Jetstream Teardrop Trailers may not have invented the teardrop trailer, but they’re certainly responsible for reviving the concept in South Africa. Back in the ‘30s and ‘40s the little egg-shaped caravans took the USA by storm, with “tin pot tourists” in often-homemade teardrop trailers enjoying the benefits of owning a comfortable, easy-towing little home away from home. The design was described in one 1937 magazine article as the “ideal outdoorsman’s trailer”, but in the March/April 1939 edition of Popular Homecraft magazine, a fellow called Hi Sibley obviously had his sights set elsewhere when he gave a detailed breakdown of how he built his own Teardrop “Honeymoon House Trailer” for just $60, using the axle and mudguards from a 1926 Chevrolet, along with lots of scrap wood. One has to wonder how his soon-to-be wife felt about him preparing for the nuptials by building what was in effect a large bed on wheels with an outside bar attached.
While caravans in general grew bigger and bigger, teardrops stayed popular for decades because they were light, easy to tow by the smallest of vehicles, and didn’t make too much difference to performance or fuel consumption. There was little or no setup involved when the users arrived at their destinations, and they could be easily stowed away in an ordinary garage when not in use. All of those attributes are still relevant today, and two years ago Durban businessman Barry Olivier set about building his own teardrop trailer using a marine ply body on an old trailer chassis. When he finished his prototype, called Marilyn, it attracted so much favourable attention wherever he went that he formed Jetstream Teardrop Trailers SA to build and market them in marine fibreglass. His business partner, Brenden Keating, who had years of experience building and fitting-out luxury motor yachts in his own business, came with the advantage that he already had a reliable, skilled team of workers on his payroll.
“We want to emphasize that we’re not specifically targeting dedicated caravaners with our products”, says Barry. “We cater very well for people who enjoy an outdoor lifestyle, like cyclists, hikers, anglers, hunters, motorsport competitors and anybody else who travels a lot and needs decent accommodation at various far-off venues throughout the year. Our little vans can be towed by small cars that would not usually be considered for towing duties, and because they weigh in at around 500kg and are aerodynamically efficient, performance and fuel consumption don’t take a big knock. Another bonus arising from the low mass of the trailer is that younger drivers, who aren’t licensed to tow anything with an all-up mass greater than 750kg, can legally tow our Teardrops”. *
Barry says that the trailers could have been even lighter, but Brenden builds them as he does boats, using marine-grade materials to form a rugged 5mm thick fibreglass shell.
Jetstream Teardrop Trailers SA currently produces two variants of their Teardrop trailer, the Classic, at R97 900, and the more rugged XT (R104 900) for off-road use. Both are 4200mm long and 2040mm wide, and each comes with a 1950mm x 1500mm queen-sized bed – a tip of the hat to Mr Sibley! The Classic is just 1,760m tall, while the XT version stands 40mm taller because of the increased ground clearance and larger 14”diameter wheels necessary for off-road use. The XT also comes with a two-plate gas cooker with a 3kg gas bottle and regulator, while the Classic features a single plate burner. Both come with chassis-mounted 50 litre water tanks and wash basins in the lockable external front kitchenette cum bar area, but the XT boasts an extended shower rose tap instead of the standard faucet in the Classic. The XT also uses galvanised metal mudguards rather than fibreglass, and the Trail Duster spare wheel is mounted on the front of the bodywork rather than underneath the chassis where it would limit ground clearance over rough terrain.
The list of standard features for both derivatives is impressive, including a fire extinguisher, four large storage compartments, a DVD radio player with two 6”x 9”speakers, a 10 amp battery manager and charger, an 80 amp-hour deep-cycle battery and numerous LED lights. Battery life with all the electrics in use is an estimated 50 hours, which equates to a four-night stay in the bush before recharging. There are also two 220V / 10 amp power points for when mains electricity is available, and a 130 litre built-in high-density icebox that keeps things chilled for days. Options include roof-racks, running boards and foot rails, jerry cans and mounts, and a side table. On the inside you can add a flat-screen DVD player to suit your requirements. The Teardrops have doors on both sides, with lighting above each.
Jetstream Teardrops are very, very versatile. They stay warm in winter, cool in summer and dry all year. Owners can enjoy the whole camping experience by setting up a gazebo and camp tables alongside, and when you think out of the box the practicality is superb. Going to a wedding or New Year’s party across town? Hitch up the Teardrop and sleep in your own bed at your host’s place rather than have to drive home. Running Comrades in the morning? Park your Teardrop near the start and get in a couple hours extra sleep. Doing the Argus? Sleep in the Jetstream Teardrop at the halfway mark on the drive to Cape Town, and then leave it at the finishing point for afterwards. You can spend time with your friends but come bedtime you can watch a DVD, drink hot coffee or cold beer then sleep like a baby in your own bed for eight hours. Hi Sibley wasn’t as dumb as his name suggests!