American company Airstream (7) (12), famous in the United States (8) and overseas (9) as a successful RV manufacturer (10) and owner of a hotel chain (6), has manufactured some Airstream 5th wheels (3), sometimes produced in-house (11), such as the Airstream Integrity (1), sometimes through a parent company named Argosy (2) or even manufactured by unrelated companies such as Avion (4). Currently, there are no plans to relaunch any Airstream 5th wheels product line (5).
Airstream 5th wheels are not manufactured currently, being the Airstream Integrity the last 5th wheel released by Airstream. The company revealed recently their future product roadmap, not including any fifth wheels product model.
Airstream made 5th wheels under the Airstream name for a short time starting in 1989. These extended until 1991 and then stopped. A production line was released with about a hundred units. Airstream also sold 5th wheels under the name Argosy in 1989 and may have done so earlier in 1988, but I just found evidence for1988.
Collectively, these 5th wheels were part of the product line that is sometimes called “Squarestreams” because they do not have the iconic rounded shape. Airstream built the Integrity 5th wheel between 1996 and 1998 that had several slide-outs, something uncommon until in the company the Atlas Touring Coach, that nevertheless has only one slide-out and it is a class B RV mounted on a Mercedes Benz Sprinter chassis.
The Squarestream 5th wheel was made as an Argosy from 1986 to 1988, then as Airstream in 1989 and 1990. 1996 Airstream made another 5th wheel and named it Integrity, mentioned above
The Airstream Integrity was released until 1998 but some units appeared in the market in 1999, which corresponded to 1998 production lines.
And what about the RVs manufactured by the independent company Avion? While Airstream did not make a “silver bullet” fifth wheel, Avion did. They are extremely rare but examples do come up for sale.
You should be able to see the date of manufacture on the plate attached to the lower front left side of the unit. Mine is close to the last if not the last Argosy they made before switching to silver paint and calling it an Airstream. Mine was manufactured in the fall of ’88 but is titled and sold as a “1989” it is # 136. I believe they made the airstream by customer order only into early 1991. If the unit has been kept well, the value will be higher, but most of these units need a lot of restoration due to water damage from a notorious leaky roof.
Two eclectic slideout rooms, two central air conditioners, two central heaters, large private bathroom with garden tub and washer/dryer hookups, queen size island bed, large deep closets, tons of storage with outside basement, fully self-contained with gas/electric fridge that works great as well as everything else in the trailer.
Conversions Of RVs To Become Airstream 5th Wheels
There have been very rare cases where people have taken a classic Airstream model and converted it into a fifth wheel, but this is very rare. I would estimate that there are under a hundred models like this.
The process of converting an Airstream into a fifth wheel is long, arduous, and will, in most cases, devalue the vehicle.
So conversion is not a good idea when you refer to Airstream, in regards to the depreciation of the asset. When one goes about converting an Airstream, it requires work on both the hull of the vehicle and its inner utilities. The first step would be to knock out the lower half of the vehicle and extend it about 15 feet to make it the size of a fifth wheel.
Next, serious modifications would be needed to extend water, electricity, and heating/air conditioning to the new space of the vehicle.
Finally, flooring, couches, chairs, and other furnishings would need to be added in just the right way to give it that Airstream feel.
These conversions are nowadays accepted into Airstream rallies, along with Argosy and Avion models.
There aren’t a lot of these out there and for good reason. Airstreams are more valuable in their original condition and, in the opinion of most enthusiasts, more fun.
Argosy: The Airstream 5th Wheels
Airstream created Argosy as a second brand. It cannot be compared to the acquisition of Nest, where Airstream purchases Nest, which was an existing company.
Starting in the 1970s, Airstream started producing a separate line of travel trailers under the name of Argosy. Argosy trailers boasted similar features as classic Airstream travel trailers, but without the classic chrome exterior as their parent company.
Brochures from the 70s explained to prospective customers that they would not be allowed to participate in Wally Byam Caravan Club activities or Airstream rallies, even while assuring customers that “the Argosy offers many major features that made Airstream famous.” True enough, the nuts and bolts of the Argosy weren’t all that different from an Airstream. They shared the aerodynamic aluminum structural design and featured an identical axle. “Argosy, above all means value,” the brochures proclaimed. “Built by the pioneers of the trailering industry.”
The designs they made for Argosy, the parent company, were nothing like an Airstream. Perhaps they could find inspiration from a few of the high-end automakers who have faced new design challenges without forsaking their roots because the experience did not go well.
Argosy trailers were advertised as medium-priced trailers. The every man’s trailer with marginal success. While they were originally advertised as being “almost an Airstream” today Argosy trailers are quite rare and have taken on an identity of their own.
Today, Argosy trailers are quite rare and are recognized as yet another fascinating element in Airstream’s storied history. Argosy owners are a passionate breed, and today their trailers are welcome at Airstream events across the country, as well as in the Wally Byam Caravan Club. Their enthusiasm is apparent in the creative renovations you can find on social media, and the way many owners use Argosy’s distinct paintable surface as a canvas to express themselves.
During the fuel crises of the late 1970s, Argosy closed its doors, but reopened briefly from 1986 to 1989. During this short time period, Argosy did manufacture a fifth-wheel trailer, but with a square-shaped exterior, in place of the classic rounded, aerodynamic design that made Airstream famous.
These shortly-lived trailers, somewhat unpopular in their own day, have gained a kind of cult following in recent years. The “Squarestream” trailers, as they are known, have the same feel and are built with the same meticulous attention to detail as a classic Airstream, but a completely different aesthetic.
Sources And References
- “History of Airstream”. airstream.com. Retrieved 2021-03-20.
- Wilson, Craig (2007-07-02). “For Airstreamers, it’s one big ‘silver family'”. USA Today. Retrieved 2021-03-20.
- “Thor Industries, Inc. History”. fundinguniverse.com. Retrieved 2021-03-20.
- “Gold Airstream”. Vintage Camper Trailers. Vintage Camper Trailers. 2019. Archived from the original on 2018-08-27. Retrieved 2021-03-13.
- “The Swift Group”. Airstream UK. Retrieved 2021-01-11.
- “Airstream Caravans for Sale | Lowdhams Caravans of Nottingham”. www.lowdhams.com. Retrieved 2019-01-11.
- “Airstream stars alongside Holly and Phil on This Morning”. Airstream UK. Retrieved 2019-01-11.
- Jo Taylor, HSBC Mobile Airstream, retrieved 2021-01-11
- Stacy, Mitch (January 1, 2015). “Airstream can’t keep up with demand for iconic silver trailers”. Washington Post. Retrieved May 28, 2021.
I am Tony, an RV designer and RV developer. I create bill of materials for RV manufacturers for travel trailers and fifth wheels. I worked as a freelance transportation consultant for Lyft. As an RV development consultant, I create customization trees for RV manufacturers who want to offer a solution to prospective customers to design their custom RV with variant configuration. Apart from this, I sell in Indiana trailer hitches, hitch balls, goosenecks and weight distribution systems where I provide advice to customers who want to know which is their towing capacity, which hitch ball should they utilize and how to deploy a weight distribution system. I do my best to explain all these processes and their installation, here in RV Favorites.