Expandable Pickup Bed Caps Are a Concept Ready for an Overlanding Comeback
They were ahead of their time at first, but now, they’d be perfect.
Overlanding is all the rage these days, but buying a purpose-built rig for that is expensive, and modifying your daily driver for the task might be inconvenient if it's your only vehicle. If you need your pickup bed, it's going to get annoying taking that pop-up camper in and out whenever you need to make a Home Depot run.
A few Japanese automakers seemingly considered this problem back in the '80s and '90s. First, Mazda came along in 1985 with a concept in the same breath as a Dakar rally truck, a machine called the Titan Big Way. Nissan followed a few years later in 1991 with its own 4WD Flex Cab Concept. Both vehicles featured trucks with conventional beds for hauling stuff around, but also collapsible tents that could cover the entire length of the cargo area and then stow away to a fraction of their size. Sounds about perfect, doesn't it?
More than 30 years have passed since the first of these two vehicles was revealed, and information about them is a little scant. It's really the concept of the collapsing canopy that counts in the first place, but the Mazda is interesting as it's based on a commercial vehicle, the second-generation Titan. The truck debuted at the Tokyo Motor Show in 1985 and was built as a rallying variant. Specifics like what engine powered it and what particular modifications were done to it are hard to come by, but we do know the bed still tilted, just in case your passengers overstayed their welcome. All we can really see are the obvious changes; the cage, the lift kit, and the nice big BF Goodrich tires. Thankfully, we know a little more about the Nissan.
The 4WD Flex Cab Concept was based on the venerable Nissan Hardbody pickup, also called the Navara in other parts of the world. A few detailed images that Nissan took of the concept are still around, so we have a good idea of how that expandable rear tent worked. Basically, there was a hard cap on the end of a sort of fabric accordion structure that could slide back and forth on top of the bed. Not only that, but the hard cap had a conventional glass rear window that could pop open. The tent could be compressed and you would have most of your pickup bed, and then it could be slid open to form a full-length tent.
This could be especially cool today on pickups with six- or eight-foot beds. Vehicles with shorter beds like the Hyundai Santa Cruz or Ford's Maverick would probably best be served by a regular tent, but if you had a heavier duty vehicle more suitable for work, like a Ram 1500 or a Chevy Silverado, you could have your cake and eat it too. Slide the tent out on the weekends and then slide it back in when it's time to haul around those precious 4x8 sheets of plywood.
Some companies today make similar products, like Bestop. It makes a product called the SuperTop, which works similar to a convertible top on a car, but in bed cap form. You can see it working below; it's functionally similar to the Nissan design.
Bestop makes these for a variety of popular overlanding vehicles like the Tacoma, Ranger, Silverado, and more. They retail for around $800 to $900 but look like they may be a little finicky to set up. The great part about the Nissan solution is the sliding mechanism which allows it to be deployed pretty much instantly. It's also nice having that solid frame on the end to keep everything taut, as opposed to a series of metal poles bolted together, somewhat reminiscent of portable camping furniture.
In any case, it would be interesting to see such an accessory offered from the factory, or as a dealer-installed add-on. It may have been perfect for the Bronco pickup if that happened, seeing as Ford's new 4x4 seems poised to become an overlanding hero. Just look at the list of accessories for that thing—you could live in one.
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