How I’m Ruining A Perfectly Good Porsche 911 By Turning It Into A Camper

911campretop

As a truck, the Porsche 911 is subpar. It has very little ground clearance, the options for mud terrain tires are dreadful, and mine came with a used flat engine in the bed that I haven’t figured out how to remove.

I like to think I’m an overlanding adventure truck guy, but what I mostly am is a guy who likes to drive hundreds of miles to sleep inside a fancy camper at an interstate rest stop. But since I sold my last truck camper about four years ago, I’ve been sampling some other automotive lifestyles. Which is why instead of a truck, I now have a 2014 Porsche 911.

My Old Truck
My old camping rig, which was an actual truck.

A new truck is in the cards, but until then, I’m trying a little experiment: turning the 911 into a long-distance camper. It’s not going to be anything crazy, mind you — no safari build. Those are cool, but I can’t afford that commitment. I still want a sports car; I just want to be able to sleep in it. My first attempt at using it as a camper is taking it to Overland Expo east in Virginia, which is basically Luftgekühlt, right?

There Are Many Like It, But This One’s Mine

911 Unruined
Pre-ruined 911.

Before I get into the customizations, a quick overview of the base car: It’s a 2014 Carrera 2. 7-speed manual. I bought it used at a Toyota dealership, where it had been traded in by a fellow who loved golf, which I know because I am still finding golf tees in crannies two years after my purchase. He left with a new Land Cruiser, and I got a pretty good deal on a base 991.1 with 25,000 miles on it.

It’s mostly stock. The only true performance modification that I’ve done is to install Ohlins Road & Track coilovers, as the stock (non-PASM) suspension was pretty awful at handling the bad roads in my county. The Ohlins not only soak up bad bumps as smoothly as a warm bread in olive oil, they also turned a very good handling car into a little knife-missile. The base 3.4 engine loves to rev, which is good because there’s almost no torque down low. I got a good deal on an off-the-shelf Cobb tune, which didn’t really add much power—my car is from the last years of the naturally aspirated 911s—but it does smooth out some weird fueling around the cam changes that plagues the factory tune. I also found a local good ol’ boy to weld me up an H-pipe to replace my center muffler, which I suspect probably removes power but makes the car sounds like a fancy Subaru.

According to the charts, my car is the very slowest 991 model ever made, but also one of the lightest. It’s still way faster than I am as a driver, although learning to keep up with GT3s on backroads is good education. I like to think of my rig as the Miata of 911s—it’s a momentum car. I don’t want to ruin that.

Except I’m ruining it a little by adding weight. I can live with that.

AutoExec Desk

Console KingThis is surely the dorkiest addition, but one that’s met every hope I’ve had since I first saw one of these in the back of some magazine decades ago. A big failing of the 911 on road trips is what to do with all the detritus one produces when churning miles: empty coffee cups, infrequently used gadgets, half-eaten churros. In my trucks, I’d just toss stuff in the passenger seat and clean it up at the next stop. In a sports car, that stuff wants to go flying when you take a corner.

The AutoExec Desk is just a piece of blow-molded plastic with an MDF top screw on. It’s got a little slot so you can buckle it in with a lap belt, then have easy access to your various executive needs: your sales brochures, your Pop Tarts (Survival Strawberry), your wife’s letter explaining how this isn’t the life she dreamed of, your pens. This particular model even came with a little slide-out desk extension, which in the 911 would smack the shifter if deployed.

Since I found my AutoExec Desk new-in-box on Facebook Marketplace for $15 whole dollars instead of the $150-$200 MSRP, I felt encouraged to modify it to my needs. The slide-out extension? Gone. The lack of cupholder? Unlacked, thanks to a precision-designed cupholder that I modeled in CAD and 3D-printed to fit the hole I cut imprecisely. (I just rammed some drywall screws into it and 3D-printed a cover to hide my shame.) Fire extinguisher? Close at hand, right next to the big USB battery pack I strapped into some MOLLE panel fabric I had left over from a previous project.

Screen Shot 2022 10 07 At 12.11.17 Pm
This weird thing.

But the crown jewel is definitely this little Bluetooth controller puck that I found on Amazon for $13 and mounted into a little depression with some magnets. Because I don’t have CarPlay, I just use my iPhone as my nav and music player. But nothing is more annoying (or more dangerous) than trying to use the little touchscreen to skip through commercials on the hours of podcasts I listen to on trips.

This little thing has five buttons. Three of them work, but they’re the ones that matter: skip forward, skip backwards, and pause/play. Being able to skip through a commercial without taking my eyes off the road is so satisfying, and if you have a similar situation to me (no CarPlay, no steering wheel controls), I can’t recommend it enough. It even comes with a little clip that fits to a steering wheel. And when you’re all set up at camp? You can use it to scroll through TikTok videos while laying on your side in your tent. That’s better than overlanding—it’s Polarlanding.

Oh, the company that makes it is called Polarlander. Or at least that’s their randomized brand name they’re using to sell to Americans on Amazon. I probably should have mentioned that before to set up my joke properly.

Roll-On Paint Guard from RoadWarrior (That’s me. I’m the RoadWarrior.)

It was raining when I left on this trip, so I didn’t even bother trying this out. And this car’s paint is already a bit… well let’s just say that when the next potential owner comes over with a paint meter and tries to haggle I’m going to show him the overspray on the grill strakes in the front bumper that were there when I bought the car. And then when he starts to turn pink I’m going to take out my phone and show him the before-pictures of the side where I clipped a kid in a Subaru on the freeway because I started to merge into his lane. Then I’m going to let him rip off the PCA sticker that I put on five minutes before he came over.

But still, no need to make anything worse. And the idea of a peelable PPF that you can roll on with a cheap paint roller seems kind of cool. But it’s temporary and apparently dissolves in water, so I brought it with me to try if it stays dry on the way home. Matt from Obsessed Garage tried it out and liked it, and he’s (the good kind of) insane, so if it passes his muster it can’t be completely worthless. 

It was $45 for the kit, but apparently a little goes a long way, so I should have plenty to try out for a while. There was a trend for a while in offroading to paint bedliner up the side of your rig to prevent it from getting trail striping from rocks and trees (until people started discovering it also was a great place for water to get trapped and rust out body panels). I could see throwing this stuff on a future truck for a day or two for the same idea. But on the Porsche? The biggest rocks this car sees are the ones that make up gravel roads.

Roof-Top Tent

Camper911

So yes, I saved the boldest addition for last: a roof-top tent. This model is a Superlite from GoFast Campers, which was temporarily discontinued during the pandemic because of supply chain issues, but is about to go back on sale. The particular one on this car was NOS and unsellable so a friend who knows someone at GoFast sent it to me to try.

It’s about as simple as such a thing can be—basically just two panels of polycarbonate held together with the tent fabric. At its launch, it was the lightest roof top tent made (it still might be) and while the dynamic load of the OEM roof bars—excuse me, the Porsche Tequipment Roof Transport System—is 165 pounds, at 80 pounds the Superlite should be well within its limits. And while Porsche doesn’t list an official static load recommendation, I can testify that the bars will hold the weight of a roof top tent and my fat ass, because I’m sitting in it right now.

Anotherinsideshot

I’ll be honest: I kind of hate the way it looks. It’s growing on me a little, though, in part because after a few hundred miles of driving and a couple of nights sleeping in it, it’s finally more than just another one of my stupid ideas that I don’t end up having the courage to try, but instead one of my stupid ideas that is maybe actually not so completely stupid. And it’s definitely a conversation starter. I’ve had more people come up to talk to me about the car with this tent on it in the last week than I have for the entire two years of hat-less car ownership.

But what of that legendary sports car performance? After I started to trust that my modified stand-off mounting plates were going to hold—the rear bar of the 911 roof rack is so narrow that the aluminum rails underneath the tent basically rest outside the bars—I’ve been driving the car more-or-less like normal. I’m not an aggressive driver day-to-day, but as I’ve built up confidence I’ve started to dig into corners almost as aggressively as I did before. Almost. The straights are fine. I have been up to 80ish without too much movement. (At least not more than happens at, say, 45 MPH.) But I still haven’t been able to shake the fear that a 1+ G corner is going to rip the tent or the rails right off the car. It almost certainly won’t, but I still think I’m going to ease into things for a while.

Incampground

As for gas mileage, it’s had about the same impact as you get from roof racks or other inefficient aero additions. My mile-eater cruising speed is about 75, and in 7th gear I’ve seen as good as 32 MPG on freeways. My last tank with the tent, on a run of mostly highway, is reporting just shy of 27 MPG. Livable.

There is a small whistle somewhere on the right side, even though I have blocked some parts of the aluminum rails and unused bolt holes with aluminum tape. But the 911 isn’t exactly a GT in the best of times between the minimal sound deadening and tire noise. Or maybe my motorcycle years have inured me to white noise.

Still, the tinkerer in me is daydreaming about building a little air dam to go under the front, as well as possibly guy-lining the front corners of the tent to the front rails to calm a little of the shudder of the front of the tent in the wind. I doubt it will make any appreciable difference, but it will make me feel a little less anxious, plus it might even look cool. I could even really signal my overlanding chops to others and rig up some traction boards as wind blockers, despite having no intention to ever drive on surfaces that would merit their use. Or, ooh, maybe a light bar. You know, for light.

New Dog, Old Tricks

Internal Pumpthing

The rest of the “system,” such as it is for now, is a collection of bits and bobs from previous camper builders. A couple of those knock-off Pelican cases from Ridgid. (Huge fan.) A telescoping aluminum ladder that takes up too much room (and is just barely necessary for getting in and out of the tent). I always carry a couple of small backpacking pillows with me on road trips for giving my elbows or back some new angles to rest against; now they’re doing double duty as actual pillows upstairs.

The only new gadget addition is a winner, though, if not strictly a car camping accessory. It’s a cheap inflator/deflator from Amazon that I bought on a lark and already adore. (If it holds up, anyway.) It’s about the size of half of a can of Red Bull, charges an internal battery over USB-C, and also serves as a little lamp complete with a hanging arm. It was like ten bucks! But it means that instead of leaning into the corner of the tent and huffing and puffing before crawling in, I just let the pump do its thing. It’s small enough that it might actually replace my beloved but battered BioLite TraveLite in my hiking kit, because it barely takes up more space and will make breaking camp just a little faster. It’s a generic brand and has every possibility of falling into dust in a few weeks, but for the moment I’m impressed.

(This post contains a few Amazon affiliate partner links. If you buy something by clicking on a link The Autopian may make a commission)

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40 Responses

  1. I’m sure you’re familiar with @996roadtrip on Instagram and other platforms, he’s been doing this very thing for years now with lots of success and he has a huge following, so much so that Porsche is getting into the business of making roof top tents.

    Good luck and keep us all posted, looks awesome!

  2. 4 Grand. That’s what a decent single pivot RTT goes for in this market? Ridiculous. I’m looking forward to people getting bored with the overland scene, moving onto something else, and dumping their gear so I can pick it up for something close to what it should have cost new. As a side note, I am looking at that airpump as my MondoKing 3D pad is “self-inflating” but it takes 100 years and I still have to add some to build pressure, but I don’t understand why you need one with an RTT? Does that tent have an inflatable mattress? Strange.

    1. You can definitely get a cheaper RTT than that from a variety of good manufacturers. I think high-hundreds for a the entry-level models.

      And yeah, I have an inflatable mattress in the bottom. There’s no built-in pad.

    2. I have a non self inflating camping pad/air mattress that fits into my Big Agnes sleeping bag and I made an inflator for it that packs into the sleeping pad bag with the sleeping pad out of a infant ambu bag. I had to find a piece of clear tubing to fit the fitting on the ambu bag and the fitting on the sleeping pad and I had to alter the valve on the ambu bag to make a check valve. It works great, about 1.5 min of hand pumping and my sleeping pad is extra firm and it all packs nicely with the equipment.

  3. Great piece. Love that you’re using it in a way that make the purists cringe.

    Also, at first I thought you had omitted the letter i in the last word of this sentence, given the context ????:

    “lap belt, then have easy access to your various executive needs: your sales brochures, your Pop Tarts (Survival Strawberry), your wife’s letter explaining how this isn’t the life she dreamed of, your pens.”

  4. A Porsche camper is like a dancing bear, it’s not that it does it well, it’s that it does it at all. My aesthetic leans toward the mad lady in Curbside Classic who camps in a Geo Metro with the passenger seat removed, or a Merkur XR4TI with a Toppola camper (they did make one for Ford Sierras in addition to Saab)

  5. If I just saw this rig in the wild I’d probably come up with a whole backstory for the owner. Divorce, mid-life crisis, going cross country working a remote office job to get by. Dreams of writing, of doing something more than sales in an obscure corner of a dying industry. Something halfway between Kerouac’s “On The Road” and Steinbeck’s “Travels With Charley” both in age of the character and tone, like if Updike had written a road trip Rabbit novel.

    Automotive journalist would be my second guess.

  6. That was such a great read. There are a couple of 911 drivers I met at the local Cars and Coffee who do the same thing, but it think they just go on weekend/ day trips. My wife and I use our E85 Z4 to go camping, but being a convertible we pitch a tent. It is nice to learn about some of the compact and light weight tools you use. Definitely got me thinking about how to upgrade our set up for our next road trip.

  7. As a 911 owner, you do you man. I love seeing them be used, versus sitting in someone’s garage 24/7.

    Unrelated to the 911, I’m a bit behind the times, but can someone explain a roof top tent and “overlanding” to me? A difficult part of camping (sorry, “overlanding”) is getting up in the middle of the night to “use the facilities”, getting shoes on, especially when raining or muddy, and also trying to keep the tent clean. Requiring a ladder seems to make this 100% worse. Why not just use a tent that nowadays takes 10 min to setup? And it doesn’t sit on your roof all the time effecting fuel economy, handling, and generally getting in the way.
    Is boating now called Overwatering?

    1. I can see the point of a rooftop tent if you’re going to be camping somewhere too rocky/wet/infested/etc. to easily pitch a tent. Mostly though I think it’s because they look cool 😉
      If I had a 911, and I was dead set on camping in it, I’d probably get a roof box and put my normal tent in it.

  8. So, the engineer in my despises giant trucks that are poorly designed to do what they spend all of their lives doing, which on the East Coast is driving to work and stopping off at the CVS. Therefore, I have to equally not like the idea of equipping a highly engineered GT to go camping.

  9. I’ve been a tent and pop-up camper my entire life and can’t fathom why roof-top tents are so popular. The are 2-3 times as expensive as a quality tent, are awkward to get into (you had to carry a ladder in a 911!), too small for a family, adds drag, takes space you could use for a gear topper, and you have to tear it down to drive anywhere. I suppose putting up a nice tent next to a 911 isn’t a compelling premise.

    1. More like 10X more expensive. CAD$400 buys you a nice big assed Coleman cabin style ‘instant tent’ that is big enough to stand up straight in.

      And they’re easy to set up with the integrated poles.

      I know because I have one.

      And a *quality* winter tent with a provision for a stove like you can get at Mountain Equipment Coop is like CAD$1500. But that’s comparing apples to oranges because that rooftop tent doesn’t look like a winterized tent for 6 people like CAD$1500 would get you at MEC.

  10. This reminds me of the guy I saw a couple years back riding an older Harley with a bicycle rack on it. I wish I could have gotten a picture of it! He could have just gotten a truck to throw the bike into when he wanted to go mountain-biking, but he wanted to ride his motorcycle, too, dammit! I love this sort of thing – using some ingenuity to have your cake and eat it, too. That car of yours is a peach. Keep extracting as much joy out of it as you can for all those Porsches relegated to sunny weekend duty!

  11. $4000 for that??

    For 1/10 of that money, I’d rather have this big-assed tent that I can stand up straight in:
    https://www.canadiantire.ca/en/pdp/coleman-3-season-8-person-camping-cabin-tent-w-convertible-screened-room-rain-fly-carry-bag-0766126p.html

    Or for the same money, I’d rather take a chance on this popup trailer (assuming I had a car that could tow up to 3500lbs of trailer):
    https://www.rvtrader.com/listing/2005-Fleetwood-Rv-Allegiance-3991-5021487565

    Or I’d even consider taking a chance on this “parts only” GMC-based (I think) Midas Kingston Class A motorhome:
    https://www.rvtrader.com/listing/1978-Midas-Kingston-277-1-5017059380

    1. I like the large tent option for 1/10 of the money.

      Or for about 1/100 of the money, you can have a tent that is the same size and more convenient:
      https://www.canadiantire.ca/en/pdp/outbound-3-season-3-person-easy-set-up-camping-dome-tent-w-rain-fly-carry-bag-0765443p.html

      And with a tent, you can leave your stuff if you need to drive out for supplies, or to a trailhead. You don’t have to pack up your entire tent every time you need to use the vehicle.

    1. Depends on the systems used and how much weight the points on the roof can support. I looked into doing this with my Golf but the numbers did not add up for the gear I was looking at and me being a 6’6″ and 270 lbs so I decided to just carry a large tent in the car.

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