1949 - trailer coaches by Spartan Aircraft | Aviation Week, April 4, 1949


Spartan Aircraft Co. is keeping its manufacturing plant busy and is helping furnish sorely-needed housing facilities through the very factors that two years ago caused most aircraft manufacturers to abandon efforts to enter the housing field.

After extensive surveys, the bulk of the manufacturers decided that plane manufacturing and housing-even prefabs-required completely different tooling and labor skills.

Spartan's "magic key" to housing was the trailer coach which can be constructed, the Tulsa company has found, along aircraft engineering lines with a resulting product more attractive and stronger than the usual trailer coach.

Start-Spartan had been building air- craft since 1928 and in the mid-thirties produced a popular executive-type plane. It employed 6000 on wartime aviation work. After the war it built and flew the prototype of a new executive transport and studied a new-type automobile.

It built prototypes of refrigerators, deep freeze units, and investigated furnaces. It dropped all these after examining market possibilities.

Early in 1946 it turned to the trailer coach, Vice President Maxwell W. Balfour explains, because "it was thought trailers and airplanes had something in common. They should be light and strong and have a minimum of drag. They should be able to stand a storm or crash and should be easy to repair.

"Little attention was paid to existing trailers, as the company's goal was a truly modern, postwar aircraft-design trailer. In fact, the procedure and personnel were typically aircraft." 

Since the prototype Manor was shown in 1946, Spartan has developed four other models. In three years it has sold about 10,000 trailers, grossing approximately $25 million. This constitutes about two-thirds of the total income of Spartan Aircraft Co. of which Spartan School of Aeronautics is a division. It has kept an average of 1000 employes busy on trailers.

According to Balfour, the first dozen Manors averaged more than 2500 man- hours. By the time production had reached 5000, manhours were down to 350, and are expected to be cut to 250 at about the 12,000th unit.

Cost Factors-Factory cost of a trailer generally is considered to be about 20 percent labor and 80 percent materials and purchased parts. Balfour says that nearly all trailer manufacturers buy the chassis, windows, vents, sinks, wash basins, beds, divans and chairs. In order to utilize its large factory, Spar- tan makes everything except parts of the running gear.

Disadvantage of this is that it adds about 70 manhours per trailer to Spar- tan's product. This, plus higher overhead, and higher materials cost (aluminum vs. wood) puts Spartan's costs above those of the average trailer manufacturer. The company did not reach the break-even point on the project until it reached the 5000 mark.

Although Spartan coaches cost about $500 more than most other makes, the company has captured an important percentage of the trailer market because of higher quality. In the first quarter of 1949, Spartan is doing at least twice as much business as in the same period a year ago.

Spartan is in the trailer coach business to stay. Owner and President J. Paul Getty, firmly behind the project from the start, has put new capital into the enterprise and expanded factory space. But the company has not abandoned aircraft. When and if the market is right, the executive plane will be produced-and if circumstances demanded it, the entire factory could be turned back to aircraft manufacture within 48 hours.