Living in a Go-Anywhere, Stealth-Adventure Toyota Tacoma Camper

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I’ve been going through a lot of my old photos lately and they make me really miss my old 4×4 Ford F150. So this is the perfect time for this guest post about how to live and have adventures in a 4×4 Toyota pickup. I hope you enjoy it as much as I did! 

tacoma-Shell

The shell at the dealership

I have been a fan of Cheaprvliving.com since 2008 after I happened across it from a web search. Due to the poor economy starting in 2008, the thought of a self contained, go anywhere stealth vehicle started me thinking. I found the Durashell 165 cabover shell at Fleetwest in Tempe AZ. http://www.fleetwest.net/products/durashell/165.html I mentally filed away all of my ideas as my financial/marital status had no room at the time for this project. Fast forward to 2012, I was living with a family member and struggling to make a living as a truck driver in Southern California. My fortunes were about to change. A friend called me in Jan 2012 and offered me a job back in the oilfield where I had worked before. I packed my things and headed to TX in my paid off 2004 Toyota Tacoma 2wd, 4cyl truck.
Camper going on truck.

Camper going on the truck.

I started my new job in Feb 2012 and after a training period, saw my earnings increase. I put a deposit on the Durashell in June ’12 and finally had the funds to pay it off and have it installed in Sept ’12. I tied the Tempe trip in with a final destination of San Diego. The very nice folks installed my unit in a timely manner and I was back on my way to SD. The truck definitely felt the weight but the add-a-leaf springs I had installed handled the load decently. I later installed Supersprings to firm up the rear of the truck. Once I arrived in SD and offloaded my things in storage, I began the process of building the unit to sleep in and have everything I would need to be off the grid.
The camper empty. The 2x4s go across above the wheel-wheels, creating a 'basement".

The camper empty. The 2x4s go across above the wheel-wheels, creating a ‘basement”.

I ran three 2×4’s across the shell resting on the ledges on each side. I then had a sheet of 3/4″ thick plywood ripped into two 24″x74″ strips to make a floor. I was going to put the extra strip in storage, but instead I stacked them so I could go all the way across if there was a need to haul something large. I strapped a 75″ camping cot to the passenger side so I had easy access below, along with being able to lift the floor. All of my things are contained in laundry baskets which can be slid aft like drawers. I store my clothes in the overhead attic for ease of access.
Tacoma-Baement

With the plywood lifted up, you can see the basement underneath. He sleeps on the cot to the right and uses the overhead for storage.

I purchased a Honda generator and had 3 access hatches with removable covers installed.
I had a larger hatch installed in the front bulkhead as a passthrough to the truck cab, giving me access to 12V power, more ventilation and the truck’s HVAC system.
Later on I left SD to catch a job in OK and then returned to Houston afterwards. I attended to some maintenance items as well as installing SuperSprings to firm up the rear as well as increase the load capacity. I decided on this route vs airbags because of the cost and simplicity advantages. I’m very happy with the ride improvement after the installation.
SuperSprings going on

SuperSprings going on

Later on I left SD to catch a job in OK and then returned to Houston afterwards. I attended to some maintenance items as well as installing SuperSprings to firm up the rear as well as increase the load capacity. I decided on this route vs airbags because of the cost and simplicity advantages. I’m very happy with the ride improvement after the installation.
Tacoma-CotAfter this install and enjoying Thanksgiving with my family, I caught a 3 day job up in OK again. Once it was finished, I had time off to relax again, so I decided to go to Colorado and enjoy the mountains..It was about the same distance to go to Estes Park as it was to return to Spring, TX.
Tacoma-Access-Install

Vents being installed.

I spent my first night out on the road about 30 miles east of Denver on the I-70 at a Loves truck stop… I about FROZE to death in the camper! My $15 Walmart sleeping bag wasn’t cutting it (it has since been repurposed as a foam filled sleeping pad). As soon as I got to Denver, I hightailed to the downtown REI and bought a zero degree rated Kelty down filled bag. The next night in Boulder was MUCH more comfortable.
 
The camper on the new Tacoma.

The camper on the new Tacoma.

It became apparent that my 4cyl Tacoma was no match for the weight and drag of the shell and I had already decided to upgrade to the current 2005+ Tacoma Access Cab, 4wd in 2013. Well, I was coming into Boulder when I spied the truck I wanted, a white basic 4×4, steel wheel Tacoma at a car lot. It is a 2008 with less than 60k miles at the time. A deal was made and they met some conditions of helping me switch the shell over to the newer truck and storing my 2004 Tacoma. They very kindly allowed me to stay in their lot while I waited for hardware and funds for a suspension/wheel upgrade to come in. It’s Gebhardt Imports on 28th street, very nice people, especially my salesman, Mike Gebhardt.
When you have this small a space, getting a crew cab adds a huge amount of room!The microwave is on the floor in the back seat.

When you have this small a space, getting a crew cab adds a huge amount of room!The microwave is on the floor in the back seat.

The truck right after the purchase next to my 2004. I wanted steel wheels as I knew I was going to upgrade them. I installed a microwave and a 1000 watt inverter under the hood letting me heat any kind of food I want.
I later added an ARB 47l fridge/freezer to replace my ineffecient Coleman cooler. I used it recently to drive out to San Diego from Dallas, the food was nice and cold the whole way. Well worth getting if you are vehicle dwelling.
Tacoma-ARB-frdgMy Scanguage II out of the 2004, set up in the 2008 now. Well worth getting, it really teaches you how to drive for fuel mileage. I set up a 300W inverter for smaller items like my shaver, camera and laptop. Also have USB chargers for my tablet, phone and hotspot.
Installed two 12v incandescent drop lights for improved and warmer lighting vs the cold LED dome lights..
Tacoma-tiresFinally got the wheel and suspension upgrades done. Tacoma’s are great trucks with notoriously weak rear springs. Mine was sitting on the bump-stops after the shell was moved onto it. I got SuperSprings again, an add-a-leaf and a 2″ lift f/r. I also bought M/T black Classic Lock 16″ rims, shod with ProComp A/T 265/75/16 tires, upgraded from 245’s. Truck drives great and the speedo is dead on with the GPS now.
A little espresso anyone? lol My Brikka moka pot on the camp stove.
My project is substantially complete now. I have since added a remote start security system and have new bumpers on order. This rig isn’t for everyone, but for me, it has satisfied my goal of a go-anywhere stealth vehicle which can be comfortably slept in.
For more details, please follow my link on the CheapRVliving Forum:
http://www.cheaprvlivingforum.com/post/Thinking-of-buying-a-utility-shell-for-a-stealthadventure-vehicle-camper.-5873334?trail=15
 I asked William some questions, and these were his answers:
Question: Can you tell the readers some prices?
Answer: The shell was $5345 including AZ sales tax.
PRICE LIST (approximate)

  • Microwave $50
  • 300W inverter $40
  • 1000W Inverter $100
  • ARB fridge/freezer $800  ouch!
  • Plywood/ 2×4’s $50
  • 75″ cot $55
  • Honda EU2000 generator $800
  • Mr Buddy heater $85
  • Small hatches (2) $16 each
  • Big hatch (1) $20
  • SSA7 SuperSprings $250 ’04 truck
  • SSA19 SuperSprings $360 ’08 truck

Question: Was the old Tacoma able to handle the load and is the new one better?
Answer: The 2.4l 4 cylinder with approx 142hp was fine in the flatter areas and OK in a lower gear. You could feel it working on long grades.
The 4.0 V6 has 236 HP and a 5 speed automatic and does fine, though somewhat thirstier. Brakes have been fine on both trucks. For some reason, Toyota sticks with rear drums, even on the newer models.
Question: How much does the shell weigh?
Answer: Haven’t weighed the rig, but I have read the shell weighs 300 lbs. Four shop guys were able to manually move it to the newer truck. At worst I think I’m at 400 lbs of extra stuff, including the contents of the cab.
Question: For the coffee lovers, tell us more!
Answer? The coffee pot is a Bialetti Brikka with a patented head producing the awesome crema. I bought the 2 cup pot from Amazon here: (4 cup)
Bialetti Brikka 4-Cup Stovetop Percolator
I love the results I get. You really don’t need to spend the money on a high end pump model.

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21 Comments

  1. CAE

    Any idea of what kinda mileage the new rig gets?

    • Bob

      CAE, sorry, I don’t know. I emailed him telling him I was pooting his story but I haven’t heard back. Hopefully he will chime in and give us some more info. I couldn’t even venture a guess myself.
      Bob

    • William

      CAE, I’ve seen a high of 22 on AZ and less than 15 in wind or hills.

  2. Tim McDougall

    Nice article. I like the way you built out the shell.

    • Bob

      Tim, William did a real nice job. I have never worked with fiberglass so I don’t know how to work with it, but it looks to me like it would be harder to work with. Steel and wood are easy because you just drive screws in, but fiberglass is a mystery to me.
      Bob

      • Rick

        The nice thing about the Durashell transferable truck bodie is that it has mounting points throughout the inside. These are strips of pressure treated wood inside the fiberglass. So you can screw directly into it or drill holes into it without damaging the integrity of the fiberglass composite outside structure.

        • Bob

          Rick, thanks for telling us that, I had no idea. That is a very nice touch for them to add! Obviously a well-thought system.
          Bob

  3. Calvin R

    That’s a great bed/storage setup for truck living. I always like simplicity, and that really looks beautiful to me.
    Speaking of simplicity, the shower setup (near the end of the thread) helps for me. I do office or retail type work, so being clean and neat enough to pass in those environments matters. That could be adapted to most vehicles, too. I would have to pay attention to my parking choices, but most urban environments off other shower/cleaning choices of some sort.

    • Bob

      Calvin, for me it was as simple as getting a gym membership. It cost $20-$30 a month, but that let me take as many showers as I wanted. It’s almost as easy when boondocking. I just use a solar shower for hot water and a wash basin.
      Bob

  4. dave

    Not to be negative in anyway…I 100% respect his effort and ingenuity, but:
    A few more dollars gets you into a Four Wheel Camper:
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jhxbiIFK4wY
    It’s insulated, has a 16000 BTU furnace, lower center of gravity, less wind resistance therefore better gas mileage, and re-sales of used four wheel campers, especially eagles (what fits a Tacoma): Not a problem. Probably would still need springs and airbags, and a bleed over brake valve too. They have “shell” models as well, empty in back except for a cab over bed. You can build your own kitchenette/couch set up to your needs/tastes.
    6500 or so gets one into a All Terrain Camper shell model, in case you want to customize your setup. All Terrain is a “rival” pop up truck camper, the same folks who built the four wheel campers before the company was sold in… I think 2001 or so. This is a Bobcat shell model:
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mqLADEik21g
    Older used four wheels ( 70’s, 80’s) can go for under a thousand, especially in Colorado. Models that fit Tacomas and similar are however, tough to find…people tend to hold onto their four wheels…
    Again, no negativity and I am not affilated with either company.

    • Bob

      Hi Dave, no offense taken at all, the Four Wheel campers have a great reputation and a devoted following. There is no doubt about their quality! however, I believe they are much heavier. If his shell is 300 lbs, then I think even an empty Four Wheel camper would be double or even triple that. I think the weight would much more than offset the lower height.
      I can’t speak for William, but I am not a fan of pop-ups as a live-in vehicle. While they are great in the heat, they are poor in the cold. And I don’t want to have to pop the top to make lunch or move camp. I understand lots of people love them I am just not one of them.
      But that is a good suggestion and I appreciate you bringing it up!!
      Bob

      • dave

        Bob
        Good points all.
        They make something called an “arctic pak”, basically another liner that goes on the inside, creates a dead air space for insulation. This apparently helps alot with both heat loss and heat gain. But, as with all things, the lower center of gravity you get with the pop up, you will trade off in heat/loss gain.
        They run about 750-800 lbs dry weight, so you are bang on with your estimation. Add some gear and you could be well over half a ton. Maybe they are better suited to short term weekender trips vs full timing.

        • Bob

          Dave, I had heard about the zip-in liners. It seems like it would just add to the “hassle-factor” of pop-ups. It would be hard for me over-emphasis how lazy I am!! I always take the path of least resistance and a pop-up offers lots of resistance!
          That extra weight is a huge deal on the mini-trucks. They simply don’t handle it well and if you are driving around with it on 100% of the time, it is going to cause extra wear-and-tear and failures. I am a huge believer in buying a vehicle that laughs at the load you put on it, and does not groan under it. That’s why I own a 1 ton van to pull a 2500 lb trailer. Every time I hitch up I can hear it snicking under its breath and saying, “Is that all you got!!”
          But I forgot the main reason a Four Wheel pop-up wouldn’t work for William: he needs stealth. I think the mini-truck pop-ups would be unlivable while down and you just can’t pop them up in the city and have stealth.
          But, they really are great rigs and the perfect thing for a lot of people, just not William or me.
          Bob

  5. larry

    bob on your brakedown blog you asked were Istored my spare parts. on your van look right behind the headlights theire is a small pocket for spare belts .on the fender brace on top of battery Is were Ikeep my toe strap and jumper cables.and behind the battery Is a space for some larger items,under your air filter and on top of the shroud is a place for extra hoses. Itie every thing in place with sip ties some call them wire ties

    • Bob

      Larry, that is very creative use of space!! You have my admiration!
      Bob

  6. William

    thanks for the insight and comments. I considered a more traditional TC, but decided to go with the Durashell for weight and stealth. the additional features of being a hadside and lower cost against similar new TC’s was the added bonus.

  7. Anonymous

    Amazing things here. I’m very glad to look your article. Thank you a lot and I am taking a look ahead to contact you. Will you kindly drop me a e-mail?

    • Bob

      I just sent you an email!
      Bob

    • Bob

      Elinor, I just sent you an email!
      Bob

  8. scattercreation

    This is really a nice post about truck campers. This blog provides a useful information about truck campers and gave the useful information about the interior of truck campers. Truck campers are best for long way drive and for family. I also recommend to check best adventurer truck campers from Scattrecreation.

    • Bob

      This is probably spam, but it is valuable spam. if you have an interest in truck campers this is a site worth checking out.
      Bob

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