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The moment of truth... : credit: © Steve Miller
Steve Miller dons the gloves and welding mask and gets stuck in to his camper trailer project – but will he be finished in time for LRM Live?

It’s been a little while since my Penman trailer was collected from my mate Mark’s yard. Like most of the projects that I keep locked safely away in my head, I really needed to crack on with this one. No doubt by the time you’re reading this, my deadline for the overland trailer build (our very own LRM Live event) will have passed. Did I arrive there with it in tow, behind my Td5 90 or not? Only time will tell, but I am sitting here now with just four weeks to go.

Steve’s thoughts finally make it on to paper! This made estimating the steel box section lengths easy

​​​​​​So, as you can probably tell from the pictures, I still have a lot of work to do, but at least I’ve made a start. My initial research into various trailer builds had seen me spending many hours frequenting a couple of Facebook groups, namely the Sankey, Brockhouse and Penman Trailers UK & Worldwide and Expedition Ready Trailers. I have also watched with interest @nickweatherby (whose Defender builds have graced the front cover of LRM on two occasions) and @penhouse_view. It’s worth checking all these out if you’re looking for trailer build inspiration, or need knowledge on anything else trailer-related.

Measure twice, then once for luck, then one more time, then cut

Anyway, back to my creation, which to some is the wrong way of doing it, and to others, quite possibly the correct way, much to the opposing views held on social media. Basically, the aim was to build a frame, then to clad it in either aluminium or a composite sheet, with a couple of side hatches to boot, then mount my Frontrunner roof tent atop.

Novice welder Steve is right to be proud of his first go at fabrication

​​​​​​First, I needed to teach myself to weld; during early attempts, the grinder was definitely my friend. But using some off-cut box section and plenty of patience, I soon grew in confidence and finally embarked on the beginning of the frame. I know at this point approximately 50 per cent of you will say that it should be built from aluminium to help keep weight down, while the other half will argue steel is the better option as it’s stronger. I chose the latter because I can weld it and it’s cheaper. The trailer’s naked weight is around 660kg so adding a further 65kg of box-section steel isn’t that significant. I opted for 30x30mm 2.5mm-section steel box, basically because I felt 1mm was too thin and 3mm section was overkill.

Penman trailers make sturdy, solid bases for all sorts of projects

Anyone who has had anything to do with these ex-army Penman trailers will know they were built with purpose and are massively over-engineered. It will certainly cope with anything I’m ever likely throw at it – adding a steel frame, cladding and accessories including a roof tent, will be well within its capabilities.

Extra bracing adds strength for carrying the Frontrunner tent

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That said, I want it to be strong. By the time I’ve added the tent (even though the Frontrunner tent is very light at just 45kg) and then a couple of people sleeping in it, I don’t want there to be any chance of it sagging in the middle – and it’ll need to put up with various stresses as I drive down the road. Initially I was following my hand-drawn plans, but as I worked through it, I ended up adding a bit here and a bit there. My simple structure is coming on, and with careful cutting and preparing of the metal, it’s almost ready to go to the next stage, the outer skin.

A few hours have gone into this, to say the least. It’s my first fabrication job, though, so seasoned welders could have this done in less than half the time. In all, the frame used ten three-metre lengths to complete, which I purchased from a company online called Metals 4 U.

“Grinder and paint make me the welder I ain’t”

The idea is to fit a couple of side hatches, held up on gas struts, which I have had made professionally by a company I also found on the internet, called Specialized Horsebox Components. From order to delivery they only took ten days to arrive, and there was Easter in between that time too. Most impressive. At £603 it was a fairly hefty amount, but then I needed to weigh up my time versus the quality of finish if I attempted to make my own. I doubt I could ever match it. It’s also the quality of the touchpoints when you’re actually using the trailer, which I believe will make all the difference.

Camping pod will be clad in aluminium or composite sheet

I’m at the point of deciding whether to skin the frame in aluminium sheet, or a composite equivalent; again, there’s a clear split between those in favour of each option. I then need to think how I am going to fit the tent. The top of my frame is only 600mm of the side of the trailer, favouring keeping the centre of gravity as low as possible (I know some go higher) but I do need to consider walking underneath the tent when it’s up. I want to able to clear that as I’m 6ft 3in tall. I’ll no doubt need to fabricate a rack to raise it up off the actual roof height, but I also need to consider the Frontrunner awning that fits beneath the overhang of the tent – that’ll need a certain drop, too.

That’s the thing about fabrication, there appears to be no right or wrong way of making a custom build, but I am definitely enjoying the process. Anyway, I’m off to purchase another workshop jumper – my first suffered greatly from my initial attempts at welding…



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