Tuesday, December 7, 2021

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RV Review: Tacozilla, Toyota’s overlanding camper

.Here in Northern California, it’s not tremendously uncommon to see one of the old motorhomes that was built on the back of a Toyota that is wheezing its last breaths as it very slowly makes its way to a marijuana grow so the occupants can trim weed. The nostalgia for these still-relevant vehicles must have been shared by Toyota, who showed a camper based on the Tacoma mid-sized pickup at the SEMA (Specialty Equipment Market Association) Show this week. 

Dubbed the “Tacozilla”, this one-off example was created by a partnership between the Japanese vehicle manufacturer and the Toyota Motorsports Garage. For those who don’t know, the Toyota Tacoma is lovingly referred to as a “Taco” by aficionados, so the name is a play on that. 

“Our goal was to build a vehicle that is engineered correctly but also made to look really cool,” said Marty Schwerter of Toyota Motorsports Garage. “Being around race cars my whole life, race cars are cool looking. I want campers to be cool looking, too.”

How the Tacozilla was built

The team started by removing the Tacoma’s bed to determine what needed to be removed and relocated to create space.

“The team needed to go below frame height in order for a person to be able to stand up inside,” Schwerter said.

Next was shrinking and repackaging everything, so someone over 6 feet tall can walk the length of the interior with enough room for the camper’s amenities and occupants.

The Toyota Motorsports Garage team then built a basic camper frame to test the initial fitment and dimensions. From there, it was time to fine tune and reinforce the frame. This visually tied in with the Tacoma’s body lines while maximizing interior space. And the narrower top and bottom makes it easier to navigate trails and avoid trees and obstacles.

This tapered shape also made it challenging to fabricate the camper’s rear door. The team could have fitted a flat door but decided the result would not look as integrated. All in all, the team spent well over 100 hours designing the rear door alone.

Pass-through between the Tacozilla cabin and camper

The team contended with another vital structural challenge, creating the pass-through opening between the Tacoma’s cabin and the camper structure. The solution required enough support and bracing for off-road driving, enabling the cabin and camper structures to work together and twist on uneven surfaces without compromising the vehicle or creating unsafe driving situations.

In order to make good use of the Tacoma’s existing features, the team was able to fit the Tacoma’s original rear fender flares onto the camper’s wheel well openings. They added two inches of clearance to the standard Tacoma TRD Sport suspension. To ensure traction, the team fitted a set of 285/70/17 General Tire Grabber X3 all-terrain tires.

Like most custom builds, the process is fluid and improvements can happen midstream. For example, the team was well into skinning the camper structure in aluminum when they decided to add a large pop-up Lexan skylight to provide ambient light, natural air circulation and additional headroom. Other custom work included a fuel tank filler that is completely separated from the camper to ensure fuel fumes remain isolated. Also, there’s a second battery in the Tacoma’s engine bay to help supply additional power without taking up space in the already space-limited camper.

Teak flooring and accents in the camper

In the camper portion you’ll find it rather appealing with teak flooring and accents. There’s a dinette toward the front of the rig that then converts to a bed. So, theoretically, you can sleep four in this little camper. Incidentally, that dining table was crafted with a 3D printer and converts to a backlit piece of wall art. That’s pretty cool. 

There is a wet bath along with a cartridge toilet, as you’d find in many small campers. The camp side features a two-burner stove and sink with folding faucet. Both of these sit under smoked glass covers so you have some counter space when they’re not being used. 

Outfitted for overlanding

For overlanding, this rig features a two-inch lift kit, winch and other features that make it more off-road capable. Tacomas already are popular with folks for off-roading, and the plethora of gear you can buy to make the truck more capable is almost infinite. 

It’s interesting to see the focus of the camping ideology at this year’s SEMA show. Overlanding was absolutely the core of so many displays. It makes me wonder how popular this will be moving forward. I’m hopeful that the beautiful places some overlanders truly enjoy don’t get spoiled through overuse. Leave only footprints, take only memories (and pictures of you doing yoga poses on the roof for Instagram). 

And, with this, remember that every day is Taco Tuesday!

Tony comes to RVTravel having worked at an RV dealership and been a life long RV enthusiast. He also has written the syndicated Curbside column about cars. You can find his writing here and at StressLessCamping where he also has a podcast about the RV life with his wife.

These RV reviews are written based on information provided by the manufacturers along with our writer’s own research. We receive no money or other financial benefits from these reviews. They are intended only as a brief overview of the vehicle, not a comprehensive critique, which would require a thorough inspection and/or test drive.

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Donald N Wright
29 days ago

You designed it for six foot tall people ? Bless you !

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RV Staff(@rvstaff)
29 days ago

I’m 6′ tall (used to be 6’2″, but gravity has taken its toll in 75 years). My two sons are 6’8″ tall. I can just see them with their heads sticking out the skylight! Have a great day! 🙂 –Diane

Ron Yanuszewski
1 month ago

Check out the Taco build by Truckhouse. Of course it’s around $300,000 (or more) but it is spectacular.

Tommy Molnar
1 month ago

I remember those old Dolphin campers that couldn’t get out of their own way. You think some of today’s RV’s are slow? Two things I noticed in the pictures. The fridge is full – with three apples! And this unit has a snorkel on it. There’s no way I’d be wading into any water deep enough to need a snorkel in this rig. I CAN see that a lot of work went into the design. I actually like this rig – if I was a single guy I would give it some thought, depending on price.

Scott Ellis
1 month ago

Dad had a Dolphin camper on a Toyota chassis that actually drove pretty well. It was no off-roader, though; this is pretty cool. Maybe you could trade that ridiculous giant television for some ‘wheeling upgrades. 😎