The past couple of years have dramatically changed how many Americans live. It has also changed how people vacation, with many Americans choosing a campground over a resort. Demand in the camper industry has exploded, and everyone from small boutique brands to the giants can’t keep up with America’s insatiable lust for camping. What I didn’t expect to see is the revival of 50 year-old fiberglass camper designs, but that’s exactly what’s happening. A bunch new trailers are adopting the look of the long dead Boler and Trillium.
I have a real soft spot for fiberglass travel trailers. They look far more distinctive than the boring boxes covered in equally boring swoopy graphics that make up the vast majority of trailers today. But especially appealing to someone like me–an owner of many tiny vehicles–fiberglass campers give you a real living space without a huge weight penalty. For decades, only a few companies made fiberglass campers, but times are changing; the 1970s are back, baby!
It’s difficult to pinpoint when the first-ever fiberglass camper was built. Tiny RV manufacturers have popped up and disappeared throughout history, many leaving without much of a trace. An early example of a fiberglass camper is the late 1950s Champion Home Builders Co.’s “Little Champ.”
Champion claimed a maintenance-free design with its 17-foot camper thanks to its fiberglass exterior.
It would take another decade for fiberglass to really take off with the first Boler. Canadian salesman Ray Olecko was fascinated with fiberglass; according to a letter sent by his daughter to the Boler-Camping blog, Olecko loved tinkering and building things. The letter recalls times when he constructed a tractor and a car from scrap metal. Working with fiberglass, he built a septic tank and slingshots. But it was his frustration with his family getting washed out of tents that inspired his next fiberglass creation.
First built in 1968, the 13-foot Boler promised ease of maintenance and a dry weight of just 800 pounds.
Boler was a success and an inspiration for its own competition.
In 1971, RV remodeler Duane Eveland was approached by a representative for the U.S. arm of Boler. They struck a deal for Eveland’s company to build Bolers for the U.S. market. Eveland’s Inc. of Minnesota built Bolers for just a short period until Boler American went under in 1972. Determined to keep production going, Eveland and his siblings decided to keep building trailers, and the Scamp camper was born.
Boler also inspired another fiberglass camper brand, Trillium. As RVT’s RV Insight blog notes, Trillium traces its own camper designs back to the Boler. Casita also started operations not long after Boler. These trailers were largely similar, with differences coming in sizing and finish. But you can say that one little trailer kickstarted a whole industry.
Fiberglass campers came at just the right time, too. The 1970s brought on challenges like the oil crisis, an economic recession, and major changes in car manufacturing. Cars started getting smaller with emissions equipment choking them out for power. If you bought a compact back then you weren’t looking at towing a huge trailer, but you could tow a fiberglass camper.
Boler-Camping notes that Olecko touted his 800-lb trailers as being so light that they could be towed by a four cylinder car.
Unfortunately, the craze wouldn’t last forever, and Trillium closed up shop in 1980. Boler was no longer in the hands of Olecko, and the campers were instead manufactured by Neonex in Canada before it too died in 1988. U-Haul got into fiberglass campers late in the game, building under 2,000 CT13 and V16 campers for rental use during the mid-1980s. The declining popularity of fiberglass campers during the era meant countless companies went under. Scamp and Casita stood out among what few companies survived.
The original Boler and Trillium companies are long gone, but their designs have risen from the dead for modern builds. Team Trillium Manufacturing (TTM) brought back Trillium’s old 1970s design in 2007 with its Outback camper. The Outback looks like an old Trillium 1300, but sports a modern interior. It’s unclear how many of these are out there and TTM’s spec sheets are sparse. They don’t even note critical information such as weight or exterior dimensions. And the website’s latest news dates back to its 2007 launch. At least the Outback’s $22,900 price is attractive.
In more recent times, TTM isn’t the only manufacturer making Trillium clones. Another Canadian manufacturer, L’air Camper Company, introduced its Trillium Heritage Series last year and these look even more faithful to the original.
I only recently stumbled upon these trailers when I was looking for an old Trillium to add to my fleet.
Thankfully, L’air does provide a comprehensive spec sheet and its 13-footer comes in at 1,300 pounds. I’ve towed heavier loads with a Smart Fortwo before! Despite the tiny size and light weight, you still get a decently loaded camper. You get cooking appliances, an optional toilet, water tanks, and an outdoor shower.
And if 13 feet is too short, you can order a 15 footer. These start at $26,000.
The trio of Trilliums are joined by a wide array of fiberglass choices. These come from Scamp, Casita, Escape, Bigfoot, Happier Camper, Armadillo, Cortes, and more. For a few short years between 2018 and 2020 even Airstream had a fiberglass camper.
So, it looks like what’s old is new again. RV buyers who don’t need a 40-foot hotel room towed by a Super Duty can find themselves one of these cute little buggers and relive the 1970s. I just hope that if and when the current RV craze ends we don’t end up losing all of these neat designs again.
Welcome back Mercedes! Great article. I wanted to add the name Charles Panter of Berkeley Coachworks to the conversation. This little composite camper company evolved into producing the super mini Berkeley sports car in the late 1950’s. I used to own a highly modified one and it makes kei cars look big.
You can google “1958 Berkeley Special” to find a picture of mine.
We have a Casita Freedom deluxe. We love it! It might be small, but our tiny home on wheel has a wet bath, kitchen, and sleeping accommodations.
She is equipped with solar panels, and batteries as an alternative so we can boondock.
With gas prices rising We trailered her 1000 miles round trip and only payed 120.00 in fuel expenses.
If you have a 6 cylinder car with a tow package you can tow one.
They are easy to maintain, and modify if you want.
Just wondering Mercedes, you have motorcycles have you ever tried Motorcycle Camping?
Was at an auction recently and 3 Bolers sold that were all pulled from farms and awful shape then went for over 8500 each- they would need probably 5k of work to make them useful again
I sold the family cottage a few years back, and every once in a while get nostalgic about having one again….but then I think “what if I could have some of the cottage fun without the property taxes, hideous insurance rates (as the broker said, “it’s a log house, and you’ve got a volunteer fire department trying to save the foundation”) and extra utility costs?” Then I start looking at RVs or trailers.
Admittedly, my needs are different than one of these cute little things would allow: I am well over 6 feet, weigh way too much, and like to sleep on a king. If I could deck out an RV to meet those needs, add a reasonably fresh LS truck motor, I could probably get there for 5 years of property taxes on the old place and a bit of work. And then my cottage would be wherever I wanted it to be.
Maybe this is a retirement project. Hmmmm…
A frame popup campers are also another good option. Less frontal area and less side area to be affected while towing. I got a midsize Aliner two weeks before COVID and it’s been a great decision. Not much to go wrong and it tows nicely behind a compact CUV.
I see these as you don’t want to put a tent all the time and the rain proof nature with basic amenities is good.
While not for me, I can see the appeal.
If I had the F-it money to join the RV lifestyle, I would be a glamper. Class A or Super C suits me fine.
Welcome, Mercedes! These campers are highly underrated; I recently was gifted a 1984 Burro (similar to a Scamp), a 13 foot fiberglass camper. It was owned by my Grandparents, Uncle and now me. It needs some work (new floor, re-seal the fiberglass seam and cosmetic updates) but will hopefully be usable by next summer.
It’s so ridiculously easy to tow and weighs only about 1,000 pounds. It isn’t fancy, but it has all the essentials (beds, small kitchen) and most importantly provides sufficient shelter through heavy rains. I was a diehard and frequent tent camper until I had a couple of bad experiences with torrential rains and winds that ripped a tent to shreds. It’s great until it isn’t. I still don’t need anything fancy though so this is perfect.
It’s good to see campers like these making a comeback. To each their own, but I grew up camping (pop-up, then a modest pull-behind) and personally am not a fan of the monster luxury RVs. The way I’ve always approached camping was that the purpose was to spend as much time outside and just use the camper as a place to crash and cook your meals.
My grandfather bought a new Burro in the ’70s. I remember him pointing out that it was molded in left/right sides, as opposed to top/bottom halves. On a Disney trip, I learned there was no place to hide from a snoring parent.
I’d add Oliver to your list. I’m still underwhelmed by their insulation strategy, but overall it’s probably the best-built travel trailer you can buy.
Maybe leave Cortes off. They’ve managed to produce a lot of press releases and renders plus a single Casita-based prototype. I think progress slowed a fair bit when the CEO was arrested. The odds of them actually releasing and supporting a good product as promised are not looking good at this point.
Woah, woah, WHAT?
Hmmm…indicted for Securities Fraud! I admit that it’s been a hot minute since I last checked on Cortes, but that’s one heck of a development. The company claims that it has reached its mass production phase, so we’ll see what (if anything) results from that.
In my opinion it is nice to see smaller camper trailers. Here in Europe they of course have a big tradition, but in the recent years somehow everyone needed to buy the large ones.
I personally don’t get it. Driving a large camper trailer in Europe simply sucks. You have to be way to careful not to crash it against another car or wall in sharp turns and so on…
Currently I think about building my own camper trailer, using a box trailer as base. We have a Mercedes Vito Campervan but with kids (first one will soon be there) it might get to small. So first step might be a trailer.
GUYS you need to work on your Comment system. I want to write a comment to the new rear lights post of Jason so badly, but it always says “you need to be logged in to comment”.
I tried it with various browsers, on my private and my work computer AND on my phone.
Jasons needs to be pointed out that the rear lights of the BMW 2002 are NOT the same as the rear lights of the BMW 2002 touring! They are different but still look the same if you do not look closely. The metal frame around it for example on the touring is thicker on the top. On the 2002 the lower part is thicker. Also the arrangement of the lights is bit different.
How could I know? I own a 2002 touring…and tried to buy used rearlights a couple of times. It’s simply difficult to find matching parts, considering how many more normal 2002 were built.
Just wow. Wrote this comment and suddenly I can comment that other post. WTF?
I have noticed if you log in and use the back button to get to the story it takes you there as not logged in. You need to go to the story in a different way.
Might be true, but not as it occurs in my case. I log in, open the article and it looks like I am not logged in. When I try to log in again, it automatically jumps to my profile since I was already logged in.
It happens with 50% of the articles. On others it works fine…
Yeah I had the same issue.
Used to be able to fit a family and a few duffle bags of camping gear in a daily driver.
An elongated sedan known simply as a wagon.
It took seven (yup count em SEVEN) kids out into the woods to pitch some tents and start a fire just fine.
It didn’t have a special name (overlander), or tacked on pretend “adventure gear” ( every time I see that Barbie Play House gas can attached to the side of a new Toyota TRD whatever I giggle a little).
It got us out there. These mall crawlers are getting ridiculous.
It just got all of us and our sad, barely rainproof gear into the woods.
But.. we liked to experience nature. Not just pretend.
My 2000 Chevy Prism can stow all the gear necessary for a trip from Seattle to southern Utah (no roof rack needed), with two dogs and a couple camping under the stars. Why do people think they need all these accoutrements? It’s just silly. It’s just showing off wealth without skill. My shitbox has been more places than most peoples $70,000 overlanders dream of going.
Bigfoot is where it’s at! We bought a 26′ Bigfoot camper a few years ago for the bargain basement price of $10,000. It sold new in 1993 for almost $40,000. It has all the good stuff: shower, toilet, three-way refrigerator (120V, 12V or propane), microwave, propane range top and oven, propane heater, 30 gallon water capacity and room for a normal-sized queen mattress in the loft. We put a Sleep Number mattress in it and it’s soooo comfy. It’s our little home away from home. We don’t take it camping as much as we did when we first got it, but just sitting on our property it makes a nice little getaway on a Spring, Summer or Fall day, and we’ve even used it as a guest house for visitors. And if we ever have to evacuate for a fire or other natural disaster, it’s a quick hook-up to the truck and we’re on the road with most of the comforts of home. At only 4500 lbs fully loaded, with its double axle and using the Anderson hitch mounted in the bed of the Tundra, it’s a dream to tow.
Holy hell you found a STEAL! I’m sure you could double your money at this point on it if you wanted to.
Why people spend so much money on buying, maintaining, and storing things that they use 7 times a year is beyond me. Add up all those and then the carrying costs (fuel, insurance, interest) and then divide that by how many time you *realistically* think you could use it.
It’ll save you the hassle of trying to unload it three years later.
They hold their value incredibly well, so don’t think it’ll be much of a hassle to sell.
That being said, depending on where you live and where you want to go, renting one may not be an option. So, what the hell are you supposed to do then?
I want one, but it likely would only get used at most 2 times a year, so I can’t justify the cost for that. If I were to use it 7 times a year, I would have bought one long ago.
We had us a 1974 Tote-n-Tarry that looked just like that two-tone Boler in the print ad up there, only ours was sky blue on the bottom half. We drove it all over the western states, towing it with our ridiculously wimpy 1974 Renault 12 wagon with its extra-manly 65 horsepower engine. In retrospect, I’m amazed that rig got our family of five over the Continental Divide more than once. Somehow the car survived, but the trailer itself was actually a POS. We got stranded once when a wheel bearing seized, and on one memorable occasion in Arizona the tongue actually snapped, and my sister and I were treated to an impromptu afternoon fireworks show out the rear window of the Renault as the trailer tongue dragged on the pavement at 50 mph, sparks flying everywhere, held on only by the safety chains. I also associate camping with the smell of fiberglass off-gassing in your face, condensation dripping down the walls on cold nights. It’s a bunch of fun kid memories for me, but how my parents survived the stress is unimaginable to me. My dad was a machinist, and just… fixed it when it broke. Had AAA tow it to a shop where he could weld the tongue while my sisters and I played at a themed campground that was closed for the season but the manager took pity on us. I don’t remember my dad complaining about it, but it must have been a hell of a way to spend a vacation. I’d still like one of these trailers myself, but only a much better-built one than the one we bought from Bob Brown Motors in 1974.
Fiberglass caravans still abound in the UK but there is a tendency now toward the ridiculously cute.
I think these are available in some of the colonies now. ( what, Brexit did do that did’t it?)
It is actually a well-designed layout with presumably good mechanicals. However, in the year+ I have been following them I have yet to find anyone willing to sell one here in the colonies. Plus, the cuteness factor is a win with the ‘finance committee’.
I think fibreglass is an awesome material with great use cases, but I still have this aversion. Something, something hot tubs and STDs. I don’t know if I can spend the night in a hot tub with a roof…
All joking aside, this category has some great design going on, but it’s not for me. If I don’t want to sleep in a tent (which by the way as an old man I’m still totally cool with), I also don’t want to fuck around towing things. So much more fun to check out local cabins, BNBs and even weird grungy old motels. OK, I’ll admit the last one might be for irony, but the rural businesses near where I like to explore are full of so many interesting people trying to make a living that I would never meet just sticking to the campgrounds.
I’ve been wanting a small fiberglass camper for a few years. Something basic. A place to sleep and small place to prepare food. My dream is a Kompak Sportsman/American Dream. If I wasn’t a broke college student the last time I saw one on BaT, I may have bid on it.
Or, build your own teardrop. I built one and it has a small “kitchen” and a queen size bed. I could tow it with my Forester (now an Ascent) and it takes all of about 10 min to get stable for sleeping. DC lights, AC circuits for high power stuff. Battery for boondocking, power vent and two doors. Built everything except the axle and windows.
So is there any way to see photos of this? Construction details, etc would also be cool to know. Been wanting to do my own since about 1975. But life interfered. Photo links please!
I’m glad they’re back. I’ve been looking for a decent used one for at least 15 years, and I’ve just about given up. Most of the ones I’ve seen for sale aren’t discounted much from a new one.
I’m not buying (another) sheet panel RV. I’ve had one and that was more than enough to turn me almost completely off the RV world. It’s total disposable crap that they make most trailers out of these days.
Find me a nice Scamp, Casita or Hi-Lo in good condition and I’m there for it. The last several I found in decent condition sold before I could respond. One sold while I was on the way there with cash.
Simple campers are best. Most campgrounds provide showers and bathrooms anyway. And outdoor showers and cartridge toilets are just fine for a few days.
These are long overdue.
I like the fiberglass monocoque because it avoids the weaknesses of conventional campers while costing a fraction of an Airstream. Actually scuttlebutt is that Airstream has quality issues lately so fiberglass eggs or a premium rig like a Lance are a better bet. I’ve rented Coachmen and Lance trailers and you can see where money is spent and where corners were cut.
If we buy and I can convince SWMBO a transverse bed is OK a 19′ Escape is on the short list.
Wouldn’t surprise me, everything else Thor Industries touches has turned to garbage, was probably wishful thinking to assume Airstream would be immune forever, but they did leave them well enough alone for a good 40ish years or so
I like trailers but personally I don’t see the point in buying any camper trailer that isn’t a hardshell with a shower and a toilet if you actually plan on camping with said trailer.
Honestly trailers are very underrated in the US. We drive horribly fuel inefficient Pickup Trucks with only air in the bed >95% of the time because occasionally we need to put something in the bed. We could instead have a much shorter car with much better MPG that is much more fun and much safer to drive than said Pickup Trucks, add a tow hitch to it, and get a trailer or two (or rent one).
Honestly a new Toyota iQ brought back as a hybrid with AWD-e that gets 35+ MPG highway riding on a tire size you can get snow tires for in the US with a tow hitch and the ability to tow at least 1500lbs would be much more practical for my daily usage than the 1994 Toyota pickup that is my DD currently that I’ve yet to see 20 MPG or greater.
I don’t mind beating up a work trailer but I definitely have a problem beating up any car of mine, including pickup trucks.
Tow ratings of cars in the US tend to be as ludicrously low as US truck ratings are high. A US spec Mazda CX-5 is rated to tow 2000 lbs, a UK spec car is rated for 2000 kg (4400 lbs). I’d be OK with a utility trailer for lumber and junk but my 1/2 ton pickup was essential for towing a rented excavator last week and a 23′ camper last month. I don’t have to commute in it and I paid cash so I can leave the truck parked for a week or two and not care.
The difference is in the tongue weights. In North America, we plan for 10-15% of the trailer weight. In Europe it’s much lower (don’t remember the exact number). The tongue weight eats up your cargo capacity of your tow vehicle well before the limits of the drivetrain components.
More tongue weight equals better stability at speed. We don’t have reduced speed limits when towing because of this.
Also, Europe mandates trailer brakes (typically surge, IIRC) at far lower trailer GWRs. This greatly helps your “smaller” cars pull larger trailers than the US says they can. Maybe DT can chime in with some of his European road compliance knowledge.
Any idea at what weight European countries require trailer brakes?
In Europe trailer brakes are required from 750 kg (1650 lbs). Typical tongue weight on most camper trailers range from 25 kg tot 75 kg (60 to 165 lbs). We don’t use weight distributing. Most common configurations are passenger cars in the 3000 lbs curb weight range with an equally weighing camper trailer.
Some states mandate trailer brakes as low as 1000 lbs. The highest limit I’ve heard is 3000 in some of the less regulated areas.
Now, is any of that actually enforced in the US? Not that I know of. The only way you’ll ever get in trouble for towing without brakes is if you’re in an accident and found liable.
A lot of countries also have different speed limits for vehicles towing, whereas, in the US, people expect to haul ass down the Interstate at 20-30mph over the limit with a giant house trailer behind them.
While I have no desire to own an rv or camper at this time in my life, I look forward to Mercedes throwing down some great content about them!
Had a Boler and an Amerigo. Ultimately too small for my wife and me plus the lack of a toilet is very inconvenient in the middle of the night. Truth is my Appelby tent camper was more accomodating and was easily towed behind my Tracker.
For those interested in further exploration I recommend
They look adorable and practical. I wish they could fit a 80″ long bed between the bulkheads instead of a 75″. It’s the same with the RV conversions on vans… tall people are discriminated against! (Oh, look at that cute tiny couple in their tiny van and all the space they have with their tiny belongings taking up a tiny amount of space!)
Hooray for small trailers. Now that Airbnb and Vrbo exist, you don’t really need to haul a big second home along with you. Just rent a place. If you want a small base camp that protects you from the elements and can fit almost anywhere, get a travel trailer. I wonder if these little guys can be outfitted like an overlander with a suspension lift and bigger tires, just like some teardrops.
The reason for being under 80 inches wide is a federal regulatory thing. 80 inches triggers more stringent trailer lighting requirements.
More lights means more holes. More holes means more potential leaks. Leaks are the bane of any camper trailer.
To your last question, yes, lifts and bigger tires are indeed a thing for overlanding trailers. Not many get made since pulling out a stuck trailer+tow vehicle is a lot harder than a vehicle by itself.
I’m luckily short, so the full sized bed sideways in my Promaster is a great fit. And while the 74″ matress fits perfectly between the support rails, there’s more like 77-78″ from sheetmetal to sheetmetal for our sleeping space (minus insulation and whatnot when you build up the wall).Obviously getting a full sized queen in there plus a couple extra inches of buffer would be nice though. They make flares for most vans now (I think they started as a thing for Sprinters and high-end van-based Class-Bs when the vans were a little narrower) and while they are expensive for an extra couple inches of space (and not worth it for me at 5’7″) they’d may be worth it if you budget them into your build.
I’m luckily short, so the full sized bed sideways in my Promaster is a great fit. And while the 74″ mattress fits perfectly between the support rails, there’s more like 77-78″ from sheetmetal to sheetmetal for our sleeping space (minus insulation and whatnot when you build up the wall).Obviously getting a full sized queen in there plus a couple extra inches of buffer would be nice though. They make flares for most vans now (I think they started as a thing for Sprinters and high-end van-based Class-Bs when the vans were a little narrower) and while they are expensive for an extra couple inches of space (and not worth it for me at 5’7″) they’d may be worth it if you budget them into your build.
My wife and I had something similar for a while, a ’74 Venture. 10 feet not counting the tongue. Nice little rig, but we decided it was just too damn small and upgraded and back-dated to a ’66 Aristocrat Land Commander. Still only 15 feet, and 2100 lbs, just about right for two of us and two small dogs. I should see if David and Jason will let me post something about it.
Post it anyhow! We’ll read it!
“I should see if David and Jason will let me post something about it.”
Lolol so the autopian is just my family. If mom (Jason) says no, just immediately ask dad (David) instead and they’ll say yes.
Black mail is always an option.
Nice. We have a 1966 “canned ham” too, a 16′ Blazon. We’ve had it for about 8 years, but bought our dream trailer last year (a 2007 23′ Airstream Safari) because we wanted something more modern for pulling longer distances. Our vintage one doesn’t have a bathroom, hot water, or any tanks. It was also getting tight for our family of 5. We have both now because we still want to be able to attend the vintage camper rallys.
“attend vintage camper rallies” Mercedes, sounds like another good story here………
They are all over the place, but the big ones, with about 130 participants are in Camp Dearborn in Milford, MI for the spring and fall gatherings. Most rallies have an open house day, where people stage their trailers and the public can tour them for 4 hours or so. Yes, it’s worth a story. The group is called the “Tin Can Tourists” https://tincantourists.com/events/category/official-tct-rally/
Yep, we go to one every October on the Oregon coast. Not as big as that, probably 30 trailers, but that just means you get to see everything.
There is one that passes through a nearby campground every year. The last time I attended was 2018 and I made it a life goal to attend with my own vintage camper. So you bet it’s territory I’ll tread again!
One thing that I loved about the rally was that the people were so proud and happy about their campers, even if they were a tiny little teardrop. And most of them were just so nerdy about their trailers that they had stacks of documentation about the brand, the trailer, and their history.
Yeah, it’s a lot like a classic car show. People spend a lot of time and money to re-build them and then theme them around the era they were built in. There’s always some amazing campers to see, and the owners are always willing to show them off. Mine is the vellow, white and silver one here, but the photos are from 7-8 years ago and it needs a re-paint now because the yellow has faded considerably. https://tincantourists.com/wiki/blazon/
Easier to ask for forgiveness than for permission
My grandfather bought a new Burro in the ’70s. I remember him pointing out that it was molded in left/right sides, as opposed to top/bottom halves. On a Disney trip, I learned there was no place to hide from a snoring parent.
I support this idea!