Over the last couple of decades motorhome manufacturers around the globe have produced some stunning compact camper van conversions, from Sportsmobile's pimped out Ford E-350 UAV and Earthcruiser’s innovative Fuso-based Exp to Global Expedition Vehicle's tricked out Mercedes-Benz Unimog and Action Mobil’s entry-level MAN-based Taklamakan.
However, it’s not just the specialist upfitters who have produced some design icons. Individuals within the overlanding fraternity have also created an impressive array of self-built camper conversions on a variety of platforms from the Steyr-Daimler-Puch Pinzgauer and Volvo’s C303 TGB to Britain’s venerable Bedford truck.
Of course, what this means in a nutshell is that any attempt to offer up a selection of the world’s best compact camper vans is likely to be a pretty subjective process. The rigs that made the list below did so because their respective upfitters took a robust vehicle platform and combined it with an innovative camper conversion to create a vehicle that offers users an unparalleled camping and RVing experience.
Innovan Voyager Slide-On Camper
Welby Harold Davidson debuted his GRP clamshell-style Voyager slide-on camper at Australia’s Queensland Caravan Camping and Touring Holiday show back in 2005. Designed to be carried by any one-ton capable 2x4 or 4x4 Ute, the 2800mm (110 inch) long two-berth clamshell is a mere 1.5 metres tall when retracted but almost 3.0 metres high once deployed.
The principal advantage of the Innovan’s compact profile, low centre of gravity and low overall height -- coupled with the handsome off-road performance of the 4WD Nissan Patrol Cab Chassis -- will be readily apparent to “overlanders” in search of a recreational vehicle that can meet the challenges presented by a journey across the Australian Outback, African Veldt or the Atacama Desert. Not only does Davidson’s Nissan Patrol include an independent airbag suspension system but it can also ford rivers up to a depth of 700mm (27 inches).
Whilst the interior incorporates a number of standard RV features -- including a sink, three-burner stove and a reefer -- an additional element that will surely appeal to tailgating fans is the integral roll-out stainless steel kitchen that can be deployed from the rear of the camper. Sheltered beneath the large overhead awning, the unit includes a two-burner LPG cook top, stainless steel LPG barbie and a detachable stainless steel sink.
Manufacturer: Innovan Pty • Country of Origin: Australia • Price: $25,000 AUD ($25,707 USD) and up • Platform: Nissan Patrol Cab Chassis •
Overlander Motorhomes VW T5 Doubleback
Cardiff, UK-based Overlander Motorhomes Ltd., launched their revolutionary rear slide VW T5 “DoubleBack” camper van in the United Kingdom in February, 2012. Based on the Long Wheelbase 2.0TDI 140PS VW Transporter van this brilliantly designed pop-top camper van incorporates a remarkable 130kg aluminium and composite rear Pod which once deployed adds almost 2 metres (6 feet) to the length of the vehicle.
The brainchild of mechanical engineer Craig McCormack the DoubleBack provides a load carrying capacity of over 500kg (1,102 lbs) and has been cleverly engineered to retain access through the Transporter’s rear door. The pod -- which takes just 45 seconds to deploy -- adds an additional twin-berth sleeping capability to the vehicle.
Whilst the T5 is available in Europe in an AWD version, North American RVers have been bereft of a Transporter platform since VW terminated U.S. sales of the Eurovan in 2003.
Manufacturer: Overlander Motorhomes Ltd • Country of Origin: Great Britain • Price: £54,995 including VAT ($87,114 USD) • Platform: VW T5 Transporter • Additional Information: “Revolutionary VW DoubleBack rear slide T5 camper van launched in UK” •
BeauER 3XCC Camping Car
The BeauER 3XCC takes Eric Beau’s superbly conceived 8 feet 8 inch long 12m² telescoping pod and mounts it on a Toyota Dyna flat bed truck. The hybrid Dyna – Toyota’s largest and longest serving commercial vehicle – utilizes a 4.0-litre common-rail diesel engine mated to a 110kW electric motor-generator and a Nickel-Metal Hydride battery pack.
The original 4-berth, 8 feet 8 inch tall pod -- which debuted in 2010 -- incorporates two telescoping modules within a fixed central unit. A flick of a switch can extend the width of the pod from 1.80 metres (5.9 feet) to 4.60 metres (15 feet) in the space of just 25 seconds and enlarges the available living area from 4 square metres to an astounding 12 square metres (129 square feet).
Manufacturer: BeauER • Country of Origin: France • Price (Pod only): €25,000/$33,000 • Platform: Toyota Dyna • Additional Information: “BeauER to launch 3X+ and 3X++ caravan along with 3XCC motorhome”•
UJOR V4 XPCamper
The studly 7.3L 4WD V4 XP Camper is unquestionably one of the most powerful and versatile compact camper vans on the planet. Designed specifically with the overland adventurer in mind the composite monocoque XPCamper with its signature, hydraulically operated, vertical slide rests atop an extensively modified 138" wheelbase Ford E350 chassis.
Whilst the XPCamper can be mated to a variety of flatbed vehicle platforms it’s true to say that none look quite as intimidating as Chris Steuber’s majestic V4 conversion. When combined with Marc Wassmann’s XPCamper, the end result is a stunning tour de force representing a sweet combination of power and dependability coupled with an exceptional off-the-grid camping capability. The latter is evidenced by the use of a diesel fired heater, boiler and ceramic hob along with a 600 amp battery, 310 watt solar array and 2000 watt pure sine inverter.
XPCamper are currently working on a smaller clamshell-style camper that’s custom designed for compact trucks like the Toyota Tacoma. Dubbed the V2 XP, the camper is expected to retail for approximately $30,000 and will launch later this year.
Manufacturer: UJOR/XPCamper • Country of Origin: USA • Price: $135K • Platform: Ford E350 • Dimensions: Length 185" Width 85" Height (in closed position) 56" Height (in open position) 90"• Additional Information: Prototype UJOR V4 XPCamper unveiled at SEMA 2012 •
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