Northstar Campers debuts the first production full-size flatbed truck camper. Look out wheel wells! Here comes the Northstar American Hero flatbed camper.
If American soul music singer Edwin Starr had been a truck camper, perhaps his #1 1970 Motown hit, ‘War’ would have had slightly different lyrics…
“Wheel wells – huh, yeah! What are they good for? Absolutely nothing!”
Rex Willett, Vice President of Northstar Campers, would probably agree. Two years ago, Northstar debuted the Escape Pod, a fully self-contained flatbed truck camper designed specifically for the Chevrolet Colorado with an aluminum Ute flatbed.
We were at Louisville in 2008 when this brand new concept met the RV industry. Rex brought the Escape Pod and a Colorado to the show and raised interest and eyebrows for three days straight. Unfortunately, the Escape Pod was making it’s debut in the middle of the worst recession any of us had ever seen. Maybe the Escape Pod was ahead of it’s time. Perhaps it was just not the right time. Whatever the case may be, the Escape Pod did not sell as well as Rex had hoped, at least not in the United States.
Australia is a whole different story. Down under the Escape Pod had been a hit for many years and sold like pancakes straight through the recession. We even featured a 2008 Escape Pod exploring the Blue Mountains of New South Wales, Australia in our 2009 Truck Camper Magazine Calendar. In fact, it was the run away success of the Escape Pod in Australia that spurred Rex to debut the camper here in the United States. If it was good enough for Oz, shouldn’t it be good enough for US?
Recession aside, the domestic feedback Rex received on the Escape Pod was clear. People loved the concept of a flatbed, but Americans wanted a bigger camper on a bigger truck. Through the recession, Rex gathered notes, drew on napkins, and made plans for what we’re debuting today. Two years in the making, here’s what Rex believes you’ve been asking for. Meet the American Hero.
2011 Northstar American Hero Specifications
The 2011 Northstar American Hero flatbed is a hard side, non-slide, rear wet bath truck camper. The interior floor length of the 2011 Northstar American Hero is 9’ and the interior height is 6’ 8”. Northstar is reporting the dry weight of the camper at 2,460 pounds without options. The tanks in the 2011 Northstar American Hero are 30 gallons fresh, 14 gallons gray, and 5 gallons black (cassette toilet). The camper accommodates two batteries and two twenty-pound propane tanks. The MSRP for the 2011 Northstar American Hero is $22,470.
The following is an interview with Rex Willett, President of Northstar Campers, on the Northstar American Hero.
TCM: Before we talk about the Northstar American Hero, let’s talk about the Escape Pod, Northstar’s first domestic flatbed camper. What has Northstar learned from bringing the Escape Pod to market?
Rex: We learned rapidly that people liked the concept of the Escape Pod, but wanted a bigger version. Customer call after customer call came to us asking, “Will you build us a bigger Escape Pod?” Well, I don’t have to be asked too many times. That’s the direction we are going. Through our research and development, we arrived at something that’s wider than any other Northstar camper that we’ve ever produced, the American Hero.
TCM: When we were at the Northstar factory this past June, there was an Escape Pod 900 being framed. Is the Escape Pod 900 related to the American Hero?
Rex: They are most definitely related. The American Hero is blown up a little bit in size with a 7’10” width and a 6’8” interior height. It has a taller side wall which allows for a larger refrigerator and more overhead storage in the cabover above the side windows. The American Hero also has taller shower compartments. There are a lot of tall people in the United States, in fact I’m talking to one right now.
We use Celotex R7 extruded foam insulation for the whole body of the American Hero. In the roof, we have the Celotex fitted and then overlay AstroFoil, a reflective radiant foil insulation, before we deck the roof in 5/8” lite ply plywood. We offer that on all our campers now.
Just a little while ago I had a customer clapping his hands and jumping up and down at the insulation factor of his new camper. He was like a cheerleader who got exactly what he wanted. It felt really good. That’s the great thing about our product. The customer can take it wherever they want to take it, hot or cold.
TCM: Why do you believe the domestic market is finally ready for flatbed campers?
Rex: The US market is still in the learning phase with flat bed campers. One of the biggest consumer misperceptions is that flatbeds are expensive. With Ute Limited flat beds, you can get an aluminum flat bed at a very reasonable price. You can even order one direct from a GM dealer. Best of all, the Ute Limited aluminum flatbeds offer storage and side panels that are very easy to install and remove.
TCM: How would someone who’s interested in a Northstar flatbed camper find out what size flatbed they should get?
Rex: They need to contact us first. There are flat bed makers everywhere. I recently talked to a guy at a flatbed company called Dieselwerx in Washington. He called me because two people who wanted flat bed Northstar campers had contacted him.
Diesel Werks has over one hundred flat beds in stock with over four brands. He said that he could take a customer’s truck bed off and install a new flatbed in about four hours. Customers can drive in with their truck and get their flatbed of choice installed and ready to go a few hours later.
I had no idea that companies like Dieselwerx existed and know there’s more companies like them more out there. With the Ute Limited, the access to flat beds across country is very good.
Another solution is to buy a truck from any dealership and have it shipped to us in Iowa. We have a local company that installs flatbeds for us. We just recently had a customer who flew in, spent a day and a half here, got a walk through of their camper and how it works, and drove home happy as could be.
TCM: We have seen one or two Escape Pods at Truck Camper Warehouse in New Hampshire, but we haven’t seen any at other dealerships. Are there more flatbed Northstar campers in stock at other dealerships?
Rex: Yes, but there are not many in inventory right now. Within a few months there will be three dealers that are on board with our flat bed campers including Truck Camper Warehouse, and S.C.A.T.T. Recreation in Sacramento.
TCM: What do you feel are the key advantages of a full-sized flatbed truck camper?
Rex: The advantage that surprised me over the obvious advantages, more storage and more compact with more floor space, is how well flatbed campers handle on the truck. The fulcrum point is four feet in a traditional camper. In contrast, the fulcrum point for the Northstar American Hero flatbed camper is over seven feet. What this means is that an American Hero rig drives much like a car. That’s been my biggest surprise with flatbed campers over traditional campers.
The storage afforded by a flatbed is also very cool. I also think the American Hero would make for a pretty serious expedition camper. It could go on a Unimog, with very slight adjustments on our end.
TCM: How does the Northstar American Hero tie down to the truck?
Rex: Flatbeds campers need to be tied-down with Torklift turnbuckles and Fastguns. They are not a choice. They are mandatory. We are tying down these campers at a lower point. You need to have that strength and durability. When you tie them down with the Torklifts, they don’t move at all. You’ve got to trust your camper is not going to shift and move around. Torklift is a perfect match. I’m very pleased with their products and their support.
TCM: What does the Northstar American Hero flatbed camper weigh? And what options does that weight include?
Rex: The American Hero in the photographs is very well equipped and weighed in at 3,012 pounds. It had a satellite system with a HD 12v television, a six-cubic foot refrigerator, Queen size tempurpedic mattress, fold down bunk, 135 watt solar panel, digital controller, two side awnings, high efficiency roof air, Honda eu2000i generator, exterior slide out drawer 12 volt compressor refrigerator, and two group 31 AGM batteries installed as options. I also installed Torklift Stable-Loads and an airbag system on the truck.
TCM: What is the MSRP for the Northstar American Hero?
Rex: $22,470 is the base MSRP for the American Hero. With options, it will be a little more. The very well appointed American Hero in the photography was $31,300. When you start putting on lots of options, the price naturally increases.
TCM: Now that you’re building the American Hero, will you continue production of the domestic Escape Pod models?
Rex: Oh absolutely! There is still a good market for the Escape Pods. One customer bought an Escape Pod for an International Straight Truck. Another customer bought an Escape Pod for a gooseneck trailer. Our flatbed campers are not just strictly for flat bed trucks. As our customers keep demonstrating, there are different ways to use and enjoy a flatbed truck camper.
TCM: Are you planning more full-size flatbed truck camper floor plans or models?
Rex: The amount of orders Northstar has been taking has been ridiculous. That will slow us up a bit on making a ton of new stuff. Whenever business slows down, we have more to do new things. As always, the buyers are going to direct Northstar’s direction and new product development. That’s where the American Hero came from.
TCM: Will you be exporting the Northstar American Hero to Australia, or is this specifically designed for the domestic market?
Rex: The Northstar American Hero flatbed camper will be a domestic product.
TCM: Is there anything we didn’t ask you that you would like added to your interview?
Rex: Yes. I named the American Hero in honor of anyone who has ever served in the military. Twenty-five percent of the people in this country have been in the military. That‘s where the name came from and it’s the spirit of the American Hero.
For more information about Northstar Campers, visit www.northstarcampers.com.