There’s never been a better time to get out and go camping somewhere than right now. It’s a chance to be socially distant somewhere that isn’t your house. For some, camping means buying a trailer, motorhome or a whole school bus. What if you could slide a camper into the back of your family sedan? That’s exactly what Toppola campers did for some Saabs.
The Toppola campers were a bit like the campers that you slide into the beds of pickup trucks, but meant for cars instead.
According to Toppola’s website written by one of its founders, the camper is the brainchild of Arwo Pullola. In the early 1980s, Pullola wanted to build a car camper. In 1982 he met Matts Mollestam and Peter Malmberg. The duo bought the camper project from Pullola and created EMICO. The two would bring their strengths together to build a car-based camper. Malmberg and Mollestam sold boat accessories and built boats, respectively, so they wanted their campers to be built and feel like boats. Check out this tour of one!
The team got right to work making their ideas a reality and they even managed to get 10 campers delivered in the same year, too. In case you were wondering, Toppola does have an explanation for its name:
The word Toppola came from “Topp” - on top and “ola” is a refinement of the ending as Arwo originates from Finland.
Eventually Saab got involved in the EMICO Toppola camper project and changes to the campers came along with it. The Toppola site says that Saab wanted the campers to look as good and have a similar fit and finish as Saab cars. The Toppola camper was changed from top to bottom with updates to materials and design. A combination stove and heater was added to make cooking and winter camping possible. Saab helped the EMICO team with brochures and marketing.
The partnership between Saab and Toppola was definitely two-way. As the Toppola site says, the EMICO team was involved in the development of the Saab 9000 to make sure that the camper could slide in without issues. Toppola-equipped Saabs even appeared at dealerships during the release of the Saab 9000.
Unfortunately, the partnership between EMICO and Saab ended because, as Malmberg says in the Toppola site, Saab and EMICO were too different in size and culture. EMICO itself also closed down. Sadly, misfortune became a norm for Toppola in the following years. Not only did Toppola have delays due to getting approvals from the German TÜV vehicle inspection but its shop suffered from a destructive fire.
But between the bad news came a new idea: Make the Toppola camper compatible for any car. The unit would be separated into two pieces. The upper unit was the main living space while the lower unit would be built to fit into specific cars. Such would make the Toppola modular. Imagine being able to shove a camper into any car. It also made the Toppola campers able to be fit on pickup trucks, too.
The Toppola campers were pretty roomy and lightweight. Check out these specs from Do It Yourself RV:
Exterior length: 10.8′
Interior height: 6.5′
Roof height when mounted: 8.2′
Weight: 330 lbs (once the hatchback was removed from the Saab, it only added 253 lbs to the vehicle’s weight).
They appeared to be pretty durable, too. We wrote about some Swedes that took one from Sweden to Vietnam and back!
Unfortunately, that future didn’t happen for Toppola. While Toppola got off campers for the Saab 9000, 900, and 9-3, its greater dreams never materialized. Some were also used in Ford Scorpios and Sierras. Sweden’s recession hit Toppola hard and it closed its doors in 2006. Saab didn’t last much longer.
It’s a shame because given the meteoric RV sales of today I bet something like this would be a smashing hit. Car design has also changed quite a bit since those days, but I bet a crafty engineer could get around modern car limitations.
H/T - Austin Little!