Makes sense that the world's fanciest motorhomes would be constructed in Miami, right? Miami it is, only this Miami is in Oklahoma, where, as Keke Rosberg once observed, "the beaches are not so good." Still, celebrities and pro drivers flock here in scores, dropping $50 million annually at the 120,000-square-foot Newell Coach factory, founded in 1967 by L.K. Newell.
The plant abuts a statue of the region's most famous son, Mickey Charles Mantle. "A great teammate," the inscription reads. If the Mick had kept every dime he was paid to swing bats professionally for his 18-year career, he'd have possessed $1,123,000. Today, the cheapest Newell fetches $1,355,000.
The company produces 24 coaches annually — 20 for customers, four as demonstrators. The average transaction price is $1.6 million, but a heavily optioned version — such as Roger Penske's — can easily bang hard against $2 mil. Each 45-foot-long Newell requires six months to construct, assembled by 165 workers who fabricate nearly everything in-house, save the engines and transmissions.
In the preceding 44 years, Newell has built 1341 coaches, no two identical. "One thousand are certainly still on the road," says company president Karl Blade, who has subscribed to C/D for 55 years. "I can't prove this," he adds, "but I think a Newell coach represents the lowest-unit-production, road-legal vehicle in the world." Maybe, maybe not. What we do know is that every 12 inches of an average Newell costs more than a Nissan 370Z.
Names Will be Dropped
Newell owners have won 27 Indianapolis 500s — more than a quarter of all such races run. That's a lot of spilled milk. Random owners whose surnames you'll recognize: Penske, Kenseth, Johnson, Ganassi, Speed, Waltrip (two of them), Rutherford, Spencer, Unser (three of them), Rahal, Montoya, Villeneuve, Button, Barrichello, Andretti, Scheckter, Franchitti, Tracy, Earnhardt (two of them). And lots more.
A Newell was even ordered by Dodi Fayed, who hoped to drive it to North American movie sets, but then he and the princess came a cropper in Paris. Blade thus shipped Fayed's coach, left-hand drive and all, to London, where it presumably still collects British dust in Harrods' fleet.
One Newell customer owns a pet cheetah. "When he shows up to have his rig serviced, he often walks the thing," says Blade. "So I call the neighbors and say, 'Now'd be a good time to bring in your dog.' "
The Stock Market
NASCAR stock-car drivers/owners currently eschew bedroom windows in their Newells -- too many paddock voyeurs. They also stipulate generators with exhausts vented skyward rather than toward adjacent picnicking Sprint Cup champions. And because racetracks are dirty, interior carpeting has largely given way to hardwood or marble floors.
Today, NASCAR drivers demand a huge underfloor storage compartment to accommodate a foldaway golf cart. "It's a big deal," says Blade. "At the end of each race, the drivers flee to the helicopters that carry them out of the track and to their private jets."
Newell's assembly line includes 11 stations, and a coach a-birthing will linger 84 hours within each. Every coach winds up in one of four 60-foot-long paint booths, where customers dictate their own graphics, however weird, starting with 20 gallons of standard-equipment paint applied in 12 coats. All stripes are painted, no tape. Pearlescents and DuPont's "flop" — which flickers gold to blue to green in varying ambient light — are common, as is "blending" from white to silver to gray to black, a $4500 option. One bus was adorned with an abstract open-wheel racer on its flanks. "I didn't know what the hell it was for four years," says VP of sales Patrick Dwyer. Two coaches recently went out virgin white — one for Crown Royal and one for Dale Earnhardt Jr., who later upped its curb appeal with orange flames and a recurring human-skull motif.
Strength in Numbers
Each coach is powered by a 912-cubic-inch (14.9-liter) Cummins ISX 650 diesel — 650 horsepower and 1950 pound-feet of torque — mated to an Allison six-speed automatic. The engine is lubricated by 44 quarts of synthetic oil. Newells are governed to 90 mph. "Ungoverned, however, they're easily good for 105 mph," says Dwyer, who knows because he's tried it. Cruising fuel economy averages 8 mpg. Every vehicle carries 225 gallons of fuel and 143 gallons of fresh water.
Designed by Design
The late stylist Larry Shinoda did much of the custom work on Roger Penske's Newells. Meanwhile, Porsche Design created the new Euro nose that all Newells currently sport. Both Roger Penske and McLaren boss Ron Dennis made multiple trips to Oklahoma. "I couldn't believe how fussy they were," says Blade. "They insisted on custom touches over every square inch. Roger even had a chrome dress-up package for the engine [a custom-built, high-output Detroit Diesel that was dropped off by Rusty Wallace]. His coach took 10 months, maybe the most expensive we ever built. I'm pretty sure I lost money on that one."
Alcoa to the Rescue
The roof of every Newell is made from a single 45-foot seamless span of aluminum sheet, and the flanks are wholly aluminum, too, with stainless-steel accents that owners are peculiarly prone to paint. Only the end caps are fiberglass. Customers can specify any size windows and as many as they want. Or none at all. Each windshield is 8.5 feet wide and five feet tall yet, amazingly, costs only $2100.
Buyers who stipulate more than 150 square feet of granite flooring must purchase it in lightweight "aircraft grade," meaning it's 3/16-inch thick and bonded to aluminum honeycomb. That will add $20,000 to the stone's cost. Even so, the coach's curb weight will reach 55,000 pounds. More than half of that heft — 33,000 pounds — lurks below the floor line, attributable mostly to the rear-mounted engine and the hand-built steel chassis.
Miles and Miles to Go
Apart from NASCAR drivers — whose rigs rack up 40,000 miles annually to be in place at 30-some races — most customers log only 2000 to 8000 miles per year. "We have a doctor with an eight-year-old coach," says Blade, "and he's put only 3000 miles on the thing. Now he wants to upgrade to a new one." On the other hand, Roger Penske owns a 600,000-mile Newell.
Virtually every owner will tow an automobile. One customer wanted a bigger kitchen, so now he tows a 38-foot, 40,000-pound restaurant-quality galley. His rig thus extends more than 83 feet, and he can't back up. But his burgers are awesome.
Tell Us What You Want
Newell will create pretty much anything for customers, as long as it doesn't represent a safety hazard or require an air-brushed mural of a naked lady. A fashion magnate recently demanded that all his coach's upward-facing cockpit surfaces — including an eight-foot-long countertop — be swathed in carbon fiber. He further insisted that several hundred feet of aluminum trim be cut exclusively from billet. Then he ordered hardwood maple floors that were painted gloss black. "The guy had previously spent $10 million on the interior of his jet," says Blade, "and he felt like his coach should match."
A member of the Saudi royal family ordered a coach with twin entrances — one for his family, the other for the not-so-royal driver. He further ordered small granite tubs for washing feet, as well as a custom bidet.
A customer with bad knees had an elevator installed. Multiple owners have stipulated built-in dog kennels, one with a private doggie door leading to a "Pomeranians Only" loo.
Crocodile or ostrich skins? No problem. Built-in bird cages? Done. Beds that lift hydraulically? Dime a dozen. Pocket doors that slide open and close pneumatically, hissing like those on the starship Enterprise? Commonplace. A video camera aimed at the door so you'll know when Mr. Ecclestone comes to collect? Standard.
"Actually, uninvited visitors are a big hassle," says Dwyer. "A Newell is the Bugatti Veyron of motorhomes, and Wilma and Fred in their Winnebago will come a-knockin' for a tour, usually when you're climbing naked into the tub."
Common options: Italian maple cabinetry ($44,000), Küppersbusch three-burner ceramic stove top ($4500), stainless-steel exterior trim ($9000), cedar lining in master closet ($400), built-in coffee maker ($900), 42-inch LCD TV with motorized lift ($6000), carbon-fiber instrument panel ($900), 100-pound below-floor freezer ($2000), full marble shower ($4500), projection TV with home-theater seating ($13,500), bathroom TV disguised as a mirror ($3500), infrared night vision ($6500), steam shower ($2500), central vacuum ($600), outdoor electric grill ($1500).
The coach we drove? Its options alone amounted to $314,950.
Newell almost always keeps 20 to 25 used coaches in stock. Right now, you can buy Montoya's 2008 coach — 119,000 miles, funky brown wood flooring, media room with theater seating and 60-inch LCD TV attached to the bottom of a hydraulically lifted bed. Asking price: $875,000. Pre-owned coaches less than nine years old come with a two-year warranty.
Eighty-five percent of Newell owners insist that their rigs be serviced exclusively at the Miami factory. "They don't want anyone else touching or seeing their stuff," Blade explains.
Driving Miss Duesy
Piloting a 2011 P2000i Newell coach — $1,563,450 — proved less stressful than we expected, with the Euro-style overhead side mirrors supplying a fortunate amount of situational awareness. Moreover, the huge windshield offers a stunning Cinerama-style view of the passing world. The brake and accelerator pedals feel only vaguely connected to anything, with plenty of travel before the bus's dynamic behavior is in any way altered. The ride approaches Lexus-like perfection, and the driver's "air-ride" seat filters out any residual high-frequency hash. The steering is big-time light and twirly -- many, many degrees must be dialed in for course alterations. Engine noise is muted, almost nonexistent, exactly as it should be, given the diesel's location 40-some feet aft.
Rattles and squeaks and groans from the entire household of leather, chrome, granite, and vinyl furnishings are, well, not exactly cacophonous but plenty annoying. Of course, that's what happens when you take your house for a drive. Ninety-degree turns must be negotiated in the 5-mph range; body roll is prodigious. Acceleration feels more brisk than it actually is: zero to 60 mph in 29 seconds.
It helps that the front suspension is independent and that the tag (rearmost) axle offers five degrees of steering. The coach turns in a 37-foot radius, so sharply that full lock can ram one rear corner of the bus into anything that is being towed.
The first commandment of Newell navigation: Always know exactly where you're going 'cause you do not want to back up.
Content provided by Car and Driver.