You don’t often think of RVs as being sexy but if there ever was one that fit that description, it’s the Vixen Motorhome. Provocative in both name and appearance, this rare model dates from the mid to late 1980s. We’ve been documenting strange and usual campers, motorhomes and travel trailers for years now and this is the first we’ve ever seen or heard of this make. It was a joy finding it. It’s undergoing some sort of renovation or rebuilding, no doubt a herculean task that will neither be cheap nor quick. The results when done, hopefully, will make it all worth while. It’s one hot looking house on wheels, a real head turner.
The Vixen Motor Company was founded in the early 1980s, Their goal was to produce a motorhome that was economical with superior handling via a low stable stance, all packaged in a compact low profile form. Quite a an ambitious project! In appearance, in personality, how it was all laid out would all be unlike any other RV of the era. They were breaking new ground.
The team behind the project had decades of experience in the automotive industries and while this was a daunting project, at least they had some understanding of what they were up against.
The Vixens RV was made at a plant in Michigan from 1986-1989. While well received by the motoring press, sales it seems were never up to expectations. Why? Was it simply priced wrong, or was it the vehicle’s unconventional appearance and layout, the unorthodox name, that it had modest proportions in a supersize oriented world, or that it was seen as an unproven design? Who knows. The firm could have been underfunded too. That’s often a company killer. Or maybe it was just too ahead of its time. Regardless, with slow sales VMC soon faltered and went out of business.
Three separate models were produced in the short time the company operated. The 21 TD was made in 86 and 87 and is the most common one seen. The one in this report is a 21 TD. These come with an angled pop up roof. Our’s however seems have had that feature removed and a modified raised roof put in its place.
Then there was the 21 XC, a rare bird, which was made in a modified bus/limo type configuration.
Lastly, there was the model 21 SE, all made in 88 and 89, in which the popup feature was replaced by a higher stepped roof with more natural headroom. These examples often include roof mounted air conditioning pods (not available on the TD) further raising their overall height. Recall, the original design philosophy was to keep the machine low in profile, which for this sub-model was thrown out the window.
All 86 and 87 models came equipped with European sourced diesel engines and manual gearboxes. The lack of an automatic transmission, which it seems that most drivers prefer, no doubt hurt sales at the start. In 88 and 89 a GM automatic transmission was used, but instead of the being mated to the diesel, a gas V6, also from GM took its place. This change did not seem to help sales. I believe diesel mated to an automatic would have made for a more desirable combo.
Made with a steel frame and a smooth fibreglass shell, the RV had and incredibly slippery low drag coefficient. Compare that to most motorhomes of the day, which were slab sized and square in shape, with all the aerodynamics of a brick. Fuel economy for the diesel is what I would call incredible (7-8L per 100km). The gas engine was used something like 11-12L per 100km. Top speed was around 160kph and with its low wide footprint, handling and stability were excellent.
I understand the original version of the motorhome was designed to fit inside a normal sized garage. Height wise anyway, I think the RV’s length would be an issue. I’ve seen some photos showing a Vixen parked next to typical sized RV and it’s amazing how tiny overall it is when compared this way.
For its time, the motorhome came well equipped. Roof mounted air conditioning was the only option not originally offered. It would have raised the vehicle height which as you recall was originally was seen as an issue but later was not.
In any online photos we’ve found all Vixen Motor Coaches seen have two large headlights. This one is set up with four smaller ones (actually only one side was installed). Factory, or changed out by who ever is working on it? A number of Vixens we’ve seen have a BMW emblem on the front hood, I believe put they by their owners as a shout out to their Bimmer power plant. One even had the iconic BMW kidney shaped grill.
Outside the original European drive train, most of the chassis components are GM in origin. This relationship was not surprising given the founders of the Vixen Motor Company both worked for and had connections with that firm. For the Vixen owner, this means parts are easy and cheap to source.
In total close to six hundred of these motorhomes were made across all models. I wonder how many found their way to Canada, and today how many exist overall?
There is a Vixen owner’s association that can help you if you’ve bought one of these motorhomes.
If you feel the Vixen design looks sort of familiar, it’s not a coincidence. Its resemblance to the popular GMC motorhome of the 1970s is clear. It was the that earlier RV, which for it’s day was quite innovative and aerodynamic, that was the inspiration for this model.
This motorhome is undergoing some sort of renovation. I wish who ever they are luck at it and would love to see it when it’s finished. I am sure it’ll be a looker. Until recently, it was parked at the Trillium (aka Outback Trillium) factory. In addition to making small fibreglass trailers, that company it seems had a side business where they renovated and fixed up trailers and motorhomes from other manufacturers. The Trillium company, officially Team Trillium Manufacturing, has moved recently but has not yet found a new location. Since they left, this RV has been moved across the street and is parked in the lot of a large warehouse. This seems strange and I hope it does not mean it’s been abandoned or forgotten about.
While it looks like the back driver’s side tire is flat, it’s not. The pavement collapsed under the wheel. Note the partially enclosed back wheels which help with aerodynamics.
A look inside shows the interior mostly gutted. The engine covers have been removed allowing us a good view of the power plant. It’s pretty cramped in there and no doubt a challenge to work on. The Vixen nameplate sits above the engine bay, and perhaps elsewhere, but was missing. We could see its ghost outlines though. There is a storage trunk under the front hood.
I’ve heard that when new, a Vixen sold for something like $40K (US). Used ones on the market today, if in good shape, seem to fetch $20-$30K. Rough ones, much like this one, can still sell for $8-$10K.
I sure hope who ever owns this beauty will be successful in fixing it up. If they read this, please keep us uprated if you can.
To see other old RVs and motorhomes we’ve documented, follow these links…
Mystery Machine – Green Machine – Strange homemade RV.
The Big Green Motorhome.
The Big Pink Trailer.
If you wish more information on what you’ve seen here, by all means contact us!
Date: August, 2014.
Location: Calgary, AB.