Downsizing’s popularity created the tiny house craze. Toyota has taken the craze one step further with its brand-new Tacozilla Tacoma Truck Camper, an overlanding-ready, “micro-house” 4×4 rig that pays tribute to the original Toyota Chinook and Sunrader campers from the ’70s and ’80s.
Tacozilla debuts today in Toyota’s 2021 Specialty Equipment Market Association (SEMA) Show display (Central Hall, Booth No. 24800) at the Las Vegas Convention Center.
Designed and built by Marty Schwerter and his team at the Toyota Motorsports Garage in Texas, Tacozilla is 100 percent custom.
“We really didn’t want it to look like a refrigerator on the back of a truck, so that you’ll see that there is curve. It’s all rounded edges, we want everything rounded. We want to eliminate much of the [departure angle] so when we’re off-road, we aren’t dragging the tail,” Schwerter said.
Constructed of aluminum, the fully-insulated camper features all of the amenities, including teak sauna-style flooring; a full bathroom with a swivel cassette toilet and shower; a complete kitchen with a refrigerator, stove and sink; a 3D-printed dining table that converts to a backlit piece of wall art; and a sleeping space above the cab.
The rig is mounted on a 2022 Tacoma TRD 4×4 Sport with a 3.5L V6, providing an impressive 278 horsepower and 265 pound-feet of torque, and a 6-speed manual transmission. The truck is equipped with the standard TRD suspension consisting of a 2-inch lift and TRD billet upper control arms, TRD Pro wheels, General Grabber X3 285/R70/17 all-terrain tires, and an electric winch.
The team started by removing the Tacoma’s OEM bed to determine what needed to be removed and relocated to create space.
“The team needed to go below frame height in order for a person to be able to stand up inside,” Schwerter said.
Next was shrinking and repackaging everything inside of the camper, so someone over 6 feet tall can walk the length of the interior with enough room for the camper’s amenities and occupants.
The Toyota Motorsports Garage team then built a basic camper frame to test the initial fitment and dimensions. From there, it was time to fine tune and reinforce the frame. This visually tied in with the Tacoma’s body lines while maximizing interior space. And the narrower top and bottom makes it easier to navigate trails and avoid trees and obstacles.
This tapered shape also made it challenging to fabricate the camper’s rear door. The team could have fitted a flat door but decided the result would not look as integrated. All in all, the team spent well over 100 hours designing the rear door alone.
The team contended with another vital structural challenge, creating the pass-through opening between the Tacoma’s cabin and the camper structure. The solution required enough support and bracing for off-road driving, enabling the cabin and camper structures to work together and twist on uneven surfaces without compromising the vehicle or creating unsafe driving situations.
Like most custom builds, the process was fluid with several improvements occurring midstream. For example, the team was well into skinning the camper structure in aluminum when they decided to add a large pop-up Lexan skylight to provide ambient light, natural air circulation and additional headroom. Other custom work included a fuel tank filler that is completely separated from the camper to ensure fuel fumes remain isolated and a second battery in the Tacoma’s engine bay to help supply additional power without taking up space in the already space-limited camper.
Complete Customs in McKinney, Texas, a long-time and trusted Toyota partner, provided customization support and handled the paint work provided by PPG. The finished camper features a white base coat with accents reminiscent of the vintage yellow, orange and bronze scheme found in so many of those early Toyota Chinook campers.
“The idea of this vehicle is to be able to take it anywhere on this planet. It needs to be able to get down these steep trails that you can do in a normal off-road Tacoma. It’s not one of those projects that your just bolting some stuff on or putting a camper shell on the back of a pickup truck bed. It needs to be able to climb a mountain,” he said.