Cool Caravans?

Culture

Caravans get a bad press, particularly from people whose passion is motoring. When you look at it objectively, they should be a good idea. You get to experience the freedom of the open road without having to spend appalling nights under sweaty vinyl, lugging around overpriced and fetid camping equipment. Once you’ve pitched your van, you still have the motor you came with, and are not tied ether to that annoying compact you tow behind your campervan/Winnebago or an at-times unpractical scooter or bicycle. And although trousers that zip off at the thigh to become a pair taupe-coloured shorts might seem to be de rigueur amongst the caravanning community, apparently they are not obligatory.

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The distaste for caravans among many of us is broadly divided along the axes of two arguments: 1) they clog up the roads of Europe every summer with their interminable bank holiday crawl; 2) 90 % of them are hideously designed. They look, in other words, awful and you wouldn’t be seen dead in them. We’re not sure whether or not the Airstream, the iconic line of caravans made exclusively by a family firm in Ohio for the last three quarters of a century – can be towed any quicker than your average European monstrosity. The latter problem however, is much less of an issue. In fact, the stainless steel curves of an original forties-era Airstream caravan (pictured above) recently graced the haloed halls of the Museum of Modern Art. And this is not just a design classic. According to the company’s press office they are super-durable. Over sixty five percent of all Airstream trailers ever made are still on the road or in use today. Another more alarming statistic is that of the roughly 400 US trailer companies active in 1936 Airstream is the only survivor. So, buy an Airstream and you are not only contributing to the survival of some of the hard-pressed blue-collar workers of America, you are buying a sustainable, relatively low-impact product.

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Whatever motivates Airstreamers, the company recently launched a new model into the European market. The Bambi 422 (above) is a relatively light and nimble two-berther that can be towed by any mid-size saloon (A three series BMW or a Golf, for example), and it comes with things like a shower cubicle and vacuum toilet – as well as the external awning – as standard.

But the inherent practicalities of the design doesn’t account for the Airstream’s cult-like following. With its stripped down, modernist appeal it is just one of the many brands of retro Americana that has been lifted into an arena of love-like devotion. Witness how the mechanical simplicity (and inefficiency) of the V-Twin Harley has been made into an icon. Witness also the devotion inspired by stripped down, three chord rock’n’roll. Could it be that the Airstream is the caravanning equivalent of Eddie Cochrane?

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So while the roads of Europe and the UK may be graced by a slightly more stylish annoyance this summer, in the states, Airstream have upped the bar in the sleek stakes with The Basecamp Trailer which is designed to be the stepping-off point for walkers climbers – even surfers. This little pod has wrap around windows, a skylight, an optional tent, a sink, cooking area, and a ramp for storing outdoor gear while you’re on the move.

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Could it be that with long distance travel getting more expensive and inherently unsustainable, that Caravanning (whisper it) might just become as cool as camping this summer? We won’t be donning the taupe zip-offs just yet. But the idea doesn’t seem as ridiculous as it once did.

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  • Bob Renshaw

    Mike,
    Why are you raving about a caravan that was designed in the 1940’s.

    European and particularly British caravans are far more comfortable and better equiped than this basic monstrosity.

    You have obviously never stayed in a modern british van with its self contained heating sytem, water supply, shower, flush toilet, fridge, full cooker with grill and oven plus all the other mod cons.

    Bob R

  • Carl

    Get a soul, Bob.

    Modern vans are fine if all you want is home comforts but for character, you need to look deeper.

    Carl (1964 Bedford CA Dormobile)

  • eric powell

    Carl
    Soul is O.K. as long as it is reliable.unfortunately a lot of old stuff is not unless time & money is spent on updating it where modern british caravans score over their predessors.

    Eric (2005 Bailey Senatir Wyoming)

  • Adam

    Bob,

    Modern Airstreams (2009 not 1940) have ALL those conveniences AND soul.

  • you can rent an airstream like the moma one at http://www.vintagestreams.co.uk ,

  • RV Ratings

    yep i must agree it is really cool…