TCM EXCLUSIVE: 2013 Four Wheel Camper Fleet Flatbed
- June 18, 2013
- - By Gordon White
Most of the electrons spilled on Truck Camper Magazine’s digital pages are devoted to truck campers on full-size trucks. We’re talking mostly half-tons, three-quarter tons, and one-ton trucks from Toyota, Ford, Chevy/GMC, and Dodge. That’s where almost every American truck camper manufacturer, gear company, and dealer is focused. Want a truck camper? Common truck camper industry wisdom states, “Start with a full-size truck, pick a bed size, and then go as heavy duty as possible.”
Take a step outside of the truck camper industry and that common wisdom changes dramatically. At the Overland Expo 2013, the common wisdom said, “If you want a truck camper, get the lightest, leanest, and meanest truck camper you can find.”
The overland community is extremely focused on the quality and durability of materials, appliances, and off-road proven design. They see big domestic trucks as too heavy, too big, and too inefficient. Yes, they get excited about the Ford Raptor and Dodge Power Wagon, but they often prefer the mid-size Toyota Tacoma for its world-wide serviceability, not to mention its smaller size, and superior fuel economy.
If we were to hold a summit between these two communities - the domestic truck camper community and the overland community - the discussion would probably boil down to something similar to those old Miller Lite commercials, “Tastes great!”, versus, “Less filling!”
The domestic truck camper community loves their full-size trucks and the large, often slide-out model truck campers they have. For the domestic truck camper community, these large and luxurious truck campers, “Taste great!”
The overland community requires their trucks and campers be able to handle strenuous and sometimes unpredictable off-road terrain in places where cell phone service, not to mention truck and camper service, is often not available. For the overland community, they need no-nonsense, lean and mean truck and camper rigs, aka, “Less filling!”
So what would happen if a truck camper manufacturer attempted to build a product that satisfied both camps? A Toyota Tacoma for the overlanders, but with a flatbed to give more space for the domestic truck camper group. Lean and mean enough for real overlanding, and big and luxurious enough for the domestic truck camper folks? Is that possible?
Meet the 2013 Four Wheel Camper Fleet Flatbed. Tastes great! Less filling!
2013 Four Wheel Camper Fleet Flatbed Specifications:
The 2013 Four Wheel Camper Fleet flatbed model is a pop-up truck camper made for a short bed mid-size flatbed truck. The interior floor length of the 2013 Four Wheel Camper Fleet Flatbed model is 84" and the interior height is 6'4". Four Wheel Campers is reporting the dry weight of the Four Wheel Camper Fleet Flatbed model at 1,165 pounds with standard features. The Fleet Self Contained has a twenty gallon fresh tank, optional 4.5 gallon cassette toilet, and no grey tank. The camper can accommodate one or two batteries, and has two ten-pound propane tanks. The MSRP for the Four Wheel Camper Fleet Flatbed model is $19,995 base with no options.
TCM: How did the Four Wheel Camper flatbed camper come to be?
Tom: We’ve been building flatbed campers for a number of years, but mainly for the Australian and UK export market. During that time, we have seen more and more flatbeds become available in the United States. Through our own customer feedback, it became clear that there is a demand for a flatbed Four Wheel Camper.
We have a Four Wheel Camper dealer in Jackson Hole, Wyoming who has embarked on the concept of offering flatbed truck conversions. He asked us what we could we do for a domestic flatbed Four Wheel Camper. That was the final trigger for us to design and build a flatbed Four Wheel Camper for America.
Above: The interior of the self-contained Fleet flatbed with the face-to-face booth dinette, large window, shower, and side entry
The design opportunities afforded by a flatbed design are plentiful. We moved the weight forward to maximize center of gravity. The water heater, fresh water tank, and two batteries are all on the front wall. There’s a face-to-face booth dinette at the rear of the camper with a large window that runs the full width of the camper. Since it’s a flatbed design, there’s a side door for entry and exit. We also streamlined the design for wind resistance, better mileage, and drivability. It’s a really unique and innovative floor plan that turned a lot of heads at the Overland Expo last month.
TCM: It sure did. What do you believe are the principal advantages to a flatbed truck camper design?
Tom: A typical pickup truck has a lot of space consumed by the wheel wells and the body of the truck bed. With a flatbed, you have a big open flat space allowing for more interior space and more storage. The additional space also allows us to shift the center of gravity all the way forward.
Another benefit to a flatbed truck is that you can add storage under the flatbed. For example, storage boxes, propane tanks, spare tires, and even additional batteries can all be custom fit under the sides of a truck flatbed. This is something that most folks research and develop on their own.
TCM: Given how different the floor plan is for the Four Wheel Camper flatbed, were there any design challenges along the way?
Tom: Yes, there were huge challenges in designing this particular camper. Our typical camper is a simple layout, with the galley on one side and the dinette on the other. With the flatbed, we have the side door concept which meant we had to re-design the venting for the refrigerator, the furnace, and the water heater.
To accomplish that, we put the weight forward, and moved the heavy components to the front wall. Then we started working with the appliances and designed it out.
We knew we wanted the dinette in the back for weight and window space advantages.
It was an exercise on how to fit everything into a small space to fit the smaller domestic trucks like the Toyota Tacoma, Nissan Frontier, or Dodge Dakota. This same design will also work on trucks all over the world including the Toyota HiLux, Nissan Navara, Mazda BT-50, VW Amarok, Mitsubishi Triton, and international Ford Ranger. We have dealers in South America, South Africa, and soon we will have one in Australia. Fitting the new model to trucks in those countries was a priority.
TCM: The flatbed we saw at the Overland Expo was called a Four Wheel Camper Fleet. It’s not the exact same footprint as the standard Fleet, so why is it called a Fleet?
Tom: We name campers after the size truck they will fit on. Typically, a Fleet camper will fit a short bed, mid-size truck, like the Toyota Tacoma. That’s the way we do our model organization. The Fleet flatbed is primarily designed to go on a Tacoma flatbed.
TCM: Which Four Wheel Camper models are available in a flatbed version?
Tom: The Fleet, Hawk, and Grandby are available in flatbed versions. Those three models cover short bed mid-size trucks, short bed full-size trucks, and long bed full-size trucks. Again, the Fleet is for short bed mid-size trucks, the Hawk is for short bed full-size trucks, and the Grandby is for long bed full-size trucks.
TCM: Why not offer flatbed designs for all Four Wheel Camper models?
Tom: We looked at building flatbed models for our smaller campers, but there’s just isn’t enough length or width to make it work. You need at least a short bed mid-size truck like the current Tacoma.
Above: The under bed storage in the Fleet flatbed camper
TCM: Let’s focus on the flatbed Fleet since that was the model at the show. What is special about that model in its flatbed version.
Tom: The way the concept developed makes it unique in a variety of ways. The three windows wrapping around the rear booth dinette give the camper a lot of daylight at the back. Another unique feature is the under bed storage. The overcab bed rises up on gas struts revealing a large storage area.
We are able to do that because of the height of the flatbed.
Above: The cutaway back wall for better departure angle
Finally, we have the cutaway back wall for departure angle. During off-road travel, there can be steep departures.
Having the cutaway increases the flexibility of the camper on all terrains. It also has a slight aerodynamic advantage.
TCM: Are there any custom options available for the Four Wheel Camper Fleet flatbed, or is it a fixed product?
Tom: There are a plethora of options available for the Four Wheel Camper Fleet flatbed. We offer camper options to our customers on an “a la carte” method to ensure they get exactly the camper and options they want. We strive to make designing your camper as flexible as possible. You can get everything from awnings to solar.
Above: Some of the exterior features of a Fleet flatbed - cassette toilet, exterior shower, and storage for up to two batteries
TCM: We noticed at the Overland Expo that Jonathan and Roseann Hanson didn’t even have a furnace on their Four Wheel Camper. That surprised us.
Tom: I was initially surprised they didn’t want a furnace as well, but they optioned their camper for their truck camping lifestyle. They mostly camp in moderate climates and don’t need a furnace. That’s why we offer things like furnace as an option.
Above: The shower is an option on the Four Wheel Fleet flatbed
TCM: What size holding tanks does the FWC Fleet flatbed have?
Tom: Twenty gallons of fresh water, an optional 4.5 gallon cassette toilet, an optional shower, and no grey tank.
Above: The cassette toilet is hidden when it's not in use
Above: The cassette toilet in position for use
TCM: If a reader is interested in a Four Wheel Camper flatbed model, how should they go about sourcing a flatbed, and matching a truck and camper?
Tom: Ute (pronounced “yoot”) aluminum flatbeds from Australia are imported into the United States by a company in Washington state and are widely available. Local jobs shops fabricate flatbeds for many folks on a custom basis, and it appears other manufacturers will be offering flatbed conversions as well.
As far as choosing a truck and camper, and properly matching a rig, we suggest thinking about what size truck you want first. Once that’s decided, the choice of truck will dictate the model of Four Wheel Camper to make a proper match. Of course we will consult with you at any point to help.
I also suggest you look at our website, fourwheelcampers.com, to see what size camper fits on what size truck. Then review the campers on our website, give us a call, and we’ll go from there. Our website will answer many of your questions. After reading our website, we will have more tools to work with to make the right choices.
TCM: Are Four Wheel Camper flatbed models demountable?
Tom: Yes, our flatbed models are truly demountable truck campers. You can take them on and off the truck with camper jacks. The one we showed you at the Overland Expo was bolted on the truck, which is an option if you’re going to do more extreme off-road travel.
TCM: Are the Four Wheel Camper flatbed models available now?
Tom: Yes, we already have a number of them on order.
TCM: What is the MSRP of the base Four Wheel Camper Fleet flatbed?
Tom: The base model is $19,995. The price of the camper shown at the Overland Expo is $28,910. That particular camper had almost every option available on it. It had solar, it was self contained, had an upscale compressor refrigerator, jacks, and an awning. It had the whole nine yards.
TCM: The one concern we had about the Fleet flatbed at the Expo was that it was mounted far back from the cab of the truck.
Tom: That’s true. When the flatbed was installed on the truck, they installed it back too far. Once it’s back in Wyoming, they are going to relocate the bed and move it forward to close that gap.
TCM: What is the weight of the base Four Wheel Camper Fleet flatbed model?
Tom: The base weight of the Fleet flatbed is 998 pounds. The Fleet flatbed at the Overland Expo was 1,475 pounds with an optional furnace, water heater, refrigerator, solar, jacks, awning, and two six volt batteries.
TCM: How are things going at Four Wheel Campers? Anything exciting on the horizon?
Tom: Well, we are building a flat bed for a Mitsubushi Fuso right now. It’s probably the biggest Four Wheel Camper that we have ever built.
Things are going great at Four Wheel Campers. We implemented SolidWorks two or three years ago. It has been great tool for design and efficiency. We have progressed on sales and production is up. Our markets are increasing.
This year we have new dealers in South America, and Australia looks like it will finally come to fruition. The new flatbed models will address these markets as well. Growth is good, and our staff is evolving and getting better at what they do.
With increased production, Six-Pac is finally closer to returning. I’m not going to give you a date, but Six-Pac is coming back.
For more information on Four Wheel Campers, visit their website at www.fourwheelcampers.com.