the front seats), and I continued our journey belted into the driver's seat.

We called Winnebago first thing Monday morning, by which time we were on Prince Edward Island (PEI). It turned out that there was no Winnebago dealer in the province of PEI. I managed to get the Winnebago customer support guys to ship out a replacement part, but due to their lack of initiative and follow-through the package didn't arrive in my hands until Friday afternoon, nearly a week after the failure.

Another illustrative failure is the potty room door saga. As delivered, it was kind of tough to open and close the one interior door in the Sightseer. One day the door hardware failed completely, leaving the potty room inaccessible. This was in a national park on Cape Breton Island, a full day's journey from the nearest Winnebago dealer. The screws for the lock set are on the outside of the door so I managed to get both doorknobs off with just a screwdriver. But even with full access to the latch mechanism, I couldn't get it to retract. Finally I resorted to prying the door apart from its frame (the interior walls are very flimsy) and extracting the rest of the lock set. A couple of days later, I took the remains into a hardware store in the next town, which turned out to be Cheticamp. The grizzled proprietor said "I can't sell you an exact replacement for that; what you've got there is complete junk." What was fundamentally different about the Winnebago lock set from any available in a hardware store is that the latch hardware is merely pressed into the door. Any replacement would required me to rasp out a slightly larger hole and chisel a space for the latch's screw-down plate. This took nearly an hour because the potty room door is incredibly thin, almost exactly the width of the latch plate. Furthermore, the door is veneered and I was afraid that I'd split the veneer.

Documentation supplied with the Sightseer is spotty. In various parts of the owner's manual, the fresh water tank is referred to as having capacities of 50, 60, and 75 gallons. A section explains how to use the "Level Best" hydraulic leveling system, whose pictured controls are completely different from the "HWH" leveling system supplied as an option on the Sightseer. I called Winnebago to request a manual for the HWH system. They did not want to supply it, asking me instead to call HWH (actually the manuals are available in PDF form at www.hwhcorp.com).

The bottom line is that in our first month of ownership we encountered about 25 problems with the Winnebago coach and none with the Workhorse chassis.


Winnebago provides a 1-year 12,000-mile warranty. When you're on a trip, this won't do you much good. First, unless you choose to vacation in the eastern Los Angeles suburbs, you probably won't find an authorized dealer within less than one day's drive. Second, even if you are reasonably close to a dealer they may refuse to work on your vehicle without an appointment made a week or more in advance.

When the backup video monitor failed, I called to ask which fuse might need to be replaced and in which fuse box I could find it. The support guys said that they did not have a wiring diagram for the Sightseer because it was a new unit (I called in September, six months after the first units rolled off the assembly line). When pressed, they did dig up an answer for me as to the fuse location. Unfortunately, it was completely wrong. I ended up having to test every fuse in the coach with a continuity tester.

The bottom line on the factory support folks seems to be that they are satisfied when they can live up to their own standards. They aren't concerned about living up to a customer's standards. They pat themselves on the back when they get a part out the door. If is later than promised or sent to the wrong address, they aren't worried. They don't trouble themselves by asking "Did I solve the customer's problem? Did the part actually arrive in the customer's hands? Was the answer that I gave correct?"

Dealer support is more customer-oriented but is likely to be slow. After our trip, we brought the Sightseer into Campers Inn of Nashua, New Hampshire for service. Winnebago makes so many models and each model has so many parts that it does not make sense for a dealer to keep a large inventory of spares. Winnebago has a "trip-saver" program where they will send parts to the dealer within a day or two but the service guys at Campers Inn said that none of our failures fell within the criteria. Ordinary parts shipments are made to each dealer on only one day per week. We dropped off our coach on a Tuesday. Winnebago only ships parts to Campers Inn on Mondays. They come via UPS Ground. So they generally arrive in New Hampshire on Thursday. Thus the earliest that they could even begin working on the coach would be 10 days unless we were willing to pay an expedite charge of $20 (per part?) and also the air freight on all the replacements necessary. We agreed to pay the fees but Campers Inn wasn't able to return our Sightseer for nearly three weeks, the limiting factor being Winnebago's inability to deliver parts.


The Sightseer comes with a 2" receiver hitch rated for 5000 lbs. However, the total combined vehicle weight limit is 19,000 lbs. So if you expect to have a fully loaded coach, which you will, you should limit your towing to 4000 lbs. We have never tried towing anything though we occasionally were envious of the diesel pusher crowd's towed SUVs. One fellow had a particularly nice little Acura SUV that is advertised as being safe for towing with all four wheels down.

Carrying bicycles

A very small folding bicycle might fit into one of the basement compartments. But for standard bikes you'll need an external rack. We tried a Thule receiver hitch rack. It held the bikes fairly low to the ground and they therefore picked up a heavy coating of dust every time we drove on a dirt road. Once parked it was a filthy job to undo the tie-down straps and unlock the bikes. The rack holds up to four bikes and we carried three (two mountain; one road). The bike that you want to use never seems to be the one on the very back, which means that you have to pull one or two bikes off the rack before getting the one that you're after. The whole process takes 5 or 10 minutes, by the end of which time all of your clothing is covered in dust. The Europeans do it right: they mount a bike rack in the upper portion of the rear of the coach, so that the bike wheels are about five feet off the ground (see www.fiamma.it).

If you're towing a car, minivan, or SUV, you'll find it much more practical to keep bikes on a roof rack on that vehicle.

In an ideal world...

Every motor home really ought to have a built-in vacuum cleaner. It doesn't make sense to haul a vacuum up from the basement every two days.

Bottom Line

Based on our experience with the Sightseer, we can say the following:

11,000-mile Update

Trip #2: Boston to Big Bend National Park and back, a 7-week 7,000-mile round-trip. The best news is that not too many new things broke and those things that Campers Inn had fixed at 4,000 miles stayed fixed. During our two months on the road the most serious failure was that of the HWH hydraulic leveling system.

Some of the modifications made just before this trip worked out very well. The Maxxair exhaust fan, installed over the potty room vent, made the interior a lot more comfortable. Replacing the Winnebago-provided lounge chair with an old Ekornes Stressless chair, that 1970s gift of the Scandinavians to the world's psychotherapists, made it possible for one person to read or watch TV in comfort. (Be aware that the Ekornes Stressless chairs currently marketed in the United States have a fat wooden base; the ones from the 1970s and early 1980s have a tubular steel base that fits perfectly into the Winnebago clamp--check eBay for an old one, which will be durable leather, lightweight, and easy to ship.)

In San Antonio we picked up an XM Radio receiver, capable of receiving 100 channels of music and information from a satellite in the southern sky. We stuck the antenna in a cabinet above the dashboard and it worked remarkably well despite having to see through the fiberglass roof. For classical music lovers who've despaired while public radio stations degenerated into Car Talk and All Things Ad Nauseum and commercial classical stations went All-Baroque All-the-Time, the $10/month is well spent. Driving through the mountains? Punch up the 24-hour commercial-free Bluegrass station. Missing South Park? There is a Classic Soul station. Feeling tired while driving? Start dancing to the Latin Jazz station. Want to catch up on world news? Tune to the BBC. Sound quality is better than most FM stations. We got the Sony portable receiver for $300. This plugs into accessory mounting kits so that you can easily move it from car 1 to car 2 to home to office. If you were to get an in-dash XM radio and also wanted radios for home and work, you'd be paying $30/month instead of $10. So the Sony makes sense, though its small size seems to have necessitated the inclusion of a really loud fan. In the Winnebago this was muffled by placing the receiver next to its antenna in the above-dash cabinet. The included remote control works fine through the smoked-glass door.

The main disappointment of the trip is that experience behind the wheel did not translate into increased comfort on the Interstate. The truck-jammed Interstates of the central US proved terrifying. Wind and wake turbulence from 18-wheelers pushed the Sightseer back and forth within its lane and sometimes clear out of it. Our Winnebago had turned the joy of driving the open road into a chore at best and something to be dreaded on windy days. In terms of interior noise, driver fatigue, and the consequences of turning one's attention away from steering, driving the Sightseer at 65 was equivalent to driving, say, a Honda Accord at 100 MPH. That is to say it can be done but you'll get tired after an hour or two. Wearing foam earplugs helped considerably in cutting down fatigue from the interior noise.

Just east of Houston we stopped at an RV dealer to compare the feel of a short diesel pusher motorhome to our Sightseer. As luck would have it the short unit most easily available to test-drive was the very same one that I'd rejected as a first-time shopper: a 32' Winnebago Journey, built on a Freightliner chassis. The things that I didn't like about the machine at first were still dislikable: air brakes, sluggish acceleration, the un-carlike operation (e.g., there is no Park position on the transmission; you use Neutral and an air parking brake). However, with 8,000 miles of motorhoming under my belt, I found these shortcomings manageable. What my daily experience in the Sightseer enabled me to notice was the following: (1) the diesel pusher had a much greater sense of "straight ahead" and did not require constant steering corrections, (2) the diesel pusher was much more stable in the face of wind buffeting from trucks and other vehicles on the Interstate, (3) the diesel pusher was much quieter than the front-engine Sightseer, and (4) the diesel pusher rode much more stably inside--it was possible for a passenger to walk around the coach while on the highway without getting sick or being thrown off balance. This particular diesel pusher is 32'7" long on a 190" wheelbase, which gives it a 48.5% wheelbase/length ratio, compared to the Sightseer's 47%. So it is tough to explain the superior handling in terms of a proportionately longer wheelbase.

After this experience with a diesel pusher, do I feel like a fool for buying the Sightseer? Not completely. Cheap diesel pushers are twice as expensive as the Sightseer. Expensive diesel pushers, like the Country Coach line, are three times the price of a Sightseer. It is impossible to find diesel pushers as short as the Sightseer 27. Still, for trips involving a lot of Interstate highway travel, the diesel pusher seems like a much more reasonable way to go, particular if you're not on a budget.

What ended up being great about the Sightseer on this trip? It was great to be 27'11" long. Any longer and we would not have gotten into Houston photographer Ellis Vener's driveway where we spent a very happy four days including Thanksgiving. Any longer and we'd not have had the confidence to push up into the Basin at Big Bend National Park, where a sign warned off "RVs longer than 24 feet". Any longer and we'd have had a difficult time getting in to see Edward Tufte's sculpture farm in Connecticut.

Some other things about the Sightseer would have applied equally to most other motorhomes. The consistency was comforting in the same way that eating at McDonald's is comforting. If the Winnebago wasn't as spacious as a resort suite or as plush as the Ritz, it was never unexpectedly uncomfortable or dirty. We had a delicious dinner every night even in one-horse towns and wilderness parks. We always had a good reading chair. We never encountered a fuzzy television set, sagging mattress, or mildewed shower.

Next to visiting friends and family, national and state parks provided our best overnight experiences. You wake up in the wilderness, more or less, but you don't have to go to bed when it gets dark (as the tent campers do). The window screens protect you from 99% of the mosquitoes. You have a hot shower when you come back from a bike ride (the National Park Service continues its ban against mountain biking--if you're not a virile walker, they want you to stay in your car--but many of the state parks in Texas and Louisiana have magnificent purpose-built mountain bike trails). By contrast, we developed a positive horror of commercial campgrounds, where real estate prices dictate that campers be thrown almost on top of each other. There is still a lot more space per person than in a motel, for example, but after the luxury of a typical state park it is impossible to be satisfied with a KOA (Kampground of America).

20,000 Mile Update -- To Alaska and Back

Digital photo titled 1 Before putting the Winnebago into storage we'd had Camper's Inn do an oil change and a front-end alignment, at $90 per hour. They forgot to reinstall the oil filler cap after refilling the engine, thus leaving the crankcase open to the dusty road. They were so spectacularly far off in setting the front-end toe that before we got to the Rocky Mountains the steel belts were showing through the outside edge of the front tires.

While parked for six months, the Sightseer developed the following problems:

In an attempt to get these problems resolved, we called 15 Winnebago dealers along our cross-country route. They were all booked solid for a month or more.

As it happens, our intended route took us within 60 miles of the Winnebago factory in Forest City, Iowa. So we called the owner relations department to arrange some factory service. It had worked great for our Diamond Star DA40 airplane, a modern 4-seat composite design that cruises at around 160 mph and is certified for instrument flight. We called Diamond Aircraft two days ahead, showed up in London, Ontario at 10:00 pm, and were welcomed by a couple of friendly guys. The next morning a team of six mechanics swarmed over the plane, performing scheduled maintenance, fixing a few minor problems, adjusting the autopilot, and performing some no-charge upgrades to systems where they'd come up with better designs. Would we like to borrow a car? A plane? The CEO of the company stopped by our campsite on his way home to see how we were doing. The work was done by noon the next day and they'd even washed the plane for us. No charge.

Our experience with Winnebago was a bit different. Instead of dealing with specific individuals, we were to call the owner relations department. This involved waiting in a phone queue for 20 minutes. During the wait one hears recorded voices talking about Winnebago's reputation for quality and commitment to customer satisfaction. When "Mike" answered the phone I figured he would be concerned to learn that our Sightseer had spent 3 months on the road and 3 months in the shop, a 1:1 ratio. But if he thought this was unusual he did not say so. Mike was encouraging at first. There were lots of Winnebagos that could not be adequately repaired by dealers and it was quite common to bring them back to the factory for service. They'd be delighted to work on ours. But they were a bit backed up right now fixing other folks' Winnebagos. Would mid-August be convenient? Since we were calling on June 10 and had hoped to be heading back south from Alaska by mid-August, we demurred (in any case the warranty would have run out by then).

For those who neglect to plan their motorhome failures two months in advance, Winnebago offers a walk-in service. You show up, sign up, and wait for 2-4 days in Forest City, Iowa until it is your turn. Because I was in the midst of my instrument flight training, central Iowa was as good a place as any to hang out and practice ILS, GPS, and VOR approaches. So we stayed in a lovely riverside city park and waited our turn. The Winnebago factory service folks fixed about half of the problems we'd identified and pronounced the unit safe for the Alaska Highway. The most obvious problems that they overlooked were the front tires wearing unevenly and the missing oil filler cap, both courtesy of Camper's Inn in New Hampshire.

One of the highlights of any trip to Forest City, Iowa is the Winnebago factory tour. Winnebago preserves the 1950s style of making vehicles. Where the Big Three today subcontract out parts, Winnebago molds its own. While General Motors today tries to give each division distinctive products, Winnebago sells identical motorhomes under the "Winnebago" and "Itasca" brand names. Where car companies have turned to precision moldings, automation, and robots, Winnebago relies on individual craftsmanship. Where limited production car companies use a team approach so that a group of workers can feel satisfaction in having built a whole vehicle, Winnebago sticks to a classical assembly line despite its low volume of 265 units per week.

If you've visited an automobile factory you'll be struck by the lack of precision. Workers align parts with crowbars and drill through fiberglass with handheld drills. If you've visited an airplane factory you'll be struck by the noise level and lack of time. Winnebago assembly relies on individual worker craftsmanship but the pace of assembly means that no worker will have time to be a craftsman.

We Finally Figured Out Why RV Dealers are So Incompetent

During the past year we've had maintenance work done on the Winnebago, a Toyota minivan, and a small airplane. The most expensive hourly rate was for Winnebago service at Camper's Inn in Nashua, New Hampshire. These were the guys who aligned the front end improperly and left the oil filler cap off. The cheapest hourly rates were for airplane mechanics, all of whom were remarkably capable and careful craftsmen, a pleasure to watch. In the middle in terms of price and quality were the Toyota mechanics.

The less we paid the better a mechanic we got.

It seemed paradoxical until we talked to some of the airplane mechanics. They knew that they could make more money up the street at a car dealer but they worked on airplanes because they loved the machines. The reason that you can't find anyone good to work on a Winnebago is that a Winnebago is such a crude and cheaply built machine. Anyone with true mechanical ability and taste is constantly offended by having to work on it. By contrast it is a real pleasure to take apart the Diamond DA40 airplane and see how cleverly everything was put together. You don't get paid much to work on a DA40 but the actual process of work is pleasureable. The Toyota is somewhere in between, a reasonably example of engineering and construction that attracts reasonably skilled and careful mechanics.

Sightseer 30

At a campground in Yellowstone National Park in June 2002 we happened to be parked next to a Sightseer 30. We walked over to ask the renters, 3 guys around 40 years old, if the larger chassis made it more stable on the road than our Sightseer 27. One of the Minnesotans responded "I've driven all kinds of trucks for 20 years and this motorhome is the toughest driving that I've done. We have to switch off every hour or two because we get so fatigued keeping this pointed straight down the Interstate."

The End of the Road for Our Winnie

Digital photo titled winnebago-sightseer-1 We made it back to Boston with 27,000 miles on the clock after returning from Alaska via San Diego. The unit held up reasonably well for its last 10,000 miles, leading us to believe that we could have saved ourselves much pain and suffering by buying a used RV that had been owned by a careful engineer/handyman. We were almost tempted to hang onto the beast except that after 8 months on the road in North America we were planning to take our next trips in Europe and Asia. It might be two years before we'd have any use for an RV.

Having passed a "We buy cars for cash" dealer every 25 miles across North America we figured that it would take us about two days to sell our Sightseer to a dealer. Wrong. RV dealers generally don't buy used coaches from individuals. They'll take them on trade-in or on consignment. The NADA blue book wholesale price on ours is about $42,000. The window sticker was $67,000 and we actually paid $56,000 after some careful shopping. No matter how you slice it the first year's depreciation is a killer (enough to pay for 200 nights in hotels at $70 per night).

Our first attempt to sell the Winnebago was on consignment at Longview RV in Northampton, Massachusetts. They assured us that they could probably sell the unit within 5 days. It took six requests before they remembered to winterize our unit (blow out the water so that it doesn't freeze and crack tanks/lines). After a month they called and said that they hadn't had any interest in the unit and they wanted us to pick it up "immediately". Thus did we miss the tail end of the fall selling season and ended up with a white elephant motorhome in a Massachusetts December.

So we advertised it on eBay and received only a couple of bids, all of which were at least $10,000 below retail book and $5,000 below wholesale book. We advertised in the local WantAdvertiser for $39,500, less than wholesale book. A month later it sold to the only interested buyer. Now we can add up the total cost:



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