The CJ5 Camper

by Michael Satterfield

The 1960s and 70s were a special time in the automotive world, from the wacky home-built kit cars to factory-backed oddities like this CJ5 Jeep camper, American car consumers had nearly unlimited options, some like this Jeep Camper were offered direct from the dealer.

The Jeep Camper started life as an aftermarket camper created by entrepreneur and designer Chuck Prater. But within a year Jeep took notice of the camper and bought the exclusive rights to the patent. Kaiser-Jeep contracted with Honorbuilt, a division of Ward Manufacturing to build the Jeep Camper, which would be offered as an option at Jeep dealers nationwide.

What made Prater's design so innovative, was that unlike most over the cab campers, this one was a combination of a camper and 5th wheel trailer with its own an axle and brakes, allowing the bulk of the weight to be carried on its axle. With the camper attached the Jeep became a six-wheel, four-wheel-drive overland machine and because of the short wheelbase was easy to maneuver.

The Camper was sold as an option direct from the dealer on new Jeeps or could be purchased as a stand-alone accessory for Jeeps 1955 and up. The camper had a base price of $2,198 (just over $15,500 today) and had all the amenities you would expect for your offroad camping adventure. 20-gallon water tank, propane stove, icebox, toilet, 12 and 115-volt electric system, electric brakes with controller, and the specialized hitch kit to attach to the Jeep. Options included an upgraded toilet, a gas furnace, gas lighting, and a dual gas/electric stove. If you purchased it with a new Jeep equipped with all the recommended options for the camper you would be looking at just over $6,000 (over $42,000 today) for the whole package, really not a bad deal when you consider the price of a new Jeep and camper today.

However, in 1970 American Motors Corporation bought Kaiser Jeep and was not impressed with sales of the Jeep Camper and discontinued the program as they consolidated products and their dealer network. Of the original 336 Jeep campers built in their short run, just a few remain today of this wonderfully quirky bit of automotive history.