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Elemental Westfalia

July 5, 2011
Element Ecamper

Ecamper by Ursa Minor Vehicles: add one Honda Element, stir. (Orin O'Neill photo)

The scooter camping rally seems to be making a big comeback in 2011. Vespa World Days in Norway was a camping rally; Amervespa 2012 would just about have to be, since it will be held in the small resort town of Lake Geneva, Wis. And there are notices of scooter camping rallies all over the social media landscape.

I’m not much for pitching a tent and peeing in the woods. A recreational vehicle is my preferred way to camp. The location of Amerivespa 2012 put the idea of a VW Westphalia on the front burner once again.

However, visits to the usual places one looks for vehicles for sale makes one’s eyes water and throat tighten up. Decades-old VW Westphalias with a quarter-million miles on them, give or take, are going for upwards of $20,000. The ones based on the EuroVan sell for upwards of $30K. Even the rotting hulks in back yards and driveways are going for mind-numbing prices, and will require mind-numbing sums to refurbish and get back on the road.

Not that I could actually contemplate the purchase of such a vehicle. Not until I win a Lotto jackpot somewhere, anyway.

However, the photos show an intriguing alternative.

Ursa Minor Vehicles of Chula Vista, Calif. converts Honda Elements into campers that are conceptually identical to a Westphalia (Minus a kitchen and loo, of course).

Top popped

Ursa Minor Vehicles photo

Nice thing number one is you can supply your own Element; the VW Westphalia was sold as a camper only, and converting a VW Microbus/Transporter was not a cost-effective option.

Nice thing number two is, if you have the right version of Element, they don’t need to cut a hole in the roof for access to the sleeping area.

The downside is, there’s no going back once you turn your Element into an Ecamper. But considering how many VW Westfalias appear to be used as daily drivers, that wouldn’t seem to be an issue.

You’ll notice the Ecamper in the lead photo (spotted in the Ballard Fred Meyer parking lot on one of my many recent trips to Seattle) has a 2-inch hitch receiver. Honda sez an Element can tow a trailer weighing up to 1500 lbs, so bringing scooters along should be no problem. Trailering them would probably be easier, in any case.

Best of all, for the price of a used-up Westfalia, you get a newer, more reliable, more powerful vehicle. And it will probably get better gas mileage, too.

While the Element went out of production at the end of MY 2011, the question of what other vehicles Ursa Minor might convert is one they aren’t addressing specifically, just yet.

I’m thinking a Ford Transit Connect might present some interesting possibilities. Favicon

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7 Comments
  1. Dan Gould permalink
    July 5, 2011 12:08 pm

    And as you have already reported, one P-style scoot fits in the back of the element as well. A friend of mine has a westy, they are cool but way overvalued. I like the ford transit connect idea, or any van for that matter, but newer is better in the long run.

  2. July 5, 2011 12:28 pm

    Dan, the pics on Ursa Minor’s Web site make it look like other aspects of the conversion would take up too much interior space to make hauling a scooter inside possible. Oh, well. As I said, trailering would probably be easier, especially if you have something like a GT/GTS/GTV…

  3. Dar permalink
    July 5, 2011 3:41 pm

    Orin I have had a VW Westie since 1995 – love the stupid thing. We brought my scooter home inside it. We did a lot of camping in it and I used to drive it every day until I got my scooter. It’s in pretty good shape & I love the kitchenette in it. The only thing about the element is that you may find it small. Keep looking & you may find a Westie at a good price. You need to look on Van Island, there are tons of them here.

  4. mark morris permalink
    July 6, 2011 12:24 am

    Just saw something like a VW Westphalia in my general neighborhood tonight driving home from work. I had no idea they were even making those anymore.

    I also thought I had heard that you could put one of those scooter carriers that attaches to the back of the vehicle on the Element. Do you know if that is true? I thought the Element was built on Honda’s small truck chassis.

    I don’t mind peeing in the woods, I just don’t like the sleeping in a tent! ; )

  5. July 6, 2011 12:20 pm

    mark, the Honda Element was built on the CR-V platform (and that’s why it was discontinued… not enough CR-Vs to meet demand, and not enough Elements sold to justify taking production resources), which, I guess, is a truck. Kinda.

    The carriers of which you speak are designed for larger vehicles. A CR-V is rated to tow a 1500-lb trailer, and generally maximum tongue weight is 10% of trailer weight. A hundred-fifty lbs would leave room for a moped or two, nothing bigger. The GTS weighs 326 lbs. And even on a suitable vehicle, I don’t like how high and far back the weight is carried… there’s a negative effect on the vehicle’s handling. I’m big on stability. 😉

  6. mark morris permalink
    July 7, 2011 11:55 pm

    Orin,

    Thanks for the info. I have never trailered anything before. But now that I have to take my Vespa to St. Louis for any big maintenance I have been thinking about such things.

  7. Jack Riepe permalink
    July 8, 2011 2:30 pm

    Dear Orin:

    I got so excited when I saw the first picture of the Ecamper! And then I just got a tad more deflated as I read the company specs. This vehicle offers a compact sleeping area atop a small, by highly fashionable boxy little vehicle. There are no other amenities. I would have liked to have had a small sink and even a one burner stove.

    For $14,000, I can buy a very decent used GMC Suburban, which will tow a mountain, and provide queen-sized sleeping accommodations (with the second row of seats folded). In fact, I spent many comfortable nights in the back of my Suburban, waiting for the crews to remove the snow from the Adirondack Northway. It was there that I wished the truck had a modest cooking station. (I carried a camp stove and bottled water.)

    But the thought that someone had taken a smaller truck, still capable of towing a motorcycle on a trailer, and made it into a camper was thrilling. What I really need at this stage in my life is a small RV, capable of pulling the Beemer.

    Your piece today may have given me a new direction in life.

    Fondest regards,
    Jack/Reep
    Twisted Roads

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