Author Tara Cox introduces the world to her passion for a near-century old automotive icon with the publication of Airstream: The Silver RV, available in August from Shire Publications, distributed by Random House.
“Pop culture may poke fun of RVs, but NEVER an Airstream,” says Cox. The retro, cool, futuristic look of the rounded corners, shiny silver exterior and Art Deco-inspired style has, in fact, remained largely unchanged since the 1930s. It is, without exaggeration, one of the biggest success stories in the history of industrial design. That designation is made even more impressive by the fact that that love of the Airstream does not come without a dear cost. Airstream is by far the most glamorous member of the RV world,” maintains Cox. According to Living Stingy it’s not cost-effective to maintain an Airstream: they’re large, susceptible to dents, leaks and scratches to the clear coat and hard to store. While keeping an Airstream perfect can be an expensive luxury, Cox insists aficionados get total enjoyment out of the maintenance and consider it one of the joys of Airstream ownership. “The general consensus is that for what you put into the Airstream, it will last you.”
She must be right: a whopping 65% of Airstreams are still on the road today and business is booming. According to the Recreation Vehicle Industry Association (Jan 2013) RV sales are up 30% this year and dozens of states host RV trade shows for the general public with massive attendance such as the Pennsylvania RV and Camping Show (35,000) and the Ohio RV and Boat Show (18,000). Airstreams are still “Made in the USA” produced in Jackson Center, Ohio.
The author’s own fascination with Airstreams provides insight into the world of devotees: “When I was eight years old I saw my first Airstream through the back window of the family car and it was head-over-heels love at first sight.” When asked about extremes some Airstream fans go to she said most Airstream fans will go to great lengths to customize a vintage Airstream so they look “just-so” down to the period fabrics for window curtains. A few are more extreme with getting Airstream tattoos and the author herself confesses to moving into her first tiny New York City apartment which was small and narrow, prompting her to paint and decorate it like an Airstream interior to make it more comfy and cozy.
Born in the California backyard of inventor Wally Byam the Airstream design was inspired by a trailer designed by Hawley Bowlus, the famed chief builder of The Spirit of St. Louis. The Airstream was, however, never meant to be a mobile home. According to Cox, “Wally Byam always meant for the Airstream to be a “go-places” vehicle but one that had all the comforts of home.”
Comfy and cozy it is but, interestingly, perceptions about space have changed greatly over the years. From the 1940s-70s the Airstream was considered ample room for a family of four, but by today’s standards that is considered very cozy, indeed, and most Airstreams are suited for two people. “In general, people expect more living space today - it’s the difference between the postwar Levittown dream homes and today’s McMansions” says Cox, “but you still do have all the luxuries of home.” Owners do fill their Airstreams with luxuries such as gourmet coffee makers, martini shakers, and microwaves and part of the popularity of Airstreams among celebrities, event planners and young professionals is that it’s very stripped down and basic but allows people to customize it and fill it with things that make it a home to them. “Among their many uses, a growing number of people are now using Airstreams for honeymoon rentals” says Cox.