By Wiley Davis
Every Christmas we go to Baja. I grew up in San Diego and it seems like going to Baja was just a part of being a teenager, at least amongst the people I knew. We drove ratty Ford Rangers (everyone drove a Ranger) with mismatched collections of our parent's neglected camping gear and ratty motocross bikes in the back. Someone in our group had a fiberglass topper and a carpet kit which might as well have been the Ritz Carlton as far as we were concerned. Most of us just pulled our leaky motorcycles out of the back, threw a tarp down in the bed and called it good. I can't recall any of us using a tent, ever. We slept in truck beds, on top of motorcycle trailers, and sometimes just in a sleeping bag in the dirt, but never tents. Seems strange now but no one accuses teenagers of being too smart.
As I grew older I kept returning to Baja but the accommodations became swankier. I'm old enough to say with confidence that you'll never find me in an RV but I no longer sleep in puddles of two-stroke oil. For a while it was a 1st gen Tacoma with a fiberglass shell and a futon mattress in the back. Pretty comfortable but I'm 6' 4" tall so you could say I never quite fit. When that truck finally died (after a little more than 400,000 miles of abuse) I bought an Astro van and built it out with a mini kitchen, propane heat, vent fan, engine-heated shower. Talk about ritz Carltons.
The van era was nice, and I could sleep without curling up, but I kept breaking things on the van. After too many cracked oil pans, bent suspension components, and grumbly axles, I moved on to a 2017 Toyota Tacoma. Back to my roots, so to speak. So I bought a Softtopper, welded up a surfboard rack, and kept going to Baja for Christmas.
A truck is so much better than a van for these kinds of trips. The van had more creature comforts but having to listen to the constant rattle of the van body and having to drive in an overly-tender fashion wasn't worth the tradeoff. And the soft-sided topper is, in my opinion, the greatest thing ever. It breathed well, never leaked in the rain, and having the sides rolled up on a pleasant evening is a thing of joy. This was also my favorite thing about the van... it's sliding door. You could slide open the door and suddenly you had a space that was a little bit inside and a little bit outside. Camping without the discomfort. RVing without the cooped up sensation. These points I would not forget when I started sketching out what would become the GFC Platform camper.
You see, as wonderful as the new setup was, it was still only 6' long. And I'd grown accustomed to having more headroom than a regular topper allows. So last Christmas, while tooling around the dirt roads of Baja, I started scheming on something better. My first thought was to just buy a 4-Wheel Camper and call it done. But the weight was an issue for me, and I'd heard from too many people about cracked frames and ripped out turnbuckles to feel good about that route. And the ones I've spent time in felt too boxed in. With a 4WC there's no way to get the same inside/outside space I got with the van or the Softopper. The AT Habitats are well-made, but I needed to be able to "camp" in a parking space so the flip-out ledge wouldn't work. And I needed to be able to sleep without taking bicycles or surfboards off the roof. On the long drive home I ran through the available options and none of them were just right. So when I got back to Bozeman, I started sketching out the GFC Platform, honing in on the following must-have features:
- Light weight, ideally less than 250 lbs so I could still drive fast.
- Really fast to set up and take down since I often camp in a new spot every night.
- Capable roof rack.
- Ability to blend indoor and outdoor spaces when desired.
- Really well built so it could withstand serious off-road use.
- But completely repairable when you did eventually break something.
I settled on a Westfalia-style popup integrated into a truck topper with sides that completely open up. But after mapping out the concept, the project sort of stalled. I was busy running my aftermarket parts company Hondo Garage. But then we moved to a new shop across town. And it was there that I met our new neighbors, the folks at Aerocontinental. They build these amazing expedition trucks. We got to talking and eventually decided that together we could pull off this ultralight off-road mini camper project. So we formed a new company, Go-Fast Campers, and started prototyping like mad. We're now building our third revision, the production prototype, just in time for some final testing on this year's Baja trip. All in all, not a bad year's work.
Until the next update, I'll leave you with a little lo-fi dirt-road daydream: