Tear Jerkers

Teardrop caravans are surprisingly compact and ingenious in design

Vintage and retro caravans come in many different sizes and shapes, ranging from tiny folding caravans to large and rather luxuriously appointed fifth wheelers. Some are aerodynamically rounded; others are built like square bricks that have to be towed by brute force. But maybe the most compact, curvaceous and original design is that of teardrop caravans.

These tiny vans were typically built to have a floor space that is completely filled with a double mattress. You could describe them as being just a bed on wheels, but they typically have a few shelves and cupboards inside, and the rear hatch opens to reveal an ultra-compact kitchen. So teardrops, or “tear jerkers” as their owners often call them, are rather like a cross between a conventional caravan and a modern camper trailer.

This design does have a few drawbacks. Getting dressed inside a teardrop is reminiscent of Houdini escaping from a straitjacket, and all cooking and eating takes place outside the caravan. However teardrops also have some big pluses, which made them especially popular from the end of World War II through the 1950s.

In those days most people couldn’t afford to buy a factory built caravan, and many cars didn’t have enough power to tow a full sized van anyway, even at the lower highway speeds of the past. Consequently, some ‘wannabe’ travellers chose to build their own caravan. The teardrop design was perfect for such a project, since it required fewer construction skills than a full sized caravan. Building a teardrop also required fewer construction materials, which was important in the post-war years, when materials were in short supply. As an added bonus, the teardrops were light enough to be towed by 4-cylinder cars of the period.

These days there are still people who build teardrop caravans. Some vintage caravan enthusiasts build one as a fun project which allows them to exercise their creativity. Others just want an eye catching caravan that suits the style of a classic hot rod or muscle car.

Since teardrops are so small, you might think that they would only be only suitable for very short camping trips. Certainly many owners do use them primarily for weekend trips, maybe to attend a country sporting event or show. But we have also met people who have travelled right across Australia in their ‘tear jerker’.

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