The Jeep Wrangler is the off-road icon in the United States, but it's not a super-popular base for overland expedition rigs. You can tow a trailer with it, or top it with a roof-top tent, but full-blown Wrangler motorhome conversions remain fairly rare. Texas' Red River Rigs hopes to change that by bringing the American Safari JXL to market. The bolt-on kit not only puts a four-sleeper pop-up camper on the back of a Wrangler Unlimited, it adds 50 percent more cargo room in the process. Few campers out there have the JXL's combination of tried-and-true off-road grit and cozy, all-in-one camping.

Strangely, the best Jeep Wrangler camper conversion kits tend to come from Europe, where the Wrangler isn't all that popular. See also the Wrangler Action Camper.

BBF Gazell is the same French company behind the GZL campers that EarthCruiser offers in the American market, and we coincidentally happened upon the Jeep JK Gazell a few weeks ago, before its official debut at Overland Expo West this past weekend. As with the Action Camper, we found it a little strange that such a clean, integrated Wrangler camper was available in Europe and not in the US, where the Wrangler is an absolute rock star that sold to the tune of nearly 200,000 last year.

Little did we know then, but the ball was already rolling, and rolling quickly. Glen Pratt, owner of Red River Rigs, started experimenting with the idea of bringing the JK Gazell over at last year's Overland Expo West, where the very first JK Gazell/JXL model in the Western Hemisphere made an appearance. Reaction was quite positive.

So Pratt committed to bringing the model over the Atlantic and making Red River the exclusive North American distributor. The poly-shell kit bolts onto the back of any JK Wrangler Unlimited, adding 15 in (38 cm) of length and a pop-up roof with built-in bed. The pop top also opens to standing room-height inside, and a counter with built-in sink/basin provides space for indoor cooking. The extra length expands cargo capacity, and available cabinets and cubbies let owners take full advantage. The folding-panel roof bed sleeps two, while an available lower-level bed sleeps two more, for a total of four people snoring away comfily in the Wrangler cabin.

For those looking for a more complete Jeep camper, the JXL is also available with a convertible dinette set with benches and a dining table. The dining table can be removed for use outdoors, and the benches include under-seat storage. Red River also offers a pull-out toilet and a shower option to complete the full motorhome layout of beds/kitchen/dining room/bathroom. Available canvas storage hangers hold utensils, tools, cookware, and other camping equipment and accessories against the interior walls.

The JXL is based heavily on the European JK Gazell package, but certain aspects and components have been changed and will continue to evolve for the American market. For example, Pratt told us that the European model finds more use as a conventional camper, overnighting in fairly smooth, level campgrounds, whereas he envisions the American JXL doing its work on more rugged, off-road terrain. He's currently testing out a beefed-up steel off-road bumper, as well as stronger pop-top struts for carrying roof racks and gear up top.

The JXL is designed to minimize effects on aerodynamics, and it adds only about 3 in (8 cm) to the roof height when closed. Red River estimates weight for its base extension and pop-up roof kit at 150 lb (68 kg), though BBF Gazell lists the weight of its JK package between 176 and 397 lb (80 and 180 kg), depending upon options.

The past weekend's Overland Expo West show marked the official launch for the American Safari JXL, and the base bolt-on roof/body extension kit starts at US$17,760. Pratt is still finalizing the complete price list, but he ball-parked the dining furniture kit at another $1,500.

Those prices don't include the Jeep itself, but Red Rigs offers a choice of a complete turnkey Wrangler JXL, installation of the package on the customer's Wrangler, or sale of the JXL package for customer installation.

Many will find the extra rear overhang worth its weight in the gold of a full camper interior, but hardcore off-roaders and Wrangler lovers might decry the disrupted departure angle (Pratt didn't have the updated angle available when asked at the show, and BBF Gazell doesn't list one).

Those who like their Wrangler rear stock might prefer Ursa Minor's pop-up roof kit, which includes a two-person bed. That model lacks the full interior options suite of the JXL package and also adds more height at 10 in (25 cm). In addition to JK kits, Ursa Minor has put a redesigned kit for the all-new JL Wrangler up for pre-order and also plans a separate kit for the upcoming JL Wrangler pickup.

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