Would you be surprised if I told you that the recently released Lance 650 is the second best-selling truck camper in the Lance truck camper lineup? It’s true. I was able to confirm this with Bob Rogers, Lance Camper’s director of marketing, at the recently completed Specialty Equipment Market Association (SEMA) show in Las Vegas. Bob hoped that the Lance 650 would sell well and it certainly has. There’s a big market for smaller campers, but shrewd marketing by Lance helped. This effort included the release of the so-called Overland Adventure Rig for the 2015 SEMA show. Built by Hellwig Suspension Products and Lance Campers, the truck camper combo consisted of a 2015 Ford F-150 and what was then a brand new Lance 650. The rig drew rave reviews from the show’s attendees and from the truck camper community, so it was no surprise that the two companies decided to partner up again for the 2016 SEMA show.
Mike Hallmark, Hellwig’s sales manager, took the lead for this particular build. Going with a 2016 Nissan Titan XD Pro-4X pickup truck was one of the first decisions Mike had made. What this truck lacks in payload, it makes up for with power and good looks. The Titan Pro-4X comes with the Cummins 5.0L V8 turbo diesel engine. This was the first time that Cummins worked with Nissan to produce a unique diesel engine for the Japanese auto maker. The result was a diesel capable of generating a whopping 310 horsepower and 555 foot-pounds of torque. Backing up the Cummins is a smooth-shifting Aisin six-speed automatic transmission. The Aisin channels into a beefy 10.5 AAM rear axle (9,000 pound max GAWR) with a 3.92:1 gear ratio. An electronic locking differential allows the driver to switch quickly between high-range and low-range four-wheel drive and two-wheel drive using a dial on the dashboard. This particular truck is rated for 11,784 pounds towing, and has an official 1,722-pound payload. More about the truck later.
The real star of this impressive looking build is the Lance 650 truck camper. Introduced to the truck camper market in 2015, the Lance 650 was made specifically for the half-ton pickup truck. While the Lance 650 is versatile enough to fit on trucks with 5 foot and 6 foot bed lengths, the best thing about this camper is that it’s fully self-contained. Not only does the Lance 650 boast a full-size wet bath with a sink, but it also has a dinette long enough to sleep an adult, and a north-south full-size queen bed. No other manufacturer has tried to do this with a hard-side truck camper before let alone been successful at doing it. While the Lance 650 was made specifically for half-ton trucks, it will, of course, fit on most three-quarter-ton and one-ton short-bed pickup trucks, the lone exception being the lengthy, 6-foot-7.5 inch short-beds found on the Ford F-250 and F-350 pickup trucks.
If you’re looking for a highly capable, lightweight overland rig the Lance 650 won’t disappoint. With standard equipment, the aluminum-framed camper weighs only 1,639 pounds dry and 1,842 pounds wet. The camper is only 7 feet 1 inches wide and is only 9 feet 11 inches high mounted on the truck. The interior floor length of the Lance 650 is 6 feet 10 inches long and offers a spacious 6 feet 9 inches of interior height. The tank sizes are fairly generous, too, at 22 gallons fresh, 15 gallons grey, and 16 gallons black. Lance engineers elected to go with a Girard tankless water heater in order to lighten things up. While you lose 6 gallons of fresh water going this route, you also eliminate 48 pounds of weight. A fair trade-off. Unfortunately, the camper has only one horizontal 20-pound propane tank and a battery compartment large enough to accommodate just one Group-27 battery. A dual battery setup for extended boondocking would require the purchase of a Torklift Hiddenpower to get the extra amp hours needed.
For such a small camper, the Lance 650 is jam-packed with features. The camper boasts a full-size molded ABS wet bath with a bathroom sink, a spacious north-south queen size bed, and a roomy 6-feet-4-inch-long dinette. The Lance 650 also offers plentiful storage, an audio-video system with Bluetooth and HDMI, a black tank flush, 12-volt USB charging ports, and three Dometic European-style acrylic thermal pane windows. What makes the Lance 650’s floorplan work is the unique location of the Norcold N306.3 three-way 3 cubic foot refrigerator. Unlike other campers, the Lance 650 refrigerator is in the cabover. Yeah, I know what you’re probably thinking, but placing the fridge in the cabover not only gives the camper more living space, but also gives the camper a dinette that is long enough to sleep most adults. I’m sure having the fridge in the cabover takes a bit of getting used to, but, overall, the design works and works well.
In order to carry the Lance 650, Hellwig beefed up the Titan XD’s suspension and added other accouterments to enable it to travel off-road. The lightweight OEM tires were ditched in favor of a set of highly capable Falken Wildpeak A/T3W LT 325/65R18 tires, that increase load capacity over 15,000 pounds, and a set of matte black 18×9 inch Method race wheels. Additional suspension modifications were made to the truck as well, including an ICON Vehicle Dynamics Stage Three Suspension System (provides up to a 3-inch lift), a pair of Hellwig Big Wig air bags rated for 2,800 pounds, and a Hellwig sway bar for the rear axle. A Fab Fours pre-runner bumper, outfitted with a removable Warn Zeon 12-S winch along with a T-Rex upper class series grille, gives the front end of the truck a sleek and aggressive look. The finishing touches to the truck included both a power magnifying Magnaflow 4-inch diesel exhaust and a set of Bushwacker fender flares.
Likewise, several changes were made to the exterior of the Lance 650 camper. For this special build, Lance wrapped the camper in black vinyl accented with dual yellow stripes and a satin black molded front cap. Unlike last year, this year’s wrap was applied during the construction process. Bob Rogers explained that doing this earlier during assembly enables the wrap to come out cleaner and better looking. Bob explained that Lance learned this through the company’s experience with the Cruise America campers. Other exterior features of the camper include black vent covers, black Atwood jacks, a black air conditioning shroud, and black awning covers. Lance also tinted the Dometic Seitz thermal pane windows. Overall, the black colored camper contrasts well with the bright yellow color of the Titan. It’s a significant improvement in looks from the standard, run-of-the-mill white truck camper and the 2015 SEMA rig. Maybe this is something that the rest of the truck camper industry should take a hard look at?
What did this rig, called the “Rule Breaker” cost to build? Was the effort worth it? According to Mike Hallmark, the total price for everything out the door, including upgrades, was $118k. The truck alone with the new Cummins diesel was $69,600. Now some may question Hellwig’s choice in a truck for this particular build. That’s a fair question, especially in light of the truck’s limited 1,722-pound payload. However, when one considers not only the 9,000 pound GAWR of the AAM rear axle, but also the substantial upgrades to the truck’s suspension, wheels, and tires, any concerns about the limited payload should be alleviated. The real proof is how well the truck handles in real life at highway speeds and off-road. Mike reports that the rig handles exceptionally well on all kinds road surfaces with no issues, whatsoever. Fuel mileage is consistently in the 11-12 mpg range.
What’s my opinion of the build? I really like it. It shows you what’s possible when building your own overland rig, and in this Hellwig and Lance succeeded and succeeded well. Personally, I would’ve gone with the standard Titan XD with the 5.6L V8 gas engine, which nets a payload over 2,500 pounds, or a Chevy 2500, but that’s just me. The most important thing about this particular build is that the people who saw it at the largest automotive show in the world loved it. The rig was a smash hit. Like Bob Rogers of Lance said, “the primary goal for Lance’s participation at SEMA is to raise positive brand awareness with prospective customers and key product influencers in the Truck Camper market.” That’s really the bottom line. Hellwig and Lance can be proud of this effort. I can’t wait to see what the two companies have in store for next year’s show.
A special thanks to Rob Rogers of Lance and Mike Hallmark of Hellwig who provided the photos and information to help make this article possible.