Here’s How Someone Turned The Smallest New Car In America Into A Camper

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It’s no secret that people seem to genuinely love camper conversions. There’s something about turning a vehicle into a house of sorts that hits some weird, deep urges buried within us all. And yet we’ve all seen a heptillion school bus or church bus Econoline or Sprinter van conversions, and we’re getting jaded. We’re like junkies, we need more, and harder stuff. Maybe that’s why this tip sent to us by an Autopian named Jacob is so good: it may be the hardest-core, purest vehicle-converted-to-camper shit we’ve seen, at least in terms of difficulty to result. That’s because the vehicle that this builder started with wasn’t a school bus or a Sprinter or a hearse. It wasn’t a van at all. Or a wagon. Or even a medium-sized sedan. It’s a Mitsubishi freaking Mirage.

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Yes, a 2015 Mirage — in large part the same as the 2023 Mirage (the smallest new car in America now that the Chevy Spark has left this cruel world) — made into a camper, with a sink and everything. I love everything about this, not the least of which is that I have a fondness for the humble little Mirage, a car I reviewed back in the day and, more importantly, came to the defense of when other bigshot car reviewers were taking unfair shits upon this honest little machine. It’s an incredibly unlikely place to start if you’re converting a vehicle to a camper, which is why I really wanted to know the story behind why this thing even exists. To find out, I called the owner, a man named Daniel who works in the commercial building industry.

You see, Daniel used to travel a lot for his work, and his company gave him money for lodging and gas. Daniel soon realized he’d rather have the money than blowing it sleeping in beige, soulless roadside motels, so he decided to try to build his own portable lodging. And, since he was getting gas money, too, it made sense to get something fuel-efficient as well, because if you’re going to sleep in a vehicle at all, you may as well maximize the cash you’ll be saving to do so.

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With that in mind, Daniel was first on the lookout for a Prius, but those proved more expensive than he’d like. He then realized that he could get effectively the same fuel economy from a much simpler and cheaper car: a Mitsubishi Mirage. He paid about $10,000 on the 2015 Mirage, which he bought new and expressly for the purpose of converting it into something that could be lived in.

Now, here’s something you should know about Daniel: he knows what the hell he’s doing, and it shows. His commercial building experience has given him plenty of training for building things, and he’s done several van-to-camper conversions already. Plus, he’s solar certified, which was also put to good use here.

That’s why this isn’t just a Mirage with the seats yanked out and some big Tupperware tubs thrown in. This is a real, no-joke conversion, with Daniel stripping the car’s interior down to bare metal so that every new component and fixture that he added would be able to be mounted to reinforced parts of the car, like how the sink and bed units are mounted to the rear seat rails, via steel plates made just for this.

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Daniel wanted to retain as much crash safety as possible, so if the car gets rear ended, he doesn’t have to worry about the additional and literal headache of getting a sink smacked into the back of his head. The shelving and sink unit are made from steel, with a wood countertop; there’s no particle board crap in here.

The bed, which can accommodate someone taller than six feet, has a nice memory foam mattress, and all of the electrical wiring is hidden behind the interior trim panels. There’s also a set of custom-made and insulated window covers for privacy and temperature control.

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He’s updated that electrical system to include a 160 amp-hour deep-cycle marine battery, and that battery can be charged by the 100 watt solar panel on the roof. Daniel says with good sunlight, it’ll recharge in about four hours. There’s also an external plug to receive 120V “shore power” and 120V outlets inside.

I mean, look how good this thing looks inside! And, incredibly, after adding the sink and bed and shelving and under-bed storage unit and water tank and all that, it came out to be 200 pounds lighter than the stock Mirage, mostly thanks to the removal of the seats and the airbags for the passenger’s seat.

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From the outside, it just looks like any old silver Mirage, just with funky LED taillights. Nobody would think for a second someone was in there brushing their teeth and watching a movie before going to sleep in a full-sized bed.

This thing is so tidy and clever and well-packaged I just want to spit. It’s amazing. And Daniel told me it’s extremely usable, too, and that he once lived in it for a ten-day trip. Ten days! In a Mirage! With a sink!

Daniel did all the work himself, and estimates he spent about $4,000 in the process, which he also says he more than made up for with all the hotel and gas money he was able to pocket. He also told me that

“I wanted to test the limits of what a camper could be. This is pretty much it, at least as far as small goes.”

You’re probably right, Daniel. I’m so impressed.

Daniel’s job no longer requires this sort of travel, so he’s selling it for under $10,000, which seems a steal, because where the hell else are you going to get a one-person fuel-efficient camper that’s engineered and built as well as this? Nowhere, that’s where.

Incredible. Someone buy this and then tell us all about how you’re using it, please.

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36 Responses

  1. I remember when John Pearley Huffman reviewed the Mirage in 2014. I stopped reading Car and Driver for a long while.

    The Mirage may not be a Picasso, but Huffman’s critique of the car was way worse than the car itself.

    Huffy, you’re no David E. Davis, Jr., or Jason Torchinsky, or David Tracy, or Mercedes Streeter, or Jean Lindamood, or Angus McKenzie. You’re not even a cheap imitation Jeremy Clarkson. You, sir, are a hack. A very bad hack. You should be ashamed of yourself.

    1. I mean, I stopped reading C&D once I stopped getting them from the local library’s free magazine exchange. C&D had nice graphics, but Automobile was always my favorite and I was subscribed right up until Motor Trend pulled the plug 🙁

    2. I’ve driven one of these for two months in Malaysia. Huffman’s review though a little snipey, Is accurate. To quote him “Disappointment this profound shouldn’t come with 60 months of financing”. He’s not wrong.

  2. I feel like you caught a future “Look at this thing! It’s incredible! … Details on how it came to be are sketchy and probably lost to time” type of car *right* before the details were lost to time (i.e. the original owner sold it). Awesome!

  3. I just wish I’d thought of this build myself a few years ago. It would have been the perfect vehicle for my very specific set of circumstances.

    See, I’m an ED nurse (that’s ER nurse for our American friends, which is most of you on here) and live 90km from work. That means a 75 minute each way commute in good traffic and 90 minutes or more in shit traffic. I tolerate this because I: a) really love the town I live in, b) prefer my workplace to the local hospital and c) only work 3, long shifts a week. The commute is ‘me time’ for listening to music (or the Autopian podcast!).

    The problem is – night duty. That isn’t a problem for me any more due to a change in role. Obviously, driving so far home at 07:30 after a 12 hour night shift is irresponsible. The hospital used to have rooms that could be used by people in my situation to sleep in between shifts. Used to – they’re gone now. So, I got around this by staying with my in-laws, or various friends, who live closer to the hospital while I was working nights.

    Staying in other people’s homes while you are trying to sleep during the day always feels awkward, even if they’re out at work. You always feel like you’re interrupting their routine, even though I’d assure them I didn’t care about noise as I was so tired between night shifts no noise would wake me.

    But with a Mirage camper? Problem solved! I could park it in the basement carpark, it would be nice and dark, quiet and cool. The hospital has toilets and showers I could use… what’s not to like? I even have a car I could have used for the build – my “work car” is a Mazda 2 – almost the same size as a Mirage! I could have had my damn near Prius fuel economy and never felt like I was stepping on anyone’s toes again!

    Anyway, I don’t need one anymore.

    1. I’m assuming this car is eating highway miles, so for once we the angry people of the Save the Manuals brigade can put down our pitchforks.
      The automatic trans lets the engine turn at lower RPMs at high speed (less annoying sound), gets a smidge better fuel economy (which adds up over a lot of miles), and, if it’s a well-tuned CVT, keeps cruise control speeds buttery smooth even in hilly terrain.

  4. Nice work Daniel!
    Way back when i owned a Kei car this is how i had the mattress set up.I could fully stretch out and lay totally flat.So comfortable!With my head at the back i could open and close the hatch while lying down, and even operate the front window with my toes.

    This kind of thing really interests me.I almost never camp in cars anymore but the challenge (of getting the most for the room) is cool.

    These days i have a slightly bigger Toyota Echo and have been looking at options for sleeping two. There are two general approaches:
    -slide and tilt the front seats fully forward and use a tilted raised flatform.This gives a nice long bed and room underneath to store stuff.The drawback is you’re kinda close to the ceiling.
    This is what most seem to be using for mini vanlife. Search youtube for yaris+vanlife

    -The other option is to unbolt the front seats and push them right forward against the dash/steering wheel.This allows a longer bed with not much tilt and heaps of headroom.The drawbacks with this method are less room underneath for storage and of course having to unbolt seats.

    Both of these can be done with a folding bed base,making set up relatively easy

      1. The U.S. did not, but Canada did near the end of the first-gen’s run. We sort of did in the Scion line as shared platform hatchbacks, and a bB/Scion xB might actually be another good camper candidate with the boxy interior…

  5. This is the most appealing camper I’ve seen by far and a brilliant idea for what I assume is a traveling installation contractor who probably spends a lot of time in remote areas. Saves a lot of money on hotels in the long run. Possibly bed bugs, too.

  6. “Daniel’s job no longer requires this sort of travel” – could be he progressed into a better job or out of a job entirely.

    Is this where that sales rep that shows up in wrinkled clothes smelling like pine air freshener comes from?

  7. As an RV nerd, my initial reaction was “this is total bullshit”, but I was pleasantly surprised that he actually did an appropriate job. Charging a 160Ah battery in 4 hours with a 100 watt solar panel does seem like wishful thinking though.

      1. Probably. There’s not that much to use power in something like this. I’m curious what he thought he needed a 160Ah battery for. That’s approximately the capacity of the dual group 24 setup on my trailer, which I can pretty easily stretch to a week off-grid if I’m careful. With no shower, slideout, awning, etc. I would think that’s pretty overkill.

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