Curbside Classic: 1969 Chevrolet C20 Custom Camper – A Novel Way to Do the U.S.A.

(originally posted 8/5/2012)   Dwight and Sylvia had been married for almost 35 years by 1969.  They had known each other since elementary school and each had gone on to do good things in life – Dwight, a lieutenant with the state highway patrol; Sylvia, owner of a successful catering business.  Life had been good to them.

For years they had been planning their retirement.  The first item on their list was traveling the United States.  With Sylvia being tied to the catering business for so long, she and Dwight had traveled very little in their married life.  After careful consideration, they opted to purchase a brand new 1969 Chevrolet 3/4 ton pickup, known as the Custom Camper, and also purchase one of the slip-in campers that were popular in the late ’60’s.

The hook for the sale was the salesman telling Dwight the pickup was stout enough to put an MG in the bed and pull three more.  Dwight knew it would be a stout pickup for him.

Dwight liked his new, red Chevrolet pickup.  It drove well, had good power, and even rode decently when loaded.  He thought it was the perfect vehicle for he and Sylvia to travel in.

One day soon after purchasing the Chevrolet, Dwight and Sylvia loaded up their camper and left their home near Ft. Leonard Wood, Missouri, heading for the west coast.  Dwight had always been fascinated with the sound of Eugene, Oregon, a place they wanted to visit on their way to the Pacific Ocean.  Dwight’s brother was named Eugene and Dwight had already been to Eugene, Missouri.

The first night, Sylvia and Dwight made it to Hamburg, Iowa.  Growing tired, they stopped at a campground for the night.  The Chevrolet had performed flawlessly all day and Dwight was quite happy with his purchase.

Overnight, Sylvia awakened to the cool air.  She was cold.  So instead of getting a blanket from the overhead cabinet in their slide-in, she woke Dwight up.

“Dwight, wake up.  I’m cold,” Sylvia said.

Dwight was drowsy and annoyed.  “Well go get a damn blanket and leave me alone.”

“Honey, please get me a blanket.  I’m cold.”  Sylvia repeated.

Grumbling, Dwight stood up and grabbed a blanket.  Throwing the blanket on her, Dwight was worried Sylvia might be in talking mode.  Great, he thought.

“Honey, I’m cold.  Don’t you want to snuggle?”  Dwight realized Sylvia may have been in another mode.  Time to wake up and find out, Dwight realized.

“Sure, I’d love to.  Oh, you certainly are cold.  How can I help warm you up???”  Dwight asked.

Sylvia was appreciative.  She showed her appreciation to Dwight; he reciprocated.  Soon, Sylvia was red hot and Dwight was quite happy.  Dwight decided this would be a really good trip.

Dwight soon learned the suspension in his new Chevrolet pickup could absorb extended periods of shaking and bouncing with nary a sound, the only tell-tale sign being a distant sloshing of fuel in the tank.

The next day, Dwight had a novel idea.  Yet he knew he had to be careful how to approach it or his idea would be deflated.

As soon as they got on the road, Sylvia asked him how he was doing.

“Great, honey.  You doing good, too?”  Dwight carefully asked.

“Oh, yes!  I had a lovely night and I slept great.  I do like our camper and I’m so happy to be on our trip.”  Sylvia cooed.

 “Well, sweetie, I have an idea.  We want to travel a lot now that we are retired.  We have a good Chevrolet pickup to travel in and I’ve got outstanding company.  How about my helping you get a similar good night’s sleep at least once per state?”  Dwight was feeling braver by the moment.

“Dwight!  Shame on you!  How can you think of such things?” Sylvia was deflating Dwight’s, uh, ego.  “But I do kinda like your idea…” she said sheepishly.

“You are a fabulous woman, Sylvia!  We are going to have such a good trip!”

And a good trip it was.  They soon realized the camper gave complete visual secrecy (they were aware gravity and slower metabolisms had affected them) and Sylvia soon had the same realization as Dwight on the superior suspension system of the Chevrolet Custom Camper.

It wasn’t long before such sleeping remedies were happening in the morning (such as at a campground where Sylvia got too vocal and inspired two other couples), in parking lots (such as the Pioneer Auto Museum in Murdo, South Dakota, and every lodge at Yellowstone National Park), and even in a field full of sunflowers in Idaho.

They really loved their Chevrolet Custom Camper!  Trips in later years were just as eventful and more widespread.  They did reach their goal of all 48 continental states, as well as Alaska and four Canadian provinces.  The Chevrolet Custom Camper never failed them anywhere they went, racking up nearly 200,000 miles in the next five years.  The only issue they ever had with their Custom Camper was its frequent need for new rear shocks.

So what constituted a Chevrolet Custom Camper?  It depends upon the source.  Some stated it was nothing more than a badge and a higher output alternator; other sources stated it was a package of stronger front stabilizer bars with heavier springs, shocks, wheels, and tires.  Please speak up if you can provide more information.

The previous model year of 1968 was the first time in Chevrolet pickup history that sales of V8 engines exceeded those of six-cylinder engines, by a margin of 410,178 to 269,291.  1968 was also the last year when the 327 cubic inch (5.3 liter) V8 was offered, replaced by the 350 cubic inch (5.7 liter) V8 in 1969.  Other engines for 1969 included the standard 250 cubic inch (4.1 liter) straight six or the optional 292 cubic inch (4.8 liter) straight six.  Two V8’s of 350 cubic inches (5.7 liter) and 396 cubic inches (6.6 liter) were available.

The asking price on this pickup was $1200, although it needed a flywheel.  It had been born with a three-speed manual transmission, although the steering column had been replaced with one from an automatic equipped unit.  It appeared to still be a three-speed model, although something about the shift pattern taped to the dashboard seemed a little off…

But it did come with a spare door!

With the lack of engine call-out on the fender, I suspect this particular Custom Camper may have been made with one of the straight-six engines.  Please speak up if this is incorrect; I cannot find anything to deny or verify this.

Dwight and Sylvia are fictitious.  However, how many of these Custom Campers had similar experiences?  I’m guessing quite a few.