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Ken and Judy Hearne’s 1940’s Style Teardrop Caravan

The inspiration to build my teardrop came from two sources, firstly the thought of towing something unique and from the period of my 1937 Chevrolet Master Deluxe and secondly that Judy and I have always liked camping and as we have become older we have looked for a bit of extra comfort. Therefore, the teardrop that we produced looks period at first glance but actually hides some modern conveniences such as a microwave, inner spring queen mattress and modern refrigerator. These three items actually dictated the dimensions of the teardrop – the width and length of the mattress gave us the bedroom size, the height of the fridge gave us the bench top height and the microwave governed the size of the cupboards.

I always liked the teardrop designs with rounded ends such as the Cub/ Modernaire/Modernistic from the mid 40’s, it was just a matter of working out how to build ensuring that I ended up with the appealing shape. These trailers were made in the late 1940’s by Prefabricated Trailer Mfg. Modernistic Trailer Mfg. both of Los Angeles, California. They were distributed by National Trailer Stores also based in Los Angeles. They were sold in kit form preassembled and there is evidence of a prototype produced in either 1939 or 1940 prior to the United States entry into World War II.

To start with I had found an original Cub advertisement and photos of original vans on the net. The original Cub was sold as a kit in USA and supposedly could be assembled in 2 days but we started with no plans to work with, just the photos and the idea.  Wood was chosen rather than metal for construction. It was at this time I was chatting to Stephan Vanderplat (who owns a couple of Armstrong Siddeleys)  who has excellent woodworking skills and heap of the required tools and he volunteered to help me build – not sure if he now regrets that offer.

I strongly recommend this website as it provides many different designs to choose from as well as hints on how to draw ellipses which is what both ends are, they are not circles. That said, we did not work to any plan but rather did a lot of thinking and measuring at each stage. Construction took about 14 months as family and other commitments allowed.

The chassis was built first using 50 X 50 X 4 millimetre square steel tubing for the main rails and 50 X 25 X 2mm for cross rails. Steel angle was used along the sides to give a firm attachment point for the body. The sides were cut from 10 mm plywood; two sheets were joined to obtain the required body length of 3400 mm and were stood on the chassis. The floor is 6mm plywood pop riveted to the chassis – no strength required as the mattress spreads the load.

Meranti cut to 25 X 25mm was used extensively to frame the cupboards and give the ply something to screw to with heavier framing fitted around the door openings. The ply sides straightened out and gained strength as the kitchen and front wardrobe were built and screwed to them. Originally I did not intend to fit brakes but they are cheap enough to buy now and offer a little bit of help in the braking department when towed behind the Chev. Period light switches and cupboard hinges and catches were found to be available new and were installed to keep with the period look which is only spoilt by the fridge which I could not hide. As a bit of a joke I purchased one of those cheap coolers from Repco and pulled it apart to obtain the workings, these were built into an insulated cabinet for the storage of my bourbon and Coke; now that is a unique feature.

Mistakes were made and corrected along the way but I am very happy with the final result – it certainly gets some looks on the road. Stopping for petrol can be a mistake as you inevitably end up sidelined into a conversation about the teardrop.

Our first camp out proved the design to be comfortable and practical however an annex would be useful. Waterproofing was great with no leaks into the bedroom at all and only a small dribble into the kitchen during a major storm.


Weight                                          480kg

Cabin Length                                3400          11 Feet

Cabin Height                                1200           4 Feet

Cabin Width                                 1580           5 Feet 2 inches

Over Width                                   1604           5 Feet 3 inches

Total length                                    4100          13 Feet 5 Inches

Chassis length (excl drawbar)       2620          8 Feet 6 inches

Total Height                                  1660          5 Feet 4 inch

Top of mattress to roof                  960   3 feet 2 inches

12 Volt battery 120AH Deep Cycle (Cetec Charger)

Also charges from the tow car

240volt supply with earth leakage safety switch for battery charging,

Microwave and fridge

12 Volt lighting                    12 Volt sound system with CD and USB

50litre 3 way fridge              60 litre water tank

Smoked Glass sunroof

Mudguards  – new from a boat trailer

Wiring hidden inside chassis rails

Disc brakes (override)


Your new teardrop will be treated as a new vehicle when you go to register it. A call to your local Motor Registry BEFORE you start building can save you a lot of headaches. You will need to prove ownership so take lots of photos and keep all your receipts. You will also need a VIN (Vehicle Identification Number), a tyre placard and probably a roadworthy inspection. The teardrop will need to comply with current Australian Design Rules. I recommend reading of the document ‘Building Small Trailers’ that can be found on the Internet.

Oh! And you need a bottle of Bourbon or your favourite drop to help you through the thinking phases.  We have picked up a couple of awards for the van and find that it generates a lot of interest from the public. Stopping for petrol can be an exercise particularly if I am towing with the 37 Chev. as someone inevitably wants to chat but I am ready for most of the standard questions now.

E.g. How old is it??

Answer: Oh 2007 …….. that leaves them Confused 🙂

Ken Hearne