Clown Car Teardrop Build

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Clown Car Teardrop Build

Postby Krusty » Sun Jun 08, 2014 4:32 pm

I've decided to name this build the Clown Car as the goal was to create as much space as possible in a lightweight design that can be towed behind a small 4 door car. Here's an end product shot from the maiden voyage in Zion Canyon in Utah


I have a bunch of images here:
http://imgur.com/a/OY1sM

The goals kept in mind while doing this build:
  • Needs to be light, yet strong enough to be long lasting. Must be under 1000lbs. Preferrably under 500lbs.
  • Want standing room for changing with a full standing height ceiling
  • Need storage room for luggage and for a kitchenette

As this is my first teardrop build, there are plenty of lessons learned:
  • It turns out I suck at working with fiberglass AND I'm allergic to epoxy. I wound up breaking out in hives partway through the build and had to get a steroid prescription to help with it. The next build is going to be with an aluminum skin as it's probably just as light and strong and is easier to work with.
  • Hot weather SUCKS! On the maiden voyage we hit 100 degrees. The 5000btu air conditioner failed to keep the trailer a comfortable temperature from about 3pm to 7pm each day. We wound up mostly using the trailer for dry goods storage to help prevent spoilage.
  • Creating storage space for luggage is great, but I need to make that space accessible without removing the luggage from storage. I had room for 3 suitcases but only had about 7 sq ft of standing room for changing. There wasn't enough space to change and have your luggage pulled out at the same time. The next build will incorporate another slide out just for holding luggage and making it accessible without needing to pull it out from under the bed. The area under the bed could then be used for dry goods storage.
  • Don't count on things just falling into place and working. I didn't build a system for bringing the roof up and down. It takes 3 people to raise the roof without it falling all over the place. The next one is going to have the roof on rails for added stability. I'll also need to incorporate some locking pins as the roof currently rests on the slide-outs when up and has a wooden frame jammed in at the front to keep the front stable. It works but it's not elegant and it wears on all the parts as the whole thing gets jarred around while being raised and lowered.

I'm done for now on this build as I did a several week long sprint to get it campable for this camping trip. In the next year or so I'm going to revisit the trailer and will work on the following major modifications:
  • Rebuild the top half with an aluminum skin to keep temperatures in the sun down.
  • Install some rails and come up with a locking pin system to make the roof easier to raise and lower.
  • Add an additional slide out across from the door for luggage storage.
  • Finish running electrical and install the vent fan on the roof
  • Build a proper system for the air conditioner that doesn't involve so much duct tape.

I may just reclaim all the salvageable hardware and try my hand at building the thing entirely out of aluminum to help add some more precision into the build. Redoing the bottom with Aluminum would allow for some tighter clearances for the slide-outs on the bottom.
Last edited by Krusty on Sun Jun 08, 2014 7:36 pm, edited 3 times in total.
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Re: Clown Car Teardrop Build

Postby mallymal » Sun Jun 08, 2014 6:31 pm

What a fantastic example of thinking outside the box. I'm guessing the pull out side drawers hold up the elevating roof? Clever ;)
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Re: Clown Car Teardrop Build

Postby Krusty » Sun Jun 08, 2014 7:07 pm

mallymal wrote:What a fantastic example of thinking outside the box. I'm guessing the pull out side drawers hold up the elevating roof? Clever ;)


Yup. The slides hold up the roof on the back. I'm aiming to change that though. While it's a simple method, it's not the easiest to work with and maintain. In one week I've already scraped off quite a bit of paint around the moving parts and am exposing the epoxy. Part of that will be improved by switching over to aluminum beams and aluminum skin though. With more precise edges there will be less opportunity for things rubbing together.
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Re: Clown Car Teardrop Build

Postby WizardOfOdds » Mon Jul 07, 2014 12:14 pm

I find it hard to believe I missed this thread, I wonder what else I have missed. Even harder to believe is that this thread did not evoke a lot of well deserved attention and comment. Maybe the “Foamie” or Non-Traditional list would have been a better home.

Thanks for taking all the effort to post so many good pictures and detailing your findings, I found it all very interesting. I admire the determination you demonstrated in forging ahead with your ideas, especially including so many non-traditional innovations (hybrid foam construction, slide-outs, pop-up, and more) all in your first build. We really need more of this!

A few questions:

You elevate the top beyond the bottom of the bevel on the base, which seems to leave a gap between the top & bottom across the front. It sure makes a nice rain proof vent, but since you use an air conditioner, how do you close the gap??

What type of foam did you use? It looks like standard white ‘Styrofoam’ (polystyrene?).

How many layers of fiberglass did you use?

Given your allergy, would you use TB-2 glue rather than resin next time?

How tight of a fit between the top and bottom did you choose? On my Tip Top Tier Drop (http://www.tnttt.com/viewtopic.php?f=5&t=56232) I intentionally made the top of the lid about an inch wider than the bottom to be sure the top would never “lock down” due to warping, moisture expansion, etc.

Did you ever weigh your trailer (or add up the weight of the components)?

Any changes started since your last post?

Please keep us posted, and again, thanks for all the effort to post details.
WizardOfOdds: Chalet shaped rag roof clam shell TIER drop for 4 cylinder tow
Tip Top Tier Drop thread http://www.tnttt.com/viewtopic.php?f=5&t=56232
Unusual Designs thread http://www.tnttt.com/viewtopic.php?f=5&t=64495
Tale of 2 Trailers thread http://www.tnttt.com/viewtopic.php?f=35&t=61451
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Re: Clown Car Teardrop Build

Postby Krusty » Mon Jul 28, 2014 10:44 am

WizardOfOdds wrote:I find it hard to believe I missed this thread, I wonder what else I have missed. Even harder to believe is that this thread did not evoke a lot of well deserved attention and comment. Maybe the “Foamie” or Non-Traditional list would have been a better home.

Thanks for taking all the effort to post so many good pictures and detailing your findings, I found it all very interesting. I admire the determination you demonstrated in forging ahead with your ideas, especially including so many non-traditional innovations (hybrid foam construction, slide-outs, pop-up, and more) all in your first build. We really need more of this!

A few questions:


You elevate the top beyond the bottom of the bevel on the base, which seems to leave a gap between the top & bottom across the front. It sure makes a nice rain proof vent, but since you use an air conditioner, how do you close the gap??


I built a styrofoam shelf that wedges into that spot. On that styrofoam shelf, I have 4 drain tubing connectors which are used to run the ducting for the air conditioner. I was so low on time before the camping trip that I didn't have time to fully vet out and implement a good solution for the air conditioning and that gap but I got it working this time around literally with some sheets of foam and some duct tape. The enclosure I made for the air conditioner was similarly made of foam, duct tape, and 4 drain tubing connectors. I actually left the AC enclosure in the dumpster in Utah as I didn't want to bother hauling the ugly thing back.

What type of foam did you use? It looks like standard white ‘Styrofoam’ (polystyrene?).


I used 1" expanded polystyrene/styrofoam. I had a hell of a time finding extruded polystyrene as California recently banned it for use in home construction. I went to several home improvement stores and couldn't find any. Then I tried ordering some at Lowe's online and they cancelled my order because they said the manufacturer requires that I order it 4 pallets a time.

I found out recently from a neighbor (who is remodeling an old airstream into a mobile bar) that one specific Home Depot in my area still carries Extruded polystyrene. When I go through and make some much needed improvements to the design I'm going to try getting some Extruded Polystyrene.

The foam I used in the floor was 3/4" polyiso. It seemed a bit more rigid than the styrofoam so I opted to use that for the floor.

How many layers of fiberglass did you use?


1 layer of rather thick fiberglass. I don't recall now but I think it was around a 12oz weave. As long as the fiberglass stays adhered to the foam it seems quite strong. I had a few areas of the lid delaminate over the trip and the fiberglass seemed a bit soft in those areas.

For the top area of the lid, I put some 1/8" plywood down to help keep it rigid (as it would be taking the brunt of the wind force while driving) and put a second layer of fiberglass on it.

Given your allergy, would you use TB-2 glue rather than resin next time?


I did a bit of research and talked to some people afterwards. Turns out everyone has an epoxy "allergy." The stuff absorbs through your skin on contact. Once your body absorbs enough (which varies from person to person), you begin to get the allergic reaction. My mistake was in doing the majority of work in a pair of basketball shorts and no shirt so as to prevent getting my clothes dirty. Next time around, I'd definitely be working with clothes.

As for TB-2 vs resin, I don't think my build would have worked too well with TB-2 as it doesn't have the same strength and structural characteristics of fiberglass and resin. However, I'd say that I'd be inclined to use neither next time around. The fiberglass and resin cost me like $600. At that price range I could have bought a roll of aluminum or some of that rolled fiberglass stuff they use in RV manufacturing. Next time around I'm going with an aluminum skin both for ease of working with and for added insulation from the sun beating down on the thing.


How tight of a fit between the top and bottom did you choose? On my Tip Top Tier Drop (http://www.tnttt.com/viewtopic.php?f=5&t=56232) I intentionally made the top of the lid about an inch wider than the bottom to be sure the top would never “lock down” due to warping, moisture expansion, etc.


I gave it about a 3/4" gap around all edges. That is an important bit of space because it needs to slide around the outside of the door and the hardware being used to keep the slide outs in place. I used some garage door edging to seal off the gap.

Did you ever weigh your trailer (or add up the weight of the components)?


Not yet. I'm going to add the kitchen and redo the lid first

Any changes started since your last post?


I'm currently remodeling my bathroom and am then going to remodel my rental condo so it'll probably be 6 months before I can jump back in. Once I do, however, I'm going to add a slide-out kitchen on the back and I'm going to actually put in the electrical system. The biggest change I'll be doing, however, is that I'm going to redo the lid and skin it in aluminum. I'm going to put the lid on rails to make it easier to raise and lower, and am going to skin it in aluminum to help reflect the heat. I may try to build the lid structure in aluminum instead of wood to make for some straighter lines that will allow me to use a smaller gap between the base of the lid

With the remodel of the lid I can actually put in my vent I forgot to put in, and turn my window the correct direction (apprently I put it on sideways).
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Re: Clown Car Teardrop Build

Postby WizardOfOdds » Sat Sep 27, 2014 8:25 pm

Thanks for sharing the details. I will be looking for yout future additions to this thread, especially to see how the aluminum top works out. Good luck!
WizardOfOdds: Chalet shaped rag roof clam shell TIER drop for 4 cylinder tow
Tip Top Tier Drop thread http://www.tnttt.com/viewtopic.php?f=5&t=56232
Unusual Designs thread http://www.tnttt.com/viewtopic.php?f=5&t=64495
Tale of 2 Trailers thread http://www.tnttt.com/viewtopic.php?f=35&t=61451
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Re: Clown Car Teardrop Build

Postby Krusty » Tue May 19, 2015 6:51 pm

I've been spending the last few weekends giving the trailer a much needed update. I've added some photos to the bottom of my photo album. Here's a little teaser. I'm still finishing some things up and will be adding some photos in a bit.

http://imgur.com/a/OY1sM


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Re: Clown Car Teardrop Build

Postby Krusty » Wed May 20, 2015 10:53 am

Sides are now skinned. I'm going to start on the roof tonight. I created a 1/2" overlap on the seam on the sides to help keep moisture out with a bit of shingle action. I'll be doing the same on the roof but I may want to do something to further seal those seams as well.

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Re: Clown Car Teardrop Build

Postby Krusty » Mon May 25, 2015 3:37 pm

I finished the electrical last night. Solar panel, charge controller, battery, and all electrical is now done. The last work that needed to be done was to wire in the fan and lighting. I have one set of two LED strips to light the cabin and one minimal sized LED strip to function as a night light.

On the back of the trailer I have a harbor freight charge controller with some cigarette lighter sockets and some lights that plug into the cigarette lighter sockets. That should be good enough to light the (not yet done) galley and campsite when needed.

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Re: Clown Car Teardrop Build

Postby Krusty » Tue May 26, 2015 12:00 am

Almost broke my trailer today trying to close the lid when the door was still open. One slide got disconnected but it's otherwise unharmed. I am, however, beginning to realize that I still need a better lifting mechanism. After adding 1/8" plywood, .016" aluminum, some really lightweight linoleum, and enough glue to hold it all together, the lid is a bit too unwieldy to lift with just 2 people. It's doable but difficult, particularly after a day of hard work. I need to find some pulleys of the right size and shape to build a cable system to lift the lid instead.
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Re: Clown Car Teardrop Build

Postby Krusty » Tue May 26, 2015 3:34 pm

Bad news: The guy i ordered my trim from just screwed me. I was told the trim would be in today and was just informed that the trim was mangled in transit. So I'm not going to have any trim for my first foray this weekend. Fortunately it's only a 2 hour drive through Southern California so I don't think I'll need to worry about damage in transit or inclement weather. I'll put a few temporary screws in and throw some aluminum tape on that I have sitting around.

Good news: Now that I'm not pressed for time I can just order the right stuff online and put it on after the trip.
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Re: Clown Car Teardrop Build

Postby Krusty » Tue Jun 02, 2015 10:04 am

Pulled the trailer out this weekend and took it for a weekend trip up to Julian in San Diego. I taped the edges down with some aluminum tape for this trip as my trim had not arrived yet.

And more bad news: the drawer slides I used to raise and lower the lid are screwed. They worked well enough while building the lid, but it got a bit too heavy for 2 people to raise and lower toward the end. On the trip I had 4 guys help me in doing the raising and lowering. 4 guys apparently have a lot more strength than me and my wife. 3 out of 4 of the rails were busted because they pulled with enough force yank the slides in two.

Wiring for my solar panel also has a problem. I'm going to have to check for messed up cables, connections, and continuity. During the trip I had to bypass the cabling built into the trailer and wire directly to the charge controller with some spare wire bits and duct tape. After that, however, the electrical worked wonderfully. We had about 15 people on the trip. Both days I charged about 8 cell phones each, was able to run my vent fan all day and all night, and had absolutely no issues with lighting. The vent fan kept things quite cool and comfortable.

Over the next few months I'm going to be working on a pulley system and will replace the drawer slides with a simpler, hopefully a bit more robust mechanism.

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Re: Clown Car Teardrop Build

Postby WizardOfOdds » Thu Jun 04, 2015 2:23 am

Good work on the new top! It looks really nice and must have been a lot of work. I like the LED lighting bars, where did you get them and how much current do they draw??

Almost broke my trailer today trying to close the lid when the door was still open.

Yeah, been there and done that with my Tip Top Tier Drop, most embarrassing when your trying to show some one how the top folds and almost rip the door off because you left it wide open!

And more bad news: the drawer slides I used to raise and lower the lid are screwed. They worked well enough while building the lid, but it got a bit too heavy for 2 people to raise and lower toward the end. On the trip I had 4 guys help me in doing the raising and lowering. 4 guys apparently have a lot more strength than me and my wife. 3 out of 4 of the rails were busted because they pulled with enough force yank the slides in two.


Sorry to hear about the trouble with the slides, wish I had some first hand advice for you. It sounds like the slides failed and I can imagine when that happens it is much worse than having no guides at all. Is the problem just weight, or is binding due to uneven lift the bigger problem? I always feared that uneven lift would cause binding problems.

Maybe you have had better luck, but although there is lots of good advise on this site about frames, finishes, and basic construction, I have found very little useful advise regarding pop top designs. However, I did notice that Jim.M’s Take-Apart trailer used top supports that look rather sturdy and useful. If you look at his pictures (using the link on his thread http://www.tnttt.com/viewtopic.php?f=5&t=56075 ) you will see he used what looks like three section square telescoping stock with pop-out button stops about 6 inches apart. I wonder where he got those?? Of course, he has no binding problems because the walls are not part of the top, but if your top has enough "play" in it, maybe you could elevate one side at a time in small increments using the bubble stops. Just a thought.

You also did a splendid job with the write up both here and on the linked site with all the photos. I can see from the “hit count” that a lot of people have read this thread posts, so please keep us posted with your progress
WizardOfOdds: Chalet shaped rag roof clam shell TIER drop for 4 cylinder tow
Tip Top Tier Drop thread http://www.tnttt.com/viewtopic.php?f=5&t=56232
Unusual Designs thread http://www.tnttt.com/viewtopic.php?f=5&t=64495
Tale of 2 Trailers thread http://www.tnttt.com/viewtopic.php?f=35&t=61451
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Re: Clown Car Teardrop Build

Postby Krusty » Thu Jun 04, 2015 1:09 pm

WizardOfOdds wrote:Good work on the new top! It looks really nice and must have been a lot of work. I like the LED lighting bars, where did you get them and how much current do they draw??


I used a roll of LED strips like these. It says the 15 feet draws 25W, so I'd expect the strips I have there to draw about 10-12W. The night light has only 3 LEDs on it so the power draw would be probably under half a watt.

Sorry to hear about the trouble with the slides, wish I had some first hand advice for you. It sounds like the slides failed and I can imagine when that happens it is much worse than having no guides at all. Is the problem just weight, or is binding due to uneven lift the bigger problem? I always feared that uneven lift would cause binding problems.


Binding up from uneven lift was a part of the problem but I don't think that was the cause of the failure. It certainly made raising the lid difficult, but the biggest issue is that the drawer slides only have strength in one dimension. With enough force it could be broken through overextension or underextension. I solved the underextension problem (while the lid is closed and I'm driving) by giving it something to rest on. Overextension was only a problem when 4 people who didn't know how it worked tried to lift it. They pulled enough for the tires to begin to come off the ground and the slides gave away.

I'm thinking some linear rails like this may be a better solution. Alternatively if I get the pulley system up and running I only need a few channels to keep things generally in alignment.
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Maybe you have had better luck, but although there is lots of good advise on this site about frames, finishes, and basic construction, I have found very little useful advise regarding pop top designs. However, I did notice that Jim.M’s Take-Apart trailer used top supports that look rather sturdy and useful. If you look at his pictures (using the link on his thread http://www.tnttt.com/viewtopic.php?f=5&t=56075 ) you will see he used what looks like three section square telescoping stock with pop-out button stops about 6 inches apart. I wonder where he got those?? Of course, he has no binding problems because the walls are not part of the top, but if your top has enough "play" in it, maybe you could elevate one side at a time in small increments using the bubble stops. Just a thought.


I'll take a look and see what I can find.
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Re: Clown Car Teardrop Build

Postby dancam » Wed Jun 22, 2016 12:17 am

Any changes since? I really like your trailer. I am in the planning stages for a similar design and hope to have one built by the end of summer. I got some ideas from yours :)
What is your door off of or from?
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