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The Vixen 21: The BMW RV That Wasn’t Actually a BMW

Pictured above is a 1987 Vixen 21 TD RV. I’d known about the legend of these for a while (The BMW RV!!!), but I had yet to ever encounter one — surprising, considering how rampant RVs are around Salt Lake City. This is probably the coolest RV ever to be mass-produced, and here’s why.

Vixen 21

Built in Pontiac, Michigan, from 1986 to 1989, the Vixen was originally conceived as a competitor to the GMC Motorhome — the dominant RV of the era. A “sports RV” if there ever was such a thing, the original Vixen’s low center of gravity, wide stance and low drag coefficient meant it could supposedly reach a top speed of 100 mph and achieve over 30 miles per gallon. This was helped by its use of a rear-mounted BMW inline 6-cylinder turbodiesel engine, which was mated to a 5-speed manual transmission to drive the rear wheels. As a result of this German tie-in, some owners of earlier models affixed BMW emblems to their Vixens, leading many to mistake it for an actual BMW RV. Another advantage the Vixen had over its rivals was its size. At 21 feet long and only 7 feet tall, it was designed to fit inside a buyer’s garage, giving it a marketable advantage over competitors like the GMC.

Vixen 21

Sales got off to a slow start, with just over 300 Vixens selling in the first two years of production. In an effort to broaden appeal, Vixen Motor Company introduced the Vixen XC, which came to be known as the “Limo” and traded the kitchen and bathroom found in the 21 TD for increased seating space, with the hope of appealing to taxi and limo companies. Only 39 were sold in total. With sales dangerously slow, VMC attempted to appeal more to the traditional RV buyer and introduced the Vixen SE, which ditched the clever BMW turbodiesel and manual transmission for a more mainstream gas-powered GM V6 and 4-speed automatic. The SE also came with a more traditional heater and propane furnace, and it traded the pop-top for a permanently raised bubble roof with a large roof-mounted air conditioning unit. At this point, the Vixen had now given up just about all the traits that made it unique. Needless to say, the strategy didn’t quite pan out — only 172 units of the Vixen SE were sold.

Vixen 21

Ultimately, the Vixen in its original turbodiesel, manual-transmission-form is probably the most car-enthusiast-geared RV ever produced. Its combination of size and efficiency should have given it a competitive edge over the larger, more trucklike RVs of the time. In theory, it was the perfect recreational vehicle — but in practice, things didn’t play out, and a total of only 587 were sold over the Vixen’s four years of production. Yet another great product that was just too far ahead of its time. Find a BMW for sale

Chris O’Neill grew up in the rust belt and now lives in Salt Lake City, Utah. He managed to work in the auto industry for a while without once crashing a corporate fleet vehicle. On Instagram, he is the @MountainWestCarSpotter.

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Chris O'Neill
Chris O'Neill is an author specializing in competitive analysis, consumer recommendations, and adventure-driven enthusiast content. A lifelong car enthusiast, he worked in the auto industry for a bit, helping Germans design cars for Americans, and now lives in Salt Lake City, Utah. He runs an Instagram account, @MountainWestCarSpotter, which in his own words is "actually pretty good", and has a... Read More about Chris O'Neill

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  1. I saw one at a movie night at a public park in Millcreek this summer while watching an outdoor movie in the park. I spent a few minutes staring at it while retrieving blankets for my car, and a couple hours on the internet after we got home. It was super cool. I made me want one, even if I don’t need one, or have the money to buy one. 

    • So there might be another one in Salt Lake… I’ll keep my eyes peeled!  I’d like to just take a trip in one – I think that would be enough to get it out of my system.

  2. That’s quite a name.  I could see some awkward situations coming from that.

    Carl’s neighbors always laughed nervously and wondered what he meant by “If you need me, I’ll be out back in the Vixen 21”. 

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