This VW Camper Beetle Is the ’70s Leisure Suit of RVs
It’s time to get back to basics. Start with this.
Explanations for life's strange happenings—a bit of closure—is something that often eludes us. But on occasion, the pieces fit together and we can make sense of the reasons behind things, such as the creation of a Volkswagen New Beetle-based camper we discovered back in May. If looks are anything to go by, that beautiful monstrosity might have been inspired by an older, more obscure design of Beetle camper, one called the Lil Bugger.
Built on the pan of a Volkswagen Type 1 Beetle, the Lil Bugger was constructed by a seemingly long-defunct upfitter out of Bellflower, California called Travelon Industries (no apparent connection to the maker of travel bags). According to the September 1975 issue of Popular Science, Travelon charged $2,795 for the conversion, which replaced everything aft of the windshield with a camper shell, making it about as long as a 2020 Honda Fit, but about two feet wider and taller respectively.
As a brand-new Beetle could be had for in 1975 about $3,000, the combined cost of car and conversion would run about $27,800 in today's money, making it more than five times costlier than the electric tuk-tuk RV we stumbled across in March. And for your money, you didn't even get the shower offered by the aforementioned three-wheeler; accommodations consisted only of swiveling captain's chairs, two beds, a two-burner propane stove, and a ten-gallon fresh water tank. No toilet, in case you were wondering.
Despite the added bodywork and modest amenities, the Lil Bugger still weighed a scant 2,200 pounds, so with a max payload rating of 700 pounds, gross vehicle weight came in at no greater than 2,900. Because of its minuscule mass, the Lil Bugger was said to still be capable of more than 20 mpg highway, though getting the not-exactly-aerodynamic shape up to highway speed would've likely been a harrowing experience. Swapping up to a Subaru engine like some Type 1 owners do might help it along, as might an engine from a Chevrolet Corvair, which the seller of this example claims to have on hand along with an adapter kit.
Apparently imported back from Denmark in 2003, this Lil Bugger's rotting wood and rusting floorpan are said to have been replaced, and the vehicle's brakes serviced. Seventeen years and presumably many nights of camping later, this Lil Bugger is back on the market, and at $12,000, it's hardly expensive as RVs go. But unless you plan to live a nomadic, no frills life, you might be better off simply renting an RV, as many Americans are doing this summer to get away from suburbia.
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