Strolling Amok

Pops goes on tour.

Unicell Aerocell SRW

Trade van turned camper.

Trade van turned camper.

While I was getting propane last week in Quartzsite, a cargo van rolled into a Family Dollar across the street. With an add-on body that was both bulbous and sleek, I’d never seen anything like it and was impatient to get out and across there to check it out before it left. No need to fret, since the owner promptly climbed back in, came over, and got into line for propane too!

With its rounded, bulging sides and roof, this add-on to a Chevy cutaway van presents an oddly organic profile. It struck me as a promising way to boost usable space and get some stand-upright space without dumping fuel mileage down the crapper.

A remarkable one-piece molded body, this one fitted with double rear doors.

A remarkable one-piece molded body, this one fitted with double rear doors.

Turns out it was an Aerocell SRW body by New York-based Unicell, mounted to the Chevy. Cutaway vans are simply a factory body option for GM and Ford, and what you get is a van with the complete cab or driver area, but the body ends there. Save for the chassis rails and all mechanical components needed to drive it, there’s no accommodation aft but the breeze. Think of the Aerocell SRW as a cube van without the cubishness. Supplied complete and installed on the van of choice, it’s available with either a rear lift door or side-hinged double “barn doors”. Polyethylene interior walls and shelving attachment points make for an abuse-resistant space.

As best I can determine, its goal is to provide more practical working space inside a single rear wheel van, but without trashing aerodynamics for long-distance highway use. When first seeing it, I thought it was oh-so-cool, but its owner seemed less enthused, citing lack of space. As a service or trade van, it works. Despite its narrowness, the sides are more vertical than stock, and the shell really opens up the area to become easier to inhabit and use as a combination work and storage space. A built-in translucent panel in the roof adds some light to the windowless cavern. As for practicality, the Aerocell SRW just has it all over a standard factory cargo van as a work and storage space.

But as an RV, a place to live, it’s a mix. It’s literally head and shoulders above a common cargo van, which enforces a primordial knuckle-dragging posture at all times. This is one reason why cargo van-based campers seem to appreciate being in the great outdoors so much more than motorhome or trailer owners in general. Stepping outdoors is the only way they can stand upright and take a deep breath. It may be both illegal and unconscionable to force this kind of constraint upon a prisoner, but it is perfectly permissible to do it to oneself. Hemmed in by accoutrements, several days of cold, windy rain must be hard to endure.

This accounts for the popularity of high-roof vans, and cube or box vans, where a rectangular body, commonly aluminum-skinned, is fitted aft and above the driver’s compartment. These are eminently practical, and are usually placed on dual rear wheel vans and pickups for the sake of being able to load up to capacity. But this makes them wide, bulky to park, and usable only on more costly vans built for more weight. The Aerocell SRW is intended for less expensive, lower capacity single rear wheel vans. Vans that need to store only enough stuff to let you comfortably do your work on-site.

So, in trade for lower overall cost, lighter weight and better highway fuel mileage, the Aerocell gives up some of the brutal space efficiency of more conventional body shapes. That’s what makes it a mixed blessing for RV use where, when push comes to shove, added usable space is usually more valued than fuel mileage. The SRW’s vestigial cabover storage space is a prime example, and is one of the prominent examples of how sleek aerodynamics can affect practical usability. What kinds of objects can you fit in there? Not too many. But the space needs to exist anyway, since it’s a walk-in body and the cab is at a lower fixed height. The SRW model is markedly better than a cargo van for usability, but markedly worse than a cube van for space efficiency. As with most other things in life, you need to put your finger somewhere on the scale of compromise, and live with what comes from it.

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5 thoughts on “Unicell Aerocell SRW

  1. jr cline on said:

    Interesting. It has promise as a starting point.

  2. Looks like you’re getting propane at Pattys, that’s where we ended up for a few months.
    Cheap rent and close to just about everything.

  3. Doug, I also noticed that van. I only saw it once and have no idea if it is still around, it did strick my curiosity.

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