By on August 24, 2017

Image: 1987 Vixen Motorhome, image via seller

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.

Image: 1987 Vixen Motorhome, image via seller

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.

Image: 1987 Vixen Motorhome, image via seller

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).

Image: 1987 Vixen Motorhome, image via seller

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.

Image: 1987 Vixen Motorhome, image via seller

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.

Image: 1987 Vixen Motorhome, image via seller

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.

Image: 1987 Vixen Motorhome, image via seller

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.

Image: 1987 Vixen Motorhome, image via seller

Interested in a little sporting recreation?

[Images: Seller, via Vixen Owners Association]

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37 Comments on “Rare Rides: The 1986 Vixen is a Turbocharged, Manual, BMW-powered Motorhome...”

  • avatar

    As someone who has lived in Ft Lauderdale my whole life I can assure you that NOBODY here bought one of these things since I’ve never seen one! Its low and sleek (for an RV), that tilting room is a great idea, but a 2.4 liter, 5 speed not so much. We had a Dodge custom van with the big running boards, captain’s chairs, table and bench that converted into a bed. Despite being covered with 80’s style pin striping it was brown outside with a mustard interior straight out of the 70s, complete with a CB radio.

    • 0 avatar

      I think at the time, the general bar for RVs was so low that this was kind of a revelation.

      • 0 avatar

        It was never really as good as a GM Motorhome, nor were the accommodations up there with something as pedestrian as a Winnebago. The LeSharo was doing what this thing did almost as well for far less money with far better dealer support. I’m still glad there are some cherished survivors though, as for a while these things served as donors for people looking to build hot M20 engines with their forged cranks.

  • avatar

    How many points do I get for identifying the taillights as being from a Pontiac T1000 (a Chevette clone)?

  • avatar

    By the early 90’s these were worthless and usually found left out back because they had died an early death and the cost to fix exceeded their value since they sucked at being a motor home. I saw more than one back in the day either in the local paper or siting with a for sale sign and a $1000 or less asking price with the notation that it didn’t run. Of course the other vehicles we got in the US with that engine, the Mark and Conti, were also immediately worthless due to the unreliable and expensive to fix BMW diesel engine.

  • avatar

    “Our Lord 3800 providing the propulsion”

    That’s how I learned about these. I was on a website looking at parts compatibility for one of my Bonnevilles. I saw “Vixen” listed had no idea what it was.

  • avatar

    Manual transmission motor home does not appeal to me. Makes as much sense as a Cadillac DeVille with a three-on-the-tree.

    Unitized Power Package or nothing!

  • avatar

    Gotta be a better powertrain that would fit. I’m guessing its RWD, so a Cummins 4BT and an Allison automatic would be a better combo. Probably find it in a breadvan somewhere. At least it would be far more reliable, and probably better acceleration and fuel economy.

    *I see now that it seems to be rear engine, but perhaps a Cummins 4BT would still fit.

    • 0 avatar

      Anybody know how the factory drivetrain config looks? The rear axle on this is close to the rear end of the vehicle. Is the engine in front of the rear axle?

      Diesel pusher motor homes have rear axle, driveshaft, transmission, and engine (going from front to rear of the vehicle).

      • 0 avatar

        The engine is in the back while the transmission is of the transaxle variety with semi-trailing arm independent rear suspension. It’s like a diesel Porsche 911.

      • 0 avatar

        The drivetrain config is similar to a DeLorean, but backwards. There is no driveshaft since it has a transaxle. The ‘front’ of the engine is at the rear bumper, with the transaxle forward from that, so the engine is behind the rear wheels.

  • avatar

    The Church is pleased with this article.

  • avatar

    There was an article in a German classic car mag a little while ago, of (and by) someone who imported a Vixen to Germany (which is a bold move in itself, as its name sounds like our word for a male, er, pleasing himself). Obviously, the author was a huge fan. The vehicle does have its positive sides. I assume the European propulsion technology didn’t help in the country of your lord 3800; that would be less of an issue over here.

    Interesting series, keep them coming please.

  • avatar

    These didn’t ship from the factory with BMW badges on them, but its an affectation nearly every Vixen owner seemed to add on their own. Usually centered rather than off to the side though.

  • avatar

    Intriguing. I could almost like it except that it’s a bit underpowered.
    My Ranger has the same horsepower and weighs about 35% less.

  • avatar

    Just here to make a reference to the third part of this triptych of ill-starred motorhomes, the Winnebago Lesharo, profiled here n TTAC in 2012:

    Diesel drivetrain and platform courtesy the Renault Trafic. It worked out about as well as you’d expect.

  • avatar

    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.

  • avatar

    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)

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