What would you do if the principals of an RV company came to you and said, “We want you take one of our luxury motorhomes and outfit it to run in the Baja 1000 off-road race.” Well, that’s exactly what happened to now legendary off-road racer and builder Bill Stroppe back in 1968.
But “Debbie” as she was nicknamed was not a joke. The executives from Condor Coach were serious about this venture. They wanted Stroppe, who was well known in racing circles for competing, as well as building competitive vehicles for winners such as Rod Hall to take the 10,000-plus pound RV and turn it into a race-ready off-roader.
The first thing Stroppe did was cut the Condor’s chassis down to 20 feet. It’s Ford 390ci V8 was swapped out for 460ci Lincoln engine that was rated at 400 hp, and then just to keep things in the RV-vein, the Lincoln was converted to propane. Behind that sat a C6 with an Art Carr shifter sending power through a Napco front diff and an Eaton rear axle. Sixteen inch wheels with huge RV tires were mounted on the axle ends. Stropped created a lattice-like roll cage inside the motorhome for protection.
On the morning of the 1969 Baja 1000 start, Don Bass, who had some experience in the motorsports business, but had never been behind the wheel sat ready to ride passenger alongside driver and Condor CEO Wes Thomas, who also had no racing experience. The two were set to scramble across 832 miles of Mexican desert terrain on their way to La Paz. At one point the Condor’s tie rod finally split, but Condor Coach President Walt Kiefer, flew his Beachcraft airplane in, and took the damaged parts out and back to get fixed.
Sometime around 9:00 am Monday morning after more than 90 hours after leaving the start line, the Condor and its two-man crew limped into La Paz. Of course, Bill Stroppe had won the race nearly 70 hours earlier in his Ford Bronco, but all was not lost. The Condor’s victory was in the massive publicity stunt. For the next year or so, the RV-on-steroids was paraded across the country to motoring events of all sorts, and sportsmen from all walks of life wrote down payments on new Condor Coaches on the spot. Now that’s how you win a race!