By Don “Desert Fox” Casey
The below Sceptre Signals and information was originally compiled and distributed by Don Casey, an early Apollo Sceptre owner and enthusiast. Don wrote 6 “Sceptre Signals,” that were published in Family Motor Coach Association’s Apollo International Club’s Apollogram newsletter in the 1990s. Don wanted to create a level of mystery along with the valuable information that he was distributing and wrote under the moniker Desert Fox. It worked; everyone was talking about Sceptres, Sceptre Signals and who could be the true author, the Sceptre community was a very small and close net group, so everyone was suspect!
I believe that the information Desert Fox compiled some 20 years ago is still invaluable and of great importance to this new generation of Sceptre owners. It also gives a glimpse into what an extremely rare and exciting coach the Sceptre truly was and is today.
I took some poetic liberties and modified some of Mr. Casey’s original words to update the information and to make the Sceptre Signals easier to read.
In the early 1970s, the idea of a Class-A diesel pusher motorhomes was just a fuzzy concept on a few RV industry leaders drawing boards. To have a diesel pusher in those days, you had to buy one of the few custom-built bus conversions to get this new and desirable power-plant configuration. However, in the late ‘70s Bluebird started manufacturing its Wanderlodge with a rear-engine diesel and several RV industry leaders such as Apollo, Vogue and Foretravel stepped-up their plans and develop their own versions of the first ever Class-A, high-end diesel pusher motor coach. The era of the luxury diesel pusher coaches was born and it is still all the rage today.
In 1979, Apollo Motor Homes, Inc. of Carson, CA disclosed in an article in MotorHome magazine that they had been developing their version of a luxury diesel pusher coach using a redesigned and upgraded version of the Food Manufacturing Company (FMC) chassis that they had exclusive rights to. The custom chassis was to be powered by the new Detroit Diesel (DD) 8.2 leader 205 HP turbo “Fuel Pincher” engine that claimed to get 12 to 14 miles per gallon. By the time the Sceptre made it to production as a special order only unit, the FMC chassis was only used one the first Sceptre and then replaced with the Oshkosh Rear Engine Diesel (ORED) chassis, the 8.2 DD was kept and offered as the upgrade engine, while the Cat 3208 175 HP non-turbo engine was the basic power plant offered.
Mr. Ray Holloway, Apollo’s President, was shooting to introduce the new 35’ Apollo Sceptre motor coach to dealers as early as mid-year 1979 with plans of going into production in early 1980. This ambitious plan did not come to fruition until early 1982.
Apollo had high expectations of producing approximately 100 coaches in its first year of production with an estimated starting price of $120,000 to $150,000. This too did not go as planned, the first year production only turned out 30 units with a base price of $179,000. It should be noted that an entry level motorhome at that time only cost about $20,000 and 33’ luxury gas models cost around $70,000, Apollo’s 33’ DB3300 gas coach was a whopping $125,000.
In 1981, Apollo Motor Home, Inc. started shopping around to local dealers a proto-type Sceptre and began accepting orders from dealers and eager customers that had been following the Sceptre’s development with great anticipation.
This prototype Sceptre carried Apollo Serial number 62D470001, it was on the FMC chassis and was powered by the Detroit Diesel 8.2L Turbo, and the aerodynamic body was white with brown strips and accents, only two coaches would carry the white/brown color combination. The windshield, driver and passenger windows we slightly larger then all the other Sceptres that followed. This coach’s FMC chassis had a 5 lug nut pattern, the Oshkosh chassis, which was used on units 2-40, had 6 lug nuts and the final four Sceptres were built on Gillig chassis that had 10 lug nuts.
In addition this first Sceptre had a Bargemen entry door handle/lock (all other Sceptres had VW Jetta handles/locks), the units floor plan had the tub/shower to the rear of the bathroom and several other subtle differences than the units to follow in its footsteps. It was also reported that the buyer of this first unit was not satisfied with the interior design and the factory agreed to completely redo the interior to include floor plan adjustments and modifications.
Sceptre #2 was built on the Oshkosh ORED chassis and also featured the white and brown exterior paint scheme, the majority of Sceptres would be produced in a Cashmere Tan with dark brown stripes; it is reported that two of the Sceptres manufactured in 1984 were ordered in white with dark blue stripes. It was reported that this unit had a major exhaust leak into the coach’s cabin and the Apollo factory had to make modifications and replace the interior upholstery, they used the same fabric that was now being used in the 1983 models. This coach also was ordered with a 3rd gas furnace.
It is believed that the first 9 Oshkosh chassis were rated at only 20,000 lbs GVWR; 7,000 lbs front and 13,000 lbs rear. They also had air-activated hydraulic brakes with an air-ride suspension. The following 30 units were built on the V715R Oshkosh chassis rated at 22,500 lbs GVWR and had full air brakes, all Sceptres had air ride chassis’ and 22.5’ aluminum rims.
As best it can be determined, Sceptres 2-10 were powered by the Cat 3208, 175 HP non-turbo engines, although sales brochures for the 1982 model year indecated that both the Cat and the Detroit Diesel were offered at the time. Both power plants were V-8 diesels.
The Apollo Motor Home, Inc. factory only produced the Sceptre in three model years, 1982, ‘83, and ’84, two of the 1984 models were called 1985’s. The Sceptre remained in limited production and they were only sold as a special order coach. By best estimates there were only 43 or 44 Sceptre produced during its three year run. This number is largely based on an Apollo factory sales/production list that was obtained by Mr. Earl Henley, an early Sceptre owner. This list and subsequent updates were the foundation for determining how many Sceptres were produced and who the first owners were. It is still the best evidence and documentation when it comes to establishing the true number of Sceptre manufactured and tracking their whereabouts. It also revealed the Apollo Serial Number (ASN) system, which will be explained below.
The ASN system used on the Sceptres is a 9-digit number/letter format that appears as 62D4700001-64D460204 and is stamped into a small aluminum data plate located next to the coach’s entry door along with the VIN and date(s) of manufacture. The entirety of the ASN system remains a mystery, but the following elements of the system are believed to breakdown as follows;
The ASN’s first number is a “6” and remains both consistent and a mystery. The second number clearly indicates the year/model of manufacture, i.e. a 2 indicates 1982, 3 for 1983 and 4 for 1984 (as stated earlier, Apollo referred to two of the 1984 as 1985s, but the number 5 never appeared in the ASN system). The letter “D” also remained consistent and stands for Diesel powered coach. Apollo manufactured thousands of high quality gas motorhomes over a 30 plus year period.
The first number(s) following the “D” seems to indicate the interior floor plan and a number 3 reflects a queen bed, were a number 5 would be a twin bed layout.
The last two numbers indicates the sequence of production, however, this system does not range from 01-44, but rather zeros out at the beginning of each model year of manufacture. Therefore in 1982 the last two numbers range from 01-30, however, it is believed that the unit numbered 62D570024 was renumbered at the Apollo factory to 63D570101 making it the first unit manufactured in 1983. That leaves the total number of Sceptre built and sold in 1982 as 29 units.
The model year 1983 ASN system ranged from 63D570101 to 63D340110, with a total production of 10 Sceptres built and sold that year.
The final year of production for the Sceptre would be 1984 and the ASN system ranged from 64Dxxxx201 to 64D460204, with only four known Sceptres built and sold in 1984. It has been reported that Apollo titled units 201 and 204 as 1985s.
The last four Sceptres built stand in a league all of their own, as they are the only Sceptres to leave the factory with more than sufficient horsepower to properly push the full weight of the Sceptre and a tow vehicle up a major grade on a hot day without fear of overheating. These Sceptre were built on the Gillig chassis, which weighed 3,300 lbs more than the units built on the Oshkosh chassis, but are powered by the newly improved Cat 3208 250 HP Turbo with a larger Allison Transmission.
Many early and follow-on generations of Sceptre owners repowered their coaches to overcome the lack of power the first 40 units had. If faced with the opportunity to buy two different Sceptres at different prices, I would recommend paying more for the unit that already had the stronger power plant-it would save you time and money in the long run.
Note: This lack of power should not be a deterrent from becoming one of the lucky few Sceptre owners, as most Sceptres have had power plant enhancements and today there are many possibilities to beefing up the horsepower. Additionally, the Sceptre’s other qualities far makeup for this situation. Finally on this topic, when is the last time you heard a motorhome owner bragging about how much power their rig has, more often the conversation is about what they did to get a little more power to get over the hills faster.
As reported in Sceptre Signal-III, best available information shows that there were only 43 or 44 diesel pusher Sceptres built between 1982-1984, however, there is at least one other so-called “Sceptre” out there somewhere!
In late 1984, RevCon bought out Apollo Motor Home, Inc., however, Apollo’s manufacturing operations would only last a few months before her doors were closed and production ceased.
Apollo would resurface in 1987 and begin limited operations/productions of their 33’ gas motor homes; they were called 1988 “Limited Editions.” At the annual Anaheim, CA Recreational Vehicle show in January of 1988, the reemerged Apollo debuted a new “Sceptre.” This new Sceptre carried the same unique body styling, was still 35’ long, but was now on a Chevrolet tag-axle chassis powered by a front engine gas 454 coupled with a modified GM 475 transmission with an over/under drive.
Otherwise it was equipped much the same as the original Sceptres, the floor plan resembled the 1984 models, however they reduced all of the capacities of the various holding tanks to include the “gas” tank. One upgrade was an option of a freezer unit installed in one of the exterior compartments.
Apollo set a “suggested retail-base price” of $153,400 for this new gas Sceptre and then offered a “Special Factory Direct” price of $109,600. At the Anaheim RV Show, Sunset Motors offered the display unit at a special show price of $105,000. It is assumed that this gas Sceptre sold at the show or at some point thereafter, however, it has rarely been seen on the road and it is also possible that there was more than one of these units manufactured and sold around that time. Those who have seen this mythical gas Sceptre report that the craftsmanship was shoddy and that cheap material were used throughout the unit(s).
Many motorhome owners are known to make modifications to their rigs to suit their individual special needs and wants, Sceptre owners are no exception.
Even though the Sceptre has been hailed, as the “perfect” motorhome by various RV magazines, there is always something you can modify on a case-by-case basis to fit your individual taste on any motorhome.
One of the most popular modifications to Sceptre’s interior floor plans was first performed by the owner of Sceptre number 8, he found the area in front of the bathroom sink too cramped and decided to modify the ascent wall by making it swing open when this area is being used. Many Sceptre owners followed suit and various ways to do the same modification were performed. Basically the wall was cut away and replaced with a new one that was mounted on a piano hinge, this allowed the wall to be folded back and out of the way when the bathroom was in use and then it could be returned to it original position and secured with sliding locks at the top and bottom to hold it in place. When performing this modification, make sure to measure the top cut to allow the swinging wall to clear the rear A/C unit so it can be folded all the way back out of the way. This modification was shown to the folks at Apollo and it was then offered as a factory modification.
It is also reported that many Sceptre owners were not happy with the corner queen bed arrangement and several of them converted the queen bed to forward facing twin beds, something that they could have originally ordered from the factory.
When performing the twin bed modification many owners took the opportunity to modify closets, drawers and increase engine compartment insulation while they were at it. Adding gas shocks (lifts) to the engine compartment hatch also makes service, inspections and maintenance in this area much faster and easier.
In the February 1993 issue of Family Motor Coach Association’s Motor Coaching magazine it was reported that Oshkosh Truck Corporation had issued a “recall” and inspection/service program to inspect the chassis/frame cross member that anchors the short front/rear torque rod that holds the rear axle to the chassis. This anchor/chassis cross member had started to fail on some units causing the rear end to move backward and could cause catastrophic failure. This was not unique to Sceptre, but was also found on other diesel pusher motorhome that were also built on the Oshkosh V715R chassis.
If surface cracks were found on this cross member, Oshkosh would supply a replacement cross member, part number 121554CW, that was made from a higher strength material. At the time, Oshkosh would also pay the labor if the coaches were still under the 5 year or 100,000 mile (whichever came first) warranty. It was suggested that owners of these affected coaches take their rigs to an authorized Oshkosh Service center for inspection and/or repairs.
Just 3 months later, the May 1993 issue of FMCA’s FMC magazine reported that the “recall” had been upgraded and that all Oshkosh V715R chassis should come in and that the cross member would be replaced regardless, and at no cost to any customers even if they were no longer covered by warranty. This applies to only the Sceptres that were built on the Oshkosh chassis, which most were.
Owners were instructed to contact an authorized Oshkosh Service center or to call Oshkosh at 414-235-1726, ext. 2830 and ask for Kim Hasse. Since that time and recall, Oshkosh was bought out by Freightliner Corporation.
If you currently own a Sceptre that was built on an Oshkosh chassis or buy one in the future, it is important to inspect this cross member to see if the repair was performed back in 1993, if the recall was performed, the new cross member should be painted “yellow.” Either way, have an expert read this recall information and have them inspect this area; this repair is best performed at your convenience and in your home town-not while on vacation far from home.
Update, if you have any questions about this recall, please feel free to contact me, Dennis DeNoi (626) 221-1184. I had this cross member fail on me while on an extended trip, I caught the problem before it completely failed and I was able to get my rig and family safely to a reputable repair facility. They were unable to locate the above listed replacement part, so we engineered a suitable repair to the existing cross member that is as strong or stronger than the original fix recommended by Oshkosh back in 1993.
View the Located Sceptres here.