When it comes to truck camper storage, every square inch counts. There’s never enough. Compared to many slide-in truck campers, Chris and Lexi’s 1970 Avion C11 already offered a lot of storage, but like many truck camper owners, they noticed a substantial amount of wasted space between the sides of their camper and the interior of the truck bed. Their desire to convert this space into additional storage led them to Brent Bowen, owner of Bowen Customs, who was eager to take on the job. The completed truck bed offers a unique blend of form and function, providing an additional 40 cubic feet of storage, a hidden tie-down system, and a cleverly-designed jack mounting system that can be removed when not in use.
Chris and Lexi had been researching truck beds for years and came up with a number of requirements. First, the bed had to be lightweight and made out of aluminum. Steel is a popular choice for many work-focused truck beds, but exceeding the GVWR of their Ram 3500 was a concern for the active couple. Second, the bed had to have a low center of gravity. Many popular truck beds are built with a deck that sits above the wheels. This, in turn, raises the height of the truck camper as well as the overall center of gravity, and introduces a large gap between the roof of the truck cab and the cabover of the camper. Third, the couple needed a truck bed with a style that would complement the look of their vintage Avion truck camper.
The breakthrough for the truck camping couple came in the summer of 2021, when they meet Brent Bowen of Bowen Customs at the 2021 Overland Expo West. Brent’s new company specializes in fabricating aluminum truck beds and had a couple of prototypes at the show. Though none of the beds on display were intended for truck campers, Chris and Lexi liked the truck bed’s style and Brent’s Bowen’s enthusiasm. The project was a go.
“When it comes to truck beds, there are lots of options,” the couple said, “but they narrow down quickly when you are looking for something specialized. We talked with many manufacturers that either didn’t work with aluminum, weren’t interested in such a specialized project, or didn’t have the look we wanted. Bowen had it all, and it didn’t hurt that we were able to meet Brent Bowen in person and we appreciated his attention to detail.”
Even with an experienced truck bed fabricator like Brent Bowen, however, building a truck bed for a vintage 1970 Avion C11 truck camper presented a number of challenges. Given that Avion is no longer in business, the team was on its own when it came to compiling all the measurements of the camper. A CAD file or drawing of the camper and the design specs would’ve made the project easier, but alas, it wasn’t to be. Also, the camper had over 50 years of wear and tear on the frame and body—there was no guarantee that the camper was symmetric. Even more challenging, most of the collaboration was done remotely. The couple had to set up a temporary web page that provided most of the measurements needed, so Brent had something to reference during the design and build phases of the project. In spite of these challenges, Brent was able to build a 3D model of the lower half of the Avion.
The most difficult part of the design was dealing with the old jack mounting brackets. The brackets were placed in a position that would prevent the truck bed storage doors from opening. The team considered making smaller storage doors, so they wouldn’t hit the bracket. But this would limit the openings for the storage boxes and look ad hoc. Brent and his team came up with the idea of a two-part system with a discreet, bolt-on mounting plate and a removable quick-release bracket. This way, the storage doors would be able to open fully without hitting the vertical portion of the bracket. Brent and his team welded up a solid set of heavy-duty, quick-release brackets, one which is shown in the photo below.
The tie-downs presented another challenge for the Bowen team. With the factory bed, the camper is secured using turnbuckles that stretch along the outside of the bed. But the old design would block access to the doors. The team had to find another way to secure the camper to the truck bed. The solution was done in two parts. The first involved adding a stainless steel tie-down ring to the underside of the bracket mount plate. This moved the tie-down points to the area between the storage boxes and the camper. The camper tie-down rings were then attached to two L-track rails that run the length of the bed. The tie-down rings and rails are connected using old turnbuckles, although Chris and Lexi did need to shorten the back turnbuckles by about 10 inches to make them fit. As shown in the photo below, the tie-down system can be accessed by taking out the back walls of the top storage boxes.
By making use of the wasted space between the inside of the truck bed and the camper, Bowen Customs was able to create a custom-built storage solution that provides plenty of extra space for gear. Chris and Lexi are extremely happy with the end result, calling the extra storage a “game-changer” for their truck camper setup. Not only does the new truck bed make better use of their limited space, but it also ensures that everything they need is always close at hand.
“This project was a lot of fun for my team and was our very first custom prototype camper bed,” recalled Brent Bowen, CEO and founder of Bowen Customs. “Chris and Lexi were great to work with as we went back and forth on both design elements and the functionality of the bed. After approximately six months of design work, the end result was one we are all proud of and it paved the way for our current production line of camper beds. One of my favorite parts of this industry is seeing the visions of our customers come to life and being able to participate in the process. Chris and Lexi’s beautiful Avion build is a great example of this.”
So what kind of things is the couple storing in all of those extra storage compartments?
“Right now, we mostly use the Bowen Customs bed for outdoor items like chairs, tables, recreational, and recovery items. We’ve kicked around some ideas of extending camper features into the bed, but we don’t have any particular plans at the moment,” the couple said.
There’s no doubt about it, Bowen Customs is a rising star in the highly competitive truck camper, truck bed market. As you can see, the Bowen Customs truck bed doesn’t look anything like Larry the Cable Guy’s utility truck bed. The truck bed looks terrific and works seamlessly with the Ram 3500 and vintage Avion truck camper, providing additional form and function to what was already an amazing looking rig. The fact that Bowen Customs was able to design it for a 52-year-old Avion aluminum camper without any OEM truck camper support is impressive.
“We are thrilled with the way the truck bed turned out,” the couple said. “The boxes are huge and the look is right on. It’s true that we had to move the socket that charges the camper battery from the truck alternator, and black makes for a very hot surface in the summer, but overall we’re delighted with the project.”
For those interested in seeing Chris and Lexi’s amazing truck camper rig, you’re in luck. The rig will be on display at the 2022 Overland Expo East, 7-9 October, at the Bowen Customs booth (A27), at the Oak Ridge Estates in Arrington, Virginia.
For more information about the Bowen Custom’s truck bed, visit the couple’s website at www.roamlab.com.
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