TEARDROP TRAILERS

The American Scooterist Magazine
Summer 99 - By David McCabe


Don't get me wrong. Performance tuning of scooters is cool, but after attending a recent gathering of vintage teardrop trailers, I think I understand a different aspect of the weird psychology behind my enthusiasm for scooters. Perhaps this is based on a fetishistic fascination with curvaceous and diminutive vehicles? Both scooters and teardrop trailers are cute, little, and used for transportation. But for both, their aesthetic charm isn't just in their looks. It's all tied in with their history and intrinsic simple and practical utility.

This article doesn't have much to do with scooters, but I think that you may still see a similar appeal in teardrop trailers. Many of us who are fascinated with scooters will take a second glance at an oddball motorcycle or mini car. I don't think I'm alone this way, so I thought I'd do my part as a club member and contribute something about teardrop trailers to give others a little basic background information about them.

What is a teardrop trailer? As with scooters, there are so many different models and variations it's difficult to give a concise all-encompassing definition. Here are some basics of what makes a teardrop trailer. Take a Vespa side cowl and look at it straight on from the side. Looking at a teardrop from the same perspective, it cuts a similar, teardrop-shaped, profile. Typically these trailers are small and lightweight campers that sleep two in cramped but cozy quarters. They are built on a more-or-less 4 by 8-foot trailer platform. They are usually only about five feet high. A person has to stoop down and crawl through a small door to get inside to the sleeping cabin. The interior consists of a mattress and, in quality tears, carefully utilized storage space. Typically, the tapering rear roof of the trailer is also a door that lifts up to reveal an outdoor cooking galley. This opened door provides a little shelter from the elements while cooking outside. Of course there are exceptions to all of the above generalizations. One or more of the above statements may not work for a given trailer, but this covers most of them.





The great advantage of a teardrop is that a small four-cylinder economy car can comfortably tow it. A Geo Metro might be pushing it, but in a recent Tails and Trails newsletter (see below) there was a photo of two Nash Metropolitans, the original Metro, parked side-by-side, each towing teardrops!

Small teardrop-shaped trailers were well established in the 1930's, but their popularity really grew after the war. Like early Vespas, camper manufacturers took advantage of sheet aluminum that the wartime aviation industry had turned into an every-day manufacturing material. Teardrops share a common heritage here with Vespas. The Vespa grew out of Piaggio's efforts at retooling from bomber manufacturing into peacetime production. Early Vespas, including my 52 Allstate, had aluminum front fenders and side cowls, most likely, a holdover from the bomber factory's supplies and manufacturing equipment.

In the U.S., many small trailer-manufacturing companies started up just after the war. Most only lasted through the mid-50s. Two of the better-known brands were Benroy and Kit Kamper. The Kit Kamper was the most successful of the factory-produced trailers. One might call it the Vespa of teardrops. Today the same company that produced the Kit Kamper, Kit Manufacturing Company, continues to produce RVs in 14 different factories. Unfortunately they have long since abandoned production of teardrops.

It was the home workshop that really got the short-lived teardrop craze started. A 1947 article in Mechanix Illustrated probably was most responsible for launching the teardrop trailer into the mass consciousness of America. The magazine included detailed plans for building a trailer at home that was loosely based on the Kit Kamper design. Other do-it-yourselfer magazines had their own variations on the same theme. There was strong appeal for a trailer that could be made in a home workshop that was affordable, relatively easily to construct, and could be hooked up to the family car.


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Thanks to:
Michael McWilliams
Vespa Club of America President
www.vespaclubusa.org