Rare Rides: The 1986 Vixen is a Turbocharged, Manual, BMW-powered Motorhome

Corey Lewis
by Corey Lewis
rare rides the 1986 vixen is a turbocharged manual bmw powered motorhome

Our previous Rare Rides RV entry was the forgotten Mauck Special Vehicle, or MSV. With its custom fiberglass assembly and butterfly doors (go look at it!), it really seemed like the jackpot of unusual recreational vehicles. However, the B&B quickly informed me this was not the case, and that an even more interesting and unusual RV existed in the form of the Vixen. The shame from this error in judgment was unparalleled.

Time to move past that folly, though, as we just happen to have a Vixen RV right here.

The Vixen was an entrepreneurial venture by one Bill Collins. Intended as an answer to the deceased GMC motorhome (1972-1978), the Vixen took an unusual approach for an RV — practicality was front and center.

Smaller than the GMC that inspired it, the Vixen maintained tidy proportions of six feet by 21 feet. This meant it fit within a standard American garage bay. Handy packaging meant the Vixen was able to offer the conveniences provided by larger RVs, like a generator, water heater, and an electric inverter (unusual for RVs of the time).

Another fiberglass-over-frame design, the Vixen was much smoother than competing RVs of the period. With a completely smooth roof and underside, the earliest Vixen achieved a drag coefficient of less than .30.

Arriving at your destination and setting up camp began with the hinged roof seen above. Covered in folding windows, it provided head clearance for people up to 6’2″ in height.

The heating system in the Vixen was unusual. Unlike the propane-fueled heaters commonly found in RVs, the Vixen had a diesel-powered unit. Using diesel meant you didn’t need to make separate refueling stops at propane providers (sorry, Hank Hill). Unfortunately, this system proved much less reliable than standard propane heaters.

Speaking of diesel, all RV versions of Vixen were powered by an inline-six BMW turbodiesel engine. At 2.4 liters in displacement, it provided just 115 horsepower to motivate the 5,100-pound vehicle. In the driver’s cockpit, one finds a tall gear lever attached to a five-speed Renault unit. Quite a Germanic-French… Alliance.

This particular example has a typical RV setup inside. Some examples of a limousine version (called XC) were also produced. Lacking a kitchen and bath, the XC versions offered more seating and Our Lord 3800 providing the propulsion. Those examples also lost the manual transmission, with a GM-provided four-speed automatic doing the shifting.

The long and low proportions and pleasing driving characteristics of the Vixen meant it earned the reputation of a driver’s RV from press outlets. But as we know, press praise to the Driving Enthusiast Gods don’t necessarily translate into consumer sales. Mom and pop Smith from Fort Lauderdale largely stayed away.

After a short run from 1986 through 1989, the Vixen Motor Company shuttered. Production figures — including the limousine version — totaled just 587. Remains of the company were quickly purchased by keen Vixen enthusiasts who keep the RVs running to this day. One such example is for sale right now, via the Vixen Owners Association, for $29,000.

Interested in a little sporting recreation?

[Images: Seller, via Vixen Owners Association]

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5 of 37 comments
  • Www.VixenRV.com Www.VixenRV.com on Aug 24, 2017

    376 TDs - Lift top BMW diesel powered 39 XCs - low fixed top BMW diesel powered 172 SEs - GM 3800 powered with high fixed top If properly driven and maintained they can be reliable. If upgraded correctly they can be a wonderful vehicle. They are fun to drive because they handle (find that said, let alone true of any RV or van) They are not very powerful but that is the tradeoff that got them 30+ mpg then and at modern speeds still gets 28 mpg consistently.

    • See 2 previous
    • Corey Lewis Corey Lewis on Aug 24, 2017

      @www.VixenRV.com Excellent. Glad you found the article, always nice to have an expert arrive.

  • Clovold Clovold on Aug 26, 2019

    The article has a couple small errors. The XC was powered by the BMW turbodiesel, not the later 3800 in the SE model. The Vixen did not come with a generator, just an inverter that runs off the coach batteries. The coach batteries are recharged by the engine's alternator. Many of you are missing the point. Sure there were more powerful, cheaper RVs out there. The Vixen was meant to get good gas mileage and fit in a normal garage. Nothing else did that, including the LaSharo or GM. They were fairly expensive and came just as gas prices were going down, so I think that did them in. They are a hoot to drive, though. (I own XC #12)

  • Dukeisduke "Gouging" - lol. California's gas prices are driven by a combination of the highest state gasoline tax in the US (66.98 cents per gallon) and the CARB-mandated California-only boutique fuel blends.
  • Astigmatism Honestly I'm surprised it's not higher. My parents bought two garage spots in Boston for $250k in the 1980s. When I worked in midtown a decade ago, garage spots near my building rented for $500 a month, which would support a $125k mortgage.Places get expensive when lots of people want to live there.
  • 28-Cars-Later As much as the Orwellian nature concerns me I must say to "add a turbo" as it were to net roughly 20% more bhp for $1,195 doesn't sound too bad. In days of old the V6 -> V8 upgrade was upwards of 20-30% of the base model cost.
  • Nivya Typical Manhattan parking spot price usually ranges anywhere between $15 to $75 for two hours. However, there are plenty of alternative parking options that provide even cheaper rates.
  • Analoggrotto Ironic from the brand that has offered a grand total of 5 vehicles with 3 pedals.