In 1934, Hawley Bowlus -- the man responsible for designing and building Lindbergh's The Spirit of St. Louis -- decided to apply his knowledge to a new market: towable trailers. His efforts became the Bowlus Road Chief, a riveted aluminum trailer that had the conveniences of home and, at a svelte 1,200 pounds dry (empty), could easily be towed by even small cars. While the design was industry leading, the floundering economy of the Great Depression hampered sales. After selling 80 trailers, Bowlus decided he'd be better off making planes and shuttered Bowlus. In the years that followed, its influence would live on in Airstream and a multitude of aluminum trailer manufacturers, but the Road Chief's design was relegated to history.
Then car collector John Long found one of the rare 80 Road Chiefs that made it off the lot and embarked on a decade-long restoration. Inspired by its unique and beneficial design, he decided to resurrect Bowlus and bring the Road Chief back to market. In 2013 he succeeded: for the first time in 79 years new Bowlus Road Chiefs were being made, lived in and gawked at. While the original design could be on Social Security, the Bowlus Road Chief still blows away new and vintage competition with spellbinding style and updates aplenty.
The exterior of the Bowlus Road Chief is entirely made from aircraft-grade aluminum that's been riveted together in the same process once used to build airplanes. Its uniquely aerodynamic shape again takes its cues from aircraft, with a rounded front that tapers to the tail to prevent the creation of a drag-inducing vacuum, which in turn saves gas. Rather than the more common side entrance, the Road Chief opts for front entrance for easy loading and transport of additional gear like kayaks and bicycles without the need for external racks (another mpg killer).
All of this is part of Hawley Bowlus's ingenious original design. But, as good as the original was, John Long recognized some improvements and modern amenities could make it that much better. After building in some additional headroom for today's taller population (we're glad it wasn't made wider, too), the interior was finished to a level you'd expect from a freshly renovated house in DWELL. Birch paneling throughout the interior keeps things bright and inviting, and a stainless steel full kitchen with high-end appliances and fixtures means that there's no excuse for having GORP for dinner. If you're traveling with a bed buddy, two twin beds easily convert to an "almost king", and additional twins can be made by folding down the seats. An 8,000 BTU air conditioner is carefully tucked away inside to keep you comfortable when the temperature spikes (cooking in an aluminum can is never fun). Recognizing that its passengers have shifted from painting landscapes to Instagramming them, the Road Chief is outfitted with wireless routers and outlets throughout; it even has dedicated charging stations and discrete storage drawers for laptops. A 120-watt solar panel will keep your powered up no matter how far off the grid you roam.
The bottom line is that the Bowlus Road Chief remains a piece of architectural art on wheels. Its reintroduction places it squarely at the front of the pack, the standard by which other aluminum trailers should be benchmarked. Time to make some adventures worthy of such a timelessly contemporary beauty. Welcome back, Bowlus -- welcome back.
Excellence, innovation, craftsmanship, and an unwavering desire to challenge expectations -- these are the constants that have captivated our attention since Gear Patrol's inception in 2007. This year we're proud to announce the next step in our role as a champion of quality in product design and execution: welcome to the GP100. Our inaugural product awards are dedicated to honoring the 100 best consumer products released during the calendar year by companies of all sizes and scope.
The GP100 is not a ranking or a contest. These selections represent the collective expertise of our entire editorial staff, who have scoured every corner of the vast product universe -- from automotive and electronics, to men's style essentials, home goods, spirits and outdoors -- to find the inspiring and the practical, the ground-breaking and the traditional, the priceless and the accessible. In short: products that define or defy their respective categories to better the life of the modern man.
The GP100 is not a contest influenced by marketers or brands, nor is it a ranking by specifications as determined by uniform tests. Instead, it starts with a comprehensive list of nominees released in the calendar year, researched and compiled by our editorial team of obsessed experts across all of Gear Patrol's major areas of interest including Motoring, Technology, Style, Home, Spirits, Outdoor and Watches. Brands are not part of the selection process. Nominees are then debated in context of the past, present and future of their respective fields. Which selections stand as significant innovations, category busters or faithful monuments to the icons of history? Do they adhere to Gear Patrol's core tenets of excellence, design, utility and the spirit of adventure? Distilled to the following 100 items, the GP100 represents the best products on earth released in 2013 -- easily inspiring consumers and creators alike during their search for guideposts of excellence in a vast world of products.
Motoring Watches Style Technology Sports Outdoors Home Spirits
Jeremy BergerBen Bowers