Airstream—sometimes referred to as “aluminum bubbles,” “silver bullets,” “tin cans,” or even “those big silver pills on the road.” Whatever nickname is used to describe them, there is little doubt that most people recognize the iconic travel trailers immediately. Although primarily known for their easily identifiable style, they are highly regarded for their durability, making them one of the most popular options for a hefty restoration project. Since they were (and still are) built to last, it isn’t unusual to see a pristine 20-plus year old Airstream driving down the road or in one of the many Airstream-only campgrounds. In fact, Airstream.com claims that over 60% of all those produced are still in use.Long and Diverse History
Airstream is the only manufacturer of travel trailers that survived the Great Depression and World War II. Although some of the models from that time are still around, the Safari is the oldest one that is still regularly used and renovated. At a body length of 19-feet and a bit lighter than 3000 pounds, the Safari was introduced in the mid-1950s. With its shorter length, it’s easier to tow than longer versions and it’s actually quite roomy, which is why many choose this model.
In the 1970s, Airstream produced its first RV, the Argosy and updated its trailer design by adding several inches to the length and width. The travel trailers, which had taken a step toward its more contemporary “silver bullet” look have continued to be the company’s primary product and what it is ultimately known for.
In the 1990s, the Vintage Airstream Club was formed, as interest in the older models grew. Additionally, the next major design change was released, with another 5-inches in width and a variety of floorplans to choose from. Regardless of the year in which they are manufactured, these are the contemporary models that you see.Why Restore an Airstream?
The main reason people initially buy, subsequently maintain or restore, and keep them is that they are nearly timeless. The lightweight aluminum exterior is hardy and the design is classic looking, both futuristic and nostalgic at the same time. With such a solid foundation, it’s easy to gut and completely remodel the interior.
For example, eight years ago, we traveled with a man who had built a workspace and additional storage under the bench seats and beds of his 1964, 24-foot Trade Wind, nearly doubling the usable space. He parked in an Airstream-only campground in the Pacific northwest, where he lived for a year. There were hundreds of trailers there, and although they looked very similar on the outside, we were amazed by how different they all were when we stepped inside. Some were restored to the time of their creation; others were totally updated. Either way, they were both fun and functional.
Airstream is a company with a long and illustrious past. Their trailers have been used by presidents and celebrities alike. They are the most easily-identified traveler on the road with a huge fan-base. Whether for a full-time or vacation home, spare space for company, or as a perpetual project, the “silver pill” is worth the time and the money. They aren’t going away anytime soon.