What happened to the most famous truck and camper rig of 2016? Mike Hallmark of Hellwig Products is driving it around as his daily driver, mobile office, and adventure vehicle. This is no museum piece. It’s a workhorse.
When I was a kid growing up in the early 80s, I went to the annual Philadelphia Auto Show with my dad and always went bonkers over the concept cars. These presumably drivable visions of the future stirred my imagination in those pre-internet days. Dad, let’s get that one!
For those not steeped in auto-culture, concept cars are usually one-off prototypes designed and built to showcase radical forward-thinking designs, cutting-edge materials, and state-of-the-art technology. Building and testing these concepts allows automotive manufacturers to experiment with fresh ideas that might later trickle into production cars, or inspire new directions in design.
Marketing teams use concept cars to generate excitement and publicity about a brand and gather feedback about which design elements inspire the most interest. All of this information and feedback is then fed back into research and development to make future production cars not only better, but also more appealing.
Wouldn’t it be fun if the truck camper industry built and debuted concept truck campers? How about a carbon fiber frame or an aluminum body shell? How about showing us the most radical floor plans, cutting-edge appliance systems, and off-grid technologies? I for one would love to see visions for where truck camper design might be going.
If building a full-size camper is too much time and money, how about a scale model, or a computer rendering? Truck Camper Magazine could make these concepts a front page story and get the readers to send their feedback.
The Tale of Two SEMA Rigs
Over the past two years, Lance Campers and Hellwig Products have produced two stunning full-size concept rigs for SEMA. Taking a page from the concept car concept (say that three times fast), Lance and Hellwig designed and developed the 2016 Lance 650 Overland Edition for SEMA 2015, and the Rule Breaker truck camper rig for SEMA 2016.
These one-off rig concepts were built to showcase the current possibilities in truck and camper combinations, after market enhancements, and design flare. The materials and technology were squarely in the present, but the wild SEMA aesthetic of these units surpassed anything we had seen before in the truck camper sphere.
The 2016 650 Overland Edition was a success at SEMA and a strong article for Truck Camper Magazine, but nothing compared to the Rule Breaker. Debuting in Truck Camper Magazine on November 1st, 2016, the Rule Breaker went on to be the number one Truck Camper Magazine article of the year. To date, the Rule Breaker article has been read over 75,000 times and attracts another 700 readers every week.
We were surprised to learn about what happened to the Rule Breaker after SEMA 2016. Where the 650 Overland Edition was shown to the press and then sold to a lucky consumer, the Rule Breaker stayed with its chief architect, Mike Hallmark, the Marketing and International Sales Manager for Hellwig Products.
Mike didn’t roll this media magnet on wheels into a garage far from the prying eyes of the public – oh no. He’s out there driving the Rule Breaker, using it for work and off-road adventures. Is he using 100-percent of the camper features and functions? Sure is. Has it been scratched? You bet. Does he get a lot of attention in this not-so Mello Yello beast? Quite rightly!
To get the full story of what’s happened with the Rule Breaker since SEMA, we talked to Mike Hallmark, Marketing and International Sales Manager for Hellwig Products.
Above: Nissan Titan press drive 2017, posing in the Grand Canyon, all photos courtesy of Mike Hallmark unless specified otherwise
TCM: What happened with the Rule Breaker in the days after the SEMA debut?
Mike: After SEMA I worked with our PR team, Kahn Media, to reach out to media outlets. We told them that we had a one-off vehicle that they were welcome to experience on and off-road. So far we’ve had Car and Driver, Outside Magazine, JP Magazine, Autoweek and Automobile test drive the Rule Breaker.
Above: Rule Breaker in its natural environment, poised to handle the road ahead
TCM: How did those experiences go? After all, not everyone knows how to drive and handle a truck camper rig.
Mike: One editor didn’t understand when the grey tank filled up. The Lance 650 has 22 gallons of fresh, 15 gallons of grey, and 16 gallons of black. Well, they were confused when the grey tank was full and didn’t know what to do. Now I explain how the tanks and other systems work before journalists take the rig.
If you’re not an experienced RVer and conserving, the grey tank can quickly from doing dishes and showering like you’re at home. I didn’t tell them about water allocation and dumping. I have learned to set those expectations up front.
For me, the Lance 650 tanks last three or four days. As you know, you need to be mindful of how long you take a shower, how much water you’re using when doing dishes, etc. It’s second nature to me. That’s the reality of using a camper.
Above: Buses by the Bridge event at Lake Havasu
TCM: We call that the zen of truck camping. After a while, you become in-tune with where you are with your propane, battery, and holding tanks. Most journalists – even in the RV industry – don’t camp long enough to experience that. What have you done with the Rule Breaker since SEMA?
Mike: For my first trip out, I took the Rule Breaker to Buses by the Bridge at Lake Havasu. Buses by the Bridge is an annual gathering of vintage VW bus owners. The event was the same weekend as a hot air balloon festival making for a perfect shakedown trip for the Rule Breaker.
The Rule Breaker got at least as much exposure as the VW buses. During the event, thunderstorms rolled in and some attendees were freaking out. All we had to do was roll out the awnings and invite folks to take cover.
Above: Early Saturday morning photo shoot after SEMA 2016
TCM: Had you always intended the Rule Breaker to be used after SEMA? SEMA vehicles are not normally driven much after the event.
Mike: Most companies have a “show queen” they take to SEMA, put it back in the wrapper, and only cut it loose for a few shows.
You can’t say the Rule Breaker is a true overland vehicle if it stays in a garage. We invited experienced off-road and overland journalists to take the Rule Breaker out and show off its capabilities. It was built for that purpose, not as a show piece.
Using the Rule Breaker also validates Hellwig as a company that’s serious about the overland market. The installed Hellwig products on the Rule Breaker are standing up to abuse. That gives consumers comfort that our products are tested in the real world.
Above: Rule Breaker at the main entrance of the 2017 King of the Hammer event
TCM: Just to be clear, are you fully using the Rule Breaker – sleeping in the cabover, cooking in the kitchen, sitting in the dinette, and using the bathroom?
Mike: You bet! I took the Rule Breaker rig to King of the Hammers in Johnstown Valley for four days of off-grid camping. I used all of the camper systems during those four days.
Above: Chocolate Thunder Viewing Area, King of the Hammers
Then I took it off-road for a test and photo shoot. During that experience, I took the Rule Breaker half way up Chocolate Thunder viewing area, which is a very steep hill. I stopped where the hill leveled out and had a barbecue with beverages. The rig gave people a shaded place to eat and drink while they watched the King of the Hammers race.
Above: Meeting up with a friend near Mount Shasta, California on the way to the Northwest Overland Rally in Plain, Washington
TCM: That sounds like a total blast. How much time are you able to spend camping in the Rule Breaker?
Mike: The longest I’ve been able to camp in the Rule Breaker is two weeks. That was for a trip to the Northwest Overland Rally. For the rally, I traveled from Lancaster, California to Plain, Washington – a 19 hour drive.
Above: Hellwig/Ninkasi Happy Hour at the Northwest Overland Rally, 2017. Not breaking the rules and bringing the beer!
I was at the event and then hopped on a plane to Las Vegas for the SEMA Exhibitor Summit. Then, I flew back, grabbed the truck and went back to California.
On the way to NWOR, I slept on the side of a freeway because of bad accident. I was able to crawl in the back, take a siesta, and go down the road the next day. I could see the wow of people’s faces while they were sitting frustrated in traffic. With a camper, anytime you need to, you can sleep, get food, shower, etc. It’s all right there.
Above: Nisan Titan press drive 2017, somewhere off highway 40 in Arizona
TCM: We’ve had several experiences like that over the years. Bad traffic, weather, or construction forces us to pull over, relax, eat lunch or dinner, and maybe take a nap. Tell us about your experience with Nissan in the Grand Canyon.
Mike: For Overland Expo we partnered with Nissan and went on a press drive. We took the Rule Breaker to the bottom of the Grand Canyon with five other Nissan trucks including Nissan’s Project Basecamp build. The Project Basecamp truck is supported by Hellwig Big Wig air springs and our adjustable rate rear sway bar.
Above: Day camping next to the Colorado River at the bottom of the Grand Canyon. Part of the Nissan Titan press drive before Overland Expo, 2017.
We four-wheeled it down there, put out the awning, and had lunch. Then, we went back to the Overland Expo and showed it off for the next three days. We created a video of our experience.
TCM: When we first saw images of the Rule Breaker, we knew our readers would be very interested in the build, but we had no idea how much attention the rig would get beyond the truck camper market. It’s been incredible.
Mike: I didn’t expect the Rule Breaker to be as big as it was either. I guess it’s is just weird enough to work. As I like to say, “You can’t fake the funk”. This isn’t just a truck camper with some sharp graphics. There’s something else going on here. The response has been phenomenal.
Above: Four Wheels Parts Jeep and Truck Fest, Ontario Convention Center, June 10-11, 2017
TCM: It was our number one story for 2016, and we still to this day get a considerable amount of web traffic for the Rule Breaker article. Have you ever chosen to stay in the Rule Breaker rather than at a hotel?
Mike: Yes. I’m glad you asked that. Four Wheel Parts has a Jeep and truck fest in different locations. One was at the Long Beach Convention Center in Downtown Long Beach, California. Hotels there can be as much as $300 a night.
It wasn’t about money, but the principle. I wanted to stay in the camper at the show. The rig was positioned outside of the front doors to the convention center. I set up the camper – right there – and stayed for two nights.
Above: Four Wheels Parts Jeep and Truck Fest, Long Beach Convention Center, July 22-23, 2017
I have also attended a few concerts in urban areas. In urban areas, I can often find level street parking. I park the rig, go to the concert, and sleep in the camper. I don’t have to worry about a hotel. It’s not only convenient, but economical.
One concert had streets that were very narrow and not camper friendly. I ended up talking to the manager, then the owner of the establishment and he said, “I own the place. You can camp here.” That was great. Of course, it cost me a tour of the Rule Breaker, but that’s what we built it for.
TCM: It seems the Rule Breaker is earning its name at every turn.
Mike: It really has. Being in a truck camper is true freedom on wheels.
Above: Meeting up with Conner Makita in Ashfork Arizona; on they way to Overland Expo 2017, in Flagstaff, Arizona. Mike Hallmark is on the left.
TCM: That’s what it’s all about. What do you do for Hellwig Products on a day-to-day basis?
Mike: I have recently been promoted to Marketing Manager and International Sales Manager. My role as the Marketing Manager is to take a look at where we’re advertising, new concepts for Hellwig, and getting us ready for the SEMA show by doing two SEMA builds and designing our new booth. I also coordinate where the Rule Breaker needs to be or set it up for the editors to get out and drive it.
As International Sales Manager, it is my job to find and support new business in growing international markets. Both roles are challenging, but very rewarding and fun.
Above: The Rule Breaker in the 2016 SEMA booth
TCM: Getting Hellwig set up for SEMA is a year-long deal?
Mike: The day after the show closes, my running joke is, “We’ll see you at SEMA in two weeks”. No matter how much time you think you have, it’s on top of you and it’s go time before you know it.
Above: Mike Hallmark white water rafting on the Kern River, photo courtesy of Kahn Media
TCM: It sounds like you can use the Rule Breaker as you see fit, but it’s still a Hellwig Products vehicle. How does that work?
Mike: Most of the time the Rule Breaker is at my house. Melanie White, Executive Vice President of Hellwig Products, has given me the freedom to use it. I don’t take the privilege lightly. I understand the purpose of this vehicle, and want to make sure it’s utilized correctly.
I can take the Rule Breaker out for personal and business use. I recently went white water rafting with a few guys from Kahn Media and got action shots of the Rule Breaker driving in the dirt. From where I live to the Kern River there’s a dirt road for a third of the distance. We took that road and photographed the Rule Breaker in action. It’s often a blend of work and play.
Above: Packing show equipment into the Lance 650
TCM: What have you learned about truck campers and truck camping from using the Rule Breaker?
Mike: Using the Lance 650 has really helped me dial in the things you need and don’t need in a truck camper rig. I have a camping and overlanding background, but now I have the mindset of a disciplined and meticulous overlander.
You need to take extra of what you think will break. You don’t have room for frivolous stuff. You need a certain amount of undergarments, pants, shirts, food, etc., but you don’t need extra stuff. It’s all about packing and utilizing space.
I also need to consider bringing along show equipment. That’s when the cubic feet in a truck camper shrinks drastically. After using the Rule Breaker rig, I’m mindful of what I bring and don’t bring.
Above: The Lance 650 fits in a regular parking spot
TCM: Now that you’ve been driving the Rule Breaker for some time, what do you feel are the strengths and weaknesses of the camper and truck combination?
Mike: The number one strength of Lance 650 is its size. It’s very compact. The 650 is perfect for a single person or a couple traveling. It’s about everything you need. The bath is small, but it’s a small camper, so there’s not a lot of room.
Living in the 650 for two weeks never got frustrating or claustrophobic. There were some things I had to sacrifice as far as luxuries, but the experiences greatly outweighed any amenities I missed from home. Sometimes you need to give up amenities to gain freedom.
The camper has solar, so I can run fans, lights, and the radio. Night time use of these amenities would run the battery down a bit, but the solar panel brought the batteries back to 100-percent during the day. Boondocking isn’t an issue with solar. You’re not going to have the 110-volt air conditioner running off solar, but everything else runs off the 12-volt system.
Above: Red Rock Canyon State Park, July 2017. Quick photo op on the way home from Class V, White Water Rapids at the Kern River.
TCM: The Rule Breaker is not a subtle looking vehicle. What kinds of reactions do you get from the public while driving it around?
Mike: People ask where they can get one all the time. I pulled in a parking lot and a guy said to his kid, “I know what I want for Christmas”. In Mammoth, California, a gentleman pulled in and asked when Expedition Portal was going to release an article on the rig.
I pulled in the same gas station the next day and a 80-Series Landcruiser pointed at me. The Landcruiser owner ended up being a buddy I had not seen in six years. He recognized the Rule Breaker because of its bold look. We had a good conversation.
TCM: How has the wrap and paint held up on the Rule Breaker? Any signs of wear?
Mike: It’s done well. I get it washed about once a week because it’s a show piece. We did have an editor take it off-roading in a tight space with branches. It’s gotten some scratches, which is typical for a camper. One branch tore the vinyl, but we were able to patch it.
Lance wrapped each panel in vinyl prior to assembling the camper. There is no chance for the wrap to delaminate on the corners or edges. Wrapping the panels before assembly was a wonderful idea and has helped with the appearance of the camper.
Above: King of the Hill, Nevada Desert after SEMA 2016
There are some dents in the front bumper and on the side steps. At first I was upset about this damage, but it’s an off-road vehicle and has the scars to prove it.
I am trying to take it back to SEMA, but it won’t be the main show piece. I want to show everyone how it’s been used, and how it’s held up. It is being used for what we built it for.
Above: Quick beer stop at the Ninkasi Brewery in Eugene, Oregon
TCM: How about the truck, camper, and aftermarket products. Is everything still performing well?
Mike: All the aftermarket products have worked out great.
Several editors drove it on a graded road in Grand Canyon. It was a dirt road with bumps and hard hits on the suspension. The Icon shocks did great. There was a lot of pressure with the force of the camper. Most people forget the camper is on there when they drive it. I have also used the Warn winch and it’s worked flawlessly.
Above: Hellwig rear sway bar and Big Wig air springs installation at LGE/CTS Motorsports in San Dimas, California
TCM: Do you feel the Nissan Titan handles the Lance 650?
Mike: The Titan handles the Lance 650 wonderfully. With our Big Wig air springs and rear sway bar the truck feels planted and comfortable at all speeds, and in all driving conditions. The 5.0 liter V8 Cummins diesel doesn’t even know the camper is there.
Above: Hellwig equipped at the 2017 King if the Hammers, in Lucerne Valley
TCM: Are you preparing another truck camper rig for SEMA this year?
Mike: We are not building a truck camper rig this year, but we are building a truck in the same “tow and haul” theme. We literally support our customers with air bags, helper springs, and sway bars. It will be a one-ton build around the outdoor lifestyle.
TCM: Any other fun stories about living with the Rule Breaker?
Mike: When I roll up, people come over inquisitive about the fact that the camper is black. They say that it makes no sense to make a camper black because the camper would get very hot in the sun. When I explain that it’s a SEMA vehicle they say, “I guess it worked because it got me to come over and talk about it”.
Then I introduce myself as being part of Hellwig Products and tell them that we wanted to do something different. The camper does retain some radiant heat that is absorbed by the black vinyl. I have never been driven out of the camper because of the heat, but I don’t go camping in 106 degree weather either. I go to the mountains or coast on those hot days.
I’ve worked at the beach because the Rule Breaker can be my mobile office. All I need is internet and cell reception. There are a lot of people who now have the freedom to work where they want. You guys know what I’m talking about.
Above: Rule Breaker at Lance Camper, Lancaster, California
TCM: We are very lucky to be able to work from the road. It is amazing.
Mike: It’s been a blast having the Rule Breaker. When I give it up I’m going to be sad because it’s been a fun experience and it has created a lot of memories.
I have gained friends because of the events that I’ve attended with this rig. It’s impacted my business and personal life. There has been nothing negative about it. I love that vehicle. It lives with me and I live in it.
If you want to see the Rule Breaker, it will be in the Lance Camper area at Pomona RV show October 6-15, 2017.
To request a free brochure for the Lance 650 or the Hellwig suspension products on this rig, click here.