The trailer that inspired the AirStream
Design Spotlight: The Bowlus Road Chief
We’re all familiar with the iconic design of Airstream trailers. But what about the name Hawley Bowlus? Some may know him for his success as the designer and builder of the Spirit of St. Louis — the record-breaking plane used by Lindberg to fly non-stop across Atlantic Ocean. But a few years later in 1934, he also set out to create the ultimate travel trailer by leveraging his background in aviation. The result was a stunning piece of machinery dubbed the Hawley Bowlus Road Chief that was both visually arresting and technically advanced. The original model was easily towable by the era’s low-horsepower vehicles, weighing a mere 1,200 pounds while still including plenty of amenities (like a full kitchen). But the luxury trailers gained little traction in the thick of the Great Depression. Though around 200 were made, only 80 were sold before Bowlus shut down and returned to planes. Wally Byam took notice of the glorious machines and revived the style in 1936 — under the now-famous Airstream brand.
Today, the Bowlus Road Chief is being revived by long-time car collector John Long, who spent over a decade restoring his original Road Chief (number 149 off the assembly line) by hand. Now, Long’s team has refocused on continuing Bowlus’ original mission of creating the ultimate lightweight trailer, replete with all of the modern advances we enjoy today. As it turns out, the distinctive and aerodynamic exterior of the original was already optimized for towing efficiency, even at today’s highway speeds. Still, the interior of the “Bowlus 2.0” needed to take today’s taller population in to account, store in a conventional garage and include plenty of internal gear space to discourage owners from adding on external racks, which would add drag. Comforts like a propane tank for cooking, A/C for climate control and space of socializing — in the form of a full-sized sofa, two armchairs and multiple beds — were equally critical for maintaining a luxury experience. Plenty of updates were added for today’s gadget culture as well, including numerous power outlets with a dedicated charging station, a built-in inverter, a pair of advanced AGM batteries that can connect with an included 120-watt solar panel for staying juiced off the grid, and even the option for cellular/Wi-Fi routers for online connectivity.
Each of these new hand-built Road Chiefs are customized to order; the first models are expected to ship in early May 2013. Those interested in dedicating their Winnebago budget to a Road Chief of their own will have to put down a $1,500 deposit to get on the list. A fully equipped, finished trailer retails for $100,000 plus applicable taxes, fees and custom options.