This eye-catching, luxurious, 35-foot rolling home is founded on a Freightliner truck chassis that makes it easy to handle the road in style.
By Guy and Pamela Selbert, F195400
When we pulled into a campground on the first night of our test of the Grand Sport motorhome by Dynamax Corporation, we weren't prepared for our new celebrity status. Other RVers came to see us simply to look and ask questions. What was this vehicle that looks as though it's half motorhome and half semi-truck?
The attention the motorhome generated wasn't limited to campgrounds. Everywhere we stopped, the Grand Sport drew stares. At fuel stations, truck drivers asked about the coach's drivetrain; at parks, folks wanted to peek inside. As we stopped at a traffic light, we were given an enthusiastic thumbs-up from a pedestrian waiting to cross.
We covered more than 2,000 miles in this fine coach. From traveling long stretches on interstates to bumping along back roads, the Grand Sport ran and drove beautifully. It truly is an easy and non-intimidating coach to drive.
Built on a Freightliner FL-70 truck chassis, the Grand Sport retains enough of the truck look that there is no denying its macho attributes. But behind its customized Freightliner tractor cab, the Grand Sport features an elegant house that is 35 feet 6 inches long and boasts two commodious slideouts. The interior is as impressive and comfortable as the exterior is impressively stylish.
Dynamax, which is headquartered in Elkhart, Indiana, acquired the entry-level Starflyte and Carri-Go mini-motorhome lines in 2000 and 2001, respectively. These joined the Isata Touring Sedan and Isata Sport Sedan type Cs that the company already offered. We reviewed the Isata Sport Sedan for FMC in 1999 and were impressed with its uncompromising quality and rakish good looks.
Dynamax president DeWayne Creighton envisioned adding a higher-end product that would complement the models the company already offered, one that would have the amenities found on other topflight coaches, but also be immediately recognizable as a Dynamax. So, Mr. Creighton decided on a complete departure from conventional design. Rather than making a type A based on either a front-engine gasoline chassis or a diesel pusher, he and his design team reasoned, why not build an ultimate type C coach? Instead of using a standard cutaway, how about adapting a Freightliner big truck chassis, complete with a 300-horsepower Caterpillar diesel engine beneath a wind-breaking "anteater"-type hood?
The consensus was to first choose a chassis outfitted with all the luxury options available, such as power windows, air ride, tilt and telescope steering wheel, air brakes, an excellent climate-control system, and heated exterior mirrors. The next step was to lop off the standard Freightliner fenders and install more rounded assemblies, which include formed-in steps that give access to the cab doors, and also cover the twin 45-gallon fuel tanks. The final step was to build a first-class house on this platform.
Mr. Creighton said, "When I went to my boss to propose the idea, he said, 'I don't want to be Columbus.' He wasn't excited about creating a new trend. I thought about that for a while and went back to him. I said, 'You know, we already are Columbus.' He said, 'I guess you're right.' And the Grand Sport was born."
Although the cab is clearly a Freightliner, most of its components have been altered in some fashion. Along with new fenders and steps, the roof is cut out from just behind the windshield and replaced with a cap, which flares up to the roof of the house. A fiberglass visor similar to the bill of a baseball cap has been added to shade the windshield. The result is a smooth transition from the cab to the house. Plenty of room is available to stand up in the cockpit next to the sumptuous leather Flexsteel air-ride captains chairs and walk back over the level floor into the house.
Mr. Creighton and his crew also removed the front truck-type turn signal lights from the tops of the fenders, as well as the original headlights, and replaced them with Dodge pickup truck headlights and signal assemblies. The flare element introduced in the new fender extends along the sides of the coach, coalescing the design and allowing the cab and house sections to blend stylistically into one. The tire fenders are circular to evenly bracket the tires and accentuate the truck theme, and the sides of the house are slightly narrowed toward the top. This last feature not only adds to the overall eye appeal of the unit, but also makes the coach more "slippery" in the wind.
The side panels and roof of the Grand Sport are constructed using 1½-inch-by-1½ -inch aluminum square tube caging that is laminated with a vacuum-bonded fiberglass exterior.
We encountered some heavy winds during our test drive, both from the front and side. The Grand Sport acquitted itself well on both counts, particularly in crosswinds. While we could certainly feel the wind, it didn't seriously affect the secure handling characteristics of the coach. Overall, the Grand Sport's streamlined shape also enables it to get good mileage: even though it was factory new, the coach averaged a little more than 9 miles per gallon.
Guy, a former truck driver, noted that the Grand Sport has the same surefootedness as a big truck, but without all that freight behind the cab. The Caterpillar CFE-3126 engine provides 300 horsepower at 2,200 rpm and is linked to a smooth-shifting Allison MD 3060P six-speed automatic transmission. These 300 horses drive the coach through a Meritor 21,000-pound rear axle with a 4:88-to-1 gear ratio. The rubber meets the road via a massive set of Michelin 14-ply tires mounted on shiny cast-aluminum wheels.
Our test coach featured one of two available Grand Sport floor plans. Both of them are the same length, but ours was distinguished by having more space in the bath area to accommodate an optional washer and dryer. The other floor plan uses this space for a somewhat larger refrigerator.
After taking delivery of the coach and receiving a thorough prep course on its operation, we drove north from Elkhart through Michigan. We quickly noted the Grand Sport's easy handling and excellent roadworthiness on the highway. Later that evening, as we searched for a campground, we were pleasantly surprised when we had to make an unexpected about-face. While preparing to back up, Guy flicked on the docking lights. In all, this motorhome has eight of them, and they seem nearly as bright as the landing lights on a 747. The area to the rear of the coach was illuminated like daylight, and with the aid of the backup camera, we swung around with grace and ease. The Freightliner chassis is remarkably maneuverable for a vehicle with a 270-inch wheelbase.
As with the Isata Sport, we were most favorably impressed with the Grand Sport's fit and finish. Rather than using a fiberglass exterior finished off with gel coat, Dynamax takes this one step further. The paint crew sands the gel coat rough and then applies DuPont Chroma System paint. Graphics are painted on, not created from decals.
As we performed our usual "test wash" on the coach near the end of our drive, we noticed that its sleek finish was easy to clean, even following a veritable storm of ladybugs.
The Grand Sport passed our driving and handling tests with aplomb. From 60 mph, the coach came to a complete stop under hard braking in a reasonable distance and with little sway or dip. The Meritor air brake system significantly multiplies pedal pressure to the four-channel antilock brakes to bring this 26,000-pound coach to quick and well-controlled stops, with no squealing tires.
Dynamax engineers also wisely chose the Freightliner antisway option. Several times during this trip, we were forced to negotiate awkward driveway cuts and bumpy sections of road. The Grand Sport remained stable by containing what could have been a serious roll to less than one cycle. The added stabilizers, coupled with Bilstein shock absorbers, make the Freightliner chassis a superb coach platform.
In the same vein, we found the ride of the unit, though softened by air ride in the rear, to be firmly comfortable. The Grand Sport handles extremely well and is reassuringly easy to drive.
To tow a vehicle, a coach must have plenty of power. The big Caterpillar engine in the Grand Sport easily fills that bill and accelerates with bravado, even when ascending steep grades. We also were impressed with the towing package. It includes the standard receiver and wiring harness, plus an extra 96 inches of trailer cable to accommodate various wiring setups. A trailer air brake supply that terminates at a quick disconnect is also included, as is an 18-wheeler-style trailer brake handle under the steering wheel. We believe this adds significantly to the safety of the Grand Sport buyer who tows a trailer or a vehicle four wheels down.
This motorhome provides fine payload and towing capacity. Its gross vehicle weight rating (GVWR) is 33,000 pounds. With the water and fuel tanks topped off, our test coach weighed 25,960 pounds — yielding a payload of 7,040 pounds. And the Grand Sport doesn't just tow — it TOWS. Subtract the 26,000 pounds of coach weight from the gross combination weight rating (GCWR) of 40,000 pounds, and consider the remainder: 14,000 pounds.
The Grand Sport's basement storage space of 92.5 cubic feet is ample, although not as generous as that found in some diesel pushers. A rear basement bay spans the coach, and our two bicycles fit there easily with room to spare. Additional storage is available inside one streetside and three curbside compartments (50.5 cubic feet total), and a rear pass-through compartment (34 cubic feet). A panel on the rear slideout provides access to the under-bed area, which makes up the difference.
As with most coaches equipped with slideouts, the bay doors beneath the slideouts on the Grand Sport open only to a right angle. While this protects the doors, it can make hooking up difficult, as the service bays are located beneath the slideouts. We would like to see a hinge developed that would permit the bay doors to swing up completely when the slide-out sections are retracted but keep the opening to 90 degrees when the slideouts are extended. Another solution could be to use service bay doors that swing to the sides.
The Grand Sport contains HWH four-point fully automatic hydraulic levelers, which do an excellent job. Unlike some automatic levelers, these do not require occupants to sit quietly while they are engaged. Set the ignition key on "Accessory," push the button, and you are free to move about the coach.
Even with the less-than-perfect service bay door situation, the Grand Sport is not difficult to hook up. The 30-foot 50-amp shore line and the water line both are on powered takeup reels. The water hose pulls out manually to the desired length and can be rewound at the push of a button. The power line can be extended and retracted automatically. Curiously, the latter is situated between the two rear bays, so that one must open both doors to gain access.
The water and holding tanks are in a heated bay. The sewer hose connection is situated under the floor of the service bay. Since the leveling system empties the rear air bags and thus lowers the coach, it's best to hook up the sewer hose before you level, unless you enjoy deep knee bends. Cleaning up after the hookup procedure is facilitated by an exterior rinse hose, soap dispenser, and paper towel holder in this area.
The diverter valve that facilitates the filling of the fresh water tank also was in a location that we considered inconvenient. But we must remember that the Grand Sport we reviewed was only the second of its kind built. Mr. Creighton has done a highly commendable job of paying attention to detail, and he assured us that both of these items would be altered on future coaches. In fact, we learned later that the diverter valve has been moved to the front of the compartment, thereby making it more convenient to use.
Each window on the Grand Sport that is not covered by the 16-foot patio box awning is protected by its own separate awning; all awnings come as standard equipment. Inside, the windows are tastefully appointed with fabric lambrequins and day-night pleated shades (in the living and dining area). Interior color choices include Lilac, Midnight Blue, Mink, Sage, and Sandcastle. Oak cabinetry is standard, but buyers can choose cherry wood or white maple as an option.
The Grand Sport uses an effective system to keep the slideouts locked in place when the coach is under way. Motorized "wing" locks are situated on the outside walls on either end of the slideout. When the slideout closes, the wings open against the interior walls of the coach, securing the slideout. To unlock the slideout, flip a switch, and the wings pull in. A different switch actuates the single-motor screw assembly that moves the slideout into the extended position.
Both slideouts are located on the street side of the coach. The slideout sections make for great roominess and living comfort; in fact, the living room in many houses is no larger than that of the Grand Sport. The bedroom slideout contains the head of the queen-size bed, and when it is extended, it creates an aisle at the foot of the bed. The space there is more than adequate for two people to get dressed. The front slideout encompasses an extremely comfortable Flexsteel sofa bed. When opened, this extension features a flat floor and provides commodious living space. Behind the cockpit, also on the street side, is a Flexsteel rocker-recliner. (Guy insists he heard it calling out "Nap time!" at regular intervals.)
Across from the recliner is a serviceable dinette set with two swivel chairs and a fold-down table. Carpeting runs from the cockpit back to the ceramic tile floor that beautifies the galley and bathroom. The bedroom also is carpeted.
The Grand Sport is illuminated by ceiling-mounted fluorescent lights, which provide a comfortably diffused glow. Low-powered lights are situated near the floor as well. Several small recessed lights are located on cabinet bottoms. The bedroom is equipped with sconce and reading lights. Mirrors are judiciously placed on the rear wall of the bedroom to enhance the feeling of spaciousness and multiply the effect of the lighting.
The galley is well-equipped with a three-burner Atwood LP-gas cook top, a Panasonic 1.1-cubic-foot microwave-convection oven, and a generous 10-cubic-foot Dometic refrigerator that runs on either 110-volt AC or LP gas. Although cabinet space is somewhat at a premium in the galley itself, a deep, four-door, undivided overhead cabinet above the sofa lends itself well to pantry duty. The galley is serviceable, well laid out, and handsome. It includes a Corian countertop and dual Corian sinks served by a single-handle retractable sprayer faucet.
The streetside bath area includes a one-piece fiberglass shower that is enclosed by a glass door with brass accents. Above the shower is a skylight. Also in the ceiling is a three-speed Fan-Tastic Vent fan with a rain sensor. The lavatory features a Corian sink and countertops. As previously noted, the bath area contains sufficient room for a combination washer-dryer, which is available as an option. Across the center aisle from the bath is a commodious wardrobe.
The house utilities — furnace, water heater, air conditioners — are standard brands and models. The only complaint we had regarding any of these pertained to the Suburban 40,000-Btu forced-air furnace. It comes on with a hurricane-like roar — not the most pleasant sound in the middle of the night. We've encountered this situation in other coaches also.
The coach includes a 2,000-watt Prosine inverter that provides enough power to keep most of the appliances running for several hours without an outside source of electricity. The inverter makes dry camping convenient. Even the entertainment system components can be operated for long periods without using the generator.
However, motors can deplete the system; so, if you want to run one of the three Fan-Tastic Vent fans at night, or you're going to need the furnace, it's best to operate the generator until bedtime. This will ensure a sufficient charge to get through the night. Should you misjudge and run low on power, the Prosine will alert you with an alarm (which is loud enough to be quite disconcerting in the wee hours).
As for electronic gizmos, the Grand Sport is jam-packed with them, and they can be mightily bewildering to anyone over the age of 12. Our test unit had the optional global positioning system (GPS) navigation system, which was wrapped up neatly inside a Panasonic AM-FM CD player with an eight-disc changer. The GPS is equipped with a retractable screen for the color backup camera. If you accidentally pass by your destination with the GPS engaged, it will tell you to turn around.
On the Grand Sport's list of standard entertainment equipment is the aforementioned AM-FM radio and CD changer and a 22-inch flat-screen Panasonic TV that provides, without question, the highest-quality picture we've seen. Also included is a five-disc DVD player with surround sound. A flip-down, flat-screen 13-inch TV is situated in the bedroom, above the bed. As an option, the bedroom TV can come equipped with its own DVD player and wireless headphones. Our test model also had the optional KVH in-motion satellite system, which enables you to receive digital television signals while you're on the go.
Each of the above items can be powered by the Onan 7.5-kilowatt diesel generator, which can be set to turn itself on through the optional Xantrex automatic generator start system. The coach's 90-gallon fuel capacity gives motorhomers the freedom to hole up awhile in some lonely backwoods locale.
The base suggested retail price of the Dynamax Grand Sport is $249,914. As tested, our coach carried a price tag of $262,881 and included these options: GPS navigation system, automatic digital in-motion satellite dome, wireless headphones, DVD player in bedroom, automatic generator start control system, leather recliner.
According to Mr. Creighton, 2003 Dynamax Grand Sport models will incorporate several updates. These include standard SeaLand Vacuflush porcelain toilets; Pacbrake exhaust brakes; standard beveled mirrors on the refrigerator wall and the galley wall by the stove; and solid hardwood trim around the slideouts in the living and bedroom areas.
We shed a tear or two when it came time to return the Grand Sport to Dynamax. Not only did we have to say good-bye to a beauty, but we also had to relinquish our celebrity status.
Manufacturer ... Dynamax Corporation, P.O. Box 1948, 2745 Northland Drive, Elkhart, IN 46515; (888) 295-7859; (574) 262-3474; fax: (574) 262-1099; www.dynamaxcorp.com
Model ... Grand Sport
Floor plan ... FL735-B
Chassis ... Freightliner FL-70
Engine ... Caterpillar CFE-3126 7.2-liter, 300 horsepower @ 2,200 rpm, 800 foot-pounds torque @ 1,440 rpm
Transmission ... Allison MD 3060P six-speed automatic
Axle ratio ... 4.88 to 1
Tires ... Michelin XZE 275/80 R22.5, 14-ply
Wheelbase ... 270 inches
Brakes ... Meritor air brakes, WABCO ABS
Suspension ... front — 12,000-pound taper leaf; rear — 21,000-pound Airliner air
Alternator ... Delco 22-SI, 130 amps
Batteries ... chassis — (2) 12-volt, 1,520-cca; house — (3) 12-volt, 100 amps each
Steering ... TRW, power
Inverter ... 2,000-watt Prosine
Electrical service ... 50 amps
Auxiliary generator ... 7.5-kilowatt Onan Quiet Diesel
Exterior length ... 35 feet 6 inches
Exterior width ... 101 inches
Interior height ... 6 feet 6 inches
Exterior height ... 11 feet 8 inches (including optional roof-mounted satellite system)
Gross combination weight rating (GCWR) ... 40,000 pounds
Gross vehicle weight rating (GVWR) ... 33,000 pounds
Gross axle weight rating (GAWR) ... front — 12,000 pounds; rear — 21,000 pounds
Wet weight as tested ... (weighed with full water and fuel tanks) front axle — 9,480 pounds; rear axle — 16,480 pounds; total — 25,960 pounds
Payload ... 7,040 pounds
Frame construction ... steel rail
Insulation ... walls — R value 7; floor — R12.5; roof — R7
Fresh water capacity ... 80 gallons
Holding tank capacities ... gray water — 43 gallons; black water — 43 gallons
Fuel capacity ... 90 gallons
Fuel requirements ... diesel
Propane capacity ... 38 gallons
Water heater ... 10-gallon LP-gas/110-volt
Water system ... demand
Furnace ... Suburban 40,000-Btu
Air conditioner ... (2) Duo-Therm 15,000-Btu low-profile roof units
Refrigerator ... Dometic 10-cubic-foot, 110-volt/LP gas
Toilet ... Thetford
Warranty ... chassis — 2 years; transmission — 2 years/250,000 miles; engine — 5 years/6,000 hours; coach — 2 years/24,000 miles
Base suggested retail price ... $249,914
Price as tested ... $262,881