Camper vans, that 70’s staple, get green and groovy thanks to an innovative Dutch company called Tonke Campers.
Maybe it’s because I was born during the height of the Women’s Lib movement, but I never liked dolls when I was a kid. With one exception: I was obsessed with a groovy trio called The Sunshine Family. Mom, Dad, and baby Sunshine were the antithesis of Barbie and Ken, from their hippie hairdos to their cosmic camper van. It was that sweet set of wheels that really sold me on the Sunshine Family. It conjured images of folk songs around the campfire, and untold adventures on the open road.
Perhaps that’s why I’m so captivated by Tonke Campers, a Dutch custom-caravan company founded by former documentary film director Maarten van Soest in 2005. A Tonke Camper is the Sunshine Family-era gypsy wagon as re-imagined by van Soest, whose father was a wooden toymaker. There are two main lines: the Classic models sport vintage-mod aesthetic, featuring sustainable teak interior and exterior panels, flooring, and polished wood ceilings, and retro touches such as custom-colored furniture, lacquered cabinetry, and detailing. Surprisingly ample kitchen counter space includes a two-burner stove, refrigerator, and sink.
The wood-paneled bathrooms have a toilet and hand-held showers, there’s a frost-free fresh water tank, and a heating system. Depending upon the model, Tonke campers and vans have either permanent or convertible dining/sleeping areas that accommodate between two and three persons. The rear “French doors” open for easy access and al fresco meals. Clever hidden storage compartments outside stash bicycles (Tonke is, after all, a Dutch company), or even a scooter, upon request.
You can buy your camper sans truck, or mounted on a badass Mercedes Sprinter. But here’s the kicker: the campers have hydraulic legs. It takes just 10 minutes to detach the shell, making it easy to run errands or day-trip with better gas mileage.
The Tonke VAN is also by Mercedes and thus every bit as sleek and stylish as you’d expect. These slick rides are more design-within-reach than nouveau boho, featuring blonde wood paneling (birch from renewable forest; Forest Stewardship Council-certified mahogany is also an option for some interiors), white upholstery, siding, and cabinetry, and a charcoal-hued cab. The slightly modified Van 4 Series has teak accents on the exterior and interior, and cushy cab seating the color of a good, two-year Gouda.
Tonke Campers also offer a small line of “Specials,” including the “Eco-style.” Mounted on a double-tired Mercedes Sprinter chassis cab, this baby runs on cleaner-burning liquefied natural gas (Known as LNG, this is a standard option on the Sprinter in parts of Europe). Speaking of the States, Tonke Campers will arrange all shipment to your driveway, as well as provide a mechanic to take care of fitting Classic campers to their Mercedes truckbeds.
Tonke Campers and Vans don’t come cheap (expect to throw down a minimum of $90,000), but here’s the thing: they’re more mobile artwork than tacky RV. Twenty years from now, I’m quite certain the landscape will not be littered with the rusting hulls of abandoned Tonke Campers. You could comfortably live in one, if you’re so inclined, but you can also park them in the garden when not in use and turn them into a chic guesthouse, study, or man-cave. Hand them on to the kids. Sell them as a collector’s item. I prefer to think of Tonke Campers as the heirloom vegetable of camper vans: a colorful, high-quality addition to a sea of generic RVs.
Images: Tonke Campers