The reconfigurable SpaceCamper – compact 5-berth people carrier and camper and load transporter
The SpaceCamper is not your normal camper van. The SpaceCamper was designed by young German designer, engineer and entrepreneur Markus Riese, the fellow who designed the first folding bicycle with suspension on both wheels (the "Birdy") and founded German bicycle manufacturer Riese and Muller while still at school. Riese took a year off when he graduated, buying a campervan for 12 months of touring Australia on a surfing holiday. As he worked his way around the vast Australian continent, meeting many other campervan explorers, the concept of the SpaceCamper was born – to build everything a full blown much larger camper has into a T5 transporter, and to be able to reconfigure the layout so that it can be repurposed for use in multiple roles. As usual, he succeeded big time!
The original SpaceCamper is now known as the Classic, and there's also a SpaceCamper Light, each of them ingenious in their own way, and the brand is looking to expand outside Germany for the first time. That's quite some feat in just a few short years as the German motorhome market is massive, and being innovative enough to create an export market in this established market after just a few years of business speaks volumes.
Accurate statistics are unavailable on European motorhome market, but two reliable statistics that point to its size offer a glimpse of the magnitude of the supporting infrastucture on the continent: there are more than 7000 camping grounds in Germany, and that market-leader Fiat offers its Ducato range as a base to motorhome builders, and there are more than 400,000 Ducato-based motorhomes on European roads.
Campervans big enough for five people are invariably very large and cumbersome, get terrible fuel consumption due to their massive weight and frontal area, can't cruise on the autobahn above 120kmh safely, and hence can't drive in the fast lane.
Their weight and aerodynamics give them handling akin to a wheelbarrow full of oily walruses, and they are so wide that driving them in city traffic in most narrow European urban environments is an exacting task fraught with danger unless you are accustomed to driving trucks.
Urban roads established sometimes thousands of years ago did not foresee the traffic volumes of today, and you'll often be driving in traffic on one of two and three lanes shoehorned into a width that was once designed for foot traffic. This means that the available roadspace in dense urban traffic is often terrifyingly narrow. They're also quite long and tall, which means they won't fit a normal parking space, and that many car parks and entrances are also inaccessible.
A Volkswagen T5 Transporter is a very different proposition though – with VW's renowned 4Motion 4WD package, the T5 handles like a sportscar, and with the most powerful diesel engine package, a diesel-engined T5 is capable of topping 200kmh down an autoroute, autostrada or autobahn.
Top speed isn't everything, but it's an indication of a much higher comfortable cruising speed and a T5 will offer superb relative economy to a motorhome while cruising at a relaxed 140kmh, giving you access to all the lanes to maintain "trip momentum".
That's quite some difference to the hundreds of thousands of white whales on European roads and at those speeds, the T5 would be using half the fuel of your average 4-6 berth motorhome, maybe even a third. There's also much easier round-town parking. With a height of less than 1.95 meters it fits all but the tightest underground carparks in Paris and Rome, and its length fits a standard parking space. Having access to any carpark increases the usability of the vehicle dramatically, meaning it can be comfortably used as your local transport, whereas most motorhomes need a robust secondary transport option included.
The T5 also significantly reduces fears of sideswiping anything during urban driving as it is much narrower than a four- or five- berth motorhome. in short, the SpaceCamper offers a far more usable and comfortable package in many ways, and doesn't shortchange you on features by comparison.
What sets the SpaceCamper fully apart from its competitors, such as Volkswagen's California, is that it is incredibly versatile and converts from transporter to people carrier to motor caravan. Reconfiguring the van between its various modes is also an easy task, and it comfortably accommodates five people with plenty of luggage for a longer trip.
By thinking about the interior and using clever design to optimize use of space, Markus Riese's original concept has been refined to the point where all the conveniences of much larger vans are incorporated – a fridge, a gas cooker, a sink, a folding table, intelligently-designed, easily-accessible cupboards, wardbrobe space, last mile transport (the latest monocoque folding bike from R&M can be purchased as part of the package), and there are ingenious solutions available for a shower and even a toilet.
Riese's design expertise and experiences as a camper have proven invaluable in getting the most out of the available space. By removing the drawers from under the rear seats, the SpaceCamper offers a 3.5 metrers of continuous load space - large enough to accommodate bicycles or surfboards without removing the rear seats or bed.
The bed and rear seats are designed to be extra light, and can be easily dismantled and stowed, after which a cavernous load space of over 4,000 liters opens up.
The SpaceCamper seats five adults in comfort and even with this layout offers an unusually large 700 liters of storage space under the sleeping area.
The bed is another important innovation. The double bed can be raised 22cm from its normal position, increasing the storage space to 1.8m x 1.2m x 0.7m, around 1,500 liters in volume.
Now at this point you might be thinking that we're going over-the-top with our praise for the SpaceCamper. We're most definitely not! Most motorhomes are built to a recipe that seems to have evolved from the old way of building automobiles – bigger is better, aerodynamics don't matter much, and that there's enough space to fit everything in.
For instance, only a small percentage of European motorhomes utilize the driver and passenger seats as seating at the internal table. This feature alone saves close to a meter in the length of the vehicle. Should you opt for the flip top extra bedroom, it doesn't increase the height of the vehicle at all during road use. Most motorhomes carry the bedroom around fully assembled as an enormous overhang, adding height and weight and frontal area and fuel consumption. It goes way beyond that in terms of usability though, as massive hunchback overhangs create wind roar so loud that you won't be able to enjoy music or conduct an easy conversation above 120kmh.
These are just the logical things incorporated into the SpaceCamper. The lightweight reconfigurable internals, and options for everything from the innovative shower to a safe in which to lock your valuables are what make the SpaceCamper such a delight – it's built with the thinking of a world-class designer who knows the "terrain" and shares our belief that the European motorhome industry is in dire need of a shake-up.
Having the front seats able to swivel round to face backwards means there are two high quality, very comfortable ergonomic chairs available for cooking, eating, communing and working. In comparison to the flat, uncomfortable benches you'll find in most motorhomes, it's magic. The amount of thought that has gone into the SpaceCamper in every respect makes it infinitely more usable than a camper in so many other respects too - the gas cooker and fridge can both be removed in seconds, enabling them to be used outside or aboard a boat, enhancing the experience of being wherever you wish to be.
The internal table folds easily away on a locking gas strut, removing the need for a table leg, which invariably gets in the way of everything in a campervan, and even when the table is folded down, a special flap allows quick access to the kitchen cupboard. The fridge with its technically advanced compressor is one of the most economical currently available. The water tank is located in the rear and is also easily removed.
One of the aspects of the SpaceCamper you'll really appreciate in the real world is the sleeping arrangement. Riese identified a along time ago that most mattresses in this category of motorhome are also used for seating, and are consequently either a compromise that isn't optimum for either, or much firmer than a mattress. The sleeping area in the SpaceCamper is not used for seating, hence the mattress offers a comfortable sleep. There is an optional 1.7 meter bed available that goes over the front seats too.
The innovation continues through all aspects of the design, most notably in the compact and useful permanent cupboard and storage space, much of which can be reconfigured depending on your preferences – there's even a place to hang a few suits or long dresses and … we could go on and on but we won't. Check out the optional extras, which go as far as wheel racks so you can carry a motorcycle internally and we're sure you'll see the benefits of having a talented designer approach the issues using modern thinking.
In short, after much recent experience in this area, we're convinced that Riese's design insights have created something quite special and incredibly useful in the SpaceCamper. It's not just a compact motorhome which isn't useful for any other purpose – the SpaceCamper can be used as a genuinely practical vehicle in addition to being a weekend camper. Truly innovative!