I’ve seen a lot of odd, borderline-impossible design briefs in my time. Ferdinand Piech’s requirements for the Volkswagen Phaeton (a car capable of being driven all day at 186 mph with an exterior temperature of 122 °F whilst maintaining the interior temperature at 72 °F) seems beyond belief, but it’s not as bad as this one: Design a camper for a standard sedan or hatchback which would give enough living space for at least two people, including areas for them to sit, stand, and sleep. This unit needs to be added or removed from the vehicle within approximately half an hour and should not require any significant permanent changes to the vehicle itself.
Whoa! I’m throwing down my pencils and going home. How the hell do you make that work? Oddly enough, some have already made this concept into a reality.
Bolt-On Car Camper History
The Kozy Traveler Kar Kamper shown below dates from around the sixties, a time when you could use that many “K’s” to replace “C’s” in the title of a product without embarrassment. This thing fit into the trunk of a standard American sedan once you unbolted the deck lid. It’s tall enough to stand in back, while there is sleeping space over the passenger compartment. Here is rare remaining example attached to an Edsel of all things:
Ginetta, a British company known for building racecars, made very few examples (possibly only one) of a camper based on a similar solution to fit to the “large” British Ford Zodiac sedan, albeit more aerodynamic than the Kar Kamper and involving removing of the sedan’s rear window. We don’t have rights to images of it so we can’t embed them, but have a look here.
But for Euro car geeks, likely the most well-known version this concept must be the Toppola camper for Saab 99 or 900 hatchbacks. The enormous hatch opening of this car allowed for a big standing space in back, and the interior seems especially voluminous for a camper on a car that really isn’t that large (certainly a hell of a lot smaller than the giant Edsel).
The Toppola is so prolific, you can add one to your Griffin small-scale car model. Here’s the CAD file:
Here are a few more images from Bilweb Auctions, where this Saab sold for about 15 grand (seems cheap!):
Obviously, the idea of a bolt-on camper is not impossible at all, or at least it wasn’t back in the day. What about with today’s crop of cars?
Back To The Design Brief
Let’s say that some entrepreneur somewhere decides that with the current RV market, he dreams of developing the next generation of this kind of camper, the Toppola II (Electric Boogaloo?). Can we make this idea work with modern vehicles?
Designing a Toppola to fit a sedan bodystyle today would be a bit like creating a saddle for a dinosaur; why make something for a type of car this is disappearing rapidly each year? Certainly crossovers would be the vehicle to adapt given their popularity, yet even there we’d need to be selective. A vehicle with a near-vertical rear back won’t work for our design, and I don’t want to make these exclusively for those hatchback SUVs that the #brands are giving the silly moniker of “coupe.” I want to utilize at least a little bit of the floor in the cargo area to hold much of the weight of this thing, and not overhang much, if at all. I picked a semi-fastbacked crossover as a basis, in this case something on the VW MLB Evo platform.
I don’t know how the Toppola was able to supposedly be installed in 30 minutes, but our design would incorporate some quick disconnects for the hatch hinges, wiring, and washer jets. We would likely need to incorporate the roof rack attachment points of the base vehicle for secondary fastening (or add something for vehicles that don’t have them).
Considering that the open hatch space is smaller than that of a Saab or standard-trunk car, the Toppola II would likely have to overhang at least a bit over the rear bumper. For some cars we might need to offer some additional support in the form of the trailer hitch-mounted brace, but in the Cayenne example we’re showing it wouldn’t necessarily be needed since the overhang isn’t too bad.
We could also take advantage of the now-popular feature that gives many campers additional space — the slide out.
The back of the Toppola II includes a sink, a cook surface, and microwave, but when the vehicle is parked you can slide this section out to expose fold down seats in a tiny dining/living area.
Above the passenger compartment is a sleeping area (which could, on some models, also include a slide-out over the hood of the car to increase space). The remaining cargo area of the SUV is still accessible from the Toppola II. If you fold down the rear seats this would be the “kids room” so to speak for the little ones to use as an additional sleeping area (but the rear seat remains useable for traveling).
To remove and store the Toppola II, I’ve considered the options I’ve seen for pickup truck bed campers like the StableCamper, which holds the camper in place for removal/installation and for storage or use off of the truck.
For ours, we might do something similar and add wheels; we could even add the option of allowing it to raise and lower to fit closer to the ground to fit into a garage and even allow room for another smaller car to park partially under it. Here you can see that the Toppola II unit actually allows enough room for the orthodontist who owns the Cayenne to park his 911 in the garage space next to the SUV. Dr. Tooth Straightener could even sleep in the Toppola II if Mrs. Tooth Straightener finds out about the trysts he’s having with his hygienist. Ouch.
[Mercedes’ Note: A built-in jack system would be a neat trick. Bishop already covered one important reason concerning the installation and removal of the camping unit. However, you’d also want built-in jacks for when you’re in camping mode. Sitting in a camper swaying in the wind is no fun, so you’ll want jacks that can be easily deployed at your campsite. Perhaps something like jacks that are body-colored, store flush on the camper body, and electrically swing down when you reach camp.]
Is This An Answer?
The Toppola II would need a tremendous amount of engineering and development to reach production, but it certainly could fit a category of buyer that has yet to be catered to. If you want to go camping but don’t want to tow something, buy a stand-alone motorhome or put a tent box on your roof — your options today are still pretty limited.
I don’t agree with some people’s claim that there are really no new ideas. However, I do think there are many valid old concepts that have been forgotten over the years. Now that the camper craze (or Kamper Kraze?) is truly here, it might be time to unearth some of them.
All illustrations by The Bishop
Would You Sleep In An RV Made Out Of A Hearse? – The Autopian
How Our Daydreaming Designer Would Turn A Scion xB Into A Delightful Camper – The Autopian
Our Daydreaming Auto Designer Reimagines A More Modern Version Of The Legendary GMC Motorhome That Died In 1978 – The Autopian
Our Daydreaming Designer Takes The Chevy Corvair Into The Eighties But In Van And Pickup Truck Form – The Autopian
Our Daydreaming Designer Imagines A Cybertruck-Shaped Camper Trailer That Almost Makes Sense – The Autopian
I cant believe i’ve never seen anything like this before*. What a crazy idea! It’s almost up there with the roof mounted fifth wheel.
*Yes ok, the homebuilt Prius-mounted shack from australia is the ultimate weirded out form of this but it came much later.
That’s a kool koncept!
Seems as if making the roof telescope up rather than the rear telescope back would be more aerodynamically efficient—there’s an article on aerodynamics just above this. Might be harder to engineer all the interior pieces.
A better name for it would be the Topplova.
I wonder if instead of hard fiberglass use a fold up bouncy house. Turn on the compressor and inflate the house and air mattresses at the same time. When going home just pop the nozzle and deflate.
I think that was Jeremy, Captain slow did the coffin.
Um, hello, GVWR? Are you still there?
GVWR is no longer employed here. . All further inquiries should be directed to Mr. Bumpstops who will be doing all the work now.
MEK- could not Mr. Air Suspension help? I wondered the same thing but how the hell did the original Toppola work considering I know it won’t carry the same amount as a large VW SUV?
The Toppola only weighed about 150kg/330lbs, and since it was replacing the entire hatchback, the net weight increase was only 115kg/254lbs – basically similar to one average American adult riding in the back seat.
Mr. Air Suspension is out on medical leave. That seems to happen quite often since Ms. Warranty’s retirement party.
This ‘hatch bed’ camper idea is supposed to exist for the 3rd generation Prius!
An idea whose time has come (back) for sure. Your drawings, however, ignore just how little space there is in the trunk (width, height, depth, intrusions). If I could upload pictures I’d share a drawing of the SUV showing the cargo floor and you could revise.
In short, I think a permanent rear overhang will be necessary. Also, design lives of models are short nowadays (sporty Nissans and Mopar products excluded), so it would have to be easily updated for the next gen or to also suit the Toyota Highlander or something.
mr.choppers- fully understand. Yes, there are space issues that I’ve not explored but, as you said, the basic concept is still worth pursuing. Also, adapting to different models of car would be an issue as well so likely might require a ‘sleeve’ or something to fit different vehicles or new models. Indeed, going with a ‘coupe’ SUV with a bigger hatch opening would help as well.
Audi A7 would be interesting, although that would undermine the whole overlanding possibility.
My first choice for a demo model would’ve been a Ford Explorer since Ford’s built up a long habit of doing facelifts at a point anyone else would go for a complete redesign.
You know, if you made one of these to fit a Focus, and then used it to tour the Burgundy region, it would be France’s Ford Toppola.
That’s it folks, this just won today’s COTD.
Dammit, this site needs to enable gifs in the comments!!!
(I want that Edsel & Kar Kamper kombo!)
With today’s materials, it seems likely you could build this without compromising the vehicle’s dynamics too much—but I do wonder if there would be enough demand to justify it. I like the enbiggened lighting out back. Has Jason seen this yet-and will the PTB allow you to share his reaction?
Time to go watch James May put a high rise on a Saab
I think that was Jeremy, Captain slow did the coffin.
The hard part would be creating some sort of nearly “universal fit” design that could fit a decent swath of the largest-selling crossovers on the market, if you could do that, the volume would certainly be there.
The alternative is to just build one for the Porsche and only the Porsche and mark the price way up, make money on margin, not volume. Porsche owners are used to being charged insane amounts for contrasting colored stitching on their seatbelts
What about for a rear engine car with the trunk in front?
Ooh, that would look like a car-combover or a reverse-mullet. Bishop, please do this next!!!
That would be more difficult and fun see attempted. If the camper was someone sculpted over the engine area, then it could work. I don’t see how you could do it otherwise. Those Bug campers that attached from the top are the only known option that I know of.
newcarpetsmell- Yes! We could even use a Tesla and have a camper that goes into BOTH the front and rear trunks while looping over the roof! You couldn’t see where you were going or have been but Elon says that doesn’t matter with self driving.