By: Bob Gummersall
[Ed Note 10/2011: Although the Alpine Coach Peak Chassis is no longer manufactured, many of them continue "on the road" today -- despite the fact Alpine coaches are no longer produced. Because of the continuing interest in this unique chassis, we've preserved this article that was first published 10 years ago.]
Introduction - As most of you know by reading my article comparing motorhome chassis, I am not a fan of Frame Rail Chassis. I'm sure that bias came through in the words written in that article. Gary Jones, VP Peak Chassis Group, Western Recreational Vehicles read this article and sent me an email asking me to take a closer look at the Peak Chassis used by his company under the Alpine Coach. I recently spent a pleasant day with him at the Peak Assembly Plant in Yakima, Washington hearing about and experiencing this product. His experience designing and implementing specialized chassis in prior jobs included full monocoque, semi-monocoque, frame rail and other type of special purpose vehicles. I was frankly impressed with his knowledge and enthusiasm. Rvers Online seldom publishes anything specific about a given companies products, but this time I decided to make an exception. Here are my impressions.
Facility - This factory, really an assembly operation, was one of the cleanest that I have been in and the most organized. The Chassis start out at Station 1 as a random looking pile of steel. Closer inspection showed that each piece has been custom manufactured by a Peak supplier to an exact dimension including holes pre-drilled or punched. It reminded me of a tour I made of the Paccar Kenworth Truck Factory in RentoWashington where Truck Tractors of all variety are made to exacting specifications designed to take an over the road beating for a million miles or better. After these pieces were Huck Bolted (just like Kenworth) together the chassis was sand blasted with soda, primed and painted a white color using a high quality paint looking better than some finished products. Every piece of pre-engineered steel that was subsequently bolted onto the chassis was finished in this same or similar fashion, looking like a finished product on its own. Subsequent stations added add axles, engine/transmission, wiring, generator, tanks for fuel, water and propane, dash heater/air/defrost, batteries, tires, etc. An independent Quality Assurance person inspected and signed off after each of 8 stations of assembly. There were only a couple of parts that were welded, one for the slideout mechanisms, on this. YES. Frame Rail Chassis.
Chassis - Gary had a reason for every component assembled and how it was assembled. The reasons for abs hydraulic disk brakes for example were specific to brake pedal feel, low brake fade and serviceability. Peak has chosen to use only proven products from reliable experienced vendors using a selection criterion of safety, service and function. Gary called this "bullet proofing" his chassis for long term quality and service. This Frame Rail Chassis was not like anything I have seen in the RV industry. It is like what I have seen in Over the Road Truck Factories. The Peak Chassis Group has given lots of thought about how we use our motorhomes and who drives them. Needless to say, I was very impressed with this chassis and the people that put them together.
Test Drive - Gary and Barbara, the Quality Assurance Manager, took me for a test drive to show the results of their engineering and assembly of the Peak Chassis. I found it to be as good and in some ways better than any semi-monocoque chassis and far superior to any Frame Rail Chassis that I have tested. The low center of gravity, balance (lots of weight on the front), long wheel base, spring rates and suspension geometry, roll bars etc. made this coach handle almost like a large van or SUV. I experienced superior braking provided by hydraulic assisted disk brakes, limited body roll, extremely fast lane change maneuver. Even though we did multiple simulated lane change maneuvers at 60 mph the Peak kept all the tires on the ground. Gary's engineering, component selection and attention to detail has paid off for them.
Conclusion - I have to say that my impression of this Frame Rail Chassis was very positive. The attention the Peak has to safety, quality and serviceability is superior to any plant that I have been in. The warranty record of over 700 coaches in service is also far superior to any that I know about. The Peak Chassis is not like any other frame rail chassis that I have tested - it is far superior. I would recommend this chassis to anyone looking to buy a quality luxury diesel pusher motorhome. I know this reads like a commercial for the Peak Chassis but I just had to write it this way because of the attributes of the product I looked at and tested.