The original RV company, Airstream, seems like a thirst trap. You’ve seen the photos online of gorgeous interiors and glistening aluminum siding. It’s hard to look away!
For over 90 years, outdoor enthusiasts have drooled over the deliciously appointed interiors of Airstream trailers. A true American classic, folks instantly recognize them on the road.
Even though they’ve been around for almost a century, most of us haven’t ever been in one. Check out the story and truth behind the legend of the most beautiful camper on wheels.
Let’s hit the road!
Wally Byam grew up outdoors. Fishing, camping, and hiking filled his childhood with a desire to exist “out there.” In 1929, he built the first recreational vehicle on his Model T Ford chassis. A simple tent, it provided portable sleeping quarters but little else.
In a few short years, Byam retooled his design as the Torpedo Car Cruiser. Any car could tow this simple teardrop trailer, which had some success. But it wasn’t until after World War II, which he spent working in an aircraft factory, that his best idea hit.
The team behind Airstream created its first thirst trap in models like the Clipper. Clad in shiny aluminum, the larger trailers made cross-country trips possible. Byam himself led the first caravans in the early 1950s.
Innovation continued for the brand. The first fully self-contained camper, released in 1958, made boondocking possible. The founder worked with companies like Bowen Water Heater Co. to put hot water in the trailers. Things kept moving up from there.
Now one of the legacy brands in American RVing, Airstream continues to innovate. They’ve also released a line of travel coaches, and they’re putting new features into their classic campers. Priced for any budget, you’ll find exactly what you’re looking for in the new lines.
Pro Tip: Get inspired by these 5 Best Vintage Airstream Renovations.
Who Owns Airstream?
In the mid-twentieth century, the company found itself in hot water. Other manufacturers entered the market, and the oil crisis forced prices through the roof. In 1979, the company operated at a $12 million loss. Then, in 1980, THOR Industries entered the picture.
Named for founders Wade Thompson and Peter Orthwein, THOR purchased Airstream and turned things around. In the first year of operation under the THOR banner, the company operated at $1 million in profit. That’s a $13 million turnaround in just a year!
A new focus emerged, building a community of owners. Airstream reached out to its customer base and birthed a whole culture. Cutting costs by redesigning the exterior, the quality and innovation of the brand never faltered.
What’s So Special About An Airstream?
When Wade Byam dreamed of the Airstream travel trailer we know today, his head was in the clouds. Inspired by his time in the aircraft factory, he borrowed from the aerodynamic curves for his new design. Most modern RVs are boxy and create drag as they move through the outdoors. This brand’s vehicles are the most aerodynamic of their kind.
Another aspect of these rigs is longevity. They’re made to last from the inside out. Most other brands have a projected life of 12-15 years, but Airstream is something else. On average, a well-maintained trailer will last upwards of 40 years. That and low maintenance costs mean you’ll enjoy your trips for decades.
Out of all trailers on the road today, these are some of the safest. A low center of gravity reduces the likelihood of a tip-over significantly. And if you ever decide to upgrade to a bigger model, they hold on to value like no other.
Why Are Airstreams So Expensive?
For all their beauty, you won’t usually find a bargain on an Airstream. You’ll see several reasons these social media darlings cost so damn much.
Most manufacturers make money by streamlining the process and using low-cost materials. Airstream goes in the opposite direction. Using “aircraft-grade” aluminum, both inside and out, and steel frames, these trailers cost more to assemble. Each rivet in the skin is done by hand, making them more labor-intensive.
The company also makes all its cabinetry and appliances fit the aerodynamic design. Items they can’t make themselves; they source from high-end partners. Because they can’t drop in the machines on the assembly line, workers carry them on by hand. Each person-hour raises the price.
Finally, Airstream is fiercely dedicated to quality. Rather than cut corners like their competitors, they take pride in the details. If that all matters to you, the price is worth it.
Pro Tip: We crunched the numbers to uncover Are Airstreams Worth The Price?
Can You Live In An Airstream?
Wally Byam never intended his trailers to function as full-time homes. Modern RVers take pride in the practice, but the company line is clear. These are recreational vehicles, not intended for full-time living.
That said, plenty of folks have figured out how to make the Airstream thirst traps their everyday lady. It’s essential to understand what you’re getting into, though. Long-term occupancy of a trailer may even void some warranty protections.
If you’re dead set on living in your rig, make sure you know what you’re getting into. Like any RV, the drawbacks include small space, lack of access to amenities, and breakdowns. But these trailers have some big plus sides, including high-quality components and a nearly indestructible exterior and frame.
Are They High Maintenance?
One of the perks of owning an RV is always having your home with you. Your home traveling down the road at over 60 mph takes much more abuse than a stationary dwelling. It’s common for campers to experience wear and tear from just moving from location to location. Airstream is no different, but these picture-perfect thirst traps are built better.
This brand makes a difference with the quality of craftsmanship involved. These are hand-assembled from high-end components. Sure, you may encounter bigger potholes than expected and have to make repairs. But more than any other RV, they’re built to endure.
Every experience is different, and plenty of folks have bad incidents. Most complaints involve having to wax the aluminum and maintain seals. Like any other high-end piece of equipment, they need regular upkeep.
Is It Better To Buy a New or Used Airstream?
The new or used question is the same for any brand. Used RVs have the benefit of road testing. A previous owner can tell you about any issues with the rig and provide a maintenance record. You’ll also save some cash on the purchase price.
New trailers cost more than you might expect, and they’ll have a break-in period too. A used larger or higher-end model might be within reach for the same money. Opting for a used model means that when you’re ready to upgrade, you can expect a good return on your investment.
Ultimately, a used Airstream that’s been well-maintained beats a new model every time.
A Picture Perfect Home on Wheels
Influencers, beware, you’ll see more traffic to your socials in one of these rigs than almost anything else. Post those Airstream thirst trap photos of you enjoying your outdoor life and watch the clicks come in. Cost aside; these are some of the most durable, enjoyable trailers we’ve experienced.
If you can swing it, they’re worth every penny.
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