When I embark on my summer travels around America, I often see custom-built campers. These are often homebuilt teardrops or pickup truck beds with a tow hitch on the front. Sometimes, I see more ambitious homebuilds like the shells of cars that were gutted out and filled with camping gear. That’s what you’re getting here with this camper built out of a 1979 Jeep Cherokee. These things often look terrible but this? I love what you’re getting for the price of just $3,800.
Since moving to California, our David Tracy has been on the hunt for a cool camper. We write a lot about campers here and it’s only fitting for David to join in. He lives in a state with a ton of great places to travel to! As such, he’s been sending me camper after camper and asking for my opinion. David’s found some really cool stuff, from the Winnebago LeSharo that I wrote about to campers by a company more known for his hearses. Sadly, many of his finds are so far gone that they would need a full restoration, but this one is different.
A Little Bit About The Cherokee
This camper is based on a 1979 Jeep Cherokee. As Jeep notes, the 1970s continued a path of advancement for the brand. In the 1950s, America saw a rise in off-roading for recreation, which helped thrust Jeep’s popularity. This was followed by the 1960s, which saw the introduction of the Wagoneer in 1962. Designed by the legendary Brooks Stevens, Jeep claims the original Wagoneer to have the first blending of four-wheel-drive, independent suspension, and automatic transmission [Editor’s note: That’s such a ridiculous thing to brag about given that Jeep ditched the independent suspension almost immediately after launch, and has prided itself in solid front axles for decades. -DT]. The Wagoneer replaced the Willys utility wagon and strove to provide families with comfort and luxury with dependable four-wheel-drive.
Kaiser Jeep ended the 1960s by advertising all of the fun things that you could do with a Jeep. And in 1970, Kaiser Jeep was passed to American Motors for $75 million. This new era saw a number of fantastic models from the Dispatcher mail truck to the J10 pickup. In 1974, Jeep launched the Cherokee. This was a two-door version of the Wagoneer that targeted younger buyers with sporty aesthetics. That year, the Cherokee on Four Wheeler magazine’s Four Wheeler of the Year, back then known as the Achievement Award.
Normally, here’s where I would prattle on about engines, off-road gear, and how reviewers felt about the vehicle in its day. However, none of this really applies to this Jeep. According to the camper’s seller, about two decades ago this Jeep stopped being a Jeep and became a camper. It’s unclear why this Jeep lost its powertrain and its differentials, but it looks like a fair amount of work went into this camper. The seller says that it started off as a Cherokee with the Wide-Track option (there was a narrow track and wide track Cherokee; you can tell this is a wide track by the big fender flares), which Jeep says came with:
The Wide-Track option was available with key upgraded interior and exterior features: exterior stripes, larger wheels, three-inch-wider axles, larger front and rear wheel cutouts, Dana 44 front and rear axles, and a nicer interior.
It looks like none of this stuff carried over. Of course, you’re not going to need Dana 44s on your trailer!
Starting with the exterior, this camper is painted in tan and black, which for the most part matches its Cherokee Chief tow vehicle. There’s an awning on the roof, a roof basket carrying a spare tire, and the Cherokee’s body itself is largely unchanged. What is different is up front.
The area ahead of the firewall was buttoned up and tapered to to follow the lines of the trailer tongue.
I love how the builder turned this area into a storage area. Pop the small hood and you’ll find a box containing the trailer’s battery, and a propane tank. Behind that is a second box with more storage for equipment. I’m not sure where the hood comes from, but it looks like a car hood that was modified for this task.
Moving under the camper, the Dana 44 is gone and replaced with a trailer axle with a 4-inch lift.
At the ends of the axle are 9-inch electric brakes and full size Jeep wheels wrapped with 31-inch all terrain tires. A leaf spring suspension is retained underneath and there appears to be a fresher set of shocks and an anti-sway bar that the seller says adds stability when towing. When peeking underneath, you’ll notice some rust holes on the body. The seller states that there is “minimal typical Fullsize Jeep (FSJ) rust” and at least in the pictures, the floor looks rust-free and solid.
Other neat exterior touches are an electric tongue jack, a 7-pin electrical wiring harness connector, and stabilizer jacks.
Moving inside, the builder of this Jeep camper has created what seems like a pretty cozy space. There’s a mattress sitting on top of a raised floor. The interior has been entirely gutted, but the builder found a clever way to hide some of the camper’s automotive origins.
Where the dashboard used to be is a cabinet built out of cedar with different compartments and even a neat little “glovebox.” Power is provided by a 12V AGM battery that gets topped up by three solar panels. You don’t get residential power, but there are 12V ports to plug in your gear.
This camper’s trick feature appears to be the kitchen. Like a teardrop, the kitchen can be found in the back. The kitchen unit slides out and features a sink pulling from a 10-gallon tank, a two-burner propane stove, and a bunch of surfaces to cut food, store food, and store plates and utensils.
At least to my eyes, this camper is missing a few things. I’d love to see a bigger water tank. It looks like the undercarriage of the Jeep has plenty of space for it. I’d also love to see something like an outdoor shower, a cassette toilet, and some basic climate control. The good news is that there are a bunch of products that do just that. I’d grab an outdoor shower, a toilet, and a power station. You can even get air-conditioners that feed from power stations if you really needed it. Of course, you could also just pick up a generator.
Why Would You Buy This?
You might be asking why you would want to buy a car turned into a camper in the first place? Well, I like to think of this as like a teardrop camper. If you’ve read my camper work for long enough, you’ve seen me write about campers that don’t give you hard walls or smaller teardrops and all of them cost far more than the $3,800 this seller is asking. And keep in mind that those campers are often built with flimsy walls and put together in a factory that incentivizes putting things together as fast as possible.
This? It’s all steel! If anything, it’s literally tens of thousands cheaper than the Jeep-branded Addax Overland trailer with a tent on top.
If you can put up with the fact that it’s a custom build that’s a little rough around the edges, I think it’s a good deal. The seller says that this rig has been taken off-road, too, so you know it’s not something that stays only at manicured campgrounds. This camper comes with extra parts as well. The seller notes that the windshield is cracked, but you get the replacement with the camper. You also get door cards and the tailgate’s carpet.
If you’re looking for a distinctive camper to tow behind your Jeep, the seller wants $3,800 or the best offer that they can get. And if you want it, hurry out to Gilbert, Arizona before David Tracy does.
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I’ve been wanting to do this to a minivan or something but I cannot get around 1 thing: the tongue weight. Removing the front axle on a vehicle makes me think something like 75% of the remaining weight would end up on the hitch ball, no? That seems like too much for a vehicle weighting 1500-2500lbs. Yes the engine and front axle and some bodywork would be removed but still, that is way more than the 500lbs of tongue weight that most vehicles quote as the limit. Besides loading up the heavy battery and tanks in the rear of the trailer, anyone have any way to correct the tongue weight fears I have?
First time I’ve seen one of these with an FSJ. They were popular in the XJ community for a few years before XJ prices went crazy.
Never liked them. Too many compromises for a trailer and they just look weird.
So I’m guessing this setup gets about 3 mpg highway?
Oh,and please bring more homebuilts Mercedes. The only sensibly prices campers ever. XD
Nice work! I’ve seen endless van rear sections turned into trailers,so this is a bit different and interesting.
I wonder- has anyone ever made something like this but reversed so it has better aero?
I appreciate the care they took on the conversion, but as someone that kind of anthropomorphise cars, seeing this is like seeing a hollowed out skull used as a drinking cup. Or, maybe a less gross (but much more cruel) example, one of those fur coats with the head of the animal still attached.
I really HATE half (or three quarter) car trailers. They are ugly and heavy and impractical. And they are a really bad case of scaled design. Cue voiceover:
“My old Fiat 500 is a cute car and people say its good design. So my sawed over one with a stick on must be as well”
I DO understand why people make them, like: “I am a real Jeep man. Look, I even have a Jeep trailer!”. Just wear a T-shirt with the logo or something then.
It’s like those people who think a chopped Chapron Citroën DS is a beautiful cabriolet, because the original sedan was the most beautiful four door car ever. It’s not: It’s too long, the tall windscreen looks stupid and the convertible top is just horrible. Among other issues.
Every time I personally see one of these half car trailers, I think “Well there’s another classic car project which will never drive again”.
It’s a bit like having Rover P6 leather seats as sofas and a Texaco barrel as a table: It’s good beautiful design used for the original purpose. And it is a bit of fun for your garage or “man cave” (or Top Gear studio). But used in your home it’s just bad taste.
Ha. I’m effectively doing the same thing w an Astro van.
Biggest issue is actually tongue weight. On most trailers, the axle is centered under the mass of the trailer, but on a truck/van/wagon/car based trailer, the rear axle is a lot further back. To fix it, you need to get as much mass behind that axle as possible; see that box under the chassis behind the axle? Guarantee that thing has some big ass batteries in it, because that’s exactly what I am doing. Also going to try to mount a water tank, and a spare tire on the rear of the van, to help offset it.
Right now…. I can’t even lift the tongue a CM. It is glued to the ground. I upgraded the leafs of my lifted Astro because towing it home, the tongue weight flattened my springs and I rubbed the rear tires when I hit large bumps.
This is awesome and an absolute STEAL at that price, idk why the guy is selling it.
Total weight is a big issue, too. I’m sure it weighs A LOT more (2x? 3x?) than a comparable purpose-built trailer.
Idk about that. Once you remove the engine, trans, interior, front cross member, front suspension, brakes, etc, you remove a lot of weight. Biggest thing is it’s WAYYYYYYY more aerodynamic than most trailers. At highway speeds, drag matters a lot more than weight, if you’re going a constant speed.
Be very wary of placing too much weight behind the wheels in a trailer. I seem to recall from my vehicle stability class that about 2/3 of a trailer weight should be ahead of the axle. Do some websearching for demonstrations of trailers that are balanced incorrectly. Spoiler, the trailer pulls the tow vehicle around with bad results.
That’s not enough tongue weight. Having too much isn’t really an issue from a handling perspective as long as the tow vehicle can take it.
Just posted above before seeing this: I want to do the same thing you are but can’t fix the tongue weight issue. Batteries in the rear will help or a very short tongue way back on the trailer I guess but still working on it in my head. Just saw your channel and Ill be watching.
Oh man, I went through your videos and I already watch you…your Mercury/Outboard videos are great!!
Whatever happened to all those trailers made from the back half of pickup trucks? They used to be quite common but I can’t remember the last time I saw one.
Aren’t old pickup trucks exported to Africa nowadays? Including the front half of the car, however worn out or rusty it is. That is certainly the case here (EU) 🙁
Just wow on that solar panel charge controller! That be a Chicago Electric one straight from Harbor Freight. A fun curiosity, but they will cook your battery like few other things. Mine was pushing 19+volts into the batt. I am also almost positive that the light in back is one of the 12v fluorescent one that comes with said same Chicago Electric 120 watt kit I still have. If anyone here buys this incredible camper, you might want to change that out. Lol!
(Mercedes, please ignore this comment)
The whole system is a harbor freight one. Panels, controller, wiring…. They’ll do basic stuff, but yeah, first thing I’d do if that’s going to be used for any length of time is swap out the entirety of the solar setup. Panels and controllers are really cheap these days. There’s no reason to keep using that stuff.
Problem is you really need the other Cherokee or something similar to tow it. Just wouldn’t seem right otherwise (or looks right, anyway)
Although it would be amusing to tow it with a Bronco.