This is probably one of the rarest vehicles I’ve seen that I’ve had the presence of mind to get a picture of. When I first saw this thing I thought maybe a section of the monorail train from Disneyland had derailed and somehow ended up on the I-17. When I got a little closer I was able to read the name on it. I had never heard of a Vixen before but I knew I was looking at something special.
Bill Collins was a car engineer who had worked for GM, quit to work with John DeLorean on the DMC-12 and later went on to work for AMC. After taking a trip in a GMC Motorhome, which is also a really interesting vehicle in its own right, Bill decided he could build a better RV that was meant to be easy to drive (well, easier, anyway) so he started his own company and designed one.
His first model was the Vixen 21 TD, which is what this one is. He went on to create two more models, which were the XC and the SE. The XC sounds pretty interesting. It was basically the same as the TD except instead of having a kitchen or any appliances, it was full of couches and seats so it was pretty much just a huge, weird van instead of an RV. They classified it as a Limousine. The SE was made later and by that point the company had started to stray from their original intentions. The SE was larger and looked a lot more like a traditional RV.
The first thing you notice about the Vixen is how low and wide it is. It really looks pretty cool going down the road. One of the reasons it was designed this way was to make sure it would fit inside a normal sized garage. Bill was obsessed with keeping the 21 TD low enough to do this, and that’s the reason for having then engine in the back. The other reason for the low stance was to make the vehicle more aerodynamic to help the driver save on fuel costs. They say a 6′ 2″ person could stand up inside which would sound a little nicer if that weren’t my exact height. I have a sneaking suspension I’d feel a little claustrophobic inside one but the thing ended up with an amazing drag coefficient of .29. To put it in perspective, a C5 Corvette also has a Cd of .29.
The really interesting part of the 21 TD are those BMW badges it wears (or what they indicate, anyways.) This thing was powered by a rear mounted BMW M21 Inline 6 Turbo Diesel motor mated to a Renault manual transaxle. Although the RV only weighed in at 5100 lbs, I can’t imagine it was any fun to drive the thing at all, with the motor putting out all of 114hp and 162 lb-ft of torque. The M21 was actually the same exact motor Ford put in the super rare Mark VII diesels. (Interesting side note: my car actually has a “check turbo” indicator in the dash as a carryover from when this motor was an option years earlier.) As slow as the Vixen must have been, it sort of redeemed its sluggishness by offering up to 30 mpg on the highway. I really have my doubts as to whether this thing could make it up to Flagstaff though.
The 21 TD had some cool features, like the lack of a generator. Instead it just used one of the first inverters offered in a vehicle for its AC appliances, that way everything could be run off the same engine and fuel source. Instead of a more common propane heater, it used a smaller diesel engine to heat up the coolant of the BMW motor to get warmed up in the morning. The kitchen featured an alcohol-fueled “Hemingway” stove top.
Vixens in general are very rare since the company went under pretty quickly. 578 total vehicles were made, with only 300 of them being the TD model. It’s not likely I’ll ever see another one again to get a picture of the front but hey, I did happen to find myself driving alongside a Maserati MC12 down in Scottsdale once, and they only sold 50 of them so you never know. We definitely have a lot of interesting stuff driving around out here in Arizona.