The Hellwig Titan Rule Breaker is that most American of vehicles: a SEMA show truck. Meant to titillate and beguile attendees at the big aftermarket parts show in Las Vegas every year, SEMA show trucks look pretty robust. Still, you wonder how long that show-body shine would last out in the real world. Well, I was about to find out.
Hellwig has specialized in sway bars, airbag kits and “helper” leaf springs since 1946. The company was started by Rudy Hellwig, then run by son Don; now Don’s son Mark and granddaughter Melanie White run it. So that’s four generations, if you’re good at math. In that time, Hellwig has made suspension products for everything from trucks to tanks — the latest creation being the Nissan Titan XD-based beast you see parked on this page, fitted with a Lancer cabover camper. Imagine if Hunter S. Thompson had driven to Vegas in one of these instead of the Great Red Shark convertible.
The Hellwig Rule Breaker Titan XD was made for off-road overlandering.
Ideally, I’d want to take something like this on a desert trip with lots of abusive four-wheeling where I could try out the off-road tires, 4WD and the 3 extra inches of ground clearance. Instead, I wound up car camping on pavement like some kind of yuppie poseur. Sometimes life doesn’t let you off-road.
That’s really too bad because Hellwig has put together an efficient combination of living space and cornering ability. Faced with getting the gigantic Lance 650 slide-in camper into the 2016 Nissan Titan XD bed without having the whole truck flop over on its door handles every time it went around a corner, they looked to their own and several other parts catalogs. Even though the XD has a 2,500-pound payload capacity, that’s in a straight line. The thing with the Rule Breaker is it has about half the SEMA parts catalog on it to keep the camper in the bed and the Titan upright. The Hellwig stuff includes a Big Wig (get it: Hellwig, Big Wig? haha) forged, adjustable sway bars, Big Wig 2,800-pound airbags and Hellwig EZ-990 two-leaf Helper Springs. You’d think that would be enough to wrestle the Rule Breaker around corners. But no.
LGE-CTS Motorsports in San Dimas, California, installed a Stage 3 ICON Vehicle Dynamics suspension with remote-reservoir coil-overs with compression-damping control-valve technology, uniball upper control arms and rear lift blocks, all good for a 3-inch lift. They also added Falken LT325/65R18 Wildpeak ATSW tires. Finally, a set of Torklift Fast Gun tie-downs and Talon frame mounts secured the Lance camper in the bed. This rig is secure!
Big Wig sway bar in action.
As with all SEMA show vehicles, there are about a million other products added. Their makers have no doubt all been promised worldwide fame for their inclusion — everything from the T-Rex grille to the Magnaflow exhaust — but there’s just no room here to list them all.
Thus equipped, off I went. The Titan XD drivetrain was left stock because 310 hp and 555 lb-ft of torque is probably enough. Indeed, the rig didn’t really cry out for more oomph. Power and torque were a good match for the beast, if not an overwhelming match. You do get to/have to listen to the diesel rattle all day long while driving, but some buyers love that. I managed to get 12.6 mpg for the weekend, almost all on the freeway at 65 mph.
That’s the remote reservoir of the remote-reservoir shock.
Underway, side-to-side motion and roll was, indeed, well-controlled, so all those parts were doing their jobs. However, there was some fore-and-aft motion, creating a chugging feel when going over bumps or rain gutters as the almost 11-foot-tall camper bobbed fore and aft. It was similar in feel to having a trailer tug and bump a tow vehicle. I imagine this would be exaggerated off-road. The Hellwig guy said no one had ever noticed anything like that, ever. I guess I must be crazy.
As luck would have it, it was pouring rain that particular weekend (didn’t we used to have a drought?) So while the others in our camping group — those who didn’t have SEMA show trucks — flopped around in their flimsy camping tents from Big 5, yours truly was watching “Spaceballs” in the Lance camper’s luxury.
Of course, a few areas for improvement make themselves known when you take a SEMA show vehicle out into the real world: The wheels scraped the wheel wells at full turn; Water dripped off the front edge of the cabover camper consistently enough to leave some sort of chemical deposits all along the top of the windshield just above the driver’s line of sight. Rear vision was by side mirrors only; the two convex mirrors helped to see if anyone was right next to the vehicle when making lane changes, etc., but backing up was partly done by faith. Luckily nothing bad ever happened. A rearview camera would be money well spent to protect your investment here. And at $118,871, it’s a heck of an investment.
The world’s yer oyster.
That Lance 650 camper had some good features, too. It was fully self-contained with stove, sink, bathroom and shower. You would never have to leave its confines until the food ran out, and even then you could just order pizzas. The rear door had a combo lock — an excellent idea because no one needs a key or anything to keep all your stuff secure. Tell everyone in your camping group the combo and you’re set for a secure weekend. The door’s separate inner screen door, however, was constantly hung up on its own separate release latch, which you couldn’t get to when opening the outer door; once you undid the combination to the outer door, you then had to yank and bang the inner door to free it from its flimsy latch. Dumb. Inside, the bathroom door does not go all the way up to the ceiling. Instead, there’s a pointless top doorframe that scrapes and scalps the noggin of anyone over about 5’8” or so. Taller people have rights, too, man.
While there is huge room in the cabover bed area, this configuration of Titan, with four doors, means there is less room for the camper. A regular-cab Titan would leave more room for your Lance. Thus, it was cramped in the back for cooking, eating and hanging out. On our rainy trip, we spent a little more time inside than we would usually have.
Then there was the problem with the Lance 650’s drains. The water from the sink overflowed almost immediately out of the drain and flooded the bathroom floor. So I drove the whole rig to a dump station 8 miles away, drained both tanks and figured the problem was solved. Nope. Sink water again backed up into shower floor almost immediately. The truck’s owners never explained this. So I just stopped using the sink and the bathroom the whole rest of the trip. Maybe I could have sourced a drain snake and a plunger and gone to work on the plumbing, but this was more work than I wanted to do on a leisurely weekend.
Sailboats, campers, motor homes and even airplanes all have their foibles. Part of the “joy” of having one is trying to figure out what’s broken and then fixing it. Helps if there are others standing around offering idiotic suggestions.
So was this worth six figures? Maybe Rule Breaker meant it broke the laws of physics by cornering with a huge and heavy load. As far as I could tell, that was the whole point of this exercise: to get something this heavy and this tall to go around a corner. It did this with aplomb. The wild bumblebee graphics seemed to draw a crowd of admirers at both the campground and the dump station — the latter I wound up visiting twice. The combination high-lift look and indomitable appearance were much appreciated by truckers and off-roaders across the state. It was practical: The Hellwig guy said you could have the camper disconnected and sitting out of the truck on its electric jack stands in 10 minutes. Just park the camper then go exploring in the truck. It’s an appealing prospect.
Hellwig and Lance brought an F-150 camper truck to SEMA in 2015. Can’t wait to see what they have this year.
On Sale: You have to build your own
As Tested Price: $118,871
Drivetrain: 5.0-liter turbotdiesel V8, six-speed automatic, 4wd
Output: 310 hp at 3200 rpm, 555 lb ft at 1600 rpm
Curb Weight: 7750 (AW est.)
0-60 MPH: same day
Observed Fuel Economy: 12.6 mpg (AW)
Pros: You can go anywhere and watch TV when you get there
Cons: Huge, hard to park, costs over 100 grand