For 2015, Northstar completely overhauls their popular 650SC, a self-contained short-bed pop-up truck camper for full-size trucks. Then Northstar teases us about the biggest Northstar Camper, ever.
Some truck camper manufacturers build the truck campers they believe their customers are asking for. If they get enough requests for high faucets, they put high faucets in their campers. They believe giving the customers what they want will result in more sales, and happier customers, and it usually does.
Other truck camper companies have their own internal time-tested logic. They may hear customer requests and see market trends that deviate from their core logic, and they stick to their guns and build the product they believe in, year after year. These companies often own a niche within the truck camper marketplace and standing firm with that niche has brought them great success.
Northstar Campers is one company that seems to have a foot in both camps. On one foot, they stand firm with wood-frame, hung-wall, non-basement, non-slide hard-side and pop-up truck campers with cassette toilets. That’s their niche, and they’ve stuck to it for over five successful decades.
On the other foot, Northstar is also listening carefully to customer and dealer feedback and looking for opportunities other companies haven’t recognized or fully-capitalized on. This explains why Northstar leads the truck camper market internationally, builds full-size flatbed truck campers, and continuously finds ways to push the functionality per-foot envelope.
Speaking of standing firm and pushing envelopes, Northstar is announcing its first truck camper for the 2015 model year; the 2015 Northstar 650SC. It’s a ground-up redesign of the most popular Northstar pop-up truck camper, and a sign of things to come from this family-owned truck camper manufacturer. And just when you think you’ve got Northstar pegged, they tease us with what might become one of the most talked about campers of 2014.
To tell us more about the 2015 Northstar 650SC, we talked to Rex Willett, President of Northstar.
2015 Northstar 650SC Specifications:
The 2015 Northstar 650SC is a wet bath pop-up camper made for short bed trucks. The interior floor length of the 2015 Northstar 650SC is 7’0” and the interior height is 6’5″. The 2015 Northstar 650SC has a 20 gallon fresh tank, 6 gallon hot water heater, 4 gallon cassette reservoir, 13 gallon grey tank, and 5.3 gallon cassette black tank. It can accommodate one battery and has one twenty-pound exchangeable propane tank. The base weight of the 2015 Northstar 650SC is 1,610 pounds. The base MSRP for the Northstar 650SC is $19,800.
Above: The exterior of the 2015 Northstar 650SC (click to enlarge)
TCM: Are the changes to the 2015 Northstar 650SC a simple refresh, or is this a completely new camper from the ground up?
Rex: The idea for the new 650SC floor plan came from our Northstar Liberty hard-side model. Essentially, the new 650SC is a pop-up version of the Liberty. We did this once before when we converted our Northstar Laredo floor plan and created the 850SC soft-wall.
Above: The Northstar 650SC bathroom is usable with the roof down
TCM: Has the floor length or any of the other dimensions changed?
Rex: The floor length is the same as our TC650. The height of side walls is higher, so you have an extra one and three-quarters inches in the up position. I raised the wall to allow the bathroom to be usable with the roof down. When you are traveling, you can jump in and go potty instead of doing the hovercraft in a rest area bathroom.
Above: There is six inches between the mattress and the roof when the top is down
TCM: That’s something you can’t even do with most slide-out truck campers any more.
Rex: That’s right. Another benefit to the higher side wall is six-inches between the mattress and the roof of the camper when the top is down. This allows you to have your roof down and leave all your pillows and bedding in place. Those are the kinds of things people don’t think about until after they’ve bought their camper.
Above: The 650SC is designed for exchangeable twenty-pound propane tanks
The refrigerator has been moved forward and there is a stand-up twenty-pound vertical LP tank in the new 650SC. This type of LP bottle is extremely common and exchangeable at places like Home Depot and Lowes, and almost every gas station and convenience store. I want to move to exchangeable propane bottles for every camper Northstar produces. I think exchanging propane bottles is much easier than searching for a propane refill station.
Above: The 2015 Northstar 650SC is a self-contained pop-up truck camper
TCM: Finding propane stations can be a challenge when traveling, but exchangeable propane is almost everywhere. What else makes this floor plan different from other pop tops you have built before?
Rex: It’s important to point out that the 650SC is self-contained in a seven foot floor plan. It has never been done before in this industry.
The camper is also very functional, has good storage, and offers 6’2” of headroom when you stand in shower; 6’5” if you don’t have shower pan floor installed. It’s a nimble travel partner that has it all, especially if you want to stay compact.
Above: The wet bath and kitchen on the driver’s side of the Northstar 650SC
TCM: Where did the design choices come from?
Rex: We received a lot of quality feedback from dealers and customers that made it into the final design of the new 650SC. For example, Bill Penney from Truck Camper Warehouse told me to make most of the options standard. The only options for the 2015 Northstar 650SC are the air conditioner, steps, television antenna, awning, and roof rack. Everything else is now standard.
Above: The refrigerator and sofa dinette area on the passenger’s side
TCM: After the first prototype was completed, were there any adjustments made to the design of the camper?
Rex: I let the camper sit in our building for about six weeks before taking it to the Springfield RV show this past February. Every day I would go sit in the camper for five to ten minutes.
Once it was done, we didn’t touch the driver’s side. On the passenger’s side, we moved the refrigerator forward, changed the LP tank to vertical, and opened up the camper with a straight sofa. Before we changed to a straight sofa, the camper entrance felt like a tunnel. Now, it really works.
Above: The seat cushion on the step up to the bed offers additional interior seating
We also added a seat cushion on the step up so one person can sit there if they want. It’s also an easy camper to get in and out of the cabover.
Above: Due to the narrow profile of the 650SC, you can see around the camper with stock mirrors
TCM: The photography you sent shows the camper in the side mirrors from the perspective of the driver. What are you showing us in these pictures?
Rex: I wanted to show that you can see around the camper easily with the stock mirrors.
Above: The Northstar 650SC is designed to fit tight to the vehicle
I’m also showing how well the camper fits the truck. It’s nice and tight to the vehicle. If I am a buyer, I want to know how well I can see around the rig.
Above: This tail-light close-up shows how the 650SC closely fits a truck
Above: The 650SC wet bath features a shower and Thetford C-400 series cassette toilet (click to enlarge)
TCM: It looks like you’re using a larger capacity cassette in the new 650SC.
Rex: We are using the Thetford C-400 series is in the 650SC. That’s the same cassette you and Angela have in the Arrow U hard-side. The Thetford C-400 comes standard with this camper. There is not one option in the camper in the pictures.
The Thetford C-400 has its own water reservoir, so it doesn’t take away from your fresh water tank. The Thetford C-400 is made in Europe, and Thetford sells it here in the United States. It’s superior to the US version toilets that draw water from the fresh tank eliminating the extreme cold weather camping benefit of the cassette system. Speaking of fresh water capacity, this camper has a 20 gallon fresh tank, which is a good size for a seven-foot pop-up camper.
Above: The new more efficient LED light fixtures in the overcab area
Above: Exterior LED lights
TCM: Is the 2015 Northstar 650SC all-LED inside and out?
Rex: Yes, it is all-LED. The only exceptions are the exterior clearance lights, and I’m working on those. LED is standard in all Northstar Campers. I’m not messing around with incandescent lights anymore.
I also just recently upgraded the interior LED lights throughout Northstar’s product line. We lowered the lumens and went to a sleeker more modern light fixture. The LEDs are now bright enough to see clearly, but not obtrusively bright.
Above: The Lagun table is standard on the 650SC and optional on other Northstar campers (click to enlarge)
TCM: Were there any new materials, components, or appliances used in the development of the 2015 Northstar 650SC?
Rex: The Lagun table leg is an awesome addition to our campers. The Lagun is standard in the 650SC and optional on our other camper models.
Above: The Lagun table and sofa in the 2015 Northstar 650SC
TCM: Why do you like the Lagun table?
Rex: It’s very sturdy. Just like you guys need a nice sturdy table to work on, others want a nice sturdy table as well. The Lagun can be adjusted up and down for height. When it tightens down, it’s as solid as your home kitchen table, which is great for computer work inside the camper.
The Lagun is made in Sweden from anodized aluminum for the marine industry. They’re quite expensive at $300 just for the leg. I import them directly from Sweden in volume. You can buy an additional lower bracket and mount the table outside.
Above: The new pull-out faucets are now featured in all Northstar Campers
Another thing we’ve done is change our faucets to high-quality pull-out faucets across the board. The plastic faucets the RV industry tends to use are junk and I’m sick of them. I went to more of a residential faucet with a pull out handle and sprayer. It has real copper lines. I want our components to last a long time.
Above: Under bed storage in the North-South overcab
TCM: Is there under bed storage in the overcab?
Rex: Yes. The cabover the same as the previous generation of the TC650. I left the storage height the same so that I could gain more height from the mattress to the roof when it is in the up position.
Above: There is a large thermal pane acrylic window in the rear dinette area of the 650SC (click to enlarge)
TCM: What type of windows are standard?
Rex: I wanted as big of a window as possible in the back corner for the view and cross-ventilation. I used an insulated acrylic window in that space because they are more modern and get rid of the need for curtains. Acrylic windows have built in screens and black-out shades.
Above: The torsion lift system is accessible from inside the camper
TCM: We love the black-out shades in our Northstar. Just pull all the black-out shades including the Heki, and the camper goes into super stealth mode. Tell us about the pop-up mechanism and roof on the 2015 Northstar 650SC. Any thoughts of going to an electric lift system?
Rex: We have used the torsion system with our pop-up for decades, and it works well. When you have an electric pop-up roof mechanism, power is involved. You can manually override most electric pop-up mechanisms, but they’ll never be as reliable or efficient as a torsion system.
Above: With higher side walls, the 650SC interior is designed to be usable with the pop-up roof in the down position
Our torsion lift system is very simple. The whole system is all accessible from inside the camper. You can visually see it and work on it if necessary. We really don’t have any problems with it. That is the biggest reason why I don’t want to experiment with electric lift systems. I’ve got a Rolex watch that’s dated, but it keeps perfect time.
Above: The 650SC roof overlaps the sidewall by an inch and a half all the way around and features a bulb seal
TCM: Several companies are moving toward one-piece pop-up roofs. Have you made any changes to the way you manufacture your roofs?
Rex: Once again, what’s new is not always better. The material and construction of our roofs is dialed-in and superior. For example, our clearance lights are not inside the body of the roof, so there are no holes in the roof from installing the clearance lights.
Our roof also overlaps our sidewall by an inch and a half all the way around the camper and has a unique and highly-effective bulb seal. Heavy cast corners ensure the roof stays solid and square. The perimeter of the roof front to back is one-inch Radiata plywood with epoxy lamination on the top. It’s not glued lamination. This is an epoxy lamination. If water gets in it, it will not delaminate.
There is also a five-percent pitch to the roof with a high-crown in the center so water runs off the roof when it rains. We buy our roof-top aluminum rolls from Amerimax, a huge company with the means to stand behind its products. Our aluminum roofs have one interlocked factory seam that runs forward and aft. It’s guaranteed not to leak by Amerimax, and the baked enamel finish needs no maintenance and has a good finish for decades.
Our roof framing has a perimeter of two and a half inches wide so that you can put Maggie Racks or boat racks wherever you want on the roof.
The Northstar pop-up roof is built to last. The maintenance is minimal. It looks good, and is time tested. We don’t have problems with our roofs. They’re another Rolex.
TCM: The 2015 Northstar 650SC is a wood framed, hung-wall truck camper, like all of Northstar truck camper products. Why are you staying with wood-framed, hung-wall construction?
Rex: Wood framed campers are warmer, and have strength in the wood. You can take a Northstar off the truck with confidence and sleep in your camper with just the jacks holding it up. Hung wall gives our campers a strong shell. The strength of our campers is incredible.
As far as wood versus aluminum, you can’t change physics. With an aluminum frame, when you pull it outside and the sun hits it, you get condensation on the inside. In the morning, you can see where every aluminum joist is. The aluminum tubes sweat. That’s what causes delaminations.
Above: The passenger side of the 650SC features a large thermal pane acrylic window
TCM: Northstar truck campers are the warmest we have camped in. The rear door doesn’t feature a window. Why is that?
Rex: Our entry doors have always been done with opaque glass. Sure, they let a little light in, but you can’t see through them. I prefer the looks of the doors without windows. In Europe they haven’t been putting windows in doors for a long time.
If you want a window, we will put one in with clear glass and a cover. We will do it here at the factory, and it will be of high quality to eliminate problems.
Above: Mechanical jacks are standard. The 650SC also comes prewired for electric jacks.
TCM: Are electric remote control Happijac camper jacks available as an upgrade?
Rex: Yes. The 650SC comes prewired for electric jacks.
TCM: Tell us about the size of the holding tanks and why you made the tanks that size.
Rex: The fresh tank is twenty gallons. Then you have thirteen gallons of grey water, just over five gallons of black in the Thetford C-400 cassette, and four gallons of fresh in the cassette system to flush the toilet. It’s a real advantage that the cassette does not draw water from the main fresh tank like a traditional flush toilet system. During the winter instead of using water in the reservoir, a person can just use windshield washer fluid and never worry about freezing their toilet system, no matter what the temperature.
Above: The exterior port shower
Above: The bypass for the exterior port shower
TCM: What considerations are given for winterization?
Rex: I took a couple of pictures of the bypass for the exterior port shower. That’s easy to get to. I want to put a winterization bypass kit on everything we produce. We have a fuse you can pull out right by the battery to disconnect it.
TCM: We have found that to be a reliable solution to disconnect the battery. And it saves the weight of adding the wire and mechanism of a formal disconnect switch. Can the optional air conditioner run on a portable Honda EU2000i generator?
Rex: You could add a roof air conditioner as an option, and we use high efficiency air conditioners that a portable Honda EU2000i or Yamaha run effectively. Suppose a couple wants kayaks on top of their camper. If you put on a roof top air conditioner with kayaks, you are pushing the available space. For the 650SC, you also have the option to put in a rear window air conditioner. This camper is framed for a window in the back. That way you can still put the roof rack and your kayaks on top. They are all framed for roof air or rear air. We have to be adaptable enough for our customers to add options.
TCM: Tell us about the entry step systems for the 2015 Northstar 650SC.
Rex: You can use a simple hitch step or a Torklift GlowStep system. You can adapt the camper to whatever step system you need.
TCM: Do you weigh each camper as it leaves the Northstar production line?
Rex: The first six came down and they were all exactly the same campers with exactly the same components. We weighed the first one and they have the same sticker weights.
We have our own scale system at Northstar and I’ve weighed hundreds if not thousands of truck campers. If the models are identical, there might be as much as ten pounds difference. That weight difference mostly comes from differences in the wood and wiring.
TCM: What does the 2015 Northstar 650SC weigh?
Rex: The 2015 Northstar 650SC in the picture was the first one off the line at 1,610 pounds.
TCM: Where is the center of gravity on the 650SC?
Rex: We kept the center of gravity forward and kept the weight down. The center of gravity is 22” from front of front wall. I think it’s our furthest forward center of gravity by an inch of anything we produce. When we figure out center of gravity, we put the camper on a pipe, mark where it balances, and then measure from the front wall of the camper.
TCM: What is the MSRP for the 2015 Northstar 650SC with standard build features?
Rex: The 650SC in the photos is $19,800 with standard equipment.
TCM: What is the warranty for the 2015 Northstar 650SC?
Rex: The warranty is two years on the body, five years on the lift system, five years on floor, and five years on the enclosure tank material. The specifics on the warranty are on our website. PDF: www.northstarcampers.com/Manuals/RC-Willett-Owners-Manual.pdf
TCM: When will the 2015 Northstar 650SC be available?
Rex: The 650SC campers are starting to get shipped now. There’s three are at Truck Camper Warehouse in New Hampshire and SCATT Recreation in California will have one in the next week or so. In a couple weeks there will be 650SC campers in Missoula and Los Angeles.
Above: Lots of storage in a seven foot floor plan
TCM: Is there anything about the 2015 Northstar 650SC that you would like to add?
Rex: I am really happy with the way it is. It is a two person unit because you can only sleep in the cabover, but couples and singles are my target audience. There is lots of storage for what it is, and I’m looking forward to the customer feedback. I’ll tweak it and change it like we do with everything we produce.
We are pumped! The 650SC is going to do really, really well. A camper like this has never been available before.
TCM: Are there any other new model announcements coming from Northstar in 2014?
Rex: The biggest hard side Northstar ever produced will be out in 2014. It will be different. Northstar has always been known to make campers for today’s smaller trucks. This new larger model will expand our line and have some new twists focusing on function and performance with some luxury features. We are bringing sexy back!
TCM: Now that’s a tease!