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Rialta RVs: The Winnebago Motorhome and Volkswagen Vanlife Love Child

The Winnebago Rialta RV was cruising up and down the road long before #vanlife was trending. The VW Rialta van was the result of a partnership between two iconic vehicle brands. Sadly, these tiny homes on wheels were a decade or two early to the party. However, that doesn’t mean we can’t celebrate them.

Today, we’re taking a closer look at Rialta RV and what happened to them. Let’s roll!

If a Winnebago Motorhome and Volkswagen Campervan Had a Love Child, It’d Be a Rialta

Rialta RVs were a collaboration between Winnebago Industries and Volkswagen from 1995 to 2005. The Rialta was the successor to the Winnebago LeSharo, shifting to the use of the Volkswagen Transporter T4 chassis rather than the Renault Trafic commercial van. Winnebago and Volkswagen ultimately made 3 RVs together on the T4 chassis, the Rialta, the Vista, and the Sunstar, the Rialta was the first and the most successful.

They were well-loved for their compact size, fuel efficiency, and versatility. Unfortunately, changes in emissions policies and the related discontinuation of the T4 EuroVan chassis were death sentences for the van. However, you can still spot them on the highway on a lucky day.

VAN TOUR: Full Tour of my Upgraded 2004 Winnebago Rialta 22HD

Who Made Rialta RVs?

While Winnebago Industries and Volkswagen collaborated on Rialta RVs, Winnebago Industries manufactured them in Forest City, Iowa. This allowed them to use their manufacturing facilities and quality control to create the final product. However, the front cab, engine, and drive train of the T4 EuroVan chassis were designed and built in Germany.

Production began in the early-1990s, with the first edition released in 1995. They continued to churn out these RVs until 2005 when production suddenly stopped. Volkswagen ceased production on the chassis, and emissions regulations were tightening in the United States. This made it nearly impossible for the partnership to continue.

While they’re no longer in production, you can still find them. A quick search on RV Trader gave us around 20 results in the United States. If you’re patient, you can score a sweet deal. However, while we did find one with roughly 25,000 miles, you should expect them to have at least 100,000 miles or more.

Vintage Rialta RV on beach
Rialta RVs are a classic collaboration between Winnebago Industries and Volkswagen.

Special Features and Design of Rialta RVs

When we say the Rialta RVs were small, we meant it. These vans sat at around 20 feet, well below the standard Class C we see today. The 1995 and 1996 Models measured a little shorter in length and height, but from 1997 onward they all measured 21’8″ long and 6’2″ interior height.

There were only a handful of floorplans, including the QD (RD), FD (RC), and HD. These interior layouts were pretty much the only difference between the models, with the QD offering additional seats for passengers, the FD offering permanent beds, and the HD offering a compromise of seating and sleeping area with a convertible dinette. However, they all featured the essentials of a kitchenette, bathroom, sleeping area, and dining space. Some spaces served dual purposes and required conversion.

One of the most unique features was the bathroom. This featured a retractable wall that pulled out and allowed more space to use the bathroom or shower. A panel in the floor lifted, and water ran into a drain pan. Engineers provided everything you’d need for a comfortable camping experience without wasting space.

How Much Does a Rialta RV Cost?

Despite their age and high mileage, Rialta RVs are costly for their age. Prices on RV Trader range from $20,000 to $35,000. However, with van life being trendy and many people wanting to renovate a tiny home, prices have increased in recent years.

No matter how much you pay, it’s crucial to remember that every Rialta is a used camper. It will likely have over 100,000 miles and be well past its prime, but many Rialta owners report getting well over 150,000 miles on their RVs before most major drivetrain work. Hire a certified RV inspector to go through the systems. This can help you identify potential issues that would become your problem once you sign on the dotted line. Trust us; you don’t want to invest in a money pit.

Pro Tip: If you’re considering buying an RV sight-unseen, keep an eye out for these 7 Red Flags to Watch For.

Travel lifestyle with minivan and vanlife style - unrecognizable girl inside a retro camper - feet with socks visible from a lay down unrecognizable people
Van lifers love the vintage feel of a Rialta RV.

Performance and Mechanical Aspects Of Rialtas

When you pop the hood of a Rialta RV, you’ll likely find a VR6 2.8L gas engine. For the first two years of production, the Rialta had a 2.5-liter five-cylinder engine, but in 1997 they switched to the 2.8 VR6. The manufacturers wanted a mix between lightweight, power, and fuel efficiency. While it may not deliver tremendous power, you can expect 16 to 18 MPG for fuel economy. These aren’t the worst numbers for a camper of this size and age.

Maintenance on a VW Rialta is critical, especially as it ages. Regular inspections are essential. You should top off and change fluids and filters at the appropriate intervals. In addition, keep it clean and watch for leaks or any signs of seals failing. You want to do all that you can to protect your investment.

Love vintage camper vans? Learn more about the quintessential Volkswagen Camper Vans.

Vintage Rialta RV at campsite
A vintage Rialta RV is built to last through epic adventures.

What Do Owners Love About Rialta RVs?

There are several things that owners love about their Rialta RVs. The fact that they’re still in demand almost 20 years after production tells you something. Let’s take a look!

Comfortable and Functional Interior

Despite its compact size, the VW Rialta is comfortable inside. However, you need to set your expectations accordingly. The fabrics and items are nearly over 20 years old if no one has renovated them. Depending on the condition, you may need to do some remodeling or interior design work.

The more people you cram into one of these vehicles, the less space you’ll have. However, if you’re traveling solo or as a couple, there’s more than enough space. The multi-use spaces quickly transform, and you have an entirely new area.

Easy Handling

One of the most frustrating parts of driving an RV is the handling. Some rigs are a pain and can be very challenging to navigate. At roughly 20 feet long, it’s larger than the average vehicle, but it doesn’t feel like it. The handling is more similar to a passenger car than a massive motorhome.

Drivers also love that the windows on the VW Rialta are rather large. This provides a clear line of sight when navigating tight spaces and unfamiliar areas. Unlike many modern vehicles, you won’t find numerous buttons and fancy screens to distract the driver. This makes it easy to keep your eyes on the road.

If the idea of handling a big rig intimidates you, a rig this size can help ease those worries. You’ll have to take some turns a little wider, but it’s not overly dramatic. The vehicle responds like you’d expect if you were driving a large SUV or truck.

Happy young couple inside camper van
A Rialta RV is a true blast from the past.

Parking Ability

Trying to park a massive RV can be a painful experience. However, parking the Winnebago Rialta is much easier. While it’s still too large to fit into a single parking space, you’ll only need to find two connecting spots to park this camper.

Owners love this, especially when visiting places like Walmart or filling up at gas stations. Larger rigs require considerable space, which may not always be available. Fitting into more parking spaces means one less thing to worry about while traveling.

Quality

The fact that many Rialta RVs are still on the road today proves their quality. This is what you can expect when two high-quality companies partner together. Neither company wants to put its name on an inferior or low-quality product.

While some people’s opinions have changed in recent years regarding Winnebago Industries, things were different in the days of the VW Rialta. At the time, they had a reputation for meticulous construction and assembly. They were a reputable and established brand in the RV industry. We’re not saying they’re not now, but very few owners brag about any manufacturer anymore.

Versatility

Another reason owners love their VW Rialta RV is their versatility. The spaces are multi-purpose, allowing the owner to adapt how they use their camper in various ways. This is an essential function if you’re on a road trip.

The smaller size contributed to its versatility in fitting in more campsites. Whether you want to camp in a state park or boondock on BLM land, you can modify and equip the Rialta RV for almost anything. At 16-18 miles per gallon, you could almost use it as a daily driver.

Pro Tip: Travel back in time and check out these 9 Coolest Blast-From-the-Past Vintage Motorhomes.

Rialta Life - Winnebago Rialta Factory Air Conditioning vs. Texas Summer Heatwave - RV Cool?! S1 E07

Is a Rialta RV Right for You?

Is the Rialta RV the best camper on the market? Absolutely not. However, we consider it a blast from the past. If you’re looking for a tiny rig that you can adapt to your travel needs, the Rialta RV is worth considering. However, don’t expect it to be perfect or in pristine condition. If you do, you may be sorely disappointed.

Have you seen a Winnebago Rialta on your travels? Tell us in the comments!

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About Tom and Caitlin Morton

Tom & Caitlin Morton of Mortons on the Move gave up the stationary life for one where they are constantly on the move. They are full-time travelers, television hosts, and digital media producers.
They left their jobs, sold their house and possessions, and hit the road in September 2015 in their full-time “home on wheels”. Since then they have traveled the US, Canada, and even internationally by RV.
Now, they are Discovery Channel & PBS TV Co-stars of “Go North” on Amazon Prime Video, co-founders and instructors of RV Masterclass, and contributing authors for Hwy.co and an Arizona travel guide.

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Car Nut Tacoma

Saturday 9th of December 2023

Awesome story. I used to see a few Rialtas back in the 1990s and early 2000s. I consider it a shame that it was discontinued when it was. VW should've continued offering a van of some kind, that way they could've continued offering a Rialta or similar RV. I'd buy a Rialta if I could find one in decent driveable and livable condition. It's perfect for the newbie RVer, the traveling entrepreneur, or the veteran RVer who wants to downsize from a 35+ motorhome to a 20' motorhome. If you can drive a VW Eurovan, you can drive a Rialta.

X Frasier

Sunday 30th of July 2023

Before purchasing a Rialta be sure to search the web for Rialta mechanical issues. They are known for trans and electrical issues. If the trans has issues good luck! After searching the west coast for trans repair, only one shop in Oregon would work on our 2001 low mile Rialta And we were quoted 15000-20000 to repair. We were also told several issues were caused by faulty electrical switches and relays, and they would be an ongoing issue. So while having a great layout and good mpg we couldn’t afford to keep repairing it. These are all known issues. Buyer beware!

Gil M

Sunday 30th of July 2023

Your article featuring the Rialta is spot on. As a current owner of a Rialta and a past owner of other VW and Winnebago products, I will add the following comments.

One of the pictures in your article was not a Rialta, “Rialta true blast from past”, is a VW Poptop camper, Also, this Poptop model on VW T4 chassis is an additional model made between Winnebago and Volkswagen. So if you’re looking for a very small class B with Winnebago quality and Volkswagen longevity, the pop top camper especially the 2003 model is ideal. I had one of these and it doubled as my a daily driver.

My last comment is about Rialta owners. So supportive, so friendly, and so fun. We are everywhere! Truly love children.