In the early eighties the north American car market is challenged by the introduction of the compact Japanese vehicles that offer better fuel economy. The north American car leaders then undertake significant reengineering of their products. According to our memories, Chrysler was the first of the three big ones to introduced a revolutionary version that was a mutation between a car and a van: the mini-van. This concept offered fuel economy, and interesting flexibility for family use. This product met an impressive popularity that can be compared to today’s SUV’s.
Considering the nature of its conversion operations and the large volume of Ford, GM and Chrysler vehicles they modified, Campwagon benefited from continuous relations with these van manufacturers. Thanks to these healthy relations, Chrysler Canada informed Campwagon at the end of 1983 that a new revolutionary product would be introduced to the market in early 1984 in Canada (it was introduced to US market by Chrysler president Lee Iacocca at the end of December 1983). Chrysler was offering Campwagon the privilege of having access to a prototype of this body frame for a very short period.
Lucien Barbeau then decided to get into a new challenge: create a new conversion model of this vehicle whose shape he had never seen, and to develop it within a month. In order to do so, he needed to design a new fiber glass top and conceive new conversion plans with miniaturised furniture. During the 1983 Christmas holiday season, a raw steel body frame was lent to Campwagon in “Top secret” mode for a very strict 10 days period in order to allow Lucien to take measurements and figure out how to turn it into a camper. Many within the Campwagon team spent their holidays at the plant that year and met the challenge: on January 12, 1984, the Montreal Gazette newspaper recounts the presentation of this conversion with a picture of Chrysler Canada’s president sitting in the minivan a the Car trade show. That year Campwagon is awarded the 1st prize for Innovation by Chrysler-Canada.
- A bizarre object – Being Lucien’s daughter I often followed him during those years and I remember having been present when the “top secret” raw body frame arrived. Not having been informed beforehand of what I was going to see, I remember having been confused and perturbed trying to imagine that this bizarre shaped carcass could become a vehicle that would attract the market! by Nathalie Barbeau – October 2018
The mini-van was named “Auto-beaucoup” (translates to “Plenty-Car”) on the French speaking market. It is a type of vehicle that met an immense popularity during a 7 to 8 years period. For some time Campwagon made up to 3 per day for 12 units per week. A new assembly building was built behind the main production plant. Lucien estimates that the company converted close to 300 such units between 1984 and 1987. Even if the mini-van could be transformed into a camper, its small size lead to a majority of conversions made into the Van de Ville type.