Aluminum Trailer Company’s 33-foot front-bedroom toy hauler proves the ideal solution for hauling some precious metal
Why do we like shiny things, exactly? You know, the good stuff like diamond rings, chrome wheels and platinum wristwatches. Who knows what the evolutionists would say, but my own theory is that we’re hardwired to notice food and threats. Why else would a merganser instinctively chase a shimmery minnow beneath the lake’s surface, and why else would the James Bond villain Jaws’ steel teeth feel so threatening, even on a movie screen?
And so (according to my theory, at least), shiny paint and trim are longstanding staples of the RV, auto, truck and motorcycle markets. But no one outdid Ducati, who brought seven audacious metal-flake silver and turquoise 750cc racers to Imola, Italy, for 1972’s “Daytona of Europe” race, in which victory established the motorcycle manufacturer worldwide. With one of those special bikes in a California collection, we needed a tow vehicle and toy hauler with attitude and aptitude to match.
Ford and the Aluminum Trailer Company (ATC) had them. Ford provided a Silver Spruce 2019 F-250 4×4 Crew Cab Limited boasting a 15,000-pound towing capacity and a 10,000-pound gross vehicle weight rating (GVWR), and ATC came through with a Light Pewter Metallic 8528-FB (front bedroom) toy hauler providing a generous 15 feet, 10 inches of garage length. This is just one of eight ATC toy-hauling trailers and fifth-wheels ranging from 25 feet to 41 feet, 3 inches.
UNIQUE ALUMINUM CONSTRUCTION
Two key assets stand out in this 7,300-pound (dry) trailer: the aluminum chassis is lightweight for towing ease and fuel economy, and the frame can never rust. The construction is also entirely wood-free, a welcome feature for RV owners who have witnessed, with pained dismay, rotted wood, delamination and screws pulling out of other building materials.
What We Liked
Motorsports focus, aluminum frame and one-piece aluminum roof, wood-free construction, modern interior design, big 36-gallon fuel station, intuitive controls
Like to See
Power corner jacks, automatic leveling system, quick-detach entry stairs, one-touch awning functions, improved exterior lighting
Speaking of which, instead of being screwed together, the ATC trailer’s interior and exterior panels, door frames, cabinets and aircraft-style adjustable tie-down tracks (which accept quick-release 5,000-pound tie-down rings) are riveted and bonded in place. Combined with the 7-inch aluminum frame rails (tongue tubes are 8 inches), welded 1-inch wall framing and 4-inch-tall ceiling trusses, this creates a permanent structure that we suspect is unrivaled by other toy haulers.
ATC towed the test trailer to Simi RV Sales in Simi Valley, California, and ATC cofounder Jeff Shenk flew in from the company’s northern Indiana headquarters to introduce us to the 8528. A marathon runner, Shenk showed off the ruggedness of the build by opening a cabinet, grabbing the shelf edge and doing a vigorous pull-up.
Backing up momentarily to the frame construction, as a truck and power-sports guy who uses equipment hard, I was fascinated to learn that the aluminum frame rails are welded together upside-down on a jig, and the four plastic holding tanks are then installed. These include a 100-gallon freshwater tank, 45-gallon gray and black tanks, and a 36-gallon tank for the fuel station. Next, this assembly is righted, and prefabricated aluminum walls, likewise welded on jigs for accuracy, are positioned, rather like a tilt-up building. Finally, the roof structure is installed.
The 8528 is insulated for heat, cold and sound. Sandwiched between the square-section aluminum wall tubing is 1-inch-thick R-3 insulation, while the ceiling uses 3-inch-thick R-11 insulation. Sprayed-on closed-cell floor insulation is optional, as is R-6.5 closed-cell wall insulation. The outside skin is painted .040-inch aluminum sheet. Impressively, to ward off leaks, the entire roof of the toy hauler is formed from a single sheet of aluminum, rolled down at the edges and seamed at the corners, bonded and riveted in place.
Interior walls and ceiling are polypropylene-and-fiberglass composite, and the floor is aluminum, covered with nonslip removable floor mats in key areas. ATC likes to say that the interior is so durable and waterproof that, should it become dirty inside due to all the fun you’ve had, you can simply remove the floor mats and pressure-wash it. No wood construction means no rotting. We like! One caveat, though: Don’t spray the appliances or electronic control panel.
BUILT TO WORK
ATC started building aluminum-frame motorsport and custom trailers 20 years ago, so the company is well versed in what is needed to haul toys. For instance, the 8528’s 7-foot, 5-inch-long by 7½-foot-wide rear ramp door mounts on seven broad piano hinges and can support 4,000 pounds. That’s more than enough for a two-door Jeep Wrangler or any of
the popular side-by-side off-roaders like the Polaris RZR or Honda Pioneer.
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Based on a proprietary ATC design, the wood-free rear door is counter-sprung, making lowering and raising it reasonably easy for one person. We say “reasonably” here because the door does not have a power assist to open or close. It was also relatively high off the ground in the test unit, which featured an optional 5-inch taller deck height (22 inches versus 17 inches for the standard model) to allow modest off-pavement use, such as along dirt roads leading to off-road areas. No biggie, but just know that the door requires “adult strength” to operate, especially in windy conditions.
We found the dual rear latches easy to use, and both are lockable for security, although one of the pressed-in plastic lock seals fell out on our trip. The ramp door has a nice nonskid working surface and four rubber bumpers that keep it from scratching when lowered. These, and the cross- section of the hollow, insulated door means there’s a significant “bump up” of several inches that vehicles must cover when being driven into the rig. This is no problem for off-road vehicles, but we worried about running the road-racing Ducati’s more vulnerable pavement tires too hard into it. An easy workaround here would be a simple wedge-shaped chock, homemade or otherwise and sized to fit.
As well, the breakover angle (the point where the trailer door meets the interior floor) might cause some low-slung vehicles to high-center. Car racers know all about this and often carry unique workarounds such as extra ramps and pillars to lift the trailing edge of the rear door. There’s always a way….
Inside, for storing a Jeep, side-by-side or ATVs, the three floor tracks are perfectly adequate because four-wheelers are inherently stable at rest. But motorcycles are not, and for the steadiest storage, additional tie-down tracks close to the walls would be in order.
An extra nice feature of the ramp door is that heavy-duty multi-strand wire cables can be clipped into place to hold the ramp level with the trailer floor. This extends the living area by more than 7 feet, when weather permits. An accessory vinyl-and-screen structure turns the ramp into a separate bedroom, ideal for accommodating more guests, so long as they bring sleeping mats or cots.
RUGGED, OVER AND UNDER
The 8528 is suspended by tandem 5,200-pound torsion axles, and braking is handled by electrically activated drums. The test trailer had the optional 16-inch aluminum-wheel upgrade and ST235/80R16 LRE tires. A full-size spare tire mounted on a steel wheel
is stored under the trailer.
The 8528 model is too heavy for a half-ton truck, hence the F-250 Power Stroke diesel we selected for the test. The F-250 has a Class V 2½-inch receiver, so we used an adapter sleeve to allow using a smaller 2-inch draw bar. Easy enough. Simi RV kindly conducted the trailer hookup for us using a Blue Ox SwayPro weight-distributing hitch.
The trailer’s built-in power jack can lift 3,500 pounds, allowing pretty easy and straightforward attachment and adjustment of the load-distributing bars to level the truck and trailer. This is a terrific add, allowing users to adjust weight distribution according to trailer load, from a heavy Jeep to a lightweight racing bike, in our case.
The SwayPro acts as both a weight-distributing system and a sway control, and is not only easy to set up but also easy to move from one trailer to another. It’s also one of the few hitches that can be spec’d for a trailer that has a tongue weight of up to 2,000 pounds. In operation, the load-distributing feature worked nicely, although the windy conditions we found on the mountain and desert parts of our trip did start the trailer wagging subtly on occasion, which is normal for this part of the country; slowing down a bit took care of business.
TAKING THE HIGH ROAD
Generally, the ATC 8528 and Ford F-250 were a perfect match, and our daylong drive from the Southern California coast into the mountainous Transverse Range, during a rare “super bloom” of the state flower, the orange California poppy, and then on to the 24th-annual Corsa Motoclassica vintage-motorcycle racing event at Willow Springs International Raceway went smoothly. Average fuel economy for the outbound trip, which included a net elevation gain of nearly 4,000 feet, was 10.1 mpg. The return trip netted a modestly better average, and minus the trailer later on, the fuel economy of the Power Stroke turbodiesel jumped to 15.2 mpg.
The F-250’s six-speed automatic transmission features a “manual” mode. Nudging the gear selector to the M position allows manually shifting the transmission via a toggle on the steering column’s right-hand stalk. This toggle also allows nudging the transmission up or down a gear or two, even when the gear selector is in Drive, a handy feature.
It’s well worth mentioning that, as a turbodiesel, the F-250’s performance is essentially unaffected by altitude, and so with tow capacity to spare and turbocharged power under the hood, it hauled the ATC quite smartly indeed.
While I love trucks, driving and towing, I love racing more, and arriving at Willow Springs is when the real action began. And in more ways than one, because the winds that had been with us since we left the coast had kicked into high gear by the time we arrived at the track on Thursday afternoon before the race weekend. We prowled the asphalt and dirt pit area for a dry-camping spot that was both reasonably flat and out of the way. As a hedge against being blown completely out of our shoes, we parked the truck and toy hauler to expose their left flanks windward, thus creating an area of relative calm near the curbside door.
HEAT, WIND AND DRY CAMPING
The ATC 8528 is a combination of mostly great features and just a few that could stand upgrading, even as options. The 5,000-pound scissor jacks at each corner operate manually, requiring the user to stabilize all four corners with a basic hand crank, which doesn’t even feature hand swivels. Plan on wearing gloves when you use it. Here, a power leveling system would be an epic add that we’d gladly order. Alternatively, a cordless drill with the proper driving tool does the job.
A similar scenario is the aluminum stairs for the side door. The three-step unit nests neatly inside the door frame and is permanently attached via piano hinges. Using it requires only unlatching and swinging the steps to the ground. Simple enough, except we found the side of the step frame can contact the door opening and the door, too, if the door isn’t fully open and latched snugly against the trailer’s side. Also, if the trailer is parked curbside or near a hedge or wall, the steps can’t be fully lowered, or even lowered at all in some scenarios, making climbing into the trailer difficult.
ATC provided a 25-foot-wide power awning system that’s intuitive and effective. Simply pressing a toggle on the interior control panel gets the job done. It’s not a one-touch affair; instead, the user must hold the switch until the awning is fully extended or retracted.
Twin compartments at the front of the trailer hold batteries and electronics, and offer general storage. In front, nested ahead of the trailer body, is a 5,500-watt Cummins Onan generator, while the fuel tank, fueling nozzle and controls are inside the unit. The fuel station and generator share the same fuel supply, and an onboard fuel gauge lets you keep track of supply easily. While we didn’t use it for the Ducati (the bike requires special race gas), the fuel station held more than enough for near constant air-conditioning use over the weekend, as the air temperature reached the mid-90s each day.
COMFORTABLE, LOGICAL INTERIOR
Design, componentry, fit and finish inside the ATC are inspired. Nine gloss-black cabinets and four drawers provide ample storage for food and supplies, and the appliances are designed to match, including a two-burner gas stove, an 8-cubic-foot Dometic refrigerator, a microwave convection oven, and a large stainless-steel sink. Nicely positioned, the main control panel is within reach of the sink and refrigerator, letting the cook (aka, the boss) control and monitor supplies. These include freshwater, holding tanks, battery power, and fuel supplies.
Tracks and racing can be a hot, sweaty business, and we were mighty thankful for the ATC’s 15,000-Btu air-conditioning system (complementing its 25,000-Btu furnace, which we did not need or use). Due to the large size of the garage and living area, and because lowering the tailgate to unload the Ducati let in a considerable volume of hot air, cooling this main area took much longer than for the bedroom and bathroom, on the order of 20 minutes or so.
We were happy to find virtually all interior functions to be intuitive and easy to master. This extends from the control panel to the appliances and the numerous USB and 120-volt AC power outlets, as well as the convertible seating and bunks. On the curb side of the trailer, amidships, a four-seat dinette with a table nests against the wall and is held tight by webbing and clips. It’s easy to fold down and put into use, and the dinette seating converts to a bunk within seconds. At the rear of the unit, adjacent to the main vehicle storage area on the street side, another bunk stores similarly against the wall and can likewise be lowered or raised in seconds.
Another control-panel function works the queen-bed loft above the storage area, which is raised and lowered via a toggle. When not in use, the bed nests against the ceiling. Altogether, in standard trim, the 8528 sleeps eight, with four adults and four kids probably the ideal.
In the master bedroom, the queen bed is comfortable enough, and we found the shelving and drawers at both sides of the bed highly useful, since they include USB ports and 120-volt AC outlets. Win! Storage is likewise good here, with five overhead cabinets, under-bed storage, and another four cabinets beside the foot of the bed. Floor space is minimal, however; you pay for all the storage by having to shuffle around the bed. It’s a trade-off that we think is justified and is how most RVs are designed and built.
The ATC has six dual-pane windows: two in the master bedroom, and two on both the curb and street sides of the living area. The windows over the kitchen sink are abbreviated in size, and the curbside door has an additional small inset window. All are openable and screened, and feature black roller shades. Naturally, black is hardly ideal for reflecting sunlight and resisting heat buildup, but they do look great. For us, even in the desert’s heat and intense sunlight, they did a good job blocking sun-load inside the trailer — so good, in fact, that we wouldn’t bother replacing them with another color.
We didn’t find the exterior lighting particularly well executed. The only lighting on the curbside exterior (the logical recreational area next to the door) is associated with the awning, and the switch for the outside rear lighting (behind the unit) is located all the way at the rear of the interior, on the wall.
THE DREAM WORKS OUT
At the track, the pewter ATC 8528-FB toy hauler, silver Ford F-250 and glittery silver Ducati Imola race bike looked great together. Hundreds of miles of travel, four dry-camping days and nights, and numerous track sessions gave us strong exposure to all three vehicles, and with a few minor complaints, we enjoyed each one equally well. Best of all, each vehicle did its job beautifully.
The Kentucky-built Ford F-250 Power Stroke towed more than three tons of trailer and cargo energetically while coddling its occupants with such features as heated and cooled power seats. The Indiana-built ATC 8528-FB stored the precious motorcycle safely and securely, and offered a quiet, cool and comfortable sanctuary from the desert’s heat and wind. And the Ducati racer provided a loud, fast ride of a lifetime, just as it was built to do in the Italian race shop 47 years ago.
Exterior Length 33′
Exterior Width 8′ 6″
Exterior Height 11′
Interior Width 8′ 2″
Interior Height 7′ 6″
Construction Welded aluminum ladder frame, wall and ceiling structures; bonded exterior aluminum skin, one-piece aluminum roof with riveted trim, polypropylene and fiberglass composite interior panels; R-11 ceiling and R-3 wall insulation
Freshwater Cap. 100 gal.
Black-Water Cap. 45 gal.
Gray-Water Cap. 45 gal.
LP-Gas Cap. 10 gal.
Water-Heater Cap. 6 gal.
Refrigerator 8 cu. ft.
Furnace 25,000 Btu
Air Conditioner 15,000 Btu
Converter 50 amp
Battery (2) 12-volt
Tires ST235/80R16 LRE
Suspension Torsion axle
Weight (Dry) 7,300 lbs.
Hitch Weight 1,135 lbs.
GVWR 11,440 lbs.
GAWR (2) 5,200 lbs.
Cargo Carrying Cap. 4,140 lbs.
MSRP, Base $43,365
MSRP, As Tested $78,722
Basic Warranty 3 years
John L. Stein served as a charter editor of Automobile magazine and road-test editor of Cycle, the world’s largest motorcycle magazine. His expertise stems from decades of automotive, motorcycle, truck, trailer and marine product testing. Competing at Daytona and Sebring sharpened his analytical skills — as did racing a kangaroo through Australia’s outback on a motorcycle.