the rooftop for your raptor
Go Fast Campers Makes Rooftop Tents as Badass as the Trucks They Ride Atop
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“The idea hit while waiting at the Tijuana border crossing,” said Wiley Davis, founder and CEO of Go Fast Campers. “Stuck in a three-hour standstill, blasting A/C and eating churros, I had nothing but time to kill.”
Every year, Davis and friends make the pilgrimage from their home in Bozeman, Montana to Baja, Mexico, with motorcycles, bikes and surfboards in tow. For off-road enthusiasts, Baja is a mecca. The peninsula is the same length as the state of California, but with only a tenth of the population. The best accommodations are an empty beach and a vehicle you’re comfortable sleeping in. The only problem? Getting to the best camp spots requires a capable 4×4 built to handle the rigors of Baja — washboard and pothole-scarred roads, sandy two-tracks and other off-road terrain.
“We don’t want to waste time playing house,” Davis said of his friend group. “We want to surf, ride and explore as much as possible.”
Even in his long-bed Toyota Tacoma, the six-foot-four Davis sleeps diagonally with the tailgate down. Years of camping on Baja beaches in the bed beneath a simple truck topper had worn on him, but he didn’t want a larger slide-in camper, because it’d limit the driving experience and places he could go. So, after that weeklong trip in early 2017, Davis began sketching ideas.
“I wanted something that could stand up to driving fast over washboards and still be comfortable to sleep in. Nothing like that existed at the time. I considered making a Frankenstein rooftop tent and lightweight camper shell, but decided it was smarter to fabricate it all myself,” said Davis, who has a background in industrial design and runs a separate garage that manufacturers motorcycle and off-road parts.
“I’ve always been a fan of blended indoor and outdoor spaces. From the start I wanted the entire bottom to open up, for livability. I also wanted to keep things simple — use fewer features, but truly perfect them.”
In a matter of months, Davis had built his first prototype. “Oddly enough, the original design hasn’t changed much. A few things here and there, but the core concept, most of the features, and many materials are the same. I guess I got lucky.” said Davis, recalling the first assembly in his garage.
Soon after the initial design, Davis convinced Graeme MacPherson, who was a shop neighbor, to team up and co-found Go Fast Campers. Davis would lead design and manufacturing, MacPherson would run the business and marketing side of things. Sure enough, people started to take notice: the simple design and sleek form factor stood out from other options. Questions and requests flooded in; just two years later, the company has grown exponentially. Davis and MacPherson now employ a team of more than 40, with a lead time close to a year for new orders.
After selling more than 700 units, the team has learned a lot about the process — and their customers. “Surprisingly, they run the gamut from hardcore overlanders with every accessory you can imagine to grandparents with a stock F-150 they want to take to a hidden fishing hole,” Davis said. “We’ve seen them all.”
While a few competitors have spun off similar designs, Davis believes in a rising tide. “We’re all doing it a little different, and aimed at different customers. Ultimately we’re all just trying to help people get outside,” he said. “Go Fast takes a race car approach to construction and a keep-it-simple approach to design. These two things still stand out. We want to make a product you can take off jumps.”
To reduce drag, a Go Fast Camper lies flat when driving, standing only six inches tall. To handle vibrations on rough roads, Davis welds each frame with steel tubes. Because midsize trucks have limited payloads, nothing is over engineered. For odd nights at gas stations and rest stops, the camper can be set up quickly — it takes no more than 10 minutes. Finally, the camper design has roof racks rated up to 500 pounds — sturdy enough to carry boards or bikes.
Unlike most truck toppers, everything is built in the USA and each camper is assembled in Bozeman, tweaked for each buyer: colors, panel materials, windows and side doors are all done custom to order. And of course, the design needs to be adapted for every different make and model of truck it’s put on.
Each build starts with cutting tubes and welding the frame, then a powder coat and fitting side panels. Then comes the assembly of the bunk floor, upper extrusion, roof, panels, hinges; after that comes bolting it all together. Last comes attaching the cushions and tents, which are being sewn while the metal work is going on.
The team is currently able to build 15 campers each week, yet the process from start to finish is much longer. “The time we take the order and start cutting tubes to final quality checks is almost three months for any given camper,” Davis said. “Right now the demand is much higher than supply, and we have a pretty long waitlist that we’re working hard to get through.”
There are a number of bottlenecks in the process. Sourcing often is delayed; curing time takes up to a week; custom components and small differences between trucks slows things down. Ultimately, though, the biggest variable is manpower — and size of the factory. But that’s set to improve.
“We now have enough staff to almost double our production volume, which helps cut the wait time quite a bit,” Davis said. “We recently did a number of new truck models and all of these builds are recorded as CAD files. Going forward we can make them on spec, now that we’ve now adapted the camper and refined all of the tiny tolerances and fine details.”
However, like most industries, the coronavirus pandemic has thrown a metaphorical wrench in the plans.
“Due to Covid-19 and us not being listed as an essential business, we’re currently on hold. I’m working from home on some process improvements to implement when we get back in the shop, that will hopefully accelerate the process and help avoid any extra wait time for our customers,” said Davis, admitting that he didn’t know when Montana’s shelter-in-place order would be lifted.
“Our customers have been incredibly supportive and patient. People wait a long time to get these campers, and when they get them, they are super stoked. Last week I heard a story about a Go Fast camper helping a customer get their first bull elk. That’s what keeps me motivated — the stories of people really getting after it.”
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