Home » This Adorable 4×4 Diesel Japanese Camper Has A Silly Name And Wasn’t Actually Built In Japan

This Adorable 4×4 Diesel Japanese Camper Has A Silly Name And Wasn’t Actually Built In Japan

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Look at that cute motorhome on your screen. Yes, it really is called the Toyota HiAce Tomboy, which is an awesome and silly name for a motorhome. If you look at the thing, you’ll notice an entrance door on the left, a steering wheel on the right, and a shell that looks like any other Japanese camper you may have seen. Here’s the twist: this camper, which you can buy today, had a shell that was actually built in Canada.

The compact motorhome has been seeing a surge in popularity in recent years. A lot of RV buyers don’t want to drive around a hulking bus. Instead, they want something that has a roughly similar footprint to a pickup truck or commercial van. Some camper producers have been answering the call by going small with their latest fare. If you feel the compact campers on the market today are a bit too expensive or just not weird enough, look no further than an imported motorhome from Japan. This 1992 Toyota HiAce is shorter than a Mercedes-Benz Sprinter at just 16.2 feet long, but you get a diesel engine, four-wheel-drive, a manual transmission, and a camper body good for any season!

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That last part about the camper’s body is thanks to Canada, British Columbia, to be exact. While this camper is a Japanese-market vehicle, its fiberglass body was built by Bigfoot Industries in Vernon.

Bigfoot

If you look closely at the shell of this camper, you’ll find decals that identify it as a Tomboy. Right under that Tomboy script you’ll see the maple leaf flag and text that says “Canadian.” You’ll find these all over the rig and it’s not one-off. I found another, sightly more worn Toyota HiAce Tomboy and it has the same decals. What’s going on here?

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The answer comes from Ottoex Adventure Vehicles, an importer and dealer working here in the United States. According to Ottoex, Bigfoot Industries of Vernon, British Columbia constructed these fiberglass bodies, filled them with furniture and equipment, and then shipped them to Japan, where Toyota mated them with a Toyota HiAce truck cab.

According to a piece by Truck Camper Magazine, Bigfoot Industries was founded in 1978 by Clyde Burgess, Erwin Kreig, and Terry Mayall. Burgess and Kreig were owners of a fiberglass tub company and Mayall was their employee. Kreig was also part owner of Boler, an early Canadian innovator in fiberglass campers. Meanwhile, Mayall was a fiberglass boat builder.

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Bigfoot Industries

The men wanted to combine their strengths to create campers that eliminated the typical failure points in RV construction. Back then, as today, so many campers were built out of wood-framed boxes with lots of seams and joints you could count on to one day break open and allow water in. Kreig and Mayall believed that they could leverage their experience with fiberglass to build campers that could survive the tough Canadian better than others. The three men opened Bigfoot and got right to work designing double-hulled fiberglass campers. Like many fiberglass campers made in North America during this time, you can still find old Bigfoots around today.

Sadly, Bigfoot shut down in 2008 in the wake of the Great Recession. But the company didn’t stay down, as its current owners bought the assets after the remnants of Bigfoot were idle for a year. Today, you can buy a wide array of truck campers and travel trailers from Bigfoot, and they’re still built with Bigfoot’s durable fiberglass construction.

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Bigfoot RV

For this camper, we’ll need to flip our calendars back a little over 30 years.

This Tomboy

I haven’t found any information as to why Toyota decided to have Bigfoot build its campers. A brochure included in this Toyota HiAce Tomboy claims, roughly translated: Born in Canada, Raised in Japan. The brochure also claims that the camper will keep you warm, even if the temperatures are as low as -20 C, or -4 F degrees. That’s properly icy! One of Bigfoot’s specialties back then was building cold-weather campers so the partnership does make sense.

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Ottoex Adventure Vehicles explains that Bigfoot’s campers were able to survive temperatures that cold thanks to the company’s signature wall construction, from Ottoex:

Using Bigfoot’s proprietary Fibercore Wall systems, it achieves an R12 Insulation value all around with 1 1/2 inch polyurethane injected walls and ceiling and a double floor system with an insulated basement, meaning your travels in this will not only be extremely warm in cold climates, or cool in hot climates, but it’s also very quiet on the inside. No other RVs achieve this level of insulation and craftsmanship. Fiberglass all around, with molded fiberglass front and rear caps. Molded fiberglass storage compartments all around on the exterior as well as Fiberglass running boards. On the inside it has a marine quality headliner with real solid wood cabinetry throughout.

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Toyota

You got all of this on a dependable Toyota HiAce 1-ton truck chassis. Toyota says the HiAce launched in 1967 as the automaker’s answer to the Nissan Homy. Highlights of the first HiAce include an independent front suspension and a unibody design. This camper is based on the third-generation HiAce truck, which started production in 1985, a few years after the third-generation HiAce van, and lasted through the summer of 1995. Toyota noted that by the third generation, the HiAce truck and HiAce van became separate models. In case you were curious, the HiAce name is literal. It’s “high” and “ace,” which is supposed to mean the vans and trucks are a successor to the Toyoace.

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Under the front seats, you get a 2.4-liter 2L diesel. Ottoex did not take a picture of the engine, so here’s an engine picture from another Tomboy I found for sale:

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It should be making around 82 horsepower and 120 lb-ft of torque. That’s not a lot of juice and I wouldn’t expect you to get anywhere quickly. However, the Toyota 2L diesel is legendary for its practically bulletproof reliability. It’s gutless, but these are the same engines found in the famously reliable Hilux from the same era. Oh, and it’s a mechanical diesel, so you don’t find old electronics to fail on you. That engine is driving a part-time four-wheel-drive system featuring a two-speed transfer case, a manual transmission, and locking Aisin front hubs. Another neat feature is a knob that, when pulled, redirects the engine intake to a higher point, great if you’re driving through dust or perhaps water.

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The interior may look familiar, and that’s because it’s been outfitted with North American-spec equipment and a North American electrical system. Yep, this is a Japanese camper with parts that you should be able to buy here in America. Your hair will thank you later. Equipment includes a Norcold refrigerator, a molded fiberglass wet bath, flushing toilet, a two-burner stove, a stainless sink, and birch cabinetry. Helping you stay warm is the R12 insulation from floor to ceiling, but also a forced air propane furnace as well as a hot water heater. In terms of holding tanks, you get 24 gallons for fresh water, 11 gallons for grey water, and 11 gallons for your waste.

Ottoex says the camper shows in such great condition because it is a one-owner unit that has been stored indoors all of its life. Most of what you see inside of the camper is original. Part of its good condition is also because that one and only owner drove the camper just 65,000 kilometers, or about 40,389 miles.

Camping For You And Your Buds

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While I probably wouldn’t recommend it, Ottoex says the motorhome has seating for seven people. In sleeping mode, you can fit people in the overhang above the cab, on the couch, and on the dinette sleeping area. It would be tight, but you could travel the country with the whole gang if you wanted to. Again, it just wouldn’t be very fast doing that trip.

However, the American-spec electrical system and compartment for up to three house batteries means this is a Japanese rig without the headaches of trying to get a different electrical system to work here. It’s also a rare beast. Ottoex believes there are less than 60 of these out there. If that’s true, you don’t want to smash anything bespoke to this camper.

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If you want to take on that challenge, Ottoex Adventure Vehicles, which is based in Milwaukie, Oregon, wants $44,995 for this camper. If that’s too rich for your blood, there’s another Toyota HiAce Tomboy for sale in Texas for $28,000. That one has a modernized kitchen and solar power, but is in rougher cosmetic condition, has some rust, and is said to need “TLC.” No matter the Tomboy you choose, you’ll be getting a motorhome that looks different but is still good enough that you can enjoy a good American road trip with it.

(Images: Ottoex Adventure Vehicles, unless otherwise noted.)

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Defenestrator
Defenestrator
3 months ago

Wow, I had no idea Bigfoot made these. I kinda scoffed at the “all-season” part until their mention since lots of RV claim that and few actually hold up well, but Bigfoots are legitimately made for very cold weather. I’ve been in one of their trailers at about -5F with no problems at all.

Side note: the one who got together the money to buy the name and assets was actually the head of production pre-bankruptcy, so largely the same crew still building it. The bankruptcy happened because they expanded to (capital-intensive) class C RVs and their contract with dealers required them to buy unsold units back. They probably would have had little trouble riding it out with a loan and returning to profitability, but loans were hard to come by in 2008.

Phuzz
Phuzz
4 months ago

I’ve seen more than one camper conversion on a Bedford Rascal (aka a rebadged Suzuki Carry), which is a Kei sized van. Now that’s a tiny camper.

Opa Carriker
Opa Carriker
4 months ago

EV Conversion?

Slow Joe Crow
Slow Joe Crow
4 months ago

It’s a neat rig that looks usefully roomier than the Japanese made LiteAce campers I see around. Toyota or its upfitters are OK with imported components because I see a lot of mid 90s HiAce vans with German Reimo conversions. I am low key looking for one since a 97 gets you a,2.8 diesel, and AWD in a Class B format for a quarter of what a Sprinter runs

Chronometric
Chronometric
4 months ago

I love it. The size, quality, and layout are perfect for mature empty nesters. Price is steep and the downsides of RHD in a bulky package and slightly underpowered rule it out for me.

DadBod
DadBod
4 months ago

I want to pick it up and make vroom vroom noises. It’s adorable.

Jakob K's Garage
Jakob K's Garage
4 months ago

Over here that model was called the Dyna, and mostly sold as a flat bed diesel truck. For some years the preferred company car for masons.

Never seen it as a 4WD before. Or a camper. Cool car 😎

Last edited 4 months ago by Jakob K's Garage
Freelivin1327
Freelivin1327
4 months ago

The perfect Autopian RV!!!
This is awesome even though it seems like certain small ones are more $ than the big ones! I still like them and really want an old Toyota RV (Dolphin,etc) eventually

Cryptoenologist
Cryptoenologist
4 months ago

Very few things care about the difference between Japanese and North American electrical systems. Unlike nearly every other country, the do not use any additional phases, different plugs, or higher voltages. They just have a slightly lower base voltage of 100v which may affect hair dryers, toasters and space heaters but almost nothing else.

Gee See
Gee See
4 months ago

Well some parts of Japan uses 50hz some part uses 60hz

Turkina
Turkina
4 months ago
Reply to  Gee See

50Hz In the east (Kanto region and northwards)
60Hz In the west (Nagoya, Kansai, everything west and south)
So, the only issue making sure anything that uses a timer based on the AC frequency is set to the right region.

Slow Joe Crow
Slow Joe Crow
4 months ago

I think swapping out the inverter for a 120V 60Hz solves it.

Squirrelmaster
Squirrelmaster
4 months ago

That is a neat little machine. Probably terrifyingly slow to drive on US interstates, but I’d give it a shot if I had the means and need.

Dead Elvis, Inc.
Dead Elvis, Inc.
4 months ago
Reply to  Squirrelmaster

This isn’t for the interstates, but for the blue highways favored by William Least Heat-Moon.

Last edited 4 months ago by Dead Elvis, Inc.
Abdominal Snoman
Abdominal Snoman
4 months ago

I used to have a 2001 Yukon XL 2500 I’d camp in at race tracks, and somehow this has 4 times the interior space while being 2.05′ shorter, 0.06′ narrower, and 2.55′ taller. (after many unit conversions) If it wasn’t for the extra 2.525′ of height that keeps it from being able to fit into my garage, I’d seriously be looking for a clapped out version.

Ranwhenparked
Ranwhenparked
4 months ago

Wait, were these factory supplied by Toyota to their dealer? If Toyota is endorsing a camper for sale through their dealers, on the Japanese home market, that probably says something about the quality of it. This is well before they put their badge on a Cavalier, they still had standards

Pat Rich
Pat Rich
4 months ago

Okay, but now I want to put mattracks on it and make it a little mobile ski hut.

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