The History of the Toppola Camper

Posted on 26. Sep, 2007 by in 2000-2009, Toppola

There has been a lot of inquiries as of late arriving here at Saab History, specifically pertaining to the state of the Toppola camper top that properly fits Saab 900 hatchback models.

The Toppola history is quite a lengthy one, and thanks to the individual who designed the Toppola, Peter Malmberg of Sweden, we have it here translated from Swedish to English by Calle of the Saab Turbo Club of Sweden. Enjoy!

Source: The Toppola Website

Everything started in the early eighties when Arwo Pullola from Filipstad got inspired to build a car-camper later named Toppola.

The word Toppola came from “Topp” (Top) – and “ola” a finish endin (suffix) since Arwo hailed from Finland.

In 1982 i got in contact with Arwo and this later led to us buying the project from him and started the compalny EMICO i Kågeråd AB. We rented an old forge fitting our purposes.
Kågeröd is located between Helsingborg and Malmö a couple of miles from the coast.

We – thats Peter Malmberg and Matts Mollestam, both from the boat industries, where Matts was a very talented boat builder, and I was selling boat assecories.

This has influenced us building the Toppola that’s always been built boat-ish as possible with quality in mind.

The spring of 1982 got of to a great start with ten shippings in which we also started to get used to the project, leading to us working 24/7 to get it all done in time. After ten campers we had to temporalily stop the production because of flaws in the mold. Using this mold would result in a lot of extra work, and we decided to re-design them.

This doesnt mean the first Toppolas dont live up to the same quality as the later ones.
The distinguishing feature for theese Toppolas is that the door is placed on the left side of the rear, and the rails on the roof are corrugated and that the body tilts a little backwards.

A fun-to-know fact is that SAAB Norway could not wait for the new mold for the Toppolas, they wanted two for a presentation. Their two Toppolas was therefore made in the old mold.

The next generation used molds that worked much better in the production, and slightly changed the apperance. The rear was raised 10 centimeters to give the Toppola a lighter apperance, the early Toppolas made a rear-heavy impression.

The corrugated surface of the roof rails was was eavend out, and we changed the interior. The door was still located on the left side of the rear. During the summer of 1982 a lot of prototypes were made, all of them a evolution of each other.

Early september SAAB entered the picture. It was an overwhealming time with big vhangdes and a new way of thinking. There was a big difference between little EMICO and huge SAAB.

It was a time of incredible development for the Toppola because SAAB demanded our camper to be as good looking and nice, both on the inside and outside, as their cars.

We changed pretty much everything, the rear door of glass fiber on the left side of the rear was replaced with an aluminium door, located in the middle of the rear. Two small windows, one on each side of the door, was put in. Theese windows was put there for the view from the in-car rear view mirror. A circular window was installed in the top of the door to create a “cabin-feeling” and two small windows was put in head-height in the bed.

All fabrics was changed and light grey carpet on the floor and walls. The interior in cabinets and the pantry was changed and the biggest change, the Wallas-stove was introduced. This gave the opportunity to use the Toppola during the winter. The was both a stove and a heater, expansive as hell, but it made the Toppola a allaround product. Theese changes was made avalible to the public in the 1984 models. During the same period of time the colors of the Toppola was a white top-half, and a black down-half.

SAAB put a lot of work into the project, for one thing they made new brochures in four languages, Swedish, English, French and German. The thought was tp introduce the Toppola in all their markets. They manufactured a 16 page installation manual, also in four languages, and lots of other actions were made to help marketing.

We were included in the end of the production of the SAAB 9000, to make sure they didnt complicate the Toppola installation in the car.

At the SAAB 9000 première there were two black 9000 turbos with Toppolas at the entrance.

At this time the Toppola was the biggest and most expensive original assecorie for a SAAB and everyone was excited. We delivered as many as we could build and at the same time as the upgrade for the Toppola rebuilt the factory in Kågeröd and hired more personnel.

To make a long story shot and to avoid mentioning to many details it became obvius that EMICO and SAAB was to different in both size and culture and we had to close EMICO down. This was before christmas 1984. This was the school of hard knocks, but it was good if you could learn from it.

After this a couple of years with other activity in mind, i got control of the project again. With SAAB out of ht picture i started to think different about marketing. We didnt really have economic resources so i used press-releases. Toppolan was different so the papers was glad to included them, and often came back for a bigger report. This resulted in contacts, and the Toppola goit a place in both Sweden Now abd Sweden Today, which is a paper and a tv-show supported by the export counsil. This gave a lot of new contacs abroad and this led to dealerships in 13 countries. The export of the Toppola was accutally a deficit, since we had to help the new dealers get on their feet. But it was instructive.

We deleivered the most Toppolas to Germany, where we also got the TÃœV approved. TÃœv is the worlds toughest quality standard, where they test everything and test it hard. This took a year and was extremly expensive. We got a great reception in the papers and Tv in Germany but because TÃœv acted too slow, we were no longer news when everything was done. Despite this we sold about twenty Toppolas. In Germany during that time, Ford Sierra and Scorpio was the biggest import.

Simultaneously we got in trouble when a fire broke out in the premises we shared with another company. This was the start of one year of struggling with the insurance company. With both this and the TÃœV-approval in Germany was almost to much to handle. We fought against the current for some time, but in the end it was too hard, and I went on to other buisness. During this time we also had a successful Toppola rental, this was a appricitated way of trying before byuing.

A couple of years with other tasks later, the pressure from potential customers got to big, and i started to work on a brand new Toppola, that later was named Toppola II. When i was starting the project again, i wanted to use all the knowledge and impressions from the early years.

The most important request about the new Toppola, was ofcourse to be able to install the Toppola on all SAABs. To be able to switch the top so only the bottom, the living area, was standard and the rest was changeable. This bottom part was called “Damask” (Damast) and is today avalible for three cars: SAAB 900, 900 / 9.3 and SAAB 9000 CC.

This also resulted in a new model, brand new to us – The Pickup-Toppola. This Toppola fits just about all the pickup’s in the market with only one design. To build a camper for pickup’s was all new, since we got a competely different space to work with. There was no problem fitting a big kitchenette, a big table and four chairs and also being able to keep the same big bed ( 1,70×2 meters) as in the regular car camper.

We already had the technique of low weight building, so it was not problem building a fully equipped camper with a weight below 250 kilograms. We also made work-Toppolas where the interior consisted of both work-interior and living opportunity.

Another problem we had to solve was to make it possible for the owner to by him or herself lift the Toppola on and off the car. This was to be solves as cheap as possible, so that everyone could afford the lifting device, making it easier to mount the Toppola.
We manufactured many variations of this device and they worked fine, but they were expensive. What we did next was to build a scaffold, design “a childs swing”, to put on a couple of blocks, and a trailer winch. To make it all safe we put a hook on the roof of the Toppola.

The body was designed with advise from the aerodynamic team at SAAB Aircraft so that it would create less air resistance and we cracked the far-side so the outer width was set at 175 centimeters. This would result in the outer rear view mirrors were “outside” of the Toppola body, on most models.

Desipte that the width is smaller we have a bigger area on the inside than before and everything is more adapted to rational production.

The bed was big in the old body but we wanted to increase the foot space, we solved this by raisin the front and change the spolier so the matress could slide down in it. Thanks to the cracked far-side the bed got wider down by the feet, and up towards the waist.

The body was rounded in all corners and on the roof for the benefit of air resitance and looks, we extended the back edge on the roof for the air to “slide off” the Toppola easier and that also gave a better possibility to mount solar panels.

The new body also fits the modern day cars with more round shapes.

When we were done with the new body and started building, Sweden entered a economic recession and the leisure market stopped completely. We made a couple of every Toppola model you can see on the pictures.

It felt like the usual bad luck but we have a very good product and who knows what will happend in the future.

This was a part of the Toppola history.

Peter Malmberg

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  1. Saab History The History of the Toppola Camper | Shed Kits - May 27, 2009

    […] Saab History The History of the Toppola Camper Posted by root 21 hours ago (http://www.saabhistory.com) The corrugated surface of the roof rails was was eavend out and we changed the interior the door was still located on to make it all safe we put a hook on the roof of the toppola write a comment name e mail website your comment 2009 saab history is proudl Discuss  |  Bury |  News | saab history the history of the toppola camper […]

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