The Ultimate Tailgating Camper: The Phoenix Bronco Bronco
- January 27, 2013
- - By Angela White
This is what happens when you’re raised a Denver Broncos football fan and a custom camper manufacturer. Introducing the Phoenix Bronco Bronco, a football party machine on wheels.
In the six years we’ve known Robby and Cari Rowe, Co-Owners of Phoenix Custom Campers, we have learned to expect the unexpected. In the recent past, Robby has rocked the RV marketplace with custom campers for Chevy Avalanches, Ford Raptors, and Jeeps of every description. He’s fearless about creating totally custom campers for almost any vehicle his customers bring him, and equally fearless about making their wildest camper dreams come true. Have a unique idea for a camper? Cari and Robby want to hear from you.
This brings us to the subject of today’s story, the Bronco Bronco. In a nutshell, the Bronco Bronco is a Denver Bronco themed camper built on, what else? A Ford Bronco! All at once the Bronco Bronco seems like the craziest and the most obvious camper we’ve ever seen. Crazy because, well, just look at it. This may be the most over the top camper ever made. And obvious because, well, someone had to build a Bronco Bronco, right? See what we mean be expecting the unexpected?
We contacted Cari and Robby to get what had to be an equally amazing back story on their Bronco Bronco.
TCM: What inspired you to create the Bronco Bronco?
Robby: We have always loved the Denver Broncos. We are die hard fans. When they are not winning, we still watch the games, throw parties, wear our jerseys, and cheer our heads off. That’s the first reason we built the Bronco Bronco.
The second reason we built the Bronco Bronco was to have a demo camper to show to customers. Every time we build a camper for a customer, it disappears as soon as it’s ready. So, we built something really cool that stays here with us. The Bronco Bronco shows our potential customers what we can do, and it includes our latest features. Once we had the basic idea, it started to snowball.
Above: Tailgating at Mile High Stadium, Denver, Colorado
TCM: Is the Bronco Bronco specifically for tailgating at Bronco football games, or will it also be used for actual camping?
Robby: We’ve been tailgating at Mile High Stadium off and on for many years. We have already been tailgating with the Bronco Bronco. The Bronco Bronco is definitely the ultimate tailgating machine. Now we’re even more excited for next season.
This is our primary camping camper as well. Of course we have to go to campgrounds after dark and get out before it’s light because we’ll get swarmed, but we’re definitely camping in it. This summer we’ll go fishing and water skiing on the lake. We may pull the boat too. And who knows, maybe the boat will get transformed as well.
TCM: How did you shoe horn a separate bathroom, cassette toilet, shower, kitchen with sink and range top, dinette and bed onto the back of a Ford Bronco?
Robby: That’s the trick we always try to pull off. We make a lot of room on the inside even though it looks small on the outside.
Above: The wet bath of the Bronco Bronco features a shower and cassette toilet
This is absolutely the most advanced Bronco camper I have ever built. The Bronco Bronco has a shower and toilet, which are very rare features in a Bronco camper. There’s also a new solar vent in the bathroom like they use for sailboats with no battery power. We also have a full bed over the cab with a slide extension.
Above: The Bronco Bronco at the ISE Show
TCM: Other than the Denver Broncos tie-in, why was the Ford Bronco your vehicle choice for this project?
Robby: It was the whole idea of a Bronco Bronco that made us choose a Ford Bronco. We have built campers on the Bronco, Blazer, Scout, the older Four Runners with removable tops, and all Jeeps with removable tops.
At this year’s Denver International Sportsmen’s Exposition (ISE), a gentleman approached us who wants a camper on a Ford Excursion. I’ll just take out the windows and cut open the roof like we did on the Jeep Cherokee with the Zebra camper. We can build totally custom campers for all kinds of vehicles.
TCM: How did you design the exterior look of the Bronco Bronco?
Robby: I wanted the camper to compliment the shape of the Bronco. The cabover nose was made so that windshield continues right to the camper. I didn’t want it to overhang very much. I wanted it tight. The camper is as wide as the Bronco’s fenders, which makes it seven inches narrower than our normal truck camper sizes.
Our first thought was to put a giant Denver Broncos logo on each side, but that sounded too plain. To make the exterior design more dynamic, I started playing with a larger version of the logo behind the logo. Our friends at Colographic specialize in custom vehicle graphics and said it was possible.
Above: The Denver Bronco logo on the hood of the Ford Bronco truck
Then we requested permission to use the Denver Bronco logo and graphics from the Denver Broncos. They asked us a few questions like if we were going mass produce the Bronco Bronco or sell products with their logo. They wanted to find out what we were up to. Once they understood that we were building just one Bronco Bronco to show our pride in the team, they gave us a letter of authorization, emailed us the logo and graphics, and told us to go for it.
They really got into the idea. When we later had the idea for the helmets on the back of the Bronco Bronco, they sent us the helmet graphics as well.
TCM: Is the Bronco Bronco painted, a wrap, or decals?
Robby: It’s painted with a half wrap of vinyl decals. The truck was painted orange and the hood was painted blue. Everything else is a vinyl decal created and installed by Colographic. I started that process by taking my Bronco football jersey down to the upholsterer. That’s how we got the vinyl color for the interior. Then I took that same jersey over to the painter.
Above: The driver's side of the Bronco Bronco at the ISE Show
TCM: You used your Broncos jersey as a swatch.
Robby: That’s right. Colographic made all the vinyl decals for the truck and camper. The vinyl decals lay over everything on the vehicle no matter what shape or contour and can be cut around latches and handles.
Even the pop-up liner section is custom. The guy who sews up our liners put white and orange swishes in the pop-up liner where, like the design of the jerseys. It all came out even better than I had hoped.
TCM: It looks like even the springs and shock absorbers were painted in Bronco colors.
Robby: The Ford Bronco we bought for this project needed a lift kit. I looked into having that professionally done and it was expensive. I bought the lift kit and installed it myself.
To make the lift kit match the Bronco theme, I painted the lift kit, found blue shock boots, and used orange springs and coils. Those were the first Bronco colors that were put on the Ford Bronco. It looked a little funny at that point.
TCM: Tell us about the rear swing up hatch.
Robby: The hatch is aluminum and it’s my favorite part of the Bronco Bronco. This was the big secret part of the build. Cari, my wife and Co-Owner of Phoenix Campers, knew we were building the Bronco Bronco, but I kept the hatch a secret from her.
The sides of the hatch are one-inch by four-inch aluminum tubing cut with a band saw to create an arch. I welded the aluminum skin on one end and clamped it at the other end. Then I had to tack weld and secure the shape. I finished the weld and did the body work on the weld to make it look prettier.
The hinging was tricky. I used gas struts off a Denali because it’s a heavy hatch. The hatch itself needed to be sealed next to the body. I wanted it to look like it’s part of of the camper. I also had to figure out the perfect place for the hinging and arm mechanism so that it would swing shut and flat. It needs to be out of the way of the door to shut it tight. There was a lot of measuring and trial and error.
To keep the hatch closed when driving, there are two padlocks at the bottom of the hatch that go through racket holes. To open the hatch, you unlock the padlocks, pull up on the bottom of the hatch, and the gas struts lift up the hatch.
TCM: And then there’s an HDTV that comes down from the hatch?
Robby: When the 40-inch HDTV showed up at the office one day, Cari asked, “Where is that going on the camper?”. I said, “Don’t worry, you’re going to like it”.
My plan was to have the hatch open parallel to the ground, like an awning, and the HDTV would come down for viewing. When down, the HDTV needed to allow the camper door to open and be out of the way of people entering and exiting the camper. After more trial and error, it all worked out very well.
To further protect the television from direct sunlight and the elements, I put a giant awning on the back of the camper. The awning goes out six to seven feet beyond the hatch. Now people can sit under the awning to and watch television. It’s awesome.
TCM: What’s on the back hatch?
Robby: I went crazy with the graphics. We have different Denver Bronco helmets from different eras and put on the names of current and past famous Denver Bronco players. With the decal and color graphics, there are actually separate decals for all letters and images. Color Graphics did a great job.
Cari: The names on the back of the hatch go back to the beginning of the Broncos. In Mile High Stadium there is a Broncos Ring of Fame. Twenty-three of the players in the Broncos Ring of Fame are on the back of our camper.
We also went back to players that were in the Superbowl and played in the Pro Bowl. In the 1980s, there were the “Three Amigos”; Ricky Nattiel, Mark Jackson, and Vance Johnson. There’s the Mile High Salute that Mike Anderson started. He’s an ex-army guy, and he started that salute. You’ll see lots of football guys use it now. They’re all celebrated on the back hatch of the Bronco Bronco.
TCM: The upholstery and stitching in the truck seats and camper dinette is incredible. How did you do that?
Robby: I can’t take credit for that. I made a camper for a customer who does professional upholstery. As is often the case, I put the camper on the back of his truck, waved goodbye, and didn’t hear much from him.
When this project came along, I decided to give him a call and told him that I was building the Bronco camper. He was very excited about the idea and asked me to drop off the truck so that he could work on it. For many weeks he was creating the designs and working on the upholstery. I didn’t know he was going to do embroidery. That was a very cool surprise.
TCM: What’s the story behind the unusual shape of the dinette seating?
Robby: We didn’t want a typical dinette. The idea was to have a dinette with a built-in back, like a sofa. We had seen stuff like we were thinking about on boats, so we Googled, “Bronco colored boat interior” and a couch picture popped up. That’s pretty much what we came up with.
We decided to not to put in a table, but we did put in built in cup holders. We also had the camper couch upholstered to match the seats in the Bronco. That really helped to tie the interior together.
TCM: What is the wavy metallic material on the counter tops and cabinet faces?
Robby: Cari was watching a Do-It-Yourself show while I was working on the Bronco Bronco. She told me about chemicals that you spray on metal and that will turn the metal orange and blue. Then you use a grinder and etch it.
We went into the show’s archives online, but never found the segment. Eventually we found a place in Nebraska that etches aluminum and stainless steel. We brainstormed and decided to do silver in the middle of doors with flush mount latches. The faces of cabinets are wood with aluminum wrapped over them and then we used automotive paint for the orange cabinets. It looks good in the pictures, and amazing in person.
TCM: Tell us about the interior lighting.
Robby: We wanted to accent with more color, so we decided to do that with the lighting. We found adhesive backed LED light strips in blue and orange. We put the blue on the front end and then orange strip lighting on the countertop overhang. There is a switch for the blue and orange LED accent lighting. All the rest of the lighting in the camper is our usual extremely efficient LED lighting.
TCM: In the photography, it appears that the catalytic heater under the bathroom entry is the only source of heat. Is that enough to heat the whole unit?
Robby: We used a Olympian Wave 3 catalytic heater in this camper. We didn’t have the space for a forced air auto ignition propane furnace. To be honest, I have used propane heaters most of my life and I don’t like them. They are too loud and use lots of battery power. I much prefer catalytic heaters. We went camping with the Bronco Bronco in below zero temperatures and were very warm and comfortable using just the catalytic heater.
Above: Standing from the outside looking in
Above: TCM Reporter, Jim McCoy, inside the Bronco Camper
TCM: Tell us about some of the details that people might not notice in the photographs or even after seeing the Bronco Bronco.
Robby: In the show when people were going around they didn’t realize that the bed slides and becomes a full size bed. I also don’t think people noticed that the bed platform lifts up and that there is under bed storage.
There’s an elevated floor when you come in the back door, which makes the counter height better for shorter people. We didn’t want linoleum floors, so we installed cork flooring with a slight burnt orange color.
Under the seats of the couch are three wide open storage compartments. There’s also a power inverter built into the cabinets. The nose cone is actually not just popped out of our mold, but cut and rebuilt for the width of this camper. That was customized. There are lots and lots of little details. It’s been a really fun project.
TCM: How long did the Bronco Bronco project take you?
Robby: It took about nine months from planning to completion.
TCM: Is there anything else that needs to be done with the Bronco Bronco?
Robby: There are little things that still need to get done, specifically with the Ford Bronco. It’s a 1987 vehicle and needs some updating.
TCM: From the looks of it, the Bronco Bronco doesn’t look demountable.
Robby: We have made demountable Ford Bronco campers, but for this one we decided to build it as a permanent camper. That’s another facet to our custom approach; we can build your camper as a traditional demountable camper, or as a permanent installation. It’s your choice.
TCM: If someone wants a camper like the Bronco Bronco, can they get one from Phoenix Campers?
Robby: If a customer wants a team related camper, they will first need to contact the team for permission to use the logos and graphics. Most teams will grant permission if the camper is for personal use. Once you have permission, we can get to work designing your ultimate tailgating machine. Whatever you want, we’ll build. That’s what we do at Phoenix Campers.
TCM: Tell us about taking the Broncos Bronco to Mile High Stadium for tailgating and a game.
Robby: It was the coolest thing. We were instantly welcomed as part of the club. We got to the stadium parking lot at midnight the night before and we were sixth in line. We woke up in the morning with a mile of cars behind us. The Bronco Bronco got a lot of attention. The Bronco fans loved it and we had a lot of fun.
TCM: What was the reaction to the Bronco Bronco at the Denver ISE Show?
Robby: It was just as big as the game. People didn’t expect our Bronco camper to be there. We would see people coming around the camper and their face would light up. People would run over and get their picture taken with the camper. It was so funny. People were crazy over it.
TCM: Tell us about your interview with Denver’s NBC KUSA 9 News.
Robby: NBC affiliate KUSA 9 News found out that we were building this through a press release that Colographic put out. They asked if they could come out and take pictures. It wasn’t done yet, so they documented us making it. They came out every few days to see what we were up to and video taped us working and Colographic installing the graphics. I appreciated their questions because it made me feel like a true Denver Broncos fan.
TCM: What kind of response did you get after the segment aired?
Robby: Lucky for us, it aired two days before the ISE show and I heard lots of feedback at the show. Every third or fourth person would say, “That’s the camper we saw on the news. It’s famous”. I got so many, “great jobs” and, “it looks great in person”. It was wonderful.
TCM: What’s next for the Bronco Bronco? Are there any events planned?
Robby: I have a friend who is in a local rock and roll band called Swerve. He asked me to bring the Bronco Bronco to a show so people could get excited before he gets on stage. We will also be taking the Bronco Bronco to the 2013 Overland Expo in mid-May.
We have a lot of fun projects coming up. This year has been filled with one unique project after another. There are lots of big and fun ideas that customers want to make a reality. I like fulfilling people’s wishes. That’s what I’ve always wanted to do.
Thank you to Jim McCoy and Phoenix Campers for providing photography of the Bronco Bronco for this article. For more information about Phoenix campers, visit their website at phoenixpopup.com.