Home » This Vintage Fiberglass Camper Is Like A Spaceship Bolted To A Toyota

This Vintage Fiberglass Camper Is Like A Spaceship Bolted To A Toyota

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Gracing the pages of Bring a Trailer today is a camper that looks like it exists in two centuries at the same time. This 1985 Toyota Mirage camper looks like a Chinook RV from 100 years in the future, or a spaceship that crashed into the back of a pickup truck. It’s a weird 1980s fiberglass camper on top of a dependable Toyota platform, and you could actually camp in it today!

A couple of weeks ago, I spotted something that made me perhaps irrationally excited. On the way to my parents’ house for Thanksgiving dinner, I saw a little Toyota Dolphin camper pulling out of a residence and off to the great beyond. I couldn’t stop and turn around in time to catch it. So you’ll have to trust me when I say that this thing was in mint condition, and you could see some modern upgrades like LED lighting and solar panels. Seeing a camper always makes me smile, but seeing a piece of camping history still doing its job makes my heart skip. Keeping old campers alive isn’t easy, so kudos to you, Dolphin driver.

I’ve been thinking about finding a minty Toyota camper to feature here, but until today, I hadn’t found one that really hit the spot. Thanks to this incredible Bring a Trailer auction, not only did I find a cool Toyota-based camper, but one that’s a new discovery even for me. This 1985 Toyota Mirage camper is sweet, and I can’t get over how it looks like it came from 1985 and 2185 at the same time.

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Bring a Trailer Seller

Finding the history on this one was difficult. The Bring a Trailer listing doesn’t offer much. Ask Google about the Toyota Mirage and the search engine will think that you’re actually searching for information on the Mitsubishi Mirage. Despite this, I’ve been able to piece together some information on the company that built this thing.

Just a few years after Toyota launched in the United States, the company already had trucks on American roads. First came the truck version of the Land Cruiser in 1963, which was joined by the Stout in 1964. Then came the Hilux. Launched in 1968, this pickup would bear the Hilux name until 1976, when it was renamed “Truck” in the North American market. Regardless if they’re called a Hilux or a Truck, through its generations this gained a reputation for durability. Top Gear famously tried killing one using fire, seawater, crashes, and even a building collapse, and it continued to drive.

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Toyota

In the early 1970s, a number of RV manufacturers chose the Hilux as the backbones for their Class C camper models. Famed motorhome producer Chinook built fiberglass campers out of Toyota pickups starting in 1973. But Toyota wasn’t exclusive to Chinook, and offered its half-ton chassis to a number of manufacturers. Eventually, the market of Toyota Truck-based RVs was crowded with offerings from Chinook, Coachmen, Dolphin Sunrader, Warrior, Winnebago, and many more. Some enthusiasts estimate that there were up to 60 different styles and models of Toyota-based campers.

One of these models was created by Mirage Industries in Elkhart, Indiana. Information about this company is thin. Someone on a forum claimed to know a lot, but never gave out the details on the public forum. Weirdly, J.D. Power has a blurb on the company, and it reads like this:

Builder of a Toyota-based Class C motorhome, Mirage came into existence in the 1970s when the United States pressured recreational vehicle manufacturers demanded more fuel efficient options. Ranging in lengths from 16.5 to 21 feet, Mirage motorhomes consumed gasoline at a gallon every 20 miles. Well-equipped for individual or vacationing couples on the inside, the exterior of Mirage motorhomes were stylish looking vehicles. The Toyota truck-based Mirage motorhomes were last produced in 1986.

J.D. Power goes on to note that the company itself went belly-up in 1986, before Toyota-based campers even went out of style. It’s said that Toyota stopped producing chassis for motorhome makers in 1994 or 1995. The Toyota Truck evolved into the Tacoma in 1995 in America, so that makes sense.

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Toyota

It’s also said that these Toyota Mirage campers are pretty rare, though I could not find production numbers anywhere for them. Now, the combination of a dead company and “rare” would normally be a headache of a proposition. Who knows what parts you’ll be able to find. Thankfully, the Toyota Mirage that you see here has been through a recent refurbishment.

According to the Bring a Trailer listing, back in 2020 this Mirage was gone through mechanically and cosmetically. And it certainly looks good.

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Bring a Trailer Seller

I’ve seen a lot of truck campers with these fiberglass shells on the back. It’s something that Chinook is famous for. But what I haven’t seen is a fiberglass shell that looks like a runabout from Star Trek or a Halo game. The design is all kinds of funky and I love it. Though, the part that I love perhaps a little more is how that futuristic camper blends into the totally ’80s Toyota Truck.

The Toyota Truck part of this equation features Toyota’s famous 2.4-liter 22R-E. This engine has new bearings, camshaft, connecting rods, crankshaft, cylinder head, pistons, piston rings, timing, and valves. When new, this engine was good for 105 HP 136 lb-ft torque.

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Bring a Trailer Seller

That freshened engine is supported with a new alternator, coil, exhaust manifold, radiator, radiator hoses, water pump, and more. Powers sent to the rear dual wheels through an automatic transmission. The transmission and differential are noted to have been rebuilt, too. This is certainly not a fast RV. But with that dependable engine, it will probably run longer than you will. But if you care about speed, the seller says they’ve had the 5,000-pound camper up to 80 mph, but it seems happier with 65 mph to 70 mph.

This camper is looking like a Ship of Theseus and it continues inside, where the camper cabin has been given a total makeover. The list of changes is huge:

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Bring a Trailer Seller
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Bring a Trailer Seller

The camper cabin was reportedly re-outfitted under current ownership, and work involved replacing the furnishings, windows, mechanical systems, and power systems. Features include slow-close cabinets with magnetic latches, open shelves, woodgrain flooring, two bench seats with internal storage, overhead lighting, a USB power port, and audio speakers. Additional equipment consists of a ceiling vent, four side windows with sliding panels, and a Webasto gasoline-powered air heater that is connected to the vehicle fuel tank. The kitchenette is equipped with butcher block countertops, a sink and faucet, a Blackstone three-burner propane range, a Dometic 12-volt refrigerator/freezer, and a five-gallon water heater.

Sadly, there is no shower or a toilet, but those are issues that can be rectified. You get a 17-gallon tank for freshwater, a 15-gallon gray water tank, and a 3-gallon propane tank. Since that freshwater tank is really feeding only a sink and a water heater, you could feed off of it for an outdoor shower setup. Add in a cassette toilet and you have a rig that you can camp in wherever the road takes you. Perhaps even cooler is that the seller says that the Mirage is set up for cold weather camping. The fiberglass shell is said to have three layers, and the water line is kept from freezing with an electric heater.

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Bring a Trailer Seller

While not perfect, this camper is absolutely epic. It has a reliable engine and that fiberglass camping unit should be good for years. In theory, this is something that could be on the road for a long time before even looking at a dealership, and that’s awesome. If you think so too, the auction is thus far pretty reasonable. It’s $10,750 with five days to go on Bring a Trailer.

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20 Responses

  1. I love it. My biggest knock on RVs are the horrible gas mileage, the fact that they are a complete bear to actually drive around, and the fact that prices are ridiculous right now. This solves a lot of those issues.

    Along these lines, it would be awesome to see something similar done with a new Maverick as the starting point. Could open a lot of possibilities.

    1. That’s one of the great things about the Promaster high-top than i’ve been working on converting to a camper. Before I did anything to it – 20mpg. Now with a bed and fridge and heater and cooktop in the back – 20mpg. A modern engine with a 6sp auto helps of course, but for a 3/4 ton van that can haul over 4000lbs inside, the weight I’ve added doesn’t effect it at all, and it’s already a brick so the solar panel hasn’t much either.

  2. Don’t get me wrong – I am in no way questioning Toyota’s reputation for reliability, but they’ve literally replaced every part of the drivetrain on a vehicle with 96k miles.

  3. “The two-spoke steering wheel is tilt-adjustable and sits ahead of a 110-mph speedometer”
    That is incredibly hopeful. I’d imagine it’s tough to get going faster than 60. Downhill.

  4. Bil had a Dolphin for awhile. Incredibly slow and rather ponderous-but still pretty cool. I would prefer this smaller version-and the remodel has made it much nicer than that Dolphin ever was.

  5. I don’t get how you can shower with such a thing.
    A normal shower drops about 12 litres of water on you that has been heated to 35 °C to 40 °C (depending on preference). Heating fresh water to this temperature requires anywhere between 20 and 30 kW of power (depending on how cold the water is to begin with). Where do you get that power from? And say you want to shower for 5 minutes (not unreasonable, I would think). That’s 60 litres or about 16 US gallons, more or less completely draining your fresh water tank.
    Doesn’t compute. What gives?

    1. So what you are saying is that we are talking about washing off the most egregious dirt, not “taking a shower” in the normal sense of the word. Okay, that’s what I kind of assumed anyway. Thanks.

    2. I have showered using a 6 litre black plastic bag that you let the sun warm up, it is wet body, apply soap, rinse and usually don’t repeat, I usually only use half the water, but this is applying ‘camping hygiene’ rules- if you dont’ stink too bad all is good

    3. External camping showers operate more like washing the dishes. If the water is on more than the bare minimum needed to wet or rinse, you’re doing it wrong.

      Basically, water on to wet, then soap and lather everything with it off. Water on to quickly rinse. Done.

  6. I like the concept but too small for more than one person. Two people is a divorce waiting to happen.

    As far as cassette toilets, I am not carrying a sh*tcase to the dump station.

    That said, as a day tripper/quick stop at a rest area I can see the use.

    If it stays under 20k, it is a good deal if you want a rolling tent but not a pop up trailer.

  7. I like it, the 22RE is a forever motor, I m surprised it needed any of that work, the camper looks way more modern than it is, even the shape looks good for the current crop of stuff out there.

  8. I shouldn’t own it because I’d be unable to resist making the “oh it was a normal camper until I farted in it” joke. I am juvenile at heart.

  9. Mixed feelings.. it’s super neat but I’m personally not a fan of the color scheme. Seeing the wood counters and the brown interior, this thing should have been a glorious shade of brown on the outside.. the mint and black doesn’t make sense to me. Also the interior walls, why make them so dark!?

    Love the camper, hate the style choices.

    1. Agreed as well. In a space already prone to be small and dark, painting the walls a dark color seems counterintuitive.

      I like campers to be full of white surfaces and blonde wood.

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