GM’s Camper Special is the square-body you’ve always needed

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My morning ritual begins like many of my car-obsessed ilk—with internet auction listings. As I was sipping my coffee last week, I ran across this awesome 1979 GMC K2500 on Bring a Trailer. I could barely contain my excitement, because it is not only an unrestored truck, but it is also a Camper Special. My family has owned a couple of these, one being a two-wheel drive doppelganger of the one up for sale on BaT. 

Don’t know what the heck a Camper Special is, or have a vague memory your gym teacher maybe lived in one in the back of the high school parking lot? Not surprising—Camper Specials were not sold in large quantities when new and are very uncommon to see today.

What makes it a Camper Special?

Before the days of mile-long fifth wheel RVs, smaller slide-in pickup campers were all the rage. So much so that GM and Ford both offered special hauling packages throughout the late ‘60s and ‘70s. The idea of the Camper Special started with the 1968 Chevrolet/GMC Longhorn pickups. These were three-quarter-ton and one-ton pickups with a longer 8.5-foot bed aimed at better accommodating slide-in campers. 

After a redesign in 1973, the Camper Special became a more specialized package that buyers could order. The package required buyers to first order an 8-foot bed, Fleetside, three-quarter-ton or a one-ton truck. From there, buyers could choose from a standard or Deluxe Camper Special. Standard equipment was of course, the Camper Special nameplate, special wiring harness for a slide in camper, heavy-duty front/rear springs and shocks, and heavy-duty front stabilizer bar. 

The Deluxe Camper Special added a rear stabilizer bar (standard on the one-ton dual rear wheel trucks), Elimipitch stabilizer package (includes a set of shock absorbers which tie together the bed and the back of the cab) as well as a set of removable shock absorbers which added removable stabilizers that tie together the camper overhang and front cowl. The package also adds the Camper tie-down which kicks in mounting points in the exterior bed side onto which the slide-in camper tie downs mount. Additionally, one-ton buyers could opt for the “Big Dooley” upgrade on dual rear wheel Camper Specials which increased the gross vehicle weight (GVW) up to 10,000 pounds.

Owning a Camper Special

Camper Special-equipped trucks almost have a cult following of their own. My family has owned a 1979 GMC C3500 with the Big Dooley package, as well as the 1978 Chevrolet C20 Deluxe Camper Special we own now. The Camper Special equipment and 454 power under the hood were the definitive selling points for these purchases. Square-body enthusiasts are quick to pick up on the package and love to comment on the special B-pillar teepee badging. The most frequent comment is how they haven’t seen one for decades. 

Whoever won the truck in question at auction, I applaud your fine taste and pray you secure a fuel rewards card. It is a great-looking Camper Special, and while $19,250 is certainly not cheap for an old square-body GMC, the compliments from fellow enthusiasts, I promise, will make it feel like money well spent.

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