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Showplaces for when you go places

By BETH N. GRAY
Published February 8, 2007


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BROOKSVILLE - Recreational vehicles left old-time "campers" in the dust years ago but the latest bells and whistles are making recreational vehicles classier, cushier and more homelike every year.

And they're all on display at the 26th annual Southeast Area Rally of the Family Motor Coach Association, which runs through Sunday at the Hernando County Airport. This marks the 10th year the rally has gathered thousands of visitors here, said vice president and host George Schipper.

While nearly 2,000 motor coaches have rumbled in, some of their owners are looking for upgrades or add-on amenities. Day-trippers are sometimes dreaming of when they might go over-the-road.

Dream RV dealership of Bradenton has one of the answers: the first coach with a 29-foot full-body slideout. It operates on three hydraulic pistons and supersedes models with two-on-a-side smaller slides, said sales rep Robert Wagner, 61.

At about 27 inches deep, the slide accommodates a free-standing dinette, a queen-size lounge behind the driver's seat, a refrigerator, hanging locker, computer station and a folding sofa, the latter in the master bedroom.

"It's a matter of floor plan," said Wagner, who has been selling RVs for 12 years.

The Four Winds coach from the builder's Mandalay Luxury Division carries a price tag of $234,900.

New floor plans are a draw, said Ryan Hollan, sales rep for Haberson RV Pasco in Holiday. "It used to be living room, entertainment/den, then kitchen. The latest models have moved the kitchen to the front."

In conjunction, the TV has come down to eye level after hanging from the ceiling behind the driver and front passenger seats. "It's more of a living room feel than an RV feel," said Hollan, a veteran RV sales rep.

Buyers are seeking extra amenities, he said.

"Washers and dryers, bath-and-a-half, king beds," he said.

"It's kind of like houses," agreed sales manager Mike Martinkus of John Bleakley Motor Homes in Douglasville, Ga. "They want flat-screen TVs, plasma."

He's been selling coaches for 34 years.

On one coach model he was touting, the touch of a single button turns on the TV, lowers the blinds and dims the lights. A remote button chooses satellite source or DVD.

And even though fuel is plenty pricey these days, it doesn't seem to be an issue for most buyers, Martinkus said.

"They'll all ask miles per gallon and I can tell them anything and they'll still buy," he said. Compared with the cost of a coach, "What's a handful of cash at the gas station?" he asked.

Indeed. Bleakley's top-of-the line conversion is priced at $1.4-million.

Not everyone was looking for a new coach. Many hunted for an amenity for their current model. In the mammoth vendor tent they could peruse windshield wipers, windshield repair from a bottle rather than replacement, cleaning products, tire pressure monitors and electronics gizmos.

David Fricke of Cincinnati stood rapt by the pitch for RV-Sani-Con, a one-touch automatic waste system with vacuum evacuation that can empty a 60-gallon waste tank in five minutes.

"I want one, bad," said the 59-year-old owner of a National Tradewinds RV.

Terry Phillips of Amherst, Ohio, 72, owner of an MCI coach, chimed in. "I have one, and I love it."

The sales rep said more than 30,000 units have been sold at $399.

"Considering what it does, I think it's a good price," Fricke said.

Beth Gray can be reached at graybethn@earthlink.net.

Fast Facts:

If you go

What: Southeast Area rally of the Family Motor Coach Association.

When: Daily through Sunday. Open to the public for a $5 day pass 8:30 a.m. to 5 p.m. Wednesday through Saturday and 8:30 a.m. to 4 p.m. Sunday

Where: Hernando County Airport, entrance off U.S. 41 south of Brooksville.

Information: Call the association office at 796-0154.

[Last modified February 7, 2007, 22:39:45]


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