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The Smallest Campervan on the Road – A British Modified Piaggio Ape Trike

The Smallest Campervan on the Road – A British Modified Piaggio Ape Trike

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"Ape" means "bee" in Italian. So please be considerate about the tiny vehicle and the hardworking insect and say the name correctly ("A" as in Alaska, "pe" as in Pennsylvania. Think of appe-tizer and stop monkeying around). The namesake holds its legacy high, for it was the perfect solution for a war-stricken Italy to go about its business. Literally, as cars were expensive, many Italians adopted the Ape as their vehicle of choice for taking goods from one point to another.

But that was 74 years ago. Today the Ape continues its story and sometimes finds new meaning in the form of recreational motoring. One such Ape became what might possibly be the smallest camper in the world (of average-sized human beings). Arguably, since there are many other claims to the title, but still, this is quite different. It's hard to imagine how a grown man or woman can actually fit on the platform of an Ape, given that the total length of the vehicle is a nudge over eight feet (2.5 meters), and this measurement includes the driver's cabin and front wheel. So Steven Dawe from England took the challenge of transforming the former olive oil carrier into a full micro camper (have a look at the video below to see the entire project unveiled in the author's narration).

His Ape of choice was the rear-mounted engine Piaggio MP600. The scooter base needed restoring, as did the flatbed trike and engine. Adding a bespoke plywood removable pod fitted with a window completed the transformation of the Ape into a minuscule but practical campervan.

To keep it light enough for the 13.6ci (224cc) 15bhp (15.2 PS) engine, the plywood is .5in (12.5mm) thick on the window side, 0.25in (6mm) on the roof, and 0.3in (9mm) on the closed side. With a 1.500lb (600kg) payload, the top speed is just 40mph (64kph), and the 4-gallon (15-liter) tank gives a range of around 200 miles (322 km). The four very low-ratio gears make the Piaggio Ape Camper a hearty climber: "Uphill is slower, but I have yet to find a hill she won't climb!" The camper pod is not permanently fixed and can slide off the back to work on the engine should the need arise for an unplanned inspection.

The roller-mounted electrically-extending bed is large enough to (intimately) accommodate two people (6'3" inches – 1.9m – long by 3'3" – 1m – wide). As for the door, the top half of a second-hand typical caravan stable door from eBay closed the deal.

Tiny as it may seem, it has everything a camper may necessitate on the road: a very efficient small refrigerator, which "takes about 5 Amps initially. It cools down pretty quickly. Then it comes on about 5 minutes every half hour or so. Keeping it full of food (or drink) makes it much more efficient as it takes much longer to warm up again", as the builder claims. Separately, a charcoal burner takes care of heating, boiling a small kettle – did I mention Steve is English? – and water heating (see the coals burn in the second video at the end and get details from Steve himself).

Overall, this "self-contained camper van for two has a sink with hot and cold running water, a draining board, and a three-burner hob, which can be used in situ or rolled outside and used on legs. It has its own solar-powered electric system."

As for the total cost of the project, the vehicle was £3000 (roughly $3.500 at the time of this article), nut and bolt rebuild materials were £500 ($600), camper pod build, fit out, and equipping £1500 ($1800). "Time, labour (Editor's note – I did tell you he is English!), design, and concept… Priceless..."

Steve affectionately named the newly-converted Ape Olive - the Micro Camper, after the color of the sofa tapestry. For an extra touch of love, the curtains are also Steve's own work, with the help of his wife's sewing machine.



 
 
 
 
 

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