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A Camper For The CJ - Jeep Encyclopedia

Posted in Features on August 15, 2014 Comment (0)
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Existing campers are few and far between, but collector Jim Marski had one. His had been repainted to this scheme from the original white and brown. A “Jeep Camper” decal was also on the front face of the camper, something that deteriorated quickly as evidenced by the few remaining campers.

The 1960s brought a recreational vehicle revolution. RVs weren’t all 4x4s, but the truck- mounted camper debuted and became the rage. Late in the decade, Kaiser Jeep saw an opportunity to jump on that bandwagon, developing a J-3000 Gladiator Camper Truck and offering some DRW chassis’ for use in Class-C motorhome conversions. They even came up with a camper for the CJ to sell in-house, and that’s the topic of this month’s Jeep Encyclopedia.

In 1969 Jeep started a big “Jeep Great Escape” ad campaign, highlighting the recreational use of Jeep products. One of those highlights was the Jeep Camper, something which had been developed a year or so before by Chuck Prater from Kentucky, who then sold the exclusive rights to produce it to Jeep. Jeep farmed out the actual production to Ward manufacturing, which was already well known for building the El Dorado line of campers.

The camper was an overhead type that fit into the bed area of a CJ-5. It hung out the rear but had a tag axle to carry a portion of the weight and was set up with brakes. The camper attached to the Jeep drawbar and rear crossmember with a large pin into a bracket accessed through a door in the floor of the camper.

At first, Jeep required that the camper option was an extra for a new Jeep you purchased at the same time, but later it was offered a la carte for CJ-5 Jeeps from 1955 onward. The minimum requirement was for a drawbar and the extra wiring needed. Due to the extra weight, Jeep had recommended the option for only a 225ci V-6 powered CJ-5 with 4.88 axle ratios.

The camper was a $2,198 option (1970 model-year prices) and designed to sleep four: two in the overhead and two into a bed that converted from the dinette. The camper came standard with a dual 12 and 115-volt electrical system, toilet and holding tank, 20-gallon potable water tank with a pressurized water system, propane stove, ice box, and unloading jacks. The subframe and tag axle were part of the kit and included springs, shocks and electric brakes with controller and all the attaching parts. Optionally, you could order a dual gas/electric stove ($235), 9000 BTU gas furnace ($99.50), second roof vent ($19.30), better toilet ($149.00), and a gas light ($24.00).

“Take it or leave it” was one of the advertising slogans, and this factory picture illustrates that concept. It was reputedly a 15-minute job to drop the camper and take it off to wheel the Jeep. It really wasn’t such a bad idea for many outdoorsy people. Even with the camper, you can get farther into the boonies than most other RVs, then drop the unit and hit the harder stuff.

If you ordered a 1970 CJ-5, it would cost you $2,868.23. With the recommended V-6 ($210.95), 4.88 axle ratio ($48.43), and drawbar ($27.68), you were in it for about $3,155. But that’s with no top and no passenger seat. If you add those (half-cab around $400; seat $65.34), HD springs ($20.12), HD battery ($7.19), and alternator ($27.58), plus a set of 8.55-15 Suburbanite tires ($55.44), you were in the Jeep about $3,731, so you could be down for a bit over six grand for the whole shebang.

Jeep advertised hot and heavy through 1969 and into 1970, though sales were modest. Certain reports of the period stated demand exceeded supply, but AMC put a damper on it regardless when they purchased Kaiser Jeep on February 5, 1970. The production and sale of campers were stopped forthwith. When the smoke cleared, there were a reported 336 campers sold, and that was that. By all reports, the setup was decent to drive, own, and enjoy, but evidently, AMC brass was underwhelmed with the sales numbers, and looking to consolidate, cut costs and homogenized Jeep as rapidly as possible. An oddball little camper didn’t fit into that plan.

It isn’t clear how many of the 336 campers built were sold as complete outfits, including the Jeep, and how many were purchased a la carte. This setup looks like it has a full-boat set of options down to the snazzy wheel covers and a Ramsey DC-9 electric winch (one of Ramsey’s first electrics). We have not found a spec sheet for the camper, but one informed source tells us the unit was over 1,000 pounds wet.

Today only a handful of campers remain, with eight survivors listed at CJ5camper.com, but other estimates run to as many as 12 intact units. A really nice one might be valuable to the right buyer and a PITA to another, but like most old wood-framed campers, they have suffered and generally need a lot of work.

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