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Sundial History

John L. Nixon is the holder of patent # 3,188,134 - this is the patent for the Sundial bed.  Mr. Nixon is also the owner/designer for Sundial Camper in Edgemont, California.  Here is a brief history of the company as told by his son Jeff in an email sent to me on 7.16.2004;

Hi,
My dad was the owner/designer for Sundial.
Back around '60 he started Caravelle Campers in Home Gardens, Ca. near Corona and here is the brochure. He moved the business to Edgemont, Ca. (Now part of Moreno Valley) in the mid sixties and renamed it Sundial. He moved into other brands of vans and at one time had over 100 employees. The oil embargo of the early seventies killed the business so we moved to northern cal. where he started a small van conversion business called Kaleidoscope. It didn't get too far so he bought a portable toilet company and after 25 years sold it last year and is now retired. He still has a van he did but it's a chevy, I think.

 

I replied back thanking him for the contact and asking for any information.

I'm glad you enjoyed the info. I was born in '62 so my parents would be more helpful. The Sundial shop in Edgemont was an old skating rink. When we bought it it still had all the skates and these life size silhouettes of young couples skating that stayed on the walls for years. My dad also made a small tent called the "Pee Pee Tee Pee" made out of the same canvas as the VW cabanas and it was just big enough to put a fold-up toilet with a plastic bag hanging under the seat. We tested the campers all over the western states and Mexico.  The family in the old pics is my aunt Ruth and her family.

 

Paula Nixon, the wife of John emailed me the following.

Dear Bart,
I was delighted to find all the stuff about Sundial!  I'll give you a quick history.
We got married on July 17, 1960.  In Jan. '61, John's sister Mary, then Blankenship, and her husband Ben were EZ Camper out of Concord, CA.  VW had their own campers at that time but the layout left a lot to be desired. Mary asked John to come up and learn the business and be their So. Cal. representative.  So we did.  Three months later we came home, and worked out
of the garage.  Then John rented a building in Homegardens, outside of Corona, CA.

Mary and her husband split.  So Mary, her accountant and her husband, and John and I started up American Camper.  Then Mary went back to her husband and wanted to take the new business with her.  We knew they wouldn't stay
together, so the accountant and her husband  and we, changed it to Carousel Camper.  They manufactured the parts and sent them down to us to be sold and installed.  John wasn't happy with the quality of the parts so he had to
keep buying machines to fix them himself.  Finally we agreed to split the company and they kept the No. Calif. area.  That was the beginning of Sundial Camper. All of this took about a year to happen.

VW wanted to move their vans so they required the dealers to buy a certian number of van and Kombis to be able to buy their cars, so the dealers were delighted to have a way to move these vans.  John would take the precut parts to the dealers, cut out holes for the windows, install the new windows, paneling, insulation and everything and then go on to the next dealer.  On some days he did three camper installations at three different dealers.  Long days. After quite a while the powers-that-be required all installation to be done in the shop. John was always inventing new ways to make thing better.  He did all the upholstery, wood parts, and awnings. (Someone was questioning the awnings. We always made our own, plus the Pent tents on the roof racks. I haven't seen those mentioned.)  I made a lot of the curtains.  I was John's go-fer, getting the parts he needed so he wouldn't have to get out of the van to get them.  John did all the designing until the business was sold in 1975.

Little by little we would hire new people and we bought a skating rink in Edgemont, on the outskirts of Riverside, that our son Jeff mentioned for our new shop.  That was the fastest way to get into a big enough building.

We always had a display at the LA County Fair.  A reoccurring comment I heard was, "Isn't that the cutest little thing?"  One year VW had a
mysterious new design of the van.  The dealers hadn't even seen pictures of it.  We wanted one for the fair, so John's sister that lives in Germany got one for us and flew it over.  The guys went down to get it in our covered truck.  While unloading, they dropped it!.  It had to have body work on it before John could design the new interior.  He had 10 days to get it
designed, installed and in the fair.  He did it.

Then the "chicken tariff" and other governmental problems came up which made vans hard to come by.  First we could mostly get Kombis, then VW decided they wanted  the camper market for themselves and vans were extremely hard to get so we began doing the American vans and then mini-motorhomes.  John even designed a beautiful Class A motorhome shortly before the gas crunch.

We finally sold the company in 1975 after the disastrous gas crunches.  We have absolutely no idea how many vans we did over the years. Thousands?  We had over a hundred employees those last years.

Then we moved to Auburn, CA and began a small van business, Kaleidoscope. A talented Sundial employee,  Charlie Gregory came up with us.  Kaleidoscope was very successful, and soon outgrew our location.  We leased a new building that was just set up for us, and we had just achieved full production when the next gas crunch came up.  We just closed the business.

I was in real estate and noticed a small portable toilet business on the market.  I thought it might be a nice change for John to be able to drive around the beautiful countryside instead of being inside a small room designing all the time.  He built that business up to about 500 plus toilets.  He built many toilets himself over the years, until we switched over to plastic.  Next thing we knew it was 23 years later.  We just sold
that business Oct. of last year.

We will be moving to ------, this year where our grandsons are waiting for us.  We don't know what we will do next.  John hates to sit around.  His hobby was desert motorcycle riding.  He was in the same races as Steve McQueen (and beat him) and James Garner.  He and one of his employees ran the Baja 1000
in a car John built.

John's work ethic is a family affair.  Another sister started Joy Camper in Maryland.  She began by buying units from Sundial before she made her own.  Hope this all helps.  John feels like he doesn't remember much more than all
this, at least off hand.

Sincerely,
 Paula Nixon

 

Picture of John Nixon taken in 1971

comments from his son Jeff

"Heres a picture around '71 probably. Building all those busses and yet he never saw the dead. He liked "The Mama's and the Papa's" and Ramsey Lewis."