Camp'otel car-top camping outfit

Camp'otel car-top camping outfit

Usage conditions apply
Autocamping -- traveling with car, tent, and portable, home-like furnishings for cooking and sleeping -- was a very popular family activity in the 1920s. When autocamping became popular again after two decades of depression and war, many vacationing families slept inside their station wagons because of the convenience, economy, and comfort that this ubiquitous postwar vehicle provided. Some families made tents that rested on top of their station wagons. This type of unit provided more space and head room than the car's interior and retained the advantage of distance from insects, snakes, animals, and the cool, damp earth. In 1961, Edmonds Guerrant, an autocamper and mechanical engineer in Fort Worth, Texas, began manufacturing a car-top tent unit that rested on the rain gutter, a metal drip rail around the roof of a sedan or station wagon. The Camp'otel became popular in Texas and was marketed nationally through Sears, J. C. Penney, Western Auto, and other retail stores. Loyal Camp'otel owners travelled in groups, formed an organization called the Penthouse Campers Association, and published a newsletter. The donors of the Smithsonian's Camp'otel, Robert and Delora French, took their two sons on numerous vacation trips in the United States and Mexico between 1963 and 1976. They installed the tent outfit on top of their 1957 Oldsmobile sedan and later on their 1965 Ford station wagon. Mr. and Mrs. French invested in Camp'otel Corporation and knew Edmonds Guerrant and others involved with the firm. Camp'otel Corporation went out of business during the gasoline shortage of 1973-1974. A contributing factor to its demise was the gradual disappearance of rain gutters on new cars.
Image from sales promotion material housed in division object file.
Currently not on view
Object Name
camping outfit
date made
Camp'otel Corporation
place made
United States: Texas, Fort Worth
Physical Description
canvas (overall material)
aluminum (overall material)
galvanized steel (overall material)
plywood (overall material)
overall: 70 in x 104 in x 42 in; 177.8 cm x 264.16 cm x 106.68 cm
ID Number
accession number
catalog number
Credit Line
Gift of Robert L. and Delora S. French
See more items in
Work and Industry: Transportation, Road
Family & Social Life
Road Transportation
Data Source
National Museum of American History
Nominate this object for photography.   

Our collection database is a work in progress. We may update this record based on further research and review. Learn more about our approach to sharing our collection online.

If you would like to know how you can use content on this page, see the Smithsonian's Terms of Use. If you need to request an image for publication or other use, please visit Rights and Reproductions.


Wow! To be a part of American History... and our family thought we were just camping in a weird way. Our family was also one of the original founding camping club members with my dad serving in various club positions. Many miles, many smiles and lots of new friends. Many of the original club are still good friends years later. Although a lot of the original bunch have past, the memories we all shared are priceless. What a wonderful way to grow up: sleeping in this camp o tel.
We still have the entire Camp o Tel setup at my Mom’s house. My Dad first bought it in 1967 and we used it on top of our 1961 Ranch Wagon. A couple years later my Dad bought a 1967 GMC Handi-Bus van and bought the ladder extension to use with it. It’s still stored in the porch attic at my Mom’s house. I have the kitchen setup in my shed because we used to use that when we went camping in the 90’s. I’m going to be listing the entire setup for sale in the near future. We even have a new canvas top for the unit.
Some friends had one in the early 60's and we camped in it several times. Never will forget in a New Mexico campground when a bear attacked the trashcan right outside the car, we were in car friends were in Camp-otell and they went ballistic, i tried to take a picture with my flashbulb camera Had it pointed backwards and set flash bulb off point blank in my eyes. Talk about being blinded. Lots of experiences camping with that thing.
We had a Camp O Tel in Illinois in the 60's. My father purchased it and absolutely loved it. Fit my folks and 4 little kids all up top. We traveled around to Colorado, Florida, Texas, East Coast and many short trips from Carbondale where we lived. Recall fondly these trips and the efficiency of the car top location. We had the whole set up with kitchen, shower and water tanks. Even had a visit from a 9 foot tall bear in the Smoky Mountains one night but it didn't bother us in our safe little haven. Experienced the same frequent questions from other campers everywhere we went! Have seen new versions of this rig but the original was certainly a novel invention that left an indelible impression on my childhood. My sister still has it in her garage and occasionally uses it.
Dad and Mom purchased a Camp'otel about 1967 when I was about 11. We lived in Pittsburgh, Pa. and I think he had it shipped to us. He had it atop a 1966 White and Blue VW Bus. The four of us travelled around the east coast in it several times. But the two most memorable trips were to San Antonio, Tx. for a bus tour through Mexico and Mexico City and a round trip to Los Angeles to visit family. I still have the unit in my storage, the top is rotted, I've often considered remaking it and putting the unit on the top of my pickup bed rails. I also have the kitchen unit. I always wondered why the kitchen had two fold down sides, Thanks Don Guerrant for that information.
I have a Camp'otel that was passed down to me. My grandparents were avid campers and my grandfather was a lover of good and practical design. Which the camp'otel certainly is. With the car lacking the rain gutter, and my parents still wanting to use it, they had a utility trailer retrofitted to carry it and when they stopped camping as much, they gave it to me. We just got back from a 3 night trip where we took it to Pickwick Landing State park... it is beautiful and unique and comfortable! Unfortunately, all we have is the camper, but my grandparents had the whole set... their pictures show them having great times, and I remember being a little girl and climbing up to sleep in it. So glad my kids can have these experiences and memories, too..
My mom and dad owned the Campotel, probably purchased in the early to mid 60s, in Fort Worth. Mom liked it because she could sleep up high off the ground on top the stationwagon and not down with the critters, squeeters, and varmints. We kids had rather more fun sleeping on army cots, Nearly every weekend off we'd go camping - a family of 6 who looked like Ma and Pa Kettle traveling down the road. But it was fun. It has been hanging in Moms garage all these years, and she bequeathed the Campotel to a grandson just before she died. He is delighted! Such sweet memories of our family camping days and a piece of history made in Fort Worth.
My parents purchased our Camp'otel in Fort Worth when I was in Junior High. It was the "coolest thing ever" !!! We were a member of the Penthouse Campers and would caravan to all sorts of fun campsites on the weekends. And what a site we all were, once set up! Lots of red and white stripes for sure and lots of interested folks!! Being an only child, I was always allowed to invite one of my girlfriends along. So many great memories!! Mom and Dad in the middle in the "twin bed" and my girlfriend on the "singles" on either side. We had a 9-seater station wagon...always wondered why they stopped making Camp'otels...the "gutter" or lack-there-of makes sense.
I am one of the sons of Edmonds Guerrant and I want to add that he also invented and sold a "kitchen" unit that was taken down from the back of the Camp'otel and set up to provide a table seating 6 persons on two benches, a 2 burner Coleman stove, dishpans, and storage space for food. (This is visible and ready to travel at the back of camper in the top photo and is set up under the awning in the lower photo.) The canvas rectangle to the right of the car is a flowing hot water shower and doubled as a toilet enclosure. Dad saw to it that all this equipment traveled on top of the car so there was plenty of space below for kids and dogs. There was even room in the camper for clothes and bedding. Mosquito netting sewed into the end flaps meant we could open the flaps and let the breezes flow though on summer nights. It could be set up in about 20 minutes (but we did it in 12 minutes one rainy night). The only drawback was that we would have to explain it to other campers in every campground, but my father invented a great design. --Don Guerrant
"My parents bought one and becam members of the Penthouse Camper. I remember a rather large gathering of owners in the 60's there was two floating platforms with flag poles with flags made of tissue paper. The games was a version of capture the flag. Later, we joined the National Campers and Hikers Association (NCHA). The Penthouse Campers camped together for 3 decades. As they got older they changed the bylaws from limiting the membership to only cartop camper and all bought motor homes and trailers. My father became the TX State Director for NCHA. We had great vacation, met good friends, and created awesome memories."
Reminds me of the Camp-O-Tel our family once camped in back during Woodstock in '68, mounted on top of severely overloaded 6-clyinder, 3-on-the-tree, '63 Chevy Biscayne wagon. We traveled to Oak Ridge TN and camped at campgrounds along the way; including Gettysburgh, PA. My parents slept on a mattress in the back of the wagon, and my Uncle Lew (who owned the rig) slept with myself and two brothers in total comfort up in the tent. It was a great trip, despite a bad wheel bearing on the way down that we had to stop and get fixed.
I still have my camp-o-tel! Bought it new and our family of 6 used it for many years. It's been stored in our garage since we stopped camping with it. LOVED IT!.
"My first wife found and got this for us, when we lived in Juneau Alaska and needed to economize on lodging, driving back to and from Rock Island Illinois - usually a 7 day trip with little ones. We were the center of attention in any campground we stayed at.For me, it was 1/2 inch too short to be comfortable, but our 2 children loved it, especially climbing up the ladder and then being able to pull it up and in after is for security.. My wife and I slept in the center, because we were heavier, while the kids slept in the half-wide fold-out sections on the side. To this day ... some 30 years later ... they remember me telling them (to get them to quiet down and go to sleep) that if they were noisy and attracted a bear, it would get them first. :-)This is a classic example of American ingenuity. Well done, National Museum of American History, for showcasing it!"
Our most memorable vacation was camping from California to Kansas City and back with our Camp'otel! The 4 of us kids slept in the Camp'otel and the parents slept in our long '65 Pontiac station wagon. The best summer ever!!
"My father purchased a CampOtel in the early 60's. we lived in Fort Worth where they were made. The dealership and was off Lancaster across from Farington Field. We used it on several trips to include California, Arizona, New Mexico, Colorado and Wyoming. Lots of found memories of camping in our CampOtel and people coming to check it out in the campgrounds. Mom and Dad slept in the middle and and the older brother got one of the outside bunks and my younger brother and I had to sleep in the other outside bunk with our heads on each end with legs diagonal to each other. It was used will unto the late 70's and finally given away to a friend of my Father's in late 80's. I do miss it. . "
My family was an owner of a Camp O tel. We traveled many many miles with it and our two daughters. It was really nice and comfortable and a cheap way to travel and camp. We were close friends of the Ed Guerrants. Our daughter was one of the camp o tel queens for one year. We kept it stored up in the top of our garage. Another nice feature....
"In 1975 four adults with five kids went from Virginia to California and back with a Camp'otel atop a Dodge Maxivan. Three of us slept on top, several kids on the ground, the rest in the van. It was the best vacation ever! The Camp'otel was the best purchase I ever made. It was as advertised, never disapppointed. "

Add a comment about this object