Great Design Monday: Airstream Trailers

shoutOut on 28/1/13 by travis.lyle1 in peeps

Airstream - the most iconic trailer of them all

The Airstream Trailer is the gold standard - the shape and style of which are immediately recognisable as unique, and no doubt the envy of all other trailers the world over. With a shape that recalls a time when things were simpler and there was more time to travel the open road, they retain a glamour that others can't touch. Perhaps it's the sleek shape, or the use of shiny aluminium - either way, one look at the design and you'd be forgiven for thinking 'There must be a good story there.' And you're right - there is indeed a great design story behind the iconic Airstream. According to the company's history (listed on its website): "In 1929, Wally Byam (shown above, outside the California factory) purchased a Model T Ford chassis, built a platform on it, towed it with his car to a campsite, and painstakingly erected a tent on it. The effort was tiresome and unpleasant, especially when it rained. Spurred on by his first wife Marion, Wally built a tear-drop-shaped permanent shelter on the platform that enclosed a small ice chest and kerosene stove." That. more or less, was the start of a company that became the definitive leisure trailer.

The Aluminum Airstream look: from concept to design icon

Once Wally Byam had relocated his factory to a rented warehouse (he'd made his neighbors crazy with all the racket), the basic design of the trailer shape, and its materials, were improved. In fact, Byam's famous motto was 'No changes - only improvements!'. In crafting the shape of the trailers, he looked to the design of the Bowlus 'Road Chief' and 'Papoose' trailers, designed by William Hawley Bolus, an engineer, designer and builder of aircraft and recreational vehicles. Byam worked for the Bowlus-Teller Manufacturing Co., which shut it doors two years after Byam joined the company - Bowlus's design formed the basis for Byam's Airstreams, and Bowlus went on to become the Superintendent of Construction for Charles Lindbergh's aircraft, the Spirit of St. Louis. With the basic design of the Airstream in place - and most importantly the internal frame redesigned to accomodate a door on the side and not forward-facing, the final shape and look of the trailer came into focus.

Sleek, shiny and aerodynamic - the quintessential trailer design

Thanks in part to a massive retro design revival, the Airstream now enjoys pride of place in the world of trailers, and it's no surprise. With interiors as well designed as the aerodynmic and 1930s-inspired curves of the exterior, the silver cigar shape continues to attract fans and collectors the world over take great pride in restoring originals to their pristine state (or for that matter converting them into design objects of a different kind, as at the Old Mac Daddy Luxury Trailer Park outside Cape Town). With solid construction that compliments the expertly designed exterior, the chances are the present resurgence in their popularity will continue for many years to come, and the design icon of the open road will easily sail past a grand century's worth of being the iconic dream trailer.


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