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Phoenix Rising On the Jeep Trails

With his custom Phoenix Camper and tricked out 1978 Chevrolet K10, Larry Wittman, Jr takes on the Jeep trails of Colorado, Utah, Arizona, and California.  Don’t miss his amazing off-road videos!

Truck Camper on Jeep trails

It’s always interesting to learn exactly how someone ended up with their truck camper.  More often than not, there was a specific goal in mind, a vision for a hobby or lifestyle that required the versatility and capabilities only a truck camper can offer.  Larry Wittman’s vision was clear; build a custom Phoenix Camper that can handle Jeep trails, without compromise.  Larry explores those limits in the desert sands, red rock, and cliff side Jeep trails of the West and Southwest.  Larry has even documented his adventures on video, which you have to see to believe.  With every frame it becomes increasingly evident that Larry has not only accomplished his vision, but is now in Jeep trail heaven.

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TCM: How did you get into truck camping?

Larry: My dad had a truck camper when I was a little kid.  He liked to camp away from people.  I started with a truck tent in the back of my truck and then went to a topper.  The topper kept me dry and warm, but I needed more amenities.

As a kid in grade school, I remember dreaming about Gary Wescott’s 1970s Chevy Turtle II truck camper in the off-road magazines and thought, “Someday I’m going to have something like that”.  I like the idea of an aluminum framed camper.  Phoenix Campers are built locally and I liked Cari and Robby’s flexibility to build exactly what we wanted.  This is my first truck camper.

Kokopelli Trail

TCM: What did you want in your custom truck camper?

Larry: I wanted my camper to be durable, light weight, even with the width of the bed of my 1978 Chevrolet K10 truck, and for my tailgate to shut.

Lynn Johnson

I wanted to have access to the tailgate so that I could sit and prepare food.  The tailgate makes for a great porch.  It also gives me the extra security when we’re bouncing around knowing the camper is not going to exit the bed.

Phoenix Rounded corners

I wanted my camper to be no wider than the top of my bed rail so that I didn’t have to have extended mirrors.  It also keeps the width narrow enough to easily fit on the Jeep and mining trails.  I also wanted the overcab to be short so that it didn’t go past the windshield for visibility.  I liked the look of the corners being curved and it makes for less seams compared to other campers.

12-volt Luna Refrigerator

My refrigerator is unique.  It’s a National Luna 12-Volt refrigerator from South Africa.  I specially requested the National Luna and now they are making it a standard option on all Phoenix campers.  It’s more in line with what the Overland community is using.  National Luna refrigerators are very low amperage.  Running the National Luna is like leaving a LED light on, so it is easy on the battery reserve.  Plus, they’re lighter.  National Luna refrigerators do cost more, but they’re really durable, so I’ll have it for a long time.  It’s well worth the premium over a standard three-way RV refrigerator.

I started this project last year and talked to Cari and Robby the Friday before Memorial Day weekend.  Then my dad had a stroke and that took over my summer.  In December, I revived the project and got started with my camper in the beginning of 2011.  I got my camper this past March.

Our Phoenix pop-up is very light weight, which helps with intense off-roading.  It’s also not bulky, and it fits tight to the 1978 Chevrolet K10.  Toppers are good, but they don’t have enough amenities.  I also wanted heat and running water.

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TCM: If you were set on off-road travel, you have probably done some extensive modifications to your truck.

Larry: The truck was originally a short bed half ton 4×4 with an automatic transmission.  I have done extensive powertrain and suspension work to it over the past sixteen years.  The most worthwhile upgrade has been the engine, which is a fuel injected 2002 GM Vortec 8.1L big block backed by a 2006 NV4500 five-speed manual transmission.  It’s the biggest production gas engine that GM has ever built.  While these engines were in production, my company used these engines in tens of thousands of RV chassis we built over several model years.  They are robust, and offer a lot of low RPM torque.  They may not be much in the fuel economy department, but they are a much cheaper alternative to a diesel engine.  We built strip chassis for the RV market for forty foot, 26,000 pound motorhomes.  It’s a beast of a gas engine.  I have also made modifications to the suspension to make it flex and articulate during off-road travel.  Surprisingly, it actually rides like a Cadillac on and off the trail.

My 1978 Chevrolet K10 truck was modified the way it is so I can tackle most Jeep trails.  I originally picked up a used 2005 long bed Silverado standard cab with the intent of building something for that given it had a longer bed.  Then I started thinking about the things that I like to do and places we like to go.  The IFS suspension on the 2005 Silverado wasn’t going to cut it, so I had the camper built for my already trail ready 1978 Chevrolet K10 instead.  I showed Robby and Cari this plan.  At the time, they were doing the P.U.L.S.E. with the Jeep.  I liked that concept and built my truck and camper with Jeep trails in mind.

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