By Theresa “Resa” Leppert
The journey to my current camping vehicle started a long time ago – 1991! The very first new car I ever bought myself was a 1991 Jeep Wrangler, cherry red. I signed the papers all decked out in a full gypsy costume. Crazy, right? It was Halloween, and my job let us dress up that day and I was headed out to a party that night. I’m talking full homemade costume – crazy skirt, gypsy blouse, scarves, long black wig, full theatrical makeup, and enough fake gold necklaces, bracelets, and rings to make Mr. T jealous.
That first Jeep was about as basic as you can get. Canvas soft top, fabric upper doors with zippered plastic windows, no AC, no cruise, 5-speed manual transmission, 2.5 L 4-cylinder engine. My oh my, was that a fun vehicle. The first time I went muddin, I came home and you couldn’t even tell what color it was because it was so covered in mud. My father lectured me for 2 hours on that one. I was pulling corn stalks out of the undercarriage for weeks. It wasn’t really a great camping vehicle, though. It sure wouldn’t tow very much at all.
In my 40s, I joined a popular ladies adventure group, and wanted something a bit more fun to drive. So, I bought a 2004 Jeep Wrangler Sport 2-door, same color as that very first Jeep from 1991. I drove that second Jeep for two years, and then we needed a better tow vehicle. My Jeep had the most trade-in value. So we traded it for a truck for my husband. For a while, I was driving his old car, a Lincoln MKX. Nice car, but it just wasn’t ME. It felt like a Mom car to me. We did use it to tow one of our small campers, so I guess it was an adequate camping vehicle. However, I wanted something FUN, but it needed to be able to tow my little squaredrop camper that my husband had built for me.
I was inspired by my bestie, Laura. She had gotten herself the cutest little red MINI Cooper named Mick (after Mick Jagger, of course.) (Check out the big lips on the roof!) I had to have one for myself!
Enter Minerva, my first MINI Cooper.
She was a 2006 model, Hyper (royal) blue, which I personalized with lime green accents and a lime green plaid roof. Believe it or not, a MINI Cooper can tow a small camper because they have a steel frame. The towing capacity is low, but more than you might expect – about 1200 pounds. I had my FUN camping vehicle!
Minerva was a base model automatic CVT transmission. She pulled my trailer, but struggled a bit. Then I did some research, and found out that particular model had a ticking time bomb transmission that had a history of about 80% chance of failure around 100K miles. A new transmission was about $6K, and I didn’t want to take the chance. So I traded her at 104K miles. While I was sad to see her go – I got Ginger, who was AH-mazing!
My second MINI, Ginger, was so much fun!
Enter my second MINI, Ginger, a 2005 MINI Cooper S (which stands for Supercharged.) Ginger was Electric Blue with white racing stripes, a white roof, white mirror caps, a 6-speed manual transmission. She was FAST. Holy cow, driving that car was like driving a go cart. She did a spectacular job of pulling my trailer until THE INCIDENT. The incident was this one time when my safety chains saved my trailer on a back road in WI. Watch for another blog about that scary day.
Sometimes, life changes your plans.
In April 2019, we got a pair of Boxer puppies. As they grew, it became apparent that Ginger just wasn’t big enough. At 6 months, the two of them did not fit in the back seat of that cute little car. So, it was time to think about something else, something more in line with my camping lifestyle.
Back to being a Jeeper – Again.
Enter Tonks, my current Jeep. She is a 2015 Wrangler Sport JKU with 33-inch Falken Wildpeak AT3W tires on stock 17-inch rims with hub-centric 1.5-inch spacers, no lift. The JKU means Unlimited, or the bigger 4-door. This is my third Wrangler. She is named after a character in the Harry Potter literary series. She might need a new name, though. Not sure yet what it’s gonna be. Tonks the Jeep is black with purple accents. I’ve got purple hinges and purple decals all over her. A Jeep is really the ultimate camping vehicle, IMHO.
I converted my hubby to the Jeep life too!
Honestly, my husband fell in love with my Jeep. We started watching Jeeping videos, when then led us to Overlanding videos on YouTube, which led to us building another camping unit over the winter of 2019 into 2020. So that build (which we call the Pack Mule) was something completely different than what we had done before.
The Pack Mule is a 4×6 ft cargo trailer on an off-road suspension. It has the same clearance, track width, and wheels/tires as my Jeep. That means the spares work on either the Jeep or the Mule. The hitch is called a Lock & Roll – meaning it is a 3-axis articulating connection. In theory, the trailer can go anywhere the Jeep can go. The articulating hitch connection means that if the Jeep is leaning over to the left on rough terrain, the trailer can be leaning over to the right. In actuality, the trailer could completely ROLL independently of the Jeep but stay connected without issue. Obviously, that’s not something you want to happen! It just means that the Jeep and Trailer have a lot of flex for off-camber rough terrain.
Stay tuned for future trip travelogues!
We are took our Pack Mule rig, pulled by Hubby’s Jeep, on vacation to Colorado to Rocky Mountain National Park, Telluride/Ouray area, and then down to Moab, UT in late July. Stay tuned for a trip blog about that trip! It was EPIC!
What’s YOUR camping set up? Do you tow a bumper pull camper? A 5th wheel? A utility trailer filled with all your gear? Do tell!
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Theresa “Resa” Leppert
Guide, Iowa & Wisconsin
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Fun to see the timeline!