Recently I was reading through Henry Thoreau’s Walden, where he lives “one with that land” in nineteenth century New England. His prose inspired me to create an eco-friendly camper that might be something that the great author might find useful were he alive today and…
I’m just kidding. Screw that: I’m gonna redesign Evel Knievel’s coffin trailer camper. And in doing so, I’m going to explore the idea of an entirely new style of tiny camper. This new type of camper could work with virtually any kind of car, but of course we’re going to use an absurd vehicle to showcase this technology, because why not? Besides, it will give me a chance to show some long-overdue love to a car that rarely gets it.
With the recent death of Robbie Knievel, we are seeing a lot of stories about him and his famous father, Evel. Robert ‘Evel’ Knievel was, by his own admission, the greatest motorcycle stuntman that ever lived. His spectacular jumps and even more spectacular wrecks, combined with his massive ego and uncanny self-promotional skills, earned him millions in the late sixties and early seventies. His attempts to fly Harley Davidsons over the fountains at Caeser’s Palace Casino (he crashed), thirteen London buses (he crashed), or over the Snake River Canyon (he sort of made it but then crashed, and the ‘motorcycle’ was really a steam powered rocket) were promoted with over-the-top breathless bravado by Evel. Kids my age often had his likeness on their lunch box, or had that crank-up stunt motorcycle toy on the shag carpeting of our parent’s wood-paneled rec rooms.
Evel spent much of his earnings on lavish custom-created objects for himself, including at least one semi-truck motorhome. The interior of this 1974 behemoth really beggars belief, and I won’t delve into it now. The images and details really deserve their own writeup by our RV Lady here at the Autopian:
source: Evel Knievel Museum (website)
[Mercedes’ Note: I didn’t know about this truck! Oh no, I’m going to fall down a rabbit hole.]
What I do want to focus on now is one of the modes of transport that Knievel used later in life, long after he had decided to stop breaking his own bones (and breaking the bones of one of his critics, which lost many of his sponsors). Supposedly during these sunset years (he died in 2007) Evel drove around the country to, of all things, paint landscapes and sell them to collectors. His vehicle of choice was quite unlikely but suitably outrageous for the former stuntman- an Aston Martin Lagonda.
source: Wikimedia/Alf van Beem
Some people consider this angular William Towns designed sedan to be ugly, but let’s excuse their ignorance and appreciate this car for the masterpiece that it is. Our own Beau Boeckmann owns several examples, and I’d urge you to watch this appraisal by a friend and college classmate of mine that is arguably one of the foremost authorities and authors on these fabulous saloons:
Evel supposedly put over 300,000 miles on this car, and in refurbishing it along the way, apparently “numbers matching” was not necessarily on his list of requirements. Ultimately, he replaced the Aston motor with a 500 cubic inch (over 8 liters) Chevy V8 exhaling through side pipes, redid the interior, and painted the car in an oxblood red that looks like it would find favor with Prince. While said modifications are…uh…not exactly to my tastes, the fact that the work was reportedly carried out by Galpin Aston Martin [Editor’s Note: I need to talk with Autopian founder and Galpin boss Beau about this! -DT] would explain the seemingly exceptional level of craftsmanship. Oh, did I mention that he had a coffin-like trailer made for it where he could sleep?
I can’t find images of the interior of the trailer, but we are told that there was a mattress in there and that it did NOT crank up to a height where you could even sit up in it. Some reports claim that Evel rarely used this thing, but I wondered how we could make a camping space that wouldn’t require towing anything and give this aspiring artist a more hospitable place to stay. The solution, if we could get it to work, might make sense for more than just former school-bus-jumpers.
If you aren’t going to tow a camper with your car, the only place for it to go is on the roof (well, ignoring the Saab Toppola that fits in the hatch area). There are plenty of choices out there for pop-up rooftop tents, but Evel would likely not want to climb a ladder since he was rather worse for wear after dozens of bike wrecks (he once said to replicate the feel of such an altercation you need to ‘get on the hood of a car, have the driver honk the horn when they hit 80, and then jump off’). Also, these roof tents offer zero amenities and can’t be used as, say, a shelter to paint in.
My inspiration for my Evel Camper comes from something Evel might have needed later: a rooftop wheelchair lift. These things use cables to electrically lift your folded chair into the space above.
To deploy the Evel Camper, you first need to open the little covers on the sides and pivot down the legs on the sides and lock them in place.
Next, you detach the connectors to the roof rack and drive the Lagonda out of the way. After this, you plug into any one of the car’s many cigarette lighters and let the motor lower down the bottom of the roof shell on cables. The bottom of the shell features a mini toilet in one corner.
Once level, you then pivot down a small wall that features a little sink and an area with an air mattress that can fold out. This wall can also hold a few Evel keepsakes and even a bottle or two of his favorite drink, Wild Turkey (which was allegedly also stored in his famous hollowed-out cane). A cooktop could go in this space instead, if Evel wanted.
Retractable tent sides can be left down for privacy and weather protection or rolled up to let Evel paint in shaded comfort.
It’s not much more than six and half feet tall in there but that should be enough for a now-shrinking-stuntman.
[Mercedes’ Note: A disadvantage that I’ve seen noted in many roof tent reviews is the fact that you have to carry the heavy thing around on top of your car or otherwise find a way to get it off of your roof. Sometimes that means volunteering some strong friends or making a hoist contraption in your garage. Even if you have that covered, there’s another thing. Since it’s on your roof, you also have to tear down your camp if you want to drive someplace. I love the idea of a roof tent camper thing that can remove itself and be left behind when you don’t need it on your roof. Plus, look at that interior space!]
A Working Solution?
This drop down thing might be a bit blue sky, but if we could get it to function it seems to bridge a gap between a tent and pop-top camper. The rigid top and floor create a bit more isolation from the elements. The best part is that unlike with typical roof campers, you can ditch the set-up campsite in your car. Evel could have driven into town to raise more hell, or at least as much hell as a septuagenarian can raise with hepatitis C and terminal pulmonary fibrosis.
You certainly couldn’t attempt any stunts with a trailer behind your car, but with this kind of roof camper it could be possible. Evel moght have attempted just one more jump into the great beyond. I mean, it would be dangerous and suicidal, but could you think of a better way to go than in a purple Lagonda? I certainly can’t.
all illustrations by The Bishop