10 Things You Missed About The Toyota Tacoma Tacozilla Camper - SUV VEHICLE

10 Things You Missed About The Toyota Tacoma Tacozilla Camper


In the overlanding community, Toyota pickup trucks are a choice rig. While the pickup segment has become extremely competitive with legacy automakers like Ford, Ram and Chevrolet proving their mettle, Toyota contiues to retain a fair chunk of the fan base. For that, the Japanese automaker has models like the Tundra and mid-size Tacoma which remains a segment best-seller, to thank.

At the 2021 SEMA show in Las Vegas, Nevada, Toyota debuted its new custom camper called TacoZilla, which exudes a retro vibe. Designed at the automaker’s headquarters in Plano, Texas, this build is a pure concept vehicle built on the previous-gen Toyota Tacoma that might never go into series production (at least not anytime soon). So, while the TacoZilla is clearly not available for purchase, it is quite impressive what the Toyota Motorsports team has achieved with the Tacoma.

The goal with TacoZilla, by Marty Schwerter, the design team manager, was to be able to have a micro-house rig that can go anywhere on the planet where the standard Tacoma can.

In order to give you the most up-to-date and accurate information possible, the data used to compile this article was sourced from various manufacturer websites and other authoritative sources, including Toyota, Toyota USA (YouTube), and Car And Driver.

The Toyota Tacozilla is a Tacoma-Based Chinook-Inspired Camper Van

The Toyota Tacozilla concept that is now on Display at SEMA 2021, combines the versatility of a camper van with the durability of a pick-up truck

10 This Cutom-Taco Is Not A Campervan But A Micro-House Rig

A 3/4 front view of the Toyota Tacoma TacoZilla

Toyota brands this build as an ‘overlanding-ready micro-house rig’, which is a bold statement because their focus is on offering a house-like experience with this project, not just a camper. Motor-homes are built keeping in mind they hold people of all heights, and with the TacoZilla, the team ensured that people slightly over six feet of height could walk nose-to-tail in the vehicle without a problem.

Since the TacoZilla is built on the TRD Sport Tacoma, it would be best to revise the specs on that truck before we dive into the facts and features of the TacoZilla.

2021 Tacoma TRD Sport 4WD

Engine Type

3.5L V-6

Max. Horsepower (@RPM)

278 HP @ 6000 RPM

Torque (@RPM)

265 Lb-Ft @ 4600 RPM


6-speed manual


Four-Wheel Drive

(Source: Toyota)

9 The TacoZilla Packs Impressive Off-Road Capabilities

Apart from the old-school design and the highly functional cabin, the TacoZilla benefits from the Tacoma’s off-road prowess as well. With a regular 3.5-liter V-6 under its hood producing a modest 282 horsepower, this micro-house rig also has a higher chassis (+51 mm), and even a TRD snorkel which was designed specifically for the TacoZilla.

Off-road ready features of the TacoZilla.

  • Bronze 17-inch TRD wheels are wrapped with 33-inch General Grabber all-terrain tires, that make the rig perfect for off-roading adventures.
  • Toyota lifted the fender flares from the stock truck, providing two additional inches of ground clearance.
  • A fuel-tank filler is separated from the camper. The rig has a winch (with the same towing capacity as that of the standard Tacoma) and a unqiue TRD exhaust.
  • An auxiliary battery was installed in the engine bay, for extra power.

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8 Custom Designed By Marty Schwerter

A screen-grab of Marty Schwerter (Toyota Motorsports) talking about TacoZilla
Toyota USA (YouTube)

Marty Schwerter, the Director Of Operations at Toyota Motorsports, led this project for SEMA 2021. With years of experience building race cars, this was a challenge for not just Marty, but his entire team. But one glance at the TacoZilla and you notice the phenomenal job that went behind constructing this micro-house rig from scratch. Often, they would come up with a new innovation midstream, like the pop-up Lexan skylight, but more on that later.

Marty Schwerter Wanted The TacoZilla To Look ‘Cool’ And Retro At Once

  • Schwerter’s background in race car design influences Tacozilla’s unique aesthetic.
  • Marty was inspired by the vintage Chinook camper, and wanted to make a new rendition of it.
  • TacoZilla’s tapered shape made it challenging to fabricate the camper’s rear door. In fact, Marty and his team spent well over 100 hours designing the rear door alone.

7 Inspired By The Vintage Toyota Chinook Camper

A newsprint of the 1976 Toyota Chinook
Toyota USA (YouTube)

In the late 1970s, Toyota partnered up with a company called Chinook and built one of the coolest campers of the time, which was a huge success. The TacoZilla pays homage to that iconic camper, in its design and styling.

Even the color scheme of the TacoZilla is retro, with bold shades of yellow, orange and bronze. The vintage aesthetic includes these heritage-inspired Toyota Racing Development (TRD) stripes. And the paintwork was done to perfection by the team at Complete Customs.

Quick Facts About Toyota Chinook Camper

  • Built from 1973 to 1978, the Chinook was Toyota’s small camper that used a fiberglass shell built on top of Toyota’s sturdy truck chassis.
  • Toyota and Chinook built approximately 15,000 campers, but with the oldest ones coming at 50 years old, they are somewhat rare today.
  • The pop-top camper included a small kitchenette with a sink, a two-burner cooktop, and a 12-volt refrigerator.
  • It had abundant storage in the form of cabinets, space underneath the couch, and shelves that line the underside of the pop-up roof.

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6 A Pass-Through Between Cabin And The Camper

Toyota Tacoma TacoZilla pass-through setup
Toyota USA

There is a lot of innovation in this project, and it doesn’t stop in the esthetics of the TacoZilla. This micro-house rig even has a pass-through space between the Tacoma’s cabin and the camper behind it. It shows the thought that the team put into the design, to make the TacoZilla as convenient as it can be.

While it was a structural challenge, with a bed right above the cabin, the team ensured that the pass-through not only made it quite convenient to move back and forth, but also maintained the structural integrity, especially during off-road adventures.

The Pass-Through Was A Difficult Feature Incorporated Successfully:

  • The design team felt that a pass-through was a logical addition for integrated living, especially with the camper’s door on the back (as usually campers have a door on the side).
  • A structural challenge, the only solution was to have enough support and bracing for off-road driving.
  • This involved ensuring the cabin and camper structures worked together without compromising safety.
  • Plus, a pass-through offers smooth connectivity, enhancing the overall living experience.

5 Unqiue Design Elements On This Custom Tacoma

A 3/4 rear view of the Toyota Tacoma 'TacoZilla'

Marty explained that they did not want the build to look like a refrigerator on the back of a pickup, so they chose to go for rounded edges on the back. The idea was to eliminate much of the approach angle so that in rougher off-road terrain you are not dragging the tail.

Giving the truck sharp edges would’ve been the easiest design choice to implement, but the team instead chose to go with aluminum to give the truck those curves and rounded edges that make it really stand out. Not only that, that makes it better suited for off-road trails. In fact, the curved door alone, which is quite unique in its design, took over 150 hours.

What Went Behind Achieving This Design

  • The Toyota Motorsports Garage team then built a basic camper frame to test the initial fitment and dimensions.
  • From there, it was time to fine tune and reinforce the frame.
  • This visually tied in with the Tacoma’s body lines while maximizing interior space.
  • And the narrower top and bottom make it easier to navigate trails and avoid trees and obstacles.

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4 A Full Bathroom With Hot-Water Shower

Toyota Tacoma TacoZilla bathroom setup

As is obvious by now, the TacoZilla isn’t only about conquering terrain but also about providing a complete living experience. That is why the inclusion of a full bathroom with a hot-water shower adds a touch of comfortable luxury to the rugged adventure undertone the camper has. It is compact, sure, but to have such a privilege anywhere on the road is not a small deal.

Interesting Details About The Bathroom

  • The bathroom has sauna-style teak wood flooring as well, giving it an aesthetic touch.
  • The interior, including the bathroom, has been worked upon to perfection by the team at Complete Customs, and their skills are visible through the finishing you notice on the inside of the camper.
  • The truck has a 20-gallon water tank, apart from two 9-gallon gray water holding tanks.

3 A Fully Operational Kitchen With A Stove And Sink

The kitchen setup in the Toyota Tacoma TacoZilla
Toyota USA (YouTube)

The customization was done by the team at Complete Customs, and the pictures are enough to show what a marvelous job they did. Rich Verbal, the shop manager, said that they have experience building hot-rods and customs cars, but it was the first time they had to install a kitchen inside the vehicle. And while this kitchen may look quite compact (given the limitations of space), it does have a fully functional stove and a sink.

Interesting Features Of The Kitchen Setup

  • The flooring inside is teak, giving it a cozy vibe, while you have extra compartments to store your utensils.
  • The kitchen table is 3D printed. It can also be converted into a sleeping space.
  • When the kitchen table is stowed, however, it seems like a backlit piece of wall art.

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2 The TacoZilla’s Pop-Up Lexan Skylight

Designing the pop-up Lexan sunroof in the TacoZilla
Toyota USA (YouTube)

As is the case with most custom-builds, the process is fluid and chances are that improvements could happen midstream. The pop-up Lexan skylight is one such example. The team was well into skinning the camper structure in aluminum when they decided to add a large skylight to provide ambient light, natural air circulation and additional headroom.

Other Important Features Added Midstream

  • A fuel tank filler is completely separated from the camper to ensure fuel fumes remain isolated.
  • A second battery was installed in the Tacoma’s engine bay to help supply additional power without taking up space in the already space-limited camper.
  • The team used a cartridge toilet, instead of a black water tank, which is convenient to pull out and safely dispose of the waste.

1 A TRD Snorkel Customized For The TacoZilla

A 3/4 view of the Custom TRD Snorkel for the TacoZilla

In the official behind-the-scenes video uploaded by Toyota, Marty explains that he and the team really wanted to put the Tacoma TRD snorkel into the TacoZilla as well. And sure, a snorkel is a pretty neat feature, especially for this overlanding-ready micro-house rig. But the problem was that the stock TRD snorkel ended up higher than where the current snorkel is, and it would have gotten in the way of the overhead exterior that accommodates the sleeping space inside.

Interesting Details Behind Putting In The TRD Snorkel

  • To accommodate the snorkel, a stock Tacoma TRD snorkel was sectioned and trimmed.
  • The team also installed a powerful Rigid light bar that ran above the windshield and ends before the snorkel, as a practical light solution, especially at night for a car with such massive dimensions.
  • There’s also a side vent right next to the light bar as a ventilation solution.


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