TCM EXCLUSIVE: Four Wheel Hard Top
- January 14, 2010
- - By Gordon White
Stop the press. Cue the dramatic music. After thirty-eight years of manufacturing pop-up campers, Four Wheel is going to the hard-side. ... ...
We had heard rumors from within the Four Wheel Campers organization that they were up to something big. Then Tom Hanagan, President of Four Wheel Campers, mentioned the code name, "The Bullet" during a conversation at Louisville last December. Tom loves to tease us with Four Wheel's latest skunk works, but then smiles and says, "That's all I'm going to say about that, for now". Are they Four Wheel Campers or the CIA? No one was talking until this Wednesday when Stan Kennedy, Four Wheel's all around go-to guy, dropped the dime on the hard-top. The question is, what will the passionate Four Wheel Camper user community say about this new development? Will it be a revolution, or a revelation?
2010 Four Wheel Campers HT Fleet Prototype Specifications:
The 2010 Four Wheel Campers HT Fleet prototype is a hard side, non-slide, truck camper. The interior floor length of the 2010 Four Wheel Campers HT Fleet prototype is 80" and the interior height is 6'4". The exterior length is 146" and Four Wheel Campers is reporting the dry weight of the camper at 1,046 pounds without options. The fresh water tank in the 2010 Four Wheel Campers HT Fleet prototype is 22 gallons. The camper accommodates two batteries and two ten-pound vertical propane tanks. See the below interview with Tom Hanagan for details on pricing and availability.
Tom Hanagan, President, Four Wheel Campers
TCM: How is it that we are talking about a hard-side Four Wheel Camper? Isn’t Four Wheel Campers a pop-up camper company?
Tom: Yes, it most certainly is. And most customers continue to be interested in our compact and light weight pop-up Four Wheel Campers. But some folks want a hard-side camper with more cold weather capabilities than a pop-up can provide. Other customers want the taller entry door of a hard side camper. We are making hard side Four Wheel Campers for the significant number of campers who have shown an interest in an easier and more capable Four Wheel Camper. And others just don’t want to be bothered with lifting the roof, but want the simple design of the Four Wheel concept.
TCM: Will there be specific Four Wheel Camper HT (hard-top) models or will the hard-top be an option for any Four Wheel Camper model?
Tom: The hard-top is an option. To build an HT model, we start with the foundation of an existing Four Wheel Camper pop-up model and add the hard-top instead of the flexible, pop-up sides. So the lower portion of the hard-top models are identical to a typical Four Wheel Camper.
TCM: So the hard-top is an option that’s available for any Four Wheel Camper model?
Tom: The hard-top option is available for all of the mainstream Four Wheel Models, with the exception of the Falcon. We are also working on designs for expedition campers with hard sides. That’s all I’m going to say about that, for now.
TCM: Do the hard-top models have full walk-on roofs?
Tom: Absolutely not. The reason they’re not walk-on roofs is that we wish to make the lightest, lowest center of gravity camper possible.
TCM: Tell us about the design and production of the HT. Was the hard-top an easy feature to develop or were their design and engineering challenges along the way?
Tom: The design of the hard-top was fairly straightforward except for the design of the rounded cabover nose. We had to learn how to properly bend aircraft aluminum tubing. The front nose is stronger and more streamlined than the typical hard sided camper, yet the interior space in the cabover is still quite comfortable.
TCM: Did you make any significant structural changes other than adding the hard-top?
Tom: Yes, we added windows. We designed four windows in the upper section; two in the cabover, and two in main cabin. There are now six windows minimum per HT model camper and seven in the larger HT models including a rear window.
TCM: That’s a lot of windows.
Tom: There’s a lot of daylight in the camper. We are using a typical slanted window in the cabover, which gives light and ventilation in the bedroom area. The upper windows are all sliders. In the lower portion, we have the egress (emergency hatch) and tork windows. The rear window is a picture window, as required by code, and the door has two windows.
TCM: How much did the center of gravity change?
Tom: The center of gravity remains low because most of the cabinetry is in the lower portion of the camper. The propane is on the floor on the rear wall and the water tank is on the floor along the front wall. We have maintained the heaviest part of the camper in the lower front wall. There’s only one small cabinet along the upper back wall of the HT.
With the propane, we elected to use two vertical ten-pound tanks versus a twenty-pound tank, which is typical in a smaller camper. The reason we did this is because if you have one tank and you run out of propane, you’ve run out of propane. By having two tanks, you have the awareness that you are on the second tank and pay attention to getting them refilled.
TCM: What options will be available on a HT that are not available on a pop-up model?
Tom: None. All of the same options are available on both HT and pop-up models.
TCM: So no roof top air conditioner for the hard-top?
Tom: Our goal is light weight, low profile, and low center of gravity. If we added a roof top air conditioner, we would raise the center of gravity, which is what we are trying to avoid. We do have the ability to add an air conditioner in the long bed, full size model and we are working on an evaporative cooler for hot, dry climates.
TCM: What is the base dry weight of the prototype HT?
Tom: 1,046 pounds is the dry weight of our prototype, which is much heavier than we wanted. We are working now to take weight out of it. Our goal is under 1,000 pounds and closer to 900. It’s a work in progress. We’re always striving to improve our products.
TCM: Which Four Wheel Camper model is the HT based on?
Tom: The prototype is based on a Fleet, which in between an Eagle and a Hawk.
TCM: The Fleet? That’s not a Four Wheel Camper model that we were not aware of.
Tom: The Fleet was made many years ago and was discontinued. It is the same width as the Eagle, which is 39” wide for the floor. It fits between the wheel wells of a typical mini-truck. The upper portion of the camper is 75” wide, so not as wide as a Hawk. It is wider than an Eagle at 69”.
TCM: We will have to add the Fleet to our Buyers Guide. Exactly what mini-trucks are you describing?
Tom: The Toyota Tacoma, Dodge Dakota, Ford Ranger, Nissan Frontier, Mazda B-Series, and the Chevy Colorado.
TCM: That’s an impressive list of mini-trucks for a hard-sided camper. What is the cost of the Hard Top option?
Tom: The cost is identical to the pop-up Four Wheel Camper.
TCM: The cost is identical? How did you do that?
Tom: The HT models are actually cheaper in man hours and materials but the windows of the HT are significantly more expensive. So it’s a wash. We only charge extra for two options on the HT, the extended cabover and the screen door.
TCM: Will you have Four Wheel Camper HT’s available for consumers to see at RV Shows this Winter and Spring?
Tom: We will have the prototype at the Sportsmen’s shows, which are all listed in Truck Camper Magazine, and one model in our California showroom in the near future. You can actually see the prototype this weekend at the International Sportsmen’s Expo at County Event Center in San Mateo, California. We hope to see you there.
TCM: Some may immediately think that a hard-side Four Wheel Camper means that you have changed your plans for an aluminum Six-Pac. Have things changed?
Tom: Absolutely not. The aluminum Six-Pac is the next design coming on line. Six-Pac is a much more amenity oriented product. Where Six-Pacs offer more amenities, Four Wheel Campers offer the ultimate in lightweight durability, simplicity, and low profile. They are very different products.
TCM: As you have been developing both the aluminum Six-Pac and the new Four Wheel Camper HT, have there been opportunities for the two designs to influence each other?
Tom: Four Wheel has been influencing the Six-Pac design. For example, we are changing the cabinetry in the Six-Pac to the frameless cabinetry construction we have been using in Four Wheel Campers for over thirty years. We’re also improving the electrical system of the Six-Pac designs to meet the high quality of Four Wheel Campers.
TCM: Now that Four Wheel Campers has gone to a hard top hard-side model, will you be considering a slide-out Four Wheel Campers?
Tom: No. We have no intention of a slide-out on a Four Wheel Camper because it would be a contradiction to our basic philosophy.
TCM: I knew you were going to say that, but I couldn’t help but to ask. Is there anything else going on at Four Wheel that you want people to know?
Tom: We’re listening to our customers and striving to be sensitive to the needs of many of our customers who are Baby Boomers and may experience difficulty lifting a pop-up roof. We are also hearing from an increasing number of women who enjoy traveling alone and enjoying the great outdoors. That’s been a wonderful trend and we look forward to developing more products to meet their needs and wishes. Come on out and see the new HT. We think you’re going to like it.
TCM: Thanks Tom. And good luck with the new HT.
Tom: You’re welcome.