Gimp My Ride: Finding Fun with ‘Phil’

This ramp comes standard with the Fun Finder XT-205, so it doesn't cost extra to install.

This ramp comes standard with the Fun Finder XT-205, so it doesn’t cost extra to install.

Joe Kirkpatrick of Manteo, N.C., has always loved camping — so much so that not even a C5-6 spinal cord injury in 1996 could stop him and his wife, Yevette, from hitting the road and enjoying the outdoors. After a while, though, the labor involved — pitching the tent, assembling the portable wheelchair-height bed and all the other tasks involved in setting up camp — became a burden on them.

Fortunately, that was when “Phil” came into their lives.

Phil — a Fun Finder XT-205 camper trailer produced by Cruiser RV — enables the Kirkpatricks to keep pursuing their passion without all the previous wear and tear. The 160-square-foot trailer — known in the industry as a “quad hauler” — is compact, but still spacious enough to accommodate Kirkpatrick’s power chair. The beds and dining furniture all fold up to provide even more room when needed, and a bump-out module for the kitchen area keeps the appliances away while still allowing for easy access. Since purchasing Phil in August 2009, the Kirkpatricks have camped from the shores of Lake Ontario to the Gulf Coast of Florida and many places in between. “Trip preparation is easy, with only food and clothing needed to be packed prior to departure,” Joe says. “My wife loves how easy it is to clean and maintain.” The camper also includes heating, air conditioning and an air-adjustable full-sized bed.

Before purchasing Phil, Joe went online and checked out dozens of different recreational vehicles in his price range. “I looked at floor plan after floor plan after floor plan,” he says. “They’re not always dimensioned, but I could kind of guess what would work and what wouldn’t. I found a dealer I really thought I could work with, and that’s when we really got down to business.” That dealer — RV Outlet USA of Ringgold, Va. — found Phil for the Kirkpatricks based on the features they needed and the money they were willing to spend. “We wanted to keep it under $20,000,” Joe says. “We came pretty close.”

Quad haulers such as the Fun Finder typically have a drop-down ramp at the rear of the vehicle, which allowed Joe access to the camper without the need to install a ramp or wheelchair lift. “I did make a few modifications,” he says. “My neighbor, a longtime machinist and boat builder, fabricated and installed a swivel-type hydraulic lift to provide easy transfers from my wheelchair to bed and back. This also allows me to mount my hand bike for a leisurely campground cruise. I also removed one of the fold-down dinette benches that was blocking my view to the outside and replaced it with a storage cabinet. Finally, I purchased a shower tent that we set up near the hot/cold water outlet on the exterior of the trailer.”

But more importantly, why the name “Phil”?

“My wife likes to name things,” Joe says, laughing. “She wanted a name that would go with Fun Finder.”

For more information, check out www.cruiserrv.com.

Introducing the MV-1
We all know what a hassle it can be to find and purchase the right adapted vehicle. For most of us, it involves buying a modified car or van — new or used — then spending thousands of dollars on after-market adaptations. Even those pre-modified vehicles available from many dealers are, in reality, standard automobiles that have been retrofitted with dropped floors, ramps, raised roofs, what have you — usually adding substantially onto the vehicle’s original cost. Wouldn’t it be great to order a car straight from the manufacturer, ready to ride in, with few or possibly even no adaptations needed?

This is the need that the Vehicle Production Group of Miami hopes to fill by launching the MV-1. Set to begin rolling out of the factory early next year, the MV-1 is billed as the only vehicle designed “from the ground up” for people in wheelchairs.

Conceived as an accessible taxi cab, the MV-1 was designed with wheelchair users in mind.

Conceived as an accessible taxi cab, the MV-1 was designed with wheelchair users in mind.

“Twenty years after the signing of the ADA, we have accessibility everywhere but in factory-direct motor vehicles,” says Dave Schembri, chief executive officer of VPG. “There are hundreds of thousands of people in need of a vehicle just like this.”

According to Schembri, the idea of the MV-1 was conceived during a conference of adaptive vehicle manufacturers in Chicago, during which it was noted that it was rare in U.S. cities for taxi fleets to be universally accessible to wheelchair users — in contrast to many cities abroad, such as London, whose taxicabs are all accessible. One manufacturer then explored the idea of importing London cabs for use here, but found that, for various reasons, they could not be adapted for American use. However, “therein lay the concept for the MV-1,” Schembri says.

Development of the MV-1 was a five-year process, involving extensive road testing of prototypes, input from people with disabilities, caregivers and paratransit agencies, and more than 50 focus group surveys to determine what wheelchair users wanted in an adaptive vehicle. An earlier version, the “Standard Taxi,” was introduced by VPG in 2007. The newer version, more user-friendly for the average driver and with more advanced features, is slated to go on sale in the fall of 2010 and will be available in two models: Base and Deluxe. The Base model, expected to be priced at under $40,000, will include a deployable manual ramp, a Q-Straint wheelchair tie-down system and a six-way adjustable driver’s seat. The Deluxe model includes a power ramp, as well as cruise control and other features. A “green” option with a compressed natural gas fuel system will also be available.

But can it be driven from a wheelchair? Unfortunately, no — not as-is. According to Schembri, federal vehicle safety regulations require a factory-direct automobile to have a driver’s seat. However, the wheelchair tie down area on the passenger side makes for easy transfers into the driver’s seat, and like all vehicles, the MV-1 can be customized with after-market adaptations such as power seats and hand controls. Although “every person with a disability is different,” the fact that the MV-1 has accessibility designed into it will make customization that much easier, Schembri says.

The company’s website, www.vpgautos.com, is currently accepting reservations, and Schembri says the number of orders has already reached more than 4,000. Meanwhile, a 27-city tour, “Wheels Across America,” is giving consumers an in-person look at the MV-1 and its features. “We’re so encouraged by the tremendous response,” Schembri says. “I’ve been to every city on the tour, and everywhere the response has been, ‘Wow, it’s about time.'”

For more information, go to www.vpgautos.com.

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