“It drives just like a car!”
You hear that statement a lot from people driving some enormous vehicle that somehow manages to feel far smaller from behind the wheel than its size would suggest. Often the commenters don’t say exactly what kind of car they are referring to in comparison; is the car they’re using as a baseline a 1973 Chevy Caprice with bad shocks? There’s a number of RVs that sleep half a dozen people could outhandle that. However, my guess is that most Autopians would not find any giant machine like a motorhome to “handle like a car” unless it is, indeed, based on an actual car.
These do exist, and as you might expect they range in appearance from “What the Hell is THAT?” to “Sweet Baby Jesus what kind of unholy alliance created that abomination?!”. Needless to say, I love these things, and obviously we have create a new design of our own. Besides, I’m looking to make one of the world’s fastest motorhomes, so this may be the best way to do that.
The Car Camper Concoction
Here’s a few examples of car/campers that do actually exist; I warn you that they cannot be unseen.
Some are homebuilds. Our own Mercedes Streeter has done some extensive coverage on this internet-famous combination of Airstream and a front-wheel-drive Oldsmobile Toronado that I highly recommend that you read about:
Other times, coachbuilders have done more extensive work on these Frankensteins, like the 1980 Tissier-built “Penthouse” motorhome bellow, based on a Citroen CX with a flip-up roof. This was apparently to be the “fastest motorhome on earth,” a claim that the aerodynamics of the shape would seem to be able to back up, even if that clunky old four-cylinder engine in the CX would struggle to ever get it up to such a speed. I would not be surprised if this influence the Jeremy Clarkson-driven creation seen on Top Gear.
Swiss builder Sbarro took the large front-wheel-drive vehicle basis (and six wheeled) approach again with what he called the Function Car, using the entire front end of the gargantuan 8.2 liter 1976-78 Cadillac Eldorado. More of a mobile office than a motorhome, the late Car & Driver contributor P.J. O’Rourke visited Franco Sbarro’s coachworks and claimed that “if Frank Sinatra moved to Mars and really got into vanning, he might drive something like this.” Seems like the most accurate description, since I cannot come up with words to describe this glorious monstrosity.
(Note to Jasonites: see the two sets of Renault 5/Le Car back up lights next the license plate?)
It appears the entire rear of the thing opened up like a giant door for access. And look at this interior! “Strange choice of all the desks” said Jason when I sent him this picture. “Was this a mobile facility for 1930s accountants?”
The plan was, apparently, to do a small production run with the Function Car. Not surprisingly, that never happened.
Still, could there be a market for one of these bizarre car/motorhome mashups? Especially if it’s based on a very special car with high levels of comfort or performance, like the examples above? Let’s find out.
Like A Snail (And Not Much Faster)
The first thing to consider is this: do I really want to desecrate a nice luxury or sports machine to make such an odd contraption? Most of these things were obviously built with Sawzalls and lots of labor to blend the original car into the snail-shell structure that is built from scratch on the back. Could it instead be something that bolts onto an existing car, maybe like the Saab Toppola camper that we’ve talked about before?
Others have tried this idea as well, including this one by a Scottish manufacturer that attached to a Citroen Picasso’s hatch and hung way out past the rear wheels:
Now that we’ve chosen how we might want to make it, let’s pick the car to use for our project. I want something low and sleek – sort of a modern-day Citroen CX, but with about three times the horsepower. It would also be nice to utilize a car that is rather readily available. Somehow the now-ten-year-old Tesla Model S seems to be a good choice, especially with its large hatchback area and a frunk for cargo space lost with the installation of the camper. A Plaid model or something similar would likely give the power needed to snag that “fastest RV” title.
The Joy Of Six
Does this need to be a bolt-on thing? I mean, there are places that make Tesla hearses and such, so couldn’t we indeed create something like that Cadillac Function Car or Citroen Penthouse? We could, but again I’d prefer to avoid the tens of thousands in body work bills and the months of time that it will take. And what happens when the Model S attached to our camper finally shoots craps? I’d like to be able to detach the camper from the dead car, install it on a fresh Tesla, ans be on my way.
To make the concept work, we unbolt the hatch from the Tesla and weld a trailer-hitch-like structure below to allow for easy installation and removal of the snail-shell mobile structure.
Maybe I’m trying too hard, but I’d like to keep the Tesla camper garageable, which means that it would need to be no longer or wider than an F150 or a pre-downsizing Lincoln Continental. Height will be limited by the seven foot opening of a standard garage door.
That requires a couple of things for the design. First, the camper might need to pop up to create a standing-height interior. Telescopic rigid sides will need to fill the gap left when the roof is raised, or we could offer a fix, taller cap for owners that aren’t as concerned with the height limits. Besides needed interior height for the main cabin, this raised portion allows for the sleeping area that extends above the car’s roof.
Next, the whole Toppola idea will work but we’ll need to extend the back out rather far. Even farther than the Saab does, and a lot more like the Citroen Picasso camper with the rather ungainly looking overhang. Still, when I did a modern day Toppola camper for a Porsche Cayenne a little while back, there was well-founded concern about weight. We’ll add additional support for the rear suspension to deal with that, namely an extra set of wheels.
Six inline wheels makes the most sense, just as General Motors did with their famous motorhome. Why not go dually? One could, but “tubbing” the thing to accommodate the additional inboard wheels would kill interior space and make the who project a custom affair with no swap-in-a-new-Tesla capability. These extra wheels will have suspension but are not powered; we could add electric digitally proportional trailer-type brakes to these wheels. If there’s room for extra batteries to compensate for the expected range loss, that would also be beneficial.
I’ve tried to design the lower parts that wrap around the back of the car so that it blends in the rear wheels of the car itself, including a black painted section between the two wheels. Overall, it’s understandably strange, though you really wouldn’t expect a six wheeled Tesla sedan camper to be even remotely “normal” in appearance, would you?
Hope The Occupants Are Friendly
Don’t get me wrong- it’s a tight space, just like the old Toppola. Regardless, I’ve tried to fit as much in as possible. Entry is by a door on the back of the unit, and the majority of the add-on space is a living area consisting of facing seats that might fold up or fold into a bed for sleeping space in addition to the bunk extending above the car roof.
There’s a tiny kitchenette with sink and cooktop; storage cabinets above and below include a vanity mirror when you open the upper cabinets to let the sink work as a lavatory. There’s even room for a cartridge toilet and maybe even a shower in a tiny bathroom space that would use the “pit” in the Tesla Model S trunk for your feet (remember that there was a third row seat offered as an option for this car).
Next to this space is area for storage, dressing area, a pass through to the main passenger area, or possibly even an extra seat and fold down table to allow you to work. As with a Toppola, the main bunk area is above the roof of the Tesla; it’s a queen sized bed with reading lights and power ports.
Would It Really Work?
If you want to take the wife and two kids on a long camping adventure, it absolutely will not work. You’re going to need to tow a travel trailer for that or get some kind of van-based unit.
However, there was a market for the Toppola, and there could be again. Like that Saab camper, there’s also something nice about being able to carry four passengers in car-like comfort and safety. If your brood is not that big and you want the fastest, best handling motorhome you could buy, this six-wheeled monstrosity could be it.