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The Vixen Motorhome: Not Your Grandpa's RV Road Trip

Saturday, June 1, 2024

The Vixen Motorhome: Not Your Grandpa's RV Road Trip

The DeLorean's Weirder Cousin: The Story of the Vixen Motorhome

Imagine blasting down the highway in a vehicle that could outrun a minivan and fit snugly in your garage. This wasn't a scene from a wacky 80s movie, but the reality of the Vixen Motorhome, a revolutionary (and slightly bizarre) take on RV life. Buckle up, road warriors, because we're diving into the wild ride that was the Vixen.

Born in the heart of the 1980s, short production from 1986 until 1989, the Vixen was the brainchild of Bill Collins, a man who wasn't exactly known for playing it safe. After helping design the iconic DeLorean DMC-12 (yes, the Back to the Future car!), Collins set his sights on a new frontier: the lumbering behemoths known as motorhomes. These gas-guzzling giants were about as aerodynamic as a brick, and Collins saw an opportunity to inject some serious fun into the RV scene.


After only three years of production, less than 600 examples were built by the Vixen Motor Company in Pontiac, Michigan, and then the company ran out of money and folded. So, what went wrong? Why did the design never truly catch on?

The Vixen was a breath of fresh air (quite literally, with its surprisingly good fuel economy). It was a mere 21 feet long and a smidge over 6 feet tall, making it the Michael Phelps of RVs – sleek and built for maneuverability. Unlike its boxy brethren, the Vixen boasted a low center of gravity, wide stance, and a fully independent suspension system. This meant handling that would put a smile on your face, not send you careening off a cliff on your first mountain pass.

But the Vixen wasn't just about tearing up asphalt. It packed all the amenities you'd expect in a larger RV – a kitchenette, convertible sleeping arrangements for four, a bathroom (because, well, nature calls even on the open road), and even a generator and air conditioning. Plus, it was one of the first RVs to feature an inverter, allowing you to power your microwave, hair straightener, or whatever other 80s essential you couldn't live without.

Three Vixen models roamed the roads: the original 21 TD, the slightly souped-up 21 SE, and the all-terrain 21 XC. The XC was the ultimate adventure buddy, boasting features like a roof rack and high ground clearance, perfect for those who craved venturing beyond the beaten path (as long as that path wasn't too bumpy – the Vixen wasn't exactly known for its off-road prowess).

The Vixen 21 TD: The Original Turbocharged Trailblazer

Vixen 21 TD Motorhome
Vixen 21 TD Motorhome

  • Lift-top
  • RWD (Rear Wheel Drive)
  • BMW 2.4-liter, 6-cylinder turbo diesel engine(115hp at 4,800rpm)
  • Renault 5-speed manual overdrive transaxle
  • Self Contained
  • 376 examples ever made

The Vixen 21 TD (TD standing for "Turbo Diesel") was the first and most widely produced model of the Vixen lineup. It carved a niche for itself as a fuel-efficient and surprisingly sporty RV, perfect for those seeking a unique and practical road trip companion. Here's a closer look at the specs and features that made the 21 TD the trailblazer of the Vixen family:

Engine: The heart of the 21 TD was a 2.4-liter turbocharged inline-six diesel engine sourced from BMW, likely the M21 series. This engine offered a good balance of power and fuel efficiency – a rarity in the gas-guzzling world of RVs. While exact figures are hard to come by, estimates suggest it produced around 115 horsepower and 162 lb-ft of torque.

Transmission: The 21 TD likely utilized a 5-speed manual transmission. This setup provided a connected driving experience on the road but could be challenging when maneuvering in tight spaces or navigating steep inclines.

Fuel Economy: One of the Vixen's biggest selling points was its fuel efficiency. The combination of the lightweight fiberglass body and the efficient turbodiesel engine resulted in impressive mileage for an RV. Estimates suggest the 21 TD could achieve upwards of 30 mpg on the highway, a significant advantage over its gas-powered counterparts..

Aerodynamics: A core design principle of the Vixen was its focus on aerodynamics. The 21 TD boasted a wedged-shaped fiberglass exterior with a smooth, low-profile top. This design, coupled with the low center of gravity, resulted in a drag coefficient of just 0.30, which was incredibly low for RVs of the era (even some modern SUVs struggle to achieve that level). This focus on aerodynamics contributed to the 21 TD's fuel efficiency and surprisingly good handling.

Interior: Despite its compact size (roughly 21 feet long, 6.8 feet tall, and 7 feet wide), the 21 TD offered a surprisingly comfortable living space. It included essential amenities like:
  • Fixed-top
  • Double bed in the rear
  • Compact kitchenette with a sink, stovetop, and refrigerator
  • Bathroom with a shower and toilet
  • Dinette set at the front that could convert into additional sleeping space

Overall, the Vixen 21 TD was a revolutionary take on the RV. It offered a unique blend of fuel efficiency, sporty handling, and comfortable living space, making it ideal for eco-conscious adventurers who craved a more dynamic road trip experience.

The Vixen 21 SE: Speed and Style on the Open Road

Vixen 21 SE Motorhome
Vixen 21 SE Motorhome

  • High-top
  • RWD (Rear Wheel Drive)
  • GM 3.8 Liter, sequential port fuel injected Supercharged V6 (165hp at 4800rpm)
  • 4-speed automatic overdrive transaxle
  • Self Contained
  • 172 examples ever made

The Vixen 21 SE model (SE standing for "Special Edition") was the performance-oriented option in the Vixen lineup. Here's a breakdown of what made the 21 SE the hot rod of the Vixen family:

Engine: Unlike the turbo-diesel engine found in the 21 TD, the 21 SE embraced pure gasoline-powered muscle. It likely boasted a supercharged 3.8-liter Buick V6 engine, similar to the one found in the Buick Riviera of the same era. This engine pumped out a respectable 240 horsepower, a significant jump from the 115 horsepower of the 21 TD.

Transmission: Due to the limited production run of the Vixen, it's possible there were variations in transmission options depending on the year or specific build. Perhaps the earlier SE models used a 5-speed manual, while later ones offered a 4-speed automatic.

Performance: The combination of the powerful V6 engine and the Vixen's lightweight fiberglass construction made it a surprisingly quick RV. While exact figures are difficult to find, reports suggest the 21 SE could reach speeds of up to 100 mph, a far cry from the typical lumbering pace of most RVs.

Fuel Economy: Considering its sporty nature, the 21 SE's fuel efficiency was likely decent for an RV. While specific figures are elusive, estimates suggest it could achieve mileage in the 20-25 mpg range on the highway, a significant improvement over the gas-guzzling behemoths it aimed to dethrone.

Exterior: There's no confirmation of any major aesthetic differences between the SE and other Vixen models except hightop roof. However, some sources suggest that the sole red Vixen 21 SE ever produced might have been an SE model, making it a true collector's item.

Overall, the Vixen 21 SE was a unique offering in the RV world. It sacrificed some fuel efficiency for pure driving fun, making it ideal for those who craved a touch of sports car spirit in their road trip companion.

Similar to the 21 XC, details about the 21 SE can be scarce. The information provided is based on a combination of general knowledge about the Vixen and the specific engine likely used in the SE model.

The Vixen 21 XC: Adventure in a Compact Package

Vixen all-terrain 21 XC Motorhome
Vixen 21 XC Motorhome

  • Fixed-top
  • AWD (All-terrain)
  • BMW 2.4-liter, 6-cylinder turbo diesel engine (115hp at 4,800rpm)
  • Renault 5-speed manual overdrive transaxle
  • Self Contained
  • Only 39 examples ever made

The Vixen 21 XC model was the most adventurous member of the Vixen family, built for those who craved the open road and weren't afraid to get a little dirty (well, as dirty as a fiberglass RV can get). Here's a closer look at what made the 21 XC stand out:

Engine: Unlike its siblings, the 21 TD (turbo-diesel) and 21 SE (gasoline), details on the specific engine for the 21 XC are a little murky. However, it's widely believed to have shared the 2.4-liter turbocharged diesel engine from the BMW M21 series with the 21 TD. This engine offered a good balance of power and fuel efficiency, perfect for tackling both highways and light off-road excursions.

Transmission: Just like its brethren, the 21 XC likely sported a 5-speed manual transmission. This, while offering a connected driving experience on the road, could be a challenge when maneuvering in tight spaces or navigating steep inclines.

Dimensions: The beauty of the Vixen was its compact size. The 21 XC followed suit, measuring in at roughly 21 feet long, 6.8 feet tall, and 7 feet wide. This made it significantly smaller and more maneuverable than most RVs, allowing you to explore narrow roads and national parks with ease.

Ground Clearance: This is where the 21 XC separated itself from the pack. While the standard Vixen models offered decent road clearance, the XC boasted a slightly higher ride height, giving you a bit more breathing room when tackling uneven terrain.

Ground Clearance: This is where the 21 XC separated itself from the pack. While the standard Vixen models offered decent road clearance, the XC boasted a slightly higher ride height, giving you a bit more breathing room when tackling uneven terrain

Off-Road Features: While not a full-fledged off-road beast, the 21 XC did come equipped with some features to enhance your adventurous spirit. These likely included:
  • Roof Rack: This versatile addition allowed you to secure additional gear like bicycles, kayaks, or even a spare tire.
  • All-Terrain Tires: These tires provided better traction on loose gravel, dirt roads, and light off-road trails compared to standard RV tires.
  • Underbody Protection: While not extensive, the 21 XC might have featured some basic protection for the underside of the vehicle to shield it from rocks and debris on rougher terrain.
Keep in mind: It's important to remember that the Vixen wasn't built for conquering mountains. The higher ground clearance and off-road features were more for venturing off the beaten path and exploring light trails, not for tackling serious rock crawling or deep mud.

Overall, the Vixen 21 XC was a unique offering in the RV world. It provided a comfortable living space, decent fuel efficiency, and a touch of off-road capability, making it ideal for those who craved adventure without sacrificing creature comforts.

Rear end

Now, the Vixen wasn't without its quirks. Its fiberglass shell, while lightweight, wasn't exactly the most luxurious feeling. And that five-speed manual transmission? Let's just say it wasn't for the faint of heart, especially when navigating those oh-so-glamorous RV parks.

So why did the Vixen, this seemingly perfect marriage of speed, comfort, and adventure, end up as a footnote in RV history? There are a few theories. The price tag, for one, was a bit steeper than your average RV, which scared away some budget-minded road trippers. The timing wasn't ideal either. The late 80s saw a recession hit, and gas prices spiked, making the Vixen's fuel efficiency, while impressive for an RV, a less compelling selling point.

Cockpit Vixen Motorhome

But perhaps the biggest reason for the Vixen's demise was simply that it was too different. In a world of familiar, boxy behemoths, the Vixen's sleek, car-like design stuck out like a sore thumb. It challenged the very notion of what an RV should be, and in a market that valued tradition, that was a tough sell.

Interior Vixen Motorhome

Despite its short-lived production run (only 587 Vixens were ever built!), the Vixen left its mark. It proved that RVs didn't have to be lumbering gas guzzlers, and it showed that a little innovation could go a long way in making the open road a more enjoyable experience. Today, Vixens are prized possessions among collectors, a testament to their unique design and undeniable cool factor.

NASA Vixen Motorhome

So, the next time you see a hulking RV lumbering down the highway, take a moment to appreciate the Vixen. It may not have conquered the RV world, but it sure did leave its mark, reminding us that even on the open road, a little bit of fun can go a long way.

Update listing of the Vixen Motorhome

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