|Mitsubishi Delica with 4WD and a diesel engine—a great compact camper.|
|The Exploring Elements Sportsmobile van is big. However, if it's your house, it's pretty small.|
For starters, there was the
Rarer than the Toyota Vans, at least in the U.S., are the 1987-1990 Mitsubishi Vans. Sold everywhere else as the Delica, the Mitsubishi Van, as it was simply called in the U.S., could seat seven, had trick swiveling seats in the back, and always had an odd, albeit, special place in my heart. This is because I remember when they first came out, and thinking those swiveling rear seats would be so much fun on a road trip! Mid you, I was nine. You still see them from time to time. In fact, I think there's a dude here in Portland hoarding them. I think he's got four. Only available in RWD in the U.S., from time to time I spot 4WD models with Canadian plates (and Delica badges; see lead image), since Canadians can import vehicles from Japan that are newer than the U.S. (we have a 25 year import rule; Canada is has 15). They're popular with the camping and overlanding crowd from Canada and in other parts of the world due to the availability of the 4WD and a diesel engine.
The Nissan Van was offered from 1987-1990, also. The vehicle got a bigger powerplant for our market, but that extra size (and heat) made it prone to engine fires. Nissan did recalls attempting to fix the problem, but wasn't able to do so. Nissan bought back the majority of the vehicles and crushed them. Good luck finding one. Then again, I don't think you'd want one.
Mazda was late to the game, but came out with its MPV in 1989, and was offered until 1999. Early versions opted for a non-sliding door configuration unlike other mini vans of the time. They were available with either an automatic or manual transmission, and could be had with RWD or 4WD, although there wasn't a low-range. The 4WD versions did have more ground clearance and looked beefier. The MPV even made Car & Driver's "10 Best" list in 1990 and 1991. It, however, didn't have quite the interior volume of other smallish vans.
The nice thing about all of these vehicles is that you can pretty easily sleep inside of one—no tent needed. I still think a Ford Transit Connect camper is a great idea (others do, too). While it doesn't have much ground clearance, there is a lot of space for a couple of people and some gear. The Honda Element is also a great candidate for a camper, and Ursa Minor makes a pop-top for the rig. So cool.
Do you have a favorite camping vehicle? Let me know about it in the comments section.