How Are Airstreams Made?

Airstream travel trailers are perhaps one of the most iconic brands of travel trailers in the world. These unique trailers are hard to miss even for those who aren’t RVers. With features that are more airplane than RV, a common question about this RV brand is, “How are Airstreams made?”

This iconic brand is that dream travel trailer for many. Let’s take a closer look at Airstream RVs and answer the popular question, “How are Airstreams made?”

What Is An Airstream?

The Airstream brand of travel trailers is the oldest travel trailer brand in the world. It was founded in the 1920s by Wally Byam. Byam’s original travel trailer was made of Masonite, but as he developed his product, he switched to using lightweight aluminum instead. 

The original Airstream was modeled after the Bowlus Air Chief, a similarly designed competitor travel trailer. The difference between the Airstream and the Air Chief was primarily the location of the door.

The pill or sausage shape of the body was intended to reduce wind resistance and improve speed and gas mileage. The first Airstream trailers sold for around $1,200 and were the first to have electric lights and a water system.

With its rounded shape and shiny aluminum body, the first Airstream looked like the body of an airplane. Fittingly Byam called the first model the Clipper after the first Atlantic flying boat.

The Airstream brand has stood the test of time. It is the only camper brand to survive the Great Depression, as well as the limited supply of metals and materials during World War II. It is also one of the few brands that retained its original design since the 1930s.

Today, Airstream travel trailers, both new and vintage, are highly sought after by RVers. Not only do they retain their original silver, aircraft styling, but they are also some of the most luxurious travel trailers on the market.

Airstream production is different from many other RV brands in that each trailer is carefully assembled by hand, in a single factory in Ohio. The company was acquired by Thor Industries but still manufactures Airstreams as they have always been made.

Airstream Motorhomes

For some time starting in the mid-1970s, Airstream manufactured Class A and Class B motorhomes. These drivable Airstreams had all the comfort features of the travel trailer but never really took off. This line of drivable Airstreams was discontinued in the 1990s.

Today, Airstream works with Dodge and Mercedes-Benz to provide a Class B travel van. It has all of the luxury of the travel trailer but with a more approachable design.

Why Are Airstreams So Expensive?

Luxury Airstream interior - how are Airstreams made?

For many RVers looking to purchase an Airstream, there can be a bit of sticker shock. Airstreams tend to be quite a bit more expensive than similarly sized travel trailers.

While many companies that manufacture high-end products skimp on features or rely on automated manufacturing practices, Airstream does not cut corners. This makes them expensive, but the quality of the product, in most cases, aligns with the price.

One of the biggest reasons Airstreams are so expensive is their manufacturing process. All Airstreams are assembled by hand, and many of the parts and interior features are also custom-made. This labor-intensive manufacturing process leads to a higher price tag, but also a higher quality product.

It wouldn’t make sense to have a high-quality manufacturing product if the materials used were substandard. Airstreams are made from high-quality materials starting with the frame and axles to the cabinetry and upholstery.

Using better-quality materials allows Airstreams to stand the test of time. It’s not uncommon to see vintage models still on the road today.

Before delivery to the consumer, they conduct several quality control checks on each Airstream trailer. This additional focus on quality is another reason that Airstream travel trailers tend to be more expensive than other brands.

Are Airstream Travel Trailers Better?

Though you may not be a fan of Airstream, or you prefer the features of another brand, it is hard to argue that Airstream travel trailers are better than many other brands.

When you look objectively at the facts behind the Airstream product line these factors are those that make this brand better than many others.

  • Construction Quality – Airstream takes immense pride in the quality of their products. Each travel trailer is built to exacting standards and must meet specific quality control measures before being shipped. This focus on good construction and quality control is not seen in other competitor brands.
  • Customer Satisfaction – With quality materials, outstanding customer service, and timeless styling, most Airstream owners will never pick another brand. This level of customer satisfaction is rarely seen with just about any product on the market today. It is hard to compare the level of customer satisfaction of Airstream travel trailers to other travel trailer brands.
  • Longevity – What other travel trailer brand can boast that their 70-year-old travel trailers are just as popular as brand-new options? The answer is none. Airstream has more vintage (and by vintage, we mean more than 25 years old) travel trailers on the road than any other brand.
  • The solid construction and commitment to high-quality materials keep this brand on the road for a long time. The timeless, and highly functional styling also keeps people interested in Airstream travel trailers, both vintage and new models.

How Are Airstreams Made?

Airstream on the assembly line in the Airstream factory - how are Airstreams made?

For those of us who have pondered the purchase of an Airstream, the question of how Airstreams are made often comes to mind. We know that these travel trailers are designed and built to last a long time, but what exactly does that entail? 

The process of constructing an Airstream has not changed much in the 90-plus years that they have been made. There are a few more computer-driven machines used today, but the process as a whole remains relatively unchanged. 

Each Airstream model is carefully designed from the axles and frames. Each model year starts with the base Airstream body. To this classic “silver bullet” design, features and updates are built into the trailer based on customer feedback, the current interior trends, and new offerings such as solar, entertainment features, and improved materials.

Once a design has been finalized and tested, production on an Airstream can begin. All Airstream trailers start with a pre-cut floor. The floor is made from a special composite material that is more durable and longer-lasting than wood or other materials.

The floor is placed on a floating table to ensure that the body of the travel trailer is perfectly level. From here the body sections are attached to the floor.

Airstream Exterior Construction

Each Airstream trailer is comprised of 5 body sections made of aluminum and hand riveted. Yes! Each rivet on an airstream body is placed by hand, and on larger Airstream trailers, this is more than 3,000 rivets. Rivets are placed by a team of two people who work in sync placing each rivet through the body.

The front and rear sections are shaped from sheet aluminum in the factory using special molds. This process is called stretch molding. Each front and back section is molded by hand without the use of an automated machine.

Side sections and roofs are cut from the same type of sheet aluminum using a computer-driven metal router. The computer also guides the drill that makes the holes where each rivet will be placed.

The body is supported by aluminum ribs. These ribs are also formed in the factory to fit each specific Airstream model. The ribs are attached to the floor and then the five body sections are carefully attached to the ribs. 

With the body shell formed, the team then installs the windows. Each window is handmade in the factory and carefully installed using the same riveting technique. The door for each Airstream is also made in-house, and it is the final part to be attached to the body.

While the windows and doors are being installed, another team installs lights, decals, awnings, air conditioners, and other features to the exterior of the body.

When the shell of the body is completely assembled and attached to the floor, the complete unit is transferred to another floating table where it is attached to the frame and chassis.

With the frame and chassis added, wheels are installed, and the empty Airstream body is ready for testing.

Airstream Interior Construction

Testing the Airstream starts with pulling it into a wash bay where it is drenched in as much as 12,500 gallons of water at high pressure over 25 minutes. This testing process ensures that none of the seams or rivets will leak.

If the Airstream is deemed to be watertight, the next step is to install the ecobatt insulation. This product is made from recycled glass and sand, so it is a more environmentally friendly product than traditional fiberglass insulation. With the insulation installed, the interior is then covered with its own layer of aluminum sheeting.

The interior features of the Airstream start with the insulation of the radiators for the heating system. It is at this point that electrical, plumbing, and gas systems are installed so that they can be discretely tucked behind or under furniture or cabinet features.

All of the furniture for the Airstream travel trailer is custom-made in the factory and assembled by hand. When all the furniture and appliances are installed the Airstream trailer is sent to the quality control area.

In quality control, each door, appliance, faucet, electrical plug, and even gas system is tested to make sure that they work correctly and meet the exacting standards for an Airstream. If there are modifications to be made, a team of finishers is sent in to adjust cabinets, replace faucets, or make any other necessary fixes.

When the final quality control checks are completed and everything in the new Airstream works and looks as it should, the travel trailer is ready for delivery to the customer.

The Airstream manufacturing process is streamlined

Do Airstreams Hold Their Value?

One of the reasons that many people choose to purchase an Airstream, even though it is more expensive than many similar-sized travel trailers, is because they hold their value. for 

Besides their high-quality construction, the value of Airstreams remains higher in general because the availability of Airstreams is lower. There are fewer Airstream owners because their starting price is typically higher than with other travel trailer brands. This lower inventory keeps the resale value higher.

It is easy to make updates to older Airstreams because the body and base of these travel trailers are well made and if properly cared for, do not tend to have the structural issues found in other brands.

While newer Airstreams can be purchased for a bit less when they are used, many people are surprised to see that vintage Airstreams are increasing in value.

Many people are buying older Airstreams and renovating them with modern features including solar, improved electrical systems, and modern furniture, cabinetry, flooring, and upholstery. Renovated, vintage Airstreams can sell for almost as much as a brand-new version right from the assembly line.

What Is The Cheapest Airstream?

Airstream Basecamp parked in by a mountain lake

Airstream has a nice line of travel trailers. There is something for everyone when it comes to their selection of campers and travel trailers. The smallest, and most affordable of the Airstream models is the Basecamp.

This model sleeps four people and starts at around $47,000. The largest of the Airstream options is the Classic. This full-size travel trailer features all the comforts of home, sleeping space for five people, and a price tag starting at around $200,000. If that is too much for your budget, there are 8 other models, in a range of prices to choose from.

If you really cannot swing the price of a new Airstream, first-time buyers may find that used is a better option. Used Airstreams that are just a few years old tend to be more accessible for first-time Airstream buyers.

Final Thoughts About How Airstreams Are Made?

How are Airstreams made? Well, the basic answer is that for over 90 years, Airstreams have been hand-made with care and attention to detail. This high-quality ideal for construction along with exceptional materials and an iconic design make Airstreams one of the most popular and sought-after travel trailer brands.

While the Airstream may be a dream travel trailer for many of us, it is easy to see why they have stood the test of time. This beautifully designed and exceptionally constructed travel trailer brand is the original face of RVing in America.

Related Reading:

How To Properly Wax Your Airstream Travel Trailer
6 Airstream Alternatives To Save You Money
Do Airstreams Have Slide-Outs?
Why Are Molded Fiberglass Campes So Small?

About the Author:

Jason Gass is a full-time freelance writer and part-time RVer whose goal is to share great stories around a campfire with good friends.

When he’s not working, he spends most of his time camping, searching for the best breweries, and road-tripping in his teardrop trailer with his wife, daughter, and two dogs.