BMW Powered RV: 1986 Vixen 21 TD

060816 Barn Finds - 1986 Vixen 21 TD BMW - 1

This is about as rare as it gets, camping-vehicle-wise. 376 of the BMW turbodiesel-powered Vixens were made and this one is a 1986 Vixen 21 TD. It’s located in Hannibal, Missouri and can be found on eBay for an unusual price of $27,170. I’m not quite sure where that price came from but I’m almost glad that it isn’t any cheaper than that or I’d be in big trouble with my wife; again.. I’ve wanted one of these for a couple of decades. I think this one is overpriced by probably $10,000 or so, given what nice, well-maintained models sell for and given that this one will need a sizable investment to get it back to being both roadworthy and trustworthy again.

060816 Barn Finds - 1986 Vixen 21 TD BMW - 3

Vixen motorhomes were made in Pontiac, Michigan and a total of only around 587 of them were made between 1986 and 1989. They were all 21 feet long and they were priced between $40,000 and $53,000, which was a respectable chunk of change in those days, or even now. The mpg ranged between 22 and 30 which is fantastic for such a luxury vehicle weighing around 2.5 tons and having a top speed of 100 mph.

060816 Barn Finds - 1986 Vixen 21 TD BMW - 2

This model is a “TD” and it was powered by a BMW turbodiesel with a Renault-sourced 5-speed manual transmission. There were 376 of these TD models made. The next in line, as far as production numbers goes, was the “SE” which was powered by a V6 GM gas engine with a four-speed automatic. The last, and rarest, model was the “Limo” of which there were only 39 or 40 made. It was a fixed-top vehicle with a BMW diesel engine and a 5-speed Renault manual transmission.

060816 Barn Finds - 1986 Vixen 21 TD BMW - 4

Speaking of that Renault 5-speed transmission, there it is! How cool is that, a manual transmission in a motorhome with a BMW engine. Here is a photo of the floor plan so you can see the interior configuration. This was an incredibly high-tech and well-detailed vehicle in its day. I saw one at a rest stop in the early-1990s when I had a BMW 318i and was a huge BMW fan. My eye (or, actually both eyes) caught the slick, sleek, silver shape and the BMW logo on the “hood” (or, the opening in the front, even though the BMW engine was in the rear) of that particular Vixen, and I was hooked. This particular Vixen 21TD was stored in an actual barn (no lie) for twenty years and was found by the seller, who says that he’s “a picker – not a mechanic”, and says that every system will need to be checked over from sitting for two decades. I’m dying to know what they paid for this barn find Vixen, half the asking price maybe?

060816 Barn Finds - 1986 Vixen 21 TD BMW - 5

This is a 115 hp BMW M21 inline-six diesel with a Garret turbo. It has a Renault 5-speed manual transmission, a Cadillac automatic level air ride system, and other GM parts, too. A true world vehicle. With a 23-gallon fuel tank and an average of 27 mpg, The Vixen has about a 600-mile cruising range. This thing is only 21 feet long and 6′-4″ tall with the roof closed and it was made to fit into a regular garage stall. The roof is hinged on the right side and it opens up to having about 6′-4″ of headroom inside once it’s open; of course only on the high side since it’s a hinged opening. This would be a dream vehicle for me for a camper. Does this unusual Vixen interest any of you or do you prefer modern motorhomes?

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Comments

  1. Mitch

    A 5 speed in a motorhome? No. This is just that, a motorhome, not a sports car.

    • Andrew Stanford

      It is a BMW Turbo Diesel, it NEEDS the manual. The auto that mates to that would never survive the weight… but I gotta agree with you… no thanks.

    • Scotty Gilbertson Scotty G Staff

      Here’s a little Car and Driver blurb:
      http://blog.caranddriver.com/name-that-shifter-no-41/

    • Jay Calk

      My father special ordered a Winnebago with a 440 and four speed manual with a two speed rear end. Talk about power. We went everywhere and my twin cousins took it to Sturgis a few times and pulled a 30′ cargo trailer. Sadly, it caught fire on a trip back and all the time they had time for was to unhook the cargo trailer to save the Harley’s.

    • Ray Velez

      This why car and driver 21 mpg when tested. (the manufacturer rated it at 33 mpg at a 55-mph). Unheard of for motor home! 60 mph in 21.8 seconds—but the Vixen was quick for an RV…

  2. Dave Wright

    These were built in the years everyone was looking for super fuel economy. Winneabago imported a similar Renault version. This uses an engine from the industrial side of BMW. They were also used in marine applications. In this vehicle they were terribly under powered, expensive parts. Similar to a V W bus, not really suited to American highways and distances. When people tried to drive them long distances at freeway speeds, they broke, and were very expensive to repair even if you could find someone that knew enough to fix them.

  3. John

    I have a 1955 Dodge box truck that was converted into a camper. I’ll sell that to you for a lot less.

  4. George

    Way overpriced. This one sold for $21K. http://thebestparts.com/vehicles/vixen-td-1986-v-265

  5. Jeff Lavery Jeff Staff

    I’ve wanted one of these for a long time. Bucket list vehicle for me, personally.

    • Scotty Gilbertson Scotty G Staff

      Same here, Jeff!
      Practicality, serviceability, mpg/mph, 0-60, etc. has nothing to do with my bucket list. If a person is going to dream about vehicles why would they not dream about having a Jay-Leno’s-Garage-like team of folks to work on them when they need working on?

  6. boxdin

    I saw one sell for 5k in Santa Fe I almost got it but couldn’t swing it at the time. Neat rigs but too small for me & wife, we like our 1990 Chinook/Ford.
    We have a Chinook/Dodge guy here did I read???

  7. Dan h

    You had better learn how to work on it yourself, no mechanic in their right mind is going to want to touch it.

    • Jeff Lavery Jeff Staff

      As my primary mechanic increasingly turns down work on older vehicles, I would love to torment him with this thing.

      • Dan h

        Your mechanic must be getting older and wiser. Old vehicles are a liability for the professional mechanic.

  8. Francisco

    This is a very nice looking rig. Looks like quality construction. I don’t see an a/c unit on the roof, so forget camping in the Southwest in the summer. I also don’t see any mention of a generator, so forget boondocking. I don’t think there’s any way to retrofit either of these appliances.

    • boxdin

      AC these days can be a small unit that goes anywhere inside with a 4″ duct routed to any outside location. No roof unit needed.
      Also some people carry small honda gen and set them on the ground when using. It can store anywhere in the rig.

      • Francisco

        But can the Honda gen power the AC unit you speak of.

        2
    • Capt. Bill

      With regards to the A/C unit….the ones that had a 110 Volt (13,500 BTU) unit optioned; it was installed low on the chassis and works very well. My 2,000 watt Honda generator runs it but does not like other items like the microwave at the same time. There is external tank fittings so you can run all night. The gennie stores perfectly in the inside locker and is only 38 lbs. Love my Vix TD.
      p.s. The 12 volt frig and alcohol stove are ideal for boondocking and the microwave runs off the inverter. My Vix is a 1986 bought from an estate…one owner…15,000 miles garage kept real cherry and a future collectors item.

      3
      • Jack

        Bill,

        Do you still have your Vixen?
        I’m #104

        1
    • Wayne Cleveland

      Some of the 1986 and ’87 models have the air conditioning option. It is 10K btu and shore powered. Many owners have added a generator for boon-docking, typically a small portable gas unit. The 89’s have generators but are not diesel and don’t have a retracting roof (solid top with top ac, propane stove, etc.). That is when GM took over and redesigned the vehicle hoping to save it.
      I did some research and found that you can add a modern air conditioning/heat pump unit to td vehicle as well as a small diesel (water cooled) generator tied into the fuel and cooling systems. That would be my choice for boon-docking.

      1
  9. Gerald Atherton

    I willing to bet NO BIDS

    • Olive

      Greetings, I am the person who found and sold this “overpriced” Vixen. (No one seemed to mention it only had 15k miles on it.) Yes it received no bids. But right after the auction someone contacted me and offered 25k. My profits paid for half my current home which I paid for in cash. So go back to your s***t talking and empty dreaming and blaming your wives for your non action. If the writer really wanted to know the answers to the questions he “blogged” about he could have easily contacted me thru eBay- but again most prefer fantasy to reality. What did I pay for the Vixen? $7k. And I’m a girl.

      4
  10. boxdin

    There are all sizes and prices for the AC units that vent to the outside. From cheap to expensive. Some of the small ones will run on the small Honda, but some to piggyback two gens for extra power.

  11. Warren

    That BMW Turbodiesel was a similar engine used in the 85-86 Lincoln Continental and Mark VII. Man was it slow.

    • Jonathan Present

      1984-86

  12. Van

    Looks like something from a bad 1970s SiFi.
    Like a robot chauvinist.

  13. Brad

    I like it. Knight Rider’s motorhome. I would’ve been 13 when these were made, and not interested in long road trips. But as we spend this summer wrapping up the renovation of our 1957 Airstream… this is precisely the type of oddity that does peak my interest.

    Hope at least one, somewhere, winds up in a museum…

    • Russell

      Brad,

      I recently sold my last Airstream. Having owned ’53, ’57, and ’59 Airstreams I see the attraction and up until a year ago I was relentless in trying to find a Motorhome similar to the one offered. But, in the end having tried so hard to make my Airstream’s work and not finding a suitable Vintage motorhome, I realized that I would rather travel and camp in something much newer instead of trying to restomod something older. Bought a nice 2002 Born Free and have never looked back. Vintage is fun to look at but the reality is they’re not that great to live with if you do any amount of traveling and with my current rig I can actually tow a barn find home if I’m so inclinded.

  14. misterlou

    There was one for sale locally and I went and got a thorough tour. A completely different form factor on the RV. The tilting roof is pretty interesting especially the little drop downs for around the bathroom. Its a great size. Now to stick a modern twin turbo Bimmer mill in it.

  15. joe

    Been wanting one myself since we sold a very nice Rialta (same size). However, the seller must be dreaming (price).

  16. Ross W. Lovell

    Greetings All,

    The BMW industrial engine, doesn’t bother me as much as the Renault transmission, though overseas they supply some of the big diesel equipment.

  17. doc

    a 2000 watt Honda generator with all breakers off cept the AC can power an RV AC. I do it quite often. Best darn generator out there if you need one. Oh there is an expensive roof leak in the Bemer. 4 get about it.

    • Capt. Bill

      I agree: My 2000 watt Honda run the a/c nicely on my Vixen21 TD. I added the aftermarket tank adapter so I can run an auxiliary tank to take me thru the night.
      p.s. more than one r/v dealer advised me that this was not possible; also the gennie fits perfectly in the compartment just inside the side door.

  18. PAR

    Looks like wheel covers off a 1980 Mitsubishi Galant or similar? Funky old wagon, not sure the old 2.1 diesel is really enough by todays standards. Something different if you want to stand out but not for me!

  19. Brian

    These Vixens are true orphans. They were built in Pontiac Michigan, across from the old Silverdome, in a building that now houses the headquarters of ABC Warehouse. They used a variety of engines, GM and Volvo as well as BMW. This one does look to be in good shape for its age.

  20. Francisco

    Good point, doc. But who wants to travel with a portable AC, and a portable generator taking up valuable floor space in your small quarters. I would think the gas gen would give off an oil and gasoline smell inside your rig as well. Plus there’s the worry of someone walking off with the Honda while you’re sleeping.

  21. Mike

    I’ve seen two of these and have wanted one ever since! I would definitely get the BMW/Renault model and skip the GM model. There is a place up in Montana that specialized in restoring these Vixens and at one time they had several on their website – they do a real slick engine conversion on the Winnebago Lesharo as well.

  22. Harry Loyd

    How about a LS1 powered Winne with almost 900hp?

    • JANK

      Perfect for a Breaking Bad sequel!

  23. Edselbill

    Ask the man who owned one!
    Yep, we bought it new / slightly used in 1988, and sold it in about 1995 and used it to travel up and down the East coast for work. We paid about $17k and sold it for the same $17k with about 100,000 miles on it. The good: Engine was strong, mileage and range was amazing (700 miles on a tank), handling and speed was great (Cruised at 85mph easily all day due to tall gearing) and I did get it past 100mph (just because!). Raising and lowering the suspension, the tight steering, the business like interior, everything was great (when it worked.)

    We got looks EVERYWHERE we went, which was good for our business, that happened to take us to NASCAR and IndyCar Races all over the place.

    The system for electricity was a power inverter in the closet that worked small appliances, etc.. We only had the AC from the dash, so it did get warm in the back on hot days. The microwave and fridge was all we needed for food, and we hooked up a TV and small VCR that ran off the inverter for entertainment on the long runs.

    The bad: Overall, the Achilles tendon of this thing was the undersized clutch and car based transmission. Starting the tall geared heavy motorhome, was always a very clutch slipping experience, and on an incline it was a downright clutch frying event every time. Replacing those units, made by Valeo, was a nightmare and I spent many days and nights on the road waiting for parts to come to fix it. I think we were getting like 12-15,000 miles a clutch — driven by someone who KNEW how to drive it. Also, eventually all of the cool stuff broke down. Electrical gremlins started to attack just about everything. Wipers stopped working so we lived on RainX. There were so many electrical wires and connections that were simple Home Depot quality, not really made for car or outdoor use, that just about anything electrical started to fail. Also, they all leak, (especially from the shower) which is a problem because the drop down floor is, in effect, a fiberglass bath tub that holds water and there is no way to get rid of it. Moldy, smelly carpets get replaced often.

    One of the more entertaining issues I recall — was the LONG unprotected throttle cable that would routinely freeze up on long highway runs in the winter, so exiting the highway was an exercise in ignition off, neutral (manual steering and braking) deceleration, followed by high revving start ups, followed by engine off rolling, to get to a safe place to try to re-free the cable.

    That being said, it was a great “personality” vehicle that we put a ton of miles on, had a lot of fun with, and a lot of heartache, that ultimately paid us back the same money we paid for it 8 years later. So, no harm done.

    Would I buy another one? Not without a lifetime supply of clutch plates, and a full-time mechanic / troubleshooter ready to fix anything on a moment’s notice

    • Capt. Bill

      Hi: I just got a 86 Vixen21 TD and love it. I am kinda confused how you were able to buy it in 88 for $17,000 when they were $35;000 plus new just two years earlier. Possibly someone was dumping it since the company went belly-up? Mine is an early one # 0023 with just 15,000 one owner miles and always garage kept in Texas. Looking forward to many years with it; always thought the drive should be as satisfying as the destination. Suggest anyone planning to get one; do it soon since they are destined to be collectors items and will appreciate. Capt. Bill

  24. Mike Williams

    Great story @Edselbill. My neighbor has one and just loves it. He even enters it in car shows! Call me Bermuda Mike

  25. Bill Franz

    I agree with edselbill and his adventures. I have both the TD and SE, both have their ideosincracies. I have driven both cross country with no mechanical problems, ever. Probably because I never drive drunk or use them as a getaway vehicle. The clutch did need replacement often. To correct this problem, I installed a lower 1st and 2nd gear, no more clutch slippage. I love being able to garage my TD, getting 28 plus mpg consistantly, real men drive manual shift. The SE gets 22-23 mpg, my wife drives it.

  26. Bill

    Hi. Bill: I am the proud owner of Vixen 21 TD # 0023. I only took it on one run and got only 22 MPG over flat terrain (not always in fifth gear) Is keeping the revs critical to getting 28 MPG? I am trying to locate new first and second gears; Dustin at AFAB has been trying for a year…kindly advise if you know of any source. Regards; Bill Rattey
    p.s Vix is a one owner with 15,000 miles and the motor has been well cared for and the trip was in Florida.

    • Bill Franz

      Hi Bill, Good choice, I love my TD. The only way to achieve max mileage is not to drive your Vixen as a get away vehicle. Do not race up to a red light requiring 1st gear take off, (clutch slippage) instead try to achieve a rolling start in 2nd gear. I always try to drive in 5th gear (without lugging eng.) whenever possible. To achieve max mileage eng. must be timed correctly. I can give you detailed info. if you contact me directly. Make sure your air and fuel filters are clean. Join the VOA for more help.

  27. Bill

    Hi B. Franz: Thanks for the advice to achieve maximum MPG in my Vixen 21 TD. I went thur a bad experience with a clogged fuel filter just after I got it and now have new fuel and air filters (it kept stalling and was able to make it back home after twenty or so restarts when the fuel pump refilled whatever was needed to restart). Really was concerned that I would drain the battery. I am hopeful I can locate a scrapped Vixen with the ideal first and second gears since locating then new has been an on going search for the past year; know of any? Regards; Capt. Bill p.s. I am a member of the Vixen Owners Club.

    • Dale Janssen

      HI Capt Bill. Regarding milage with your Vixen. Wilhelm as we know him, is correct on driving procedures. However he didn’t mention how fast he drives that TD. Let’s just put it this way, if you keeprefer the revs up you seldom have to down shift for hills. Your main concern is a watchful eye for radar. If you do get stopped however, you probably won’t get more than a warning if you answer all their questions about the Vixen. Three times for me, so far. All over 80.
      I have #002, #358 and our driver #363 that I have owned since 1989. I have averaged 30 mpg on a leasurely trip with the A/C off. I currently am struggling to get 22. The reason is because of tuning. Franz will attest to this and can tune them with the best. There are some good writeups on the new website regarding this.
      We took #002 to Denver and averaged 27mpg from Joplin to the Front Range Airport running 70 to 80. I was following my wife who was driving #363. She got 22mpg. After arriving at the US Mile/Colorado Mile event we camped out in #002, told everyone we fix breakfast in it and the commenced to set a landspeed record of 114.2 mph in the standing mile for Class “A” Motorhomes. We were still on the same tank of fuel we brought from Missouri.
      #002 has the honor of being the very first production vehicle off the line in Pontiac, there was no 001. It also retains the original M21 block and heads. They are tweaked some. As for clutches, I have put over 150,000 miles on Vixens and never had to replace a clutch. I have replaced them, but not because they needed it. There is a way to drive them without dragging the clutch. It takes forthought and practice.
      Good luck with #023 and maybe we will meet at an annual meeting or pride.

  28. Bill

    Hi Dale: Thanks for the detailed advise with regards to MPG. I averaged 21 first time out running away from Hurricane Matthew. I need to check the timing issue and found a old belt in the front compartment. I believe I have one of the really sweet ones; 15,000 one owner miles. Garage kept in Texas; looks like everything is unused and even the headliner looks new. Just got new clutch and plan to have it installed soon along with new 1st & 2nd plus short shifter and ackerman. Also those frame brackets. Making a serious investment after paying a premium ($38,000)…just raised the bar on TD resale values? I just love this vehicle and researched for three years before purchase. Always felt that the drive should be just as much fun as the destination. Regards; Capt. Bill #0023
    Note: Have only put a few miles on her since Sept.16 since I have a boat tour business in the Caribbean and only have Sept/Oct each year to play. This past year I needed to leave Florida and deal with the aftermath of Irma. Am currently in the process of selling my operation and relocating to Florida. What I have been doing for the past 29 years can be found…oceanoutbackadventures.com on facebook.

  29. Dale

    Bill,

    Congratulations on your find! I don’t believe you nessesarily paid a premium for 23. There are several instances of coaches selling at or above 40k but few can claim only 15,000 miles.

    I’ll take a look at your website and give you a call. In the mean time, if that was an old timing belt you found in the hatch through it away. Timing belts have a shelf life. If you think a belt could be overy six years old slap a new one on there! She deserves it.

  30. bill rattey

    Hi Jack: Yes I still have TD #0023. Am now in the process of installing…short shifter….lower gears…ackerman kit and chassis frame clamps? Love this original one owner garage kept 15,000 mile Vix. I have a feel for collector vehicles and believe these R/V are at the point of appreciating in value. I found my Honda 2,000 would run the A/C but did not like the microwave at the same time.. Just got the 2,200 version which should be even better and same weight and fits in hanging locker compartment.
    I am looking to locate the window gasket-seal for the window behind the sink. I obtained a new window from a Vixen member but need to replace the seal when installing it; any assistance would be appreciated. Capt. Bill

  31. bill rattey

    Hi Fellow Vixen lovers: I am due back to Florida in a week to have all the goodies (listed above) installed and finally get to cruise in her. I have one issue; a window (rear slider in sink area) got broken and I bought a new one from that member who had them in stock. Only problem is that I would like to install this glass with a new rubber molding and cannot locate a supplier. I siliconed the replacement plexi which was an interim fix till the window was located. Any info on finding a molding? Bill Rattey TD #23

  32. bill rattey

    Hi: I am hoping to find out if CD’s from Jim Locke are still available. I understand the CD’s cover Fox Prints. Any information would be appreciated. Bill # 0023

  33. bill rattey

    Whoops: Its’s Bill again…anyone had an issue with “dimples” and rust spots coming thru the fiberglass body on their Vixens ? Mine lived indoors most of it life. The seller was the son of the original owner and was advised it was always kept inside from new till 2015 when relocated to Kansas when his father passed. I really believe this accurate since anything plastic shows virtually no sun issues and lived in Texas till relocating. Is mine the only one with dimples? Bill TD0023

  34. DaleJ

    #002 ha’s no dimples. It is the oldest Vixen on the road. Howrver, I’ve been trying to figure out how to get dimples. Dimples as those on a golf ball, for I am convinced that is the only thing left to improve it’s aerodynamics.

    • bill rattey

      Hi Dale: Thanks for the dimple comments. Now I feel blessed. Bill #0023

  35. dodgeman340

    Hmm. I just started reading up about the Vixen21 online. A friend came across one as part of an estate buyout. I’m guessing I can pick it up for a few hundred bucks. It’s a BMW, 5spd, pop-top. It has been garage kept, but may need TLC from sitting, tires, bleed the brakes, oil change. I’m on the fence about taking this project on. I work for a diesel pump fuel company, so my coworkers can probably handle getting the BMW mill running. I do a lot of my own repairs, but I have no desire to become a slave to an RV. While this sure sounds like a unique and rare RV, it also sounds like it has some fatal flaws. Any advice?

    • boxdin

      I would regret it if I didn’t, esp being a diesel guy. I missed a Vixen priced very well in Santa Fe one hour away and I regret it. You may become an RV guy after all or just make it run and sell it. There are plenty of buyers out there for these even better if its running well. Cosmetic items can be done by anyone but mech stuff needs to be done.

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