Hey, what is a Cortez anyway?
A Cortez is a Class-A motor coach made in the United States between 1963 and 1979. Only 3211 Cortezes were ever built.
The Clark Equipment Company began making these small motorhomes in 1963 in Battle Creek Michigan. The units were designed from the ground up, rather than using an existing truck chassis. The uni-body type construction and four wheel independent suspension gave the Cortez a ride said to be smoother than a Cadillac.
A four speed manual front wheel drive transaxle was used in order to eliminate a driveshaft tunnel that would have reduced the headroom or raised the height of the coach. Because of it’s wide stance and low profile, the Cortez is also said to have terrific stability in the wind. The engine and transmission are held in a cradle, and the entire drivetrain on all models can be removed as one unit.
Clark management had envisioned a variety of uses for the Cortez. They were made as mobile offices, classrooms, and ambulances; and NASA used a Cortez to shuttle astronauts to the launch pad. The NASA Cortez still sits in a museum at Cape Canaveral. Another excellent example of an alternate use is the Columbus, Ohio, “Heartmobile” (visit http://heartmobile.org). The Clark folks also envisioned Cortez trucks and Cortez travel trailers, but never produced them.
Clark coaches from 1963-1968 were powered by a Chrysler 225ci industrial slant-6 engine. The industrial engine in the Cortez was different from a standard slant six because it had a shot-peened crankshaft, dual row timing chain, stellite coated valves, and valve rotators. Also a special intake manifold was made which accepted a Carter one-barrel side draught carburetor. These units were 18.5 feet long and had passenger and driver doors and a rear door.
In 1969, Ford engines were introduced; some models with a straight six cylinder and some with 302ci V8, but still using a 4-speed manual transaxle (although a modified heavy duty version of it, which may not be interchangeable with earlier models). The length of the coach grew by a foot, the floor plan changed and the passenger door went away.
In 1970, Clark Forklift sold the Motorhome division to Alco-Standard (Kent Industries), in Kent, Ohio. Some units were apparently produced in 1970 but were rejected by the chief inspector. In 1971, the first “Kent” Cortezes ready to be sold were produced. They sported an Oldsmobile Toronado front wheel drive 3 speed automatic transmission with an Olds 455ci engine. Length was extended to 21 feet, and a passenger door was re-introduced. 1971 and 72 models could be had with either a side or rear door.
In 1975, the company was acquired by 26 owners of Cortez coaches and production continued through 1978 when the company folded. The last units were completed by a bank in 1979.
Jim Krantz purchased the tooling, spare parts, and a few unfinished units around 1980 and moved operations to Lafayette, La. There, under the name Cortez Inc., he sold parts, serviced coaches, and performed drivetrain conversions on Clark models using the Kent drivetrain. One unit was produced in 1989 and is still in use. Operations ceased in Lafayette around 1990.
Cortezes have been used in several films including: “A Swinging Summer”, “Switching Channels”, “The President's Analyst”, and “Best Friends”. Some notable who have owned Cortezes include Vincent Price, Steve McQueen, Francis Ford Coppola, cartoonist Bill Mauldin, and new mexico artist Peter Hurd. Broadcast journalist Charles Kuralt wrote many of his "on the Road" segments for CBS news while traveling in a Cortez. Journalist Kathleen Mudge traveled the USA with her poodle "Dutch," writing travelogues for the Clark Company, in a 1964 Cortez. She was known as "Lady Cortez."