Between 1986 and 1989, a small company in Pontiac, Michigan, produced just 587 models of the most unique RV to roam the roads – the 1980s Vixen Motorhome.
Run by Bill Collins, the Vixen Motor Company had an ambitious goal – to combine the speed and maneuverability of a small vehicle with the features of a comfortable motorhome. While they successfully met these goals, the Vixen Motor Company ultimately failed to capture the imagination of buyers and went under in 1989.
The Beginning of a Dream
Maneuverability was previously unheard of for a motorhome. Storing RVs was often expensive because the traditional models were too tall to fit in a typical home garage. The sheer size and the heaviness of these cars also meant they ate up a lot of fuel.
Bill Collins wanted to improve three factors in his specialized motorhome:
- Fuel consumption
- Drivetrain (or engine power)
By building his model from the ground up, Collins was incredibly able to meet all three of his goals.
The first car in the Vixen series, known as the Vixen 21 TD, was Collins’ dream motorhome. Despite being roomy inside, this RV was fun to drive and had an impressive gas mileage of 30 miles per gallon – or a vast 700 miles per tank of gas.
The interior was decked out with carpet, modern appliances, and enough room for four adults to sleep. At over 6 feet, the space inside accommodated even very tall adults. The motorhome had an unusually low point of gravity for a large car and fit in a home garage.
Collins solved his engine problem by outfitting the Vixen with a 2.4-liter inline six-cylinder turbodiesel engine from the German BMW company.
Model Development Over Time
Although the Vixen TD got good reviews for handling and gas mileage, there just wasn’t a large enough market for it. Only 376 of the original model were sold in total. Low sales may partially have been because of the motorhome’s steep price – it cost $40,000–$53,000 at the time.
Panicked by this slow beginning, Collins’ colleagues decided to change the car into something more mainstream. They quickly developed two other models, the Vixen 21 XC and the Vixen 21 SE.
Known as the “Limo,” the Vixen 21 XC was refitted to serve a different crowd of people. Added seating in the back replaced several of the usual RV features, and this model was marketed as the perfect transportation for busy professionals or partygoers. Understandably, the market for this car was even smaller, and only 39 models were sold.
For the final Vixen 21 SE model, the motor company replaced the powerful BMW turbo engine with a smaller, more traditional GM V6 engine. They also added overhead airconditioning, which sacrificed the car’s ability to fit in a typical home garage. At this point, the motorhome had lost much of its individuality.
Unfortunately, the Vixen Motor Company’s efforts to stay afloat didn’t pan out, and the company folded in 1989. After its collapse, former customers bought out the company’s assets so they could keep repairs going on their vehicles. These customers organized the Vixen Motorhome Association, which is still alive and thriving today.
Is the Vixen a BMW?
When the Vixen first came out, some customers were confused about whether or not it was a BMW. Collins was trying to achieve a sports car feel with his RV, so this leap makes sense.
Because the original TD model used a BMW motor, the car had BMW parts. However, it was not produced by the BMW company and therefore not a true BMW!
To further confuse matters, many customers celebrated their sophisticated engine by putting BMW emblems onto their Vixen RVs. The emblems understandably misled those who didn’t understand the history of the vehicle.
Swapping out emblems is still a rampant problem today. It’s not technically illegal, so many people will switch emblems to make their car look flashier than it really is. However, changing emblems can make you look pretty foolish – the only people who might care what kind of car you have will also likely know you’re lying about your make and model.
In the Vixen’s case, adding a BMW emblem piqued customers’ interest, and it did truthfully represent at least some part of the car. However, it also surrounded this vehicle with a lot of confusion.
A Historic Classic
The 1980s Vixen Motorhome began with one man’s dream to combine sports car features with motorhome comfort. The Vixen Motor Company did achieve this ambitious goal, and while production didn’t exceed more than 600 models, the company created a classic that still awes car enthusiasts today.
Next time you see a heavy motorhome rolling down the road, think of the Vixen and smile – all RVs aren’t created equal, and the Vixen is surely one-of-a-kind.