Campers are bus-sized RVs, Winnebagos, Airstream trailers, Volkswagen Vanagons and Eurovans, or big American pick-up trucks with strange bulky contraptions rising out of the truck bed. They are specialized vehicles used only for camping, designed to be completely separate from ordinary everyday life. Campers are not –– or never were, and never have been again –– elegantly designed 1980s European coupes.

Saab Toppola in the countryside

Born from the mind of a Finnish man named Arwo Pullola, the revolutionary idea that would become the Saab Toppola began in earnest when Pullola sold his concept of a car-based camper to two Swedish boat builders, Peter Malmberg and Matts Mollestam, who subsequently founded the company EMICO to start developing and building the thing.

Saab 1987 logo
1987 Saab logo

Their background in constructing boats informed a heightened focus on build quality and efficiency of space, and in a way also created a natural pairing with Saab, a company who famously built fighter planes for the Swedish Air Force before shifting focus and applying those skills to automobile manufacturing. In early 1982, EMICO sold their first Toppola (named for the Swedish word for “top” and the Finnish suffix “ola” in honor of Pullola), designed to fit into the hatchback of the Saab 99.

Peter Malmberg and Matts Mollestam
Peter Malmberg and Matts Mollestam

After the initial success of the first Toppolas, EMICO began refining the design and expanding the range to fit on more Saab models, and soon caught the attention of Saab. Despite being a tiny company, Saab began working closely with EMICO to ensure that the Toppola would complement the aesthetics of the car, as well as ensuring compatibility with each new model of Saab. The Toppola became one of the premier Saab accessories, remaining in production until 2006, shortly before the 2012 closure of Saab..

Toppola on multiple Saab models

If the legacy of Saab is that elegant, beautifully designed, high-performance cars can also be practical, with interiors that are as luxurious as they are functionally spacious, and engines as powerful as they are reliable, then the Toppola is the most perfect extension of that legacy. To see a beautifully designed camper rising out of a Saab hatchback, the lines and contours of the camper mirroring that of the car, is a reminder that commuting to work, driving to the grocery store, racing in amateur rallies in the Scandinavian north, or putting 100,000 miles on the odometer while crisscrossing the country to camp in national parks, can all exist in one package, as part of the same lifestyle.