The Ever Popular Camper Shell Finds Renewed Appeal Among New Millennium Truck Owners

Truck owners want increased utility, lower cost, and better looks over that of RVs and SUVs

Dave Rizzo
Feb 1, 2008
Like some institutions that never grow old, but instead manage to adapt to the times and improve themselves along the way, the traditional truck/camper shell union has recently undergone a renaissance of popularity. Fueled in part by innovative design and construction improvements, heightened gas prices, and a new breed of pickup truck purchaser that recognizes a good deal when they see one, the appeal of camper shells has only grown stronger.
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Allowing maximum flexibility while giving up nothing in terms of storage capacity and security, the simple addition of a shell--sometimes colloquially known as a "camper" shell or top--makes a truck more stylish, utilitarian, and oftentimes less expensive than a single purpose SUV or RV. For minimal investment, a truck owner can instantly turn his or her pickup into a mobile motel, tackle room, bicycle repair shop, supply room, hunting lodge, locker room, motorcycle garage or moving van.
"People buy shells for any number of reasons: they need more space for storage on a trip, they need to be able to lock their stuff up, or they need to protect the contents of the bed from weather," says Charles Matocha of DFW Camper Corral, a truck accessory store with four locations in the Dallas/Ft. Worth metroplex area. "A shell gives them that versatility and more because it can always be pulled off if when the need arises."
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Perish the stereotypical vision of a carpenter pulling up to a construction site with a load of 2x4s. While that segment has hardly waned, thousands of white-collar professionals are now embracing the utility of pickup trucks with equal enthusiasm.
Driving this appeal is the simple camper shell, which immediately adds a Mack-truck sized helping of utility to any pickup.
"People drive trucks now, who never in the past would think of owning one," says
Jeannie Keough, a marketing and sales manager who works in the South Bay area of Los Angeles. "For both men and women, pickup trucks are now vehicles that professionals choose to drive. Not only is it usually cheaper to buy a truck and camper shell than an SUV, but with the shell we can use the back to store all of our things that are needed for work: sales samples, technical equipment, computers, etc."
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"When we head out to our second home in the mountains, it's pretty much just my wife, me and the dog," says 51 year-old Donald Wayne, an electrical engineer who calls Moss Beach, California his primary home. "I bought a SNUGTOP shell for my Toyota Tacoma because I like the styling of it. With the beautiful blue paint job, it looks like original factory equipment."
With roots dating back to 1959, SNUGTOP is one of the country's leading manufacturers of fiberglass truck caps and snuglid tonneau covers.
The renewed appeal of the traditional camper shell on a pickup also likely results from the variety of new uses to which they are put by the new generation of owners. Of course, the traditional purposes--such as camping, biking, sports, boating, fishing, hunting and motorcycling--still apply. However, a shell allows a great deal of crossover between avocation and vocation.
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"I originally started doing surf videos a few years back, but now I mostly do corporate marketing, training, and educational videos," states Jeff Killian, 45 year-old owner of Ocean Motion Productions of Newport Beach, California. "I have a Dodge Ram and I needed a camper shell to store and secure all of my production equipment like video cameras and microphones."
"Of course, surfing is my main hobby," continues Killian. "With a shell I can easily fit in both a long and short board back there."


Much of the successful growth of truck/shell combinations can be traced to the attributes of the camper shell itself, which transforms what would ordinarily be an open and unsecured cargo space into a sheltered container for a varied and voluminous amount of contents.
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"There's a lot more space in the back of a truck, so cargo can more easily be managed," notes Jeannie Keough. "Even with short bed trucks, you can pack in a ton of stuff. Soccer moms are now purchasing four door trucks and putting shells on the back because they are way more spacious than a minivan. You can go to the hardware store and pack the bed with home improvement projects like plants, fence posts, and sacks of mulch, while still reserving the back seat for the kids. Try that in an SUV."
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"You can't beat the convenience of having a truck bed," adds Wayne, an avid fisherman who's netted his share of big fish. "I just throw my rods in without having to collapse them, and I don't worry about getting anything dinged or scratching the leather. Whereas the new SUVs are getting more luxury amenities in the back, so there's no cargo space anymore. For instance, a friend of mine has a Ford Explorer with a third row of seats that are absolutely useless except for taking up space."
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Adding to the increased allure of camper shells are updated locking mechanisms which provide security on par with any SUV, van or hatchback.
"Locking mechanisms are a big factor, without a doubt," says Casey Meints, manager of Campway's Truck Accessories World, which operates eight retail stores in the California Bay Area. "Some manufacturers have gone to really nice rotary latches. The SNUGTOP shells also use stainless-steel rods, which offer the same secure way of connecting the latch to the locks as found in the door of most trucks."
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"Like any dedicated hobbyist, I have to have the latest and the greatest, and I'm willing to pay for it," says Wayne about his fishing tackle. "So the last thing I want is some guy walking past my truck when it's parked in a lot while I'm having breakfast, and take my rods and reels. So the whole issue of security is really enhanced with the shell. I can go anywhere I want and leave my gear in the back and know that it's going to be there when I return."
Not only do camper shells excel at protecting their contents from theft, but also from the ravages of weather.
"I know that SNUGTOP employs two, two-bolt seals, so essentially you get four weather-stripping seals across the bottom of the shell," points out Mark Gibbs of American Camper Shells, which boasts three Southern California locations. "The second one gives it a much better seal, and even prevents the shell from rubbing against the bed of the pickup. There's no way any water is getting in."
"My wife, our girls, and I camp as often as we can, and we throw all our gear inside the shell to keep it secure and out of the weather," says Matocha of DFW Camper Corral, who obviously enjoys what he sells. "We don't normally sleep back there, but when you have no other option, like in a sudden rainstorm, it offers welcome shelter."
Above all, a shell on a truck bed offers something that no SUV or van can approach: unmatched flexibility to occasionally carry a high-vertical load.
"People use their shells for any number of things, and sometimes they need more room than what an enclosed vehicle can offer, but a shell gives them that versatility because it can always be pulled off when the need arises," notes Matocha.
With continued innovations in the design of the simple camper shell, it appears that the union of pickups and these tops will continue to appeal to an increasing number of people well into the future.
"It's the security, ease of use, flexibility, and it's all right there in one attractive package--that was the real motivation for me," says Wayne of his decision to ultimately purchase a camper shell.

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