Texans Ken and Patty Urban would do one thing differently if they had it to do over again: Rather than trading their way up the ladder from RV to bigger RV to luxury motor coach, they'd start nearer to the top.
The top, in this case, refers to a luxury motor coach that resembles — but should not be confused with — a recreational vehicle, commonly known as a motor home.
Motor mansion would be more accurate. Or castle. Or — as some refer to them — land yachts.
Ken and Patty are members of an elite group known as Prevost Prouds, an organization of people who own the world's most luxurious motor coaches. They crisscross the continent in multi-million dollar marvels of space-age engineering and comfort that are, in many cases, furnished as elegantly as any Beverly Hills chateau.
Take, as an example, the Vantaré Platinum Plus, a luxury coach built by Featherlite Luxury Coaches that is billed as the world's most expensive vehicle of its type. You enter this $2.5-million wonder on steps made from rare Inca marble with risers of handcrafted glass tile embedded with copper. The ceiling of the helm is covered with pearlized Italian leather. The veneer on the dash and steering wheel is made of Sapele Pommele from Africa.
The salon boasts a custom Italian sofa with double electric recliners upholstered in Correggio fabric. The liquor cabinet is stocked with signed crystal glasses by Michael Weems and decanter from Neiman Marcus. The ceilings in the salon, galley and hall are covered with custom copper sculpture by Chip Manz. The overhead lights shine through Swarovski crystal.
Starting to get the picture? The kitchen boasts a one-of-a-kind farmhouse-style sink handcrafted by Oregon's own Marzi Sinks company (see sidebar). The counters are custom copper. The cabinets feature Sapele veneer, special inlays and copper-fused glass. Appliances include a Sub-Zero refrigerator freezer, stainless steel dishwasher and built-in coffee center. The dining table is made of onyx.
In the stateroom, a giant plasma television raises from the footboard of a king bed that features a headboard with mirrored posts, Schonbek crystal and antique bronze leaf sconces. The walls are finished with European strie and the closets are cedar-lined.
This immaculate package includes such hi-tech gadgetry as GPS systems and computers, exercise equipment, 90-ounce spa towels and too many other details to list.
Ken Urban, speaking from the inside of his 45-foot coach while enroute to Key West, seems a tad embarrassed by discussions of such opulence. His own coach is a somewhat more modest affair, manufactured by Liberty Coach, which cost a mere $1.5 million off the lot. A plain-spoken, self-made businessman, Ken doesn't like to talk about the gadgetry and accoutrements. He focuses, instead, on what is known as "the coaching lifestyle."
"There's no better lifestyle than this," he says. "The people you meet on the road who are driving Prevosts are special. They're people who didn't grow up rich. They worked hard, made a little money, and now they're to the point where they can enjoy themselves a little bit."
Tim Bennion, president of Legendary Luxury Coach in Coburg, Oregon, agrees with Ken's assessment of the demographic profile of luxury coach owners, and with Ken's focus on lifestyle.
"At this price, you're selling lifestyle," he says. "The traditional, East Coast old-money people aren't necessarily the ones buying these vehicles. These are self-made people. It's the millionaire next door. It's the contractor who worked hard, sold his business, and now he gets to enjoy himself. They chase the sun and stay at the best resorts. It's Tevas [shoes], Hawaiian shirts and Bermuda shorts at a Tommy Bahama level."
And it's people like Ken and Patty. Ken spent his professional life building a manufacturing company near Dallas. After he sold the business in 1998, he and Patty hit the road, spending seven to eight months a year chasing sunsets and basically enjoying life.
He is also a vice-president of the Prevost Prouds, a 28-year-old organization of about 800 people who drive luxury coaches. Every company that manufactures these vehicles — known as Prevost conversions because they are built on a Prevost bus chassis — hosts an owners' club. It includes Marathon Coach, Legendary Coach, Monaco Coach and Country Coach, all of which are based near Eugene, Oregon. The clubs sponsor two rallies a year, held in fun or exotic locales.
The Urbans have traversed the Pacific Northwest from north to south and east to west on more than one occasion. A few years ago, they attended a Prevost Prouds rally on the Oregon Coast. It was held at Pacific Shores Resort in Newport, an outdoors resort that caters to luxury coach owners in surroundings that are several levels above the typical RV Park. Similar resorts, which feature golf, fine dining and all the amenities of upscale resorts — are popping up across the country to serve this exclusive market, which should not be confused with the larger RV market.
"The luxury coach market represents one-half of one percent of the RV market," says Clyde Bailey, general manager of sales at Featherlite Luxury Coaches, manufacturer of the Vantaré Platinum Plus. They turn out 45 to 50 coaches per year with price tags ranging from $1.5 to $2.5 million. Today there are roughly 900 Featherlite coaches on the road, and no two are alike, which is one of the key differences between luxury coaches and RVs.
"Every coach is different," says Legendary Coach president Tim Bennion. "You'll never see the same dress at the dance."
What advice do the Urbans have for people thinking about entering the rarified world of luxury coach ownership?
Start at the top, Ken advises. "Take the big step first. Most people start small and build up. These things don't appreciate in value. Instead of losing money every time you sell one and step up, start big."
Duane Marzi chuckled, but he wasn't particularly surprised, when he was informed that the world's most expensive luxury motor coach, a $2.5 million land yacht called the Vantaré Platinum Plus, had one of his company's hand-crafted country kitchen sinks in its elegant galley.
He and his wife, Belinda, have crafted exotic basins for some of the world's most famous people. Such icons as Meryl Streep, Clint Eastwood and Barbra Streisand scrub their teeth or wash their vegetables in basins crafted at Marzi Sinks.
The Marzi Sinks Factory, now located in Grants Pass, was founded in 1959 by Duane's parents, Rudi and Nancy Marzi, who fell in love while studying art at the California College of Arts and Crafts. Duane and Belinda, the second generation in this artistic family odyssey, moved the company from California to Oregon three years ago.
The Marzis employ 12 highly skilled artists and technicians, who craft every basin by hand. The process is akin to pottery-making. Every sink is hand-painted and kiln-fired, resulting in individualized works of functional art that cost up to $2,000 apiece.
They pride themselves on being able to match any stone, glass or metal surface in the room where their sinks will be installed, and their artists can paint virtually anything, from the likeness of your horse or antique car to exotic landscapes and wildlife. They recently completed a sink for a poker room featuring floating cards, and another for a Harley-Davidson buff who wanted to see classic Harleys swirling around his drain.
Most of their sinks are found in homes, but the company has created basins for yachts, planes and, of course, the world's most expensive luxury motor coaches.
"We love the challenge of being able to produce something that someone has dreamed," says Duane. "We bring their vision to fruition, and that's a great joy to us."