Remember this inspirational Jeep TJ Brute-Four Wheel Camper Sparrow Rig built over 10 years ago? We never forgot about it and vowed that one day we would build something similar. Well, that day has finally arrived here at Truck Camper Adventure. We won’t be modifying a Jeep Wrangler TJ with an aftermarket truck bed like the AEV bed shown in this photo, however. Instead, we’ll be using a real pickup truck for our build using a 1981 AMC Jeep CJ8 Scrambler—the Jeep that inspired AEV’s TJ Brute in the first place.
The Truck: Jeep CJ8 Scrambler
The CJ8 Scrambler is Jeep’s first convertible pickup truck. A long wheelbase version of the CJ7, the CJ8 Scrambler features everything that makes the CJ7 great but with a 5-foot bed. The Scrambler’s bed measures 61.5 inches long, 58.8 inches wide, and 16.4 inches high. The distance between the wheel wells is only 36 inches with the width of the tailgate slightly smaller at 34.5 inches. With a suspension consisting solely of leaf springs, the Scrambler offers a GVWR of 4,150 pounds. Depending on options, this nets a payload of approximately 1,000 pounds. A decent figure for what AMC called, “America’s first small 4×4 pickup,” in a 1983 brochure.
With only 27,000 Jeep CJ8 Scrambler’s built by AMC between 1981 and 1986, the two-door pickup is exceedingly rare. Due to it’s robust frame, long wheelbase, and 5-foot bed, the CJ8 was perfect for those who wanted a vehicle that could not only tackle the trails, but haul heavy loads. As Jeep’s first convertible pickup, it should have been a hot-seller, but it wasn’t. The timing simply wasn’t right, and wouldn’t be until the Jeep Gladiator’s official launch in 2018. While the Scrambler failed to catch on in the 1980s, it’s notoriety skyrocketed in the 1990s due to its rarity and unique design. Today, it remains a favorite among Jeep enthusiasts and collectors alike.
Three Scrambler trim-lines were produced by AMC initially: a base Scrambler trim, SR Sport, and SL Sport. These were replaced in 1985 with the Renegade and Laredo trims. The base trim offered AMC’s 2.5L I4, while the others were mostly equipped with AMC’s durable 4.2L I6. The powertrains were mated to either a four- or a five-speed transmission (the four-speed T-5 being the more desirable of the two). The three-speed Borg-Warner automatic was also available as an option. All Scramblers were equipped with a Dana 300 transfer case, a Dana 30 front axle with a GAWR of 2,200 pounds, an AMC 20 rear axle with 4:10 gears and a GAWR of 2,700 pounds, and front locking hubs.
Aside from the change in Scrambler trims, minor changes were made by AMC over the years. In 1981, AMC offered narrow-track axles that turn tighter, versus wide-track axles that provide better stability overall with an additional 4 inches in width. Lap belts were offered in 1981 and 1982. Beginning in 1983, AMC offered a three-point shoulder belt. In 1983, AMC offered an optional roll-bar mounted tire carrier. Earlier years offered a rear swing tire carrier mount.
So how did we score on such an exceedingly rare Jeep? It was quite by accident. A friend invited us over to look at an old truck camper she was interested in selling. Sitting right next to that camper was the Scrambler we own today.
Our Scrambler is in remarkably good shape for a 42-year-old Jeep. This is due primarily to living most of its life in Arizona. The Jeep is a base model and painted in a copper-brown-metallic (E1), a common color used in the late ’70s and early ’80s. At some point, the engine was upgraded from the 2.5L I4 to Chrysler’s excellent 4.0L I6, while the transmission was upgraded from the Borg-Warner four-speed manual to Chrysler’s 32RH “Torqueflite” three-speed automatic. Both the engine and transmission came from a 1995 YJ.
Yes, we would’ve preferred having an entirely stock Scrambler, but we love the previous owner’s choices in engine and transmission. The bulletproof reputation of the 4.0L I6 is well-deserved. Having owned nothing but TJs with the I6 before, finding this particular Scrambler was fortuitous. The good thing about the transmission upgrade is that we’ll be able to flat tow the Jeep. As a matter of fact, the front bumper is already equipped with the brackets needed for towing.
Not surprising, the Scrambler will require some much needed repairs and suspension upgrades. The body is in pretty good shape, though a fresh coat of paint and some light body work in places will be needed. As you can see, we’ve already replaced the wheels with a set of Rough Country 15-inch steel rims and replaced the 20-year old tread with a set of BF Goodrich KO2 31X10.50R15s (LR-C). We also replaced the worn-out shocks with a set of Rancho 5000s. While the leaf springs are in surprisingly good shape for a Jeep of this age, we will be upgrading them with springs that will provide a 6,000-pound rating on the rear axle. The frame is in surprisingly good shape and solid as well. The only section underneath that needs repair are the floor boards and toe boards underneath, which is usually a weak spot in Jeeps of this age anyhow.
The Camper: Phoenix Stealthy Mini
Unfortunately, Four Wheel Campers no longer makes the Sparrow. As a matter of fact, only three Sparrows were ever built and one of those was shipped to Europe, making it highly unlikely we’d ever find a used one. This meant one thing—a new camper would need to be built. But who would be willing to build a slide-in truck camper for a 42-year old Jeep Scrambler with a 34.5 inch wide tailgate? With years of experience building such campers, Phoenix Campers was the obvious choice. Overseeing the job would be truck camper designer extraordinaire, Rob Rowe, Phoenix Camper CEO.
Founded in 1988, Phoenix Campers is a force in the industry. As a matter of fact, Rob Rowe’s father, Dave, founded Four Wheel Campers in 1972. Rob learned the intricacies of the trade from his father and helped make Phoenix Campers into the force it is today. In the past, Phoenix Campers was known as a custom manufacturer, but last year the company decided to change things up by offering standardized models to reduce lead times.
Of these new Phoenix camper models, the Stealthy Mini was and is the obvious choice to pair with our 1981 Jeep Scrambler. As a matter of fact, a few Stealthy Minis have already been built for the Jeep Gladiator. Furthermore, the floor plan of the Stealthy Mini is nearly identical to the old Four Wheel Camper Sparrow. It has a bench seat on the passenger side, and east-west cab over bed, and a small kitchen on the driver side. Happily, the cubby underneath the step up to the bed is large enough to store a porta pottie.
But the Stealthy Mini offers much more than just the basics—a lot more. It all starts with a double-welded aluminum frame, fiberglass siding, and R5 rated extruded polystryrene wall and ceiling insulation. Inside, the diminutive camper you’ll find an electric roof lift, a 12 volt Fan-Tastic Vent, lift jacks, a 100 amp hour lithium battery, a 175 watt solar power system, and a DC-DC charger. The Stealthy Mini also comes with 20-pound propane tank, an 11 gallon fresh water holding tank (located underneath the kitchen sink), a 10,000 BTU furnace, a 30 amp converter-charger, privacy curtains, 12 volt and 110 volt AC outlets, a recessed platform to store a cooler or DC refrigerator, a sink and stove combo unit, and a 5-inch thick mattress. Of course, the camper also features Phoenix’s trademark nose cap and aerodyamic cabover. The total cost out the door for the Stealthy Mini is only $29,740.
One concern we had going with a slide-in camper on the Jeep was the lack of roll-over protection after removal of the OEM roll-bar. After all, this is a Jeep and we plan on taking it off-road both with and without the camper. According to Rob, however, the Stealthy Mini solves this problem with the way the camper is built.
“The frame looks a lot like a shark cage,” he said. “We’re aluminum framed all the way down to the floor base throughout. The front wall and the upper section that supports the cab over is reinforced with even more framing. That’s why it comes out stronger than any roll-bar. Plus, it’s kind of a squarish shape. We have seen people tip these guys over or fall off trails, and typically they slide more than roll over onto the roof. Our frame doesn’t have a round shape like a roll bar. Because of this, people can sometimes come out a lot better with the camper on than with a roll-bar.”
So how much does the Stealthy Mini weigh? That’s an important question for a “mini” pickup truck like the Scrambler. According to Rob Rowe, the Stealthy Mini weighs about 900 pounds. With very little storage and fresh water capacity, we can comfortably say that this camper will never weigh more than 1,100 pounds fully loaded. As you can see, the Phoenix Stealthy Mini is the perfect slide-in camper for our 1981 Jeep CJ8 Scrambler.
We are thrilled about this collaboration with Rob Rowe and Phoenix Campers and can’t wait for our Stealthy Mini to be built. When will the camper be complete? Delivery is currently scheduled in July 2024.
What are Rob’s thoughts on this particular build?
“We’re really excited about this project and look forward to making a Stealthy Mini that will fit the Scrambler really nice. That’s what we do, all day, every day. We’ll make it fit it tight enough to look good, but also can be loaded and unloaded easily. So if you want to, you can pull it off and go play with the Jeep with the camper off,” he said.
As a life-long Jeep and truck camper enthusiast, this Scrambler-Stealthy Mini combo combines the best of both worlds. The Jeep is an American icon and a terrific 4×4 vehicle. Combine it with a unique camper built by legendary truck camper designer, Rob Rowe, and you have a combination that is truly made in heaven.