In Curbed’s exhaustive coverage of RVs and in our active community group of camper obsessives (head over here to join), one question emerges again and again: Why doesn’t the U.S. have as many cool camper designs as Europe?
In particular, Americans are obsessed with the fact that since Volkswagen stopped making the Eurovan stateside in 2003, the U.S. has lacked a small footprint pop-top camper. In spring 2018, I drove the Volkswagen California camper on a road trip and came to understand what generations of families already know: A pop-top camper van is the perfect weekend RV that can also function as a daily driver.
Seattle-based Peace Vans is no stranger to the joys of pop-top campers. As the largest Volkswagen camper shop in the country, Peace Vans both services Vanagons and Eurovans and helps owners customize and restore their iconic vans. Recognizing that there was a gap in the North American RV industry, Peace Vans has been working since 2016 to bring a modern pop-top camper to market.
The Peace Vans Modern is a new take on what the classic VW buses have long offered: A versatile camping experience in a compact package. Peace Vans uses the 2019 Mercedes Metris van and offers three different builds. The first is to pop the top of a stock Metris and not touch the interior. The second—called the Weekender—pops the top of a passenger Mercedes Metris and installs a special seat the folds flat into a bed, allowing four people to sleep comfortably in total. Even more important, the rear seat is rated for car seats, so a family of four can drive, camp, and sleep safely.
The last Peace Vans model is the Full Camper. Using a Metris cargo van, the team pops the top, installs the special seat mentioned above, and then adds storage cabinets and a kitchen with a two-burner stove, sink, and refrigerator. Other perks include windows in the pop-top bed for stargazing, and an optional awning, swivel seats, and heater. The Full Camper can also come with custom interior lighting, roof racks, and a hot water and spray shower system accessed from the rear.
So far, Peace Vans has about 20 modern pop-top campers on the road with about 24 more in the works. And they are part of a growing trend; other small footprint campers include the Caravan Outfiiter’s Freebird, Recon Camper’s Envy, and California-based Cascade Campers. But while many other companies are building out the Promaster City or Nissan’s NV200 van, Peace Vans is using the Mercedes-produced Metris.
What all of these vans offer that larger Class Bs and RVs can’t is compact versatility. Peace Van campers can fit in your garage, pull easily into a standard-size parking spot, and still sleep four people. That’s an attractive package for many.
Prices depend on which model you opt for, with the base Mercedes van costing about $35,000. Popping the top starts at $10,995 while the Full Camper model starts at $36,995 for the conversion. Want to try the vans out before you buy? Peace Vans also offers a rental program for both their vintage Vanagons and the new Modern Metris vans.