As reported in the New York Times earlier this week, the Airstream trailer is about to get a little friendly competition when it comes to a vintage classic home on wheels all wrapped up in an aluminum shell.
Does anyone remember The Bowlus Road Chief?
The story of the Bowlus Road Chief begins in 1934, when a pilot, sailplane enthusiast, and aircraft designer named Hawley Bowlus set out to create the ultimate travel trailer using the same principles he used to build his world record-holding aircraft. Only a few years earlier, Bowlus built the “Spirit of St. Louis”, the airplane Charles Lindbergh used to cross the Atlantic Ocean non-stop for the first time. Owing to the Great Depression, only about eighty of these travel machines were made before Hawley Bowlus shut the doors and resumed work on aircraft. That’s when, Wally Byam, father of the Airstream, soon adopted the basic design and went to work on his dream. In the decades that followed, the Bowlus brand and the original design were virtually forgotten except by a handful of devoted collectors.
The original Road Chief weighed a feather-light 1,200 pounds, light enough to be towed by the low-horsepower cars available at that time, yet it included a full kitchen and other amenities expected by the elite road traveler of the 1930s. The aluminum body effectively lasted a lifetime—half of the Bowlus production run from the 1930s is still known to exist and many of those are still on the road.
One of those Road Chief’s – number 149, originally built in 1935 – is currently in the possession of John Long, a devotee of streamline design whose family’s automobile collection includes Citröens and rare Tatras. John spent the better part of a decade meticulously restoring his Road Chief by hand. Now he, his family and a carefully assembled team of artisans are bringing the Bowlus Road Chief back to life – with all the modern updates.
Inspired by Hawley Bowlus’s brilliant engineering, and seduced by the comfort of the trailer on their own life-changing cross-country adventures, the Longs decided in a meet-up in Austin, Texas to take the next step. Their goal: to create the ultimate lightweight trailer using the Road Chief for inspiration and the best advancements of the intervening eighty years.
Imagine the difficulty of taking anything from 1935 and building it to today’s standards of reliability, efficiency, safety and performance—while keeping the appearance almost exactly identical. That’s exactly what they set out to do when they began the Bowlus “2.0” project. No aspect of the original streamline design was to be compromised. The original design requirements written on the back of a napkin from a South Congress Ave food cart, outlined that the trailer had to have every modern feature necessary (and then some) and have the ability to be stored in a conventional garage. The new Bowlus Road Chief also had to comfortably accommodate growing 6’3″ son, Erik something that wasn’t possible in the original.
The Bowlus Road Chief of today shares the best of the original: classic style, and efficiency, all in a soap-bubble-light aluminum shell. The new Road Chief is also full of thoughtful updates, which makes it roomier, more durable and more practical.
The Bowlus Road Chief is engineered for the highest levels of quality and durability. Its body is joined together by over 5,000 hand-bucked rivets to form a single, incredibly tough “monocoque” shell. The Bowlus Road Chief makes use of authentic materials like birch, aluminum and brass, and its interior is trimmed in premium fabrics chosen for optimum comfort and wear.
The Bowlus Road Chief boasts an interior that is as warm as it is clever. The Zen-like stateroom’s beds easily reconfigures from “twins” to almost a “king.” Other highlights include an efficient cook’s kitchen, and an expandable full bathroom complete with shower. The Road Chief also features state-of-the-art electronics with charging and storage options that will help keep you exactly as plugged in as you wish to be. These are just a sampling of the intelligent features that you’ll find fascinating, regardless whether you’re boondocking in the backyard or in the boonies.
The new design with electronics and conveniences tucked away discreetly out of sight, still manages to keep the original design inspiration and sense of elegance. They’d like you to think of it as, “Streamline Moderne meets the iPad.”
All of the trademarks have been secured to Mr. Bowlus’s trailer, and the new fleet will be rolling out this year. Their reimagined, thoroughly modern Road Chief, priced around $100,000, comes with amenities like Wi-Fi, charging stations, Libeco bedding, solar panels and Chilewich flooring. For more information, visit Bowlus Road Chief.
6101 Mallard Rd, Thornburg, VA
540 735 1100 / 800 719 3507