by Kary Pardy
The new trailer was so popular that Wally decided to get into the business of making them, and made it easy for others to follow his lead. Wally published a DIY guide in Popular Mechanics, and then in 1931 set up a small factory, and in 1936 the “Airstream Clipper” was born. Named because of the aluminum alloy exterior and the resemblance to the Spirit of Saint Louis, the Clipper is the characteristic airstream model we think of today. It slept four, had electric lights, its own water supply, and cost around $1,200, which is equivalent to about $20,000 today.
photo: The Lonely Planet
Off to a great start, but . . .
Today, Airstreams are just as popular as ever, though in the trailer market they are considered a luxury item, priced at the high end of the spectrum. Fans are still devoted, and there are more than a dozen Airstream parks around the country and several enthusiast clubs. The American government also relies on Airstreams to travel around the world. According to a 2007 article in the Chicago Tribune, the trailers are strapped down inside military cargo planes for as a private haven and feature luxuries such leather seats, air conditioning, televisions, and surround sound.
variety is king
- 1968 and earlier: 7’interior width
- 1969-1993 (some 1994s): 7 1/2’interior width
- 1995 (some 1994s) and later: 8’interior width
It is worth knowing that with most Airstreams, the model name reflects the length (ie: Bambi 19 = 19′). Models also change mid-year, so be aware if you are looking for a specific size or look. For more windows, stick with models post 1950, with 1960-68 having some of the largest windows until modern units. Wait a little longer though and some models post 1969 have skylights, known as “vista view.” It all comes down to personal preference and affordability.
Earlier models in good condition or rare early models sell for around $30,000, but you could find a fixer-upper for under $10,000. There are a plethora of sites online to begin the hunt, including Airstream’s website, airstream.com, which has several resources for enthusiasts. Also, check out airstreamclassifieds.com or try looking into a collector’s group like the VAC (Vintage Airstream Club). Bloggers also write about their experiences, and you may learn a lot about life on the road from following their adventures in Airstreams and then maybe create some of your own.
Vintage trailers of all types can be seen and appreciated at oldtrailer.com where trailers ranging from Decoliner to Holiday House trailers reflect the modern approach to living on the road.