Drew DorianCar and Driver
June 1, 2022, marks the public opening of Airstream’s new Heritage Center, located at the company’s headquarters and manufacturing facility in Jackson Center, Ohio. Before the museum officially opened its doors, we were invited over for a sneak peek and a guided tour with company historian and museum curator Samantha Martin.
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Welcome to the Mothership
Just inside the museum’s entrance, which is adjacent to the well-stocked gift shop, is a glowing sign beckoning the visitor in. Martin explained that Airstream chose to honor its many enthusiast owners who affectionately refer to the company’s headquarters this way.
The first silver trailer located inside the museum is this 1938 example, one of Airstream founder Wally Byam’s early efforts. The staff calls this one Old Granddad, seeing as it’s one of the first of the riveted metal trailers produced.
Meet Ruby. Isn’t she cute? This 1948 Airstream Wee Wind was the third one ever produced, and although she’s over seven decades old it’s easy to see the design similarities to Airstream’s modern Bambi and Caravel models.
The Famous Bicycle Challenge
In an attempt to prove that his trailers were light and easy to tow, founder Byam challenged French cyclist Alfred Letourneur to tow one on an airport runway in Van Nuys, California. The stunt worked and Letourneur was able to complete the challenge. Museum goers can sit on the bike and have their photo taken for grins.
The trailers aren’t the only interesting thing to see inside the Heritage Center. This dividing wall, for instance, uses vintage Airstream advertisements as an artful way to create space between the exhibits.
1957 Airstream World Traveler in Gold Anodized Aluminum
We’re used to seeing silver Airstreams, but this gold example belonged to Byam himself and was used in the European version of his famed caravan events. Instead of being painted, the aluminum panels of this beauty have been gold anodized, and it sparkles under the museum lighting.
The Caravan events that Airstream did in the 1950s and 1960s are the stuff of legend, and the museum is filled with all sorts of memorabilia and artifacts saved from these epic months-long trips. This case, for example, includes several pieces saved from the African Caravan, including a stamp collection from Byam’s nephew Dale Schwamborn and a telegram sent to Byam’s wife upon the team’s successful completion of the Caravan in Cairo, Egypt.
In the 1970s, Airstream launched an entry-level brand called Argosy to provide a more low-cost way for Americans to experience travel trailer ownership. This is one of the first ever produced, and it has all the charm of the era, complete with green shag carpeting.
Airstream and BMW’s Motorhome Concept Mockup
Believe it or not, Airstream and BMW nearly collaborated on a motorhome. This small-scale mockup shows it would have had windswept styling and classic Airstream proportions. It’s located near a stand that shows other Airstream concepts from the past, including a trailer co-designed with Nissan.
We’re suckers for a good logo, and Airstream has a bunch of its own displayed on this giant wall. It’s really a great way to wrap up a visit to the Heritage Center, as it shows all of the company’s badges mixed in together. The fact that some of the new ones use the same or very similar fonts to the vintage ones only helps to underscore how Airstream is leveraging nostalgia in its modern era.
Exit through the Gift Shop
As with any good museum, the tour ends with a visit to the Airstream gift shop, which is of course filled to the brim with branded apparel, camping equipment, and trailer accessories. The Heritage Center opens to the public on June 1. If you go, we’d also recommend a free tour of Airstream’s assembly line, but unlike the museum, that tour requires advance registration via the Airstream website.
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