Buy a Vixen, get a free Yugo! Face-to-Face with the Vixen 21


“WHAT ARE YOU?” was the first thing out peoples’ mouths when what appeared to be a big white Dustbuster vacuum cleaner from the 1980s wearing BMW badges, showed up at our weekly car show. At first glance I thought it was a vehicle from “Spaceballs.” We get all sorts of crazy and cool variety at our cruise nights, but this was a surprise. People flocked to it like it was covered in gold, and I immediately sought out the owner to learn more. You’re looking at a Vixen motor home.


So that answers the question then. From 1986 up until 1989, Vixen Motor Company called Ponatic, Michigan home, churning out 587 motorhomes. Phil happens to own number 297. He went on to explain how this was a creation by the engineering mastermind, Bill Collins (who claims credit for designing the Delorean). 

Phil bought this 1986 BMW Vixen 21 TD motor home a few years ago, uses it to run daily errands and even camp out. Who wouldn’t? It’ll comfortably sleep three adults, has a shower, full-kitchen and more swag than a ’70s burgundy Winnebago with tiki lights. With plenty of storage for a pair of skis, chairs or camping wood, the Vixen would be perfect for a weekend escape. At 21 feet in length, it’s a tad longer than an Infiniti QX56 or a Chevrolet Suburban. “It drives a lot like a big van,” he said. In fact, a key selling point was that you could easily park it in your garage due to the Vixen’s low height (just be prepared to have the front end stick out and grin at passing cars).


Speaking of that front end, see how aerodynamic it is underneath? Not only did it have a .29 coefficient of drag, the Vixen was advertised to achieve up to 30mpg on the highway, Phil gets around 28/22 mpg city/highway. It’s not a 100% pure Bimmer though. Mash together a custom-made stainless steel frame, slap a two-piece fiberglass body on top, add a rear-mounted 115 horsepower BMW 2.4-liter inline-six turbobdiesel engine with a Renault 5-speed manual gearbox, and you’ve got yourself an RV that carried a starting sticker price of $40,000. You’d even get a free Yugo with it! Cadillac provided the auto-leveling air suspension, General Motors supplied the power steering, front suspension and brakes, while the clutch master cylinder comes from Ford.


A self-raising, pneumatic top raises up high enough to provide enough room for my 6-foot-2 self to walk through the spacious interior. Past the kitchen and dining area you’ll see the cockpit, home to Porsche VDO gauges and a GM steering column and wheel. Along with a fair amount of restoration work, Phil’s even rigged up an aftermarket backup camera to help when docking his Vixen. 

“I love the major cool factor about it,” he told me, and I couldn’t agree more.

Want more information, there’s even an entire website devoted to the Vixen and the vast community that surrounds them.


Photos Copyright 2013 Hooniverse/Robby DeGraff

By day, Robby DeGraff is an industry analyst for an automotive market research and product-consulting firm. Based an hour from Road America in Wisconsin, he once piloted a Suzuki Jimny around Iceland for two weeks alone. Robby's personal fleet includes a bright red 2001 Chevrolet Camaro that sometimes runs, his second Saabaru wagon, and hopefully a Volkswagen Vanagon in the future.


  1. Sometimes a rare / odd auto gets posted and a fan of that marquee chimes in with the obligatory "oh noes, now everyone will know about them and prices will go through the roof" and I wonder why they worry so much.
    Now that person is me.

      1. And the rest of us don't have the same enormous wealth to create our own fleet of dream cars that cross these pages.

      2. I own a car that's been at the bottom of it's value curve since about 10years. Many are convinced that it will start to soar soon – since about 10 years. I do understand your point.

        1. The top end of the Volvo 240 market is rising. The bottom end is at $500 and two six-packs of craft brew, as it has been since Clinton got his knob jockeyed. I share your complete lack of concern.

      1. It must have been because you turned off a lot of potential buyers when you publicized the 'slow opening ashtrays' issue. 😀
        That said, my inner seven-year-old wants one just to press the ashtray buttons repeatedly and watch them come out at different speeds. Sadly for him, they were never sold here.

  2. Diesel, 5-speed, completely bizarre… ticks all the right boxes here at Hooniverse.

  3. 155 horsepower and a Renault transaxle. Methinks that class III tow hitch a bit ambitious.

    1. Abe, actually it is only 115 hp. The class III hitch is for adding a "rack" to carry camping equipment etc. Towing capacity was rated at 2000lbs. I am aware of only one owner that actually tows a trailer with his Vixen 21 TD.

      1. The rack makes much more sense. I read about these motorhomes years ago and I really like the concept and execution. Too bad that is was too good to stay in production.

      2. Do you know any more about the Yugo thing? Was it a dealer promo or something?

  4. Given the melange of parts sources for this thing, how did BMW get the honor (?) of having their badge on the front?

    1. Might have been owner's prerogative over the past 25 years – I know of a Vixen around my territory for work that doesn't have the Roundel, but it is wearing the twin-kidney grille.

    2. Remember, that motor also did a tour of duty in the Lincoln MkVII and Continental. And BMW never had a badge on the exterior of the Vixen. Owner addition.

    1. I just saw an Ultravan this afternoon in town (Fort Bragg,CA), it's a 1970, and very rare converted from the Corvair driveline, to an Olds Toronado 455 powered one.
      I like the Ultravan, Vixen, and the Cortez motor-homes, they're all quite unique in their own ways.

  5. “Buy a Vixen, get a free Yugo”? What is this, some sick joke? I’d much prefer the Vixen.

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