The second part of our overview of unusual solutions of today and yesterday will focus on more traditional camper vans, such as motorhomes, overcab and low-profile versions. But, as we will see, they are actually not that traditional after all…
Words Andrea Cattaneo
Our journey into the universe of the weird and wonderful continues with motorhomes, overcab and low-profile versions. Current and past production features some truly unique models. Some solutions are just strange, others are genuinely exciting. Some of the prototypes implement meticulous design concepts and are capable of setting off a trend or at least steering future production ideas. Unfortunately, real innovations require sizeable monetary investments and this is why many manufacturers believe that being daring and inventing solutions which more often than not will receive little more than a tepid reaction from the market is not worth the effort. Experimentation is the motor of progress and forward-thinking companies are rewarded on the long run. Some of these vehicles are not new for people who have been operating for years in the sector but in some cases – deemed of little commercial relevance – have been long forgotten. So, a quick overview may be useful. We can see that the focus is often on tiny solutions. The compact camper van concept has always inspired designers and attracted the public. The usual layouts are revolutionised on some vehicles shifting the bunk bed forwards, arranging the pull-down double bed at the back and placing the entrance on the end of the vehicle, for instance The most creative manufacturers of the past fifteen years are certainly Frankia, Trigano Vdl (with the Challenger and Chausson brands) and Hymer, but also LMC, Knaus, Burstner, LeVoyageur and Niesmann&Bischoff.
Unquestionably, one of the most innovative larger vehicles of the past decade, Brevio was created in 2012 with a very precise goal in mind, that is to blend the advantages of a van with the qualities of a classic low-profile. It owned its high mobility to its short length and compact width (599 and 210 centimetres, respectively) but had more living space than a metal panel van (side walls) and better heat insulation in winter (sandwich panels and smaller entrance door than the sliding side door solution). A rear drop-down bed and large tailgate completed the equipment.
For the first time, the slide-out solution was offered on a compact vehicle made in Europe, namely the Adria Compact SLS in 2015. The rear wall slides out when the vehicle is parked by 70 centimetres to create a room with two single lengthwise beds in just 599 centimetre of total vehicle length.
This is arguably the best solution for four-people crews, with four comfortable captain chairs in the front (see photo above) and a generous U-shaped dinette at the back. Drop-down beds can be arranged in the front or in the back. Among the noteworthy current examples are certainly the twin Chausson 711 (developed from the 611) and Challenger 391 models, which also stand out for the double living pod access door.
RV history. Various noteworthy examples are the 2007 Pilote City Van (568 centimetres), the 2012 Dethleffs Evan (520 centimetres) and the older Mirage City (480 centimetres) with forward cab on Mercedes MB100.
Dethleffs Evan is a world apart from other motorhomes. Introduced for the first time in 2012, it was characterised by a rear access door and loading compartment (in addition to a side door) and optional pop-up roof with additional bed. The original version was 215 centimetres wide and 565 centimetres long. This was followed by a 520-centimetre-long version.
Rapido came up with a modular rear sleeping arrangement in 2014. Twin single beds can slide and form a double bed arranged either in the middle or against a wall. The system was introduced on the Rapido 9060 dF and on the Itineo MJB740 motorhomes.Rapido came up with a modular rear sleeping arrangement in 2014. Twin single beds can slide and form a double bed arranged either in the middle or against a wall. The system was introduced on the Rapido 9060 dF and on the Itineo MJB740 motorhomes.
In 2016 Trigano VDL introduced two low-profile versions with drop-down single beds arranged lengthwise on the twin Challenger 270 and Chausson 630 models. The two beds can be moved independently allowing remarkable configuration flexibility. The same flexibility is also found in the living pod with two lengthwise seating arrangements which can be converted into single forward-facing captain chairs with adjustable backrests.
Frankia has presented a generous U-shaped rear dinette perfect for enjoying meals with friends and contributing to making the living pod rather breezy many times. It can be paired with a drop-down bed, while on the T640 FF2 the backrests can be lifted and the seating can be turned quickly into two single beds.
Hymer introduced the meticulously designed Innovision prototype in 2008 implementing many solutions which are just as innovative still today. Based on a B-Klasse SL 636-centimetre-long motorhome, features included a kitchen block which could be used either inside or outside with double door refrigerator and a sink and cook top which could swivel into the veranda. The wash basin in the WC cubicle was superimposed over the toilet forming a large cylindrical element with a cabinet. The living area featured three captain chairs and seating arrangement. The garage with sideward sliding door had an extractable bicycle rack mechanism.
Having a seating arrangement placed in the middle of the passenger compartment, just behind the cab, has many advantages in a four-berth RV, first and foremost that of offering better view to passengers while travelling (frontal with respect to the windscreen, not only sideward). This solution has been recently introduced on the Burstner Ixeo 640 but was already present in 2009 on Challenger Prium and Chausson Sweet.
In 2009, French-based Trigano VDL launched the twin Challenger Prium and Chausson Sweet ranges, which featured some of the most unique RVs of the past thirty years, at least in Europe. The most exciting feature was the island kitchen in front of which a two-person seating arrangement is placed, offering excellent front view to passengers. The seating arrangement complements the very generous living space, which is even more impressive considering that the earlier versions were 599 centimetres long. The drop-down double bed was revolutionary for its age. By clearing space at the back, it made room for a generous toilet cubicle. Discontinued a few years ago, the Prium and the Sweet contributed to creating a new vehicle type.
An ample rear dinette is certainly an exciting feature but what about the garage? There are several solutions to have the best of both worlds, for instance seating arrangement which can be lifted when needed (see Arca America 1 and LMC Explorer Comfort 655G), a storage locker over the garage or more simply a surface behind the seating arrangement which can be left clear or used to make room for a bed.
Produced for a few years, starting in 2005, the Dethleffs Vari was a double axle caravan which was characterized by two unusual elements: a large tailgate and a lift-up bed at the rear so you could load a large motorcycle.
Among the many unusual low-profile vehicles, worth noting are the 2009 Burstner Aero Van (on rear-wheel drive Mercedes Sprinter with low-ride Alko chassis) characterised by a low-profile aerodynamic dome, which was the precise opposite of the 2014 Dopfer Individual 501TI (on Volkswagen Transporter with twin rear axle Al-Ko chassis) which opted for a remarkably high dome. Certainly, also memorable are other two low-profile vehicles which achieve an excellent continuity between cab and living pod, namely the La Strada Nova (introduced ten years ago for the first time) and the current Niesmann&Bischoff Smove.
Several German manufacturers started experimenting with the concept of expanding the living pod by raising the roof in 2010 although the solution with canvas sides was not new. The pop-up top on low-profile vehicles made a comeback on the Roller Team Triaca prototype in 2015 and on other vehicles, noticeably on the Hermann Grand Royale in 2016. We may see more as a result of the technology experimented by the Lippert Components group and by Project 2000 in particular.
Several examples of drop-down rear beds for use when needed have appeared on the European market since 2012. The area under the bed is occupied only a night and remains clear during the day for use as living or loading area. Some of the first models to use this concept were Kentucky Royal DB, Mobilvetta K-Yacht 80, Burstner Harmony and Brevio 605/645, Benimar Perseo 581 and Mileo 282, Challenger 100 and Chausson 500, in addition to several Frankia solutions.
Presented as a prototype in 2015 and later mass produced with some changes, this compact low-profile (599 centimetres long) offered a breezy open space living pod with two lengthwise seating arrangements, drop-down bed and kitchenette in the rear corner. Extra modern, minimalist design The prototype also featured a pop-up roof.
After having sold the window manufacturing factory he established to Dometic, Eugen Seitz started making camper vans in 2005 and had plenty of ideas, some of which maybe a little ahead of his time. In addition to several compact low-profile solutions with rear door, they presented a van-sized mini-overcab. Peugeot Boxer based, it was just approximately 5.5 metres and 207 centimetres wide. The pull-out bed in the overcab was also extendible in length allowing occupants to sleep either one way or the other. Bunk beds were arranged in the back.
Finding overcabs and motorhomes shorter than 5.5 metres was not uncommon in Europe but following the development of new mechanics and the expansion of living pods a 599-centimetre-long low-profile is now considered compact. Few manufacturers have dared to go under this threshold (excluding camper vans, of course), such as the current Hymer Van 314 (545 centimetres) and the twin Chausson Welcome 500 and Challenger Mageo 100 models launched in 2014 (566 centimetres). Some ten years ago, Heku had the T494, a low-profile which was just 499 centimetres long, on Fiat Ducato base, in its catalogue.
A sort of low-profile/motorhome hybrid, the Hymer Exsis launched in 2003 had nothing in common with the current Exsis but allowed Hymer to experiment with the short-and-narrow vehicle concept. Interesting use of colour It was 545 centimetres long and 206 centimetres wide (just 6 centimetres longer than the Fiat Ducato van). In addition to the cab seats, it had two lengthwise seating arrangements or two single captain chairs. The generous toilet cubicle featured a swivelling wash basin. Worth mentioning were also the rear door access to some of the technical systems and a large garage under the floor.
Certainly interesting are the living zone solutions with automotive-inspired chairs and central seating for relax. Although not be very common, they have been introduced several times by manufacturers.
Although it was first introduced seventeen years ago, the All-In-One prototype is as topical as ever. Designed by Hymer-IDC and presented at the Dusseldorf Caravan Salon in 2001, this Volkswagen Transporter based low-profile vehicle was noted for its pleasantly designed interiors, its clever use of colour, its fibreglass furnishings and its teak slat flooring, but above all for special features, such as four front-facing captain chairs, rear drop-down bed over the living area and shower cubicle doubling as an entrance. The tailgate opened upwards and a platform with stowing compartments protruded to form a small veranda.