Outdoor Connection

Love That Airstream Shine

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A shiny Airstream
Airstream trailer buffed to a mirror-like finish

It is an undeniable fact that people love Airstreams. The iconic trailer's distinct look makes them instantly recognizable, and instantly adored. But their design is not the only thing that makes them stand out. Airstream owners have a long tradition of having their trailers buffed to a mirror shine. And it is this incredible shine that draws the undivided attention of passersby, and the love of their owners.

We caught up with John Abbott, owner of Airstream shining company Airstreams4Rent, to learn more about trends in Airstream trailers, and how owners display their love for their trailers.

CampingRoadTrip.com: Why do people get their Airstreams polished? Is there more to it than just having them look clean?

John Abbott: They want it to have that vintage shine. It's an admiration for the classic look the trailer had the day it was made. It is not unusual when I am driving my Airstream down the road for complete strangers to flag me down at a stoplight. They roll down their window to say how much they like my trailer. They want to know how old it is and to share their Airstream story from their lives. At a campground you have to keep the inside tidy because people who stop by love being offered a tour.

How long does it take to polish a trailer?

It takes about 20 hours per foot. There are several steps, so after removing the plasticote, I have to go over every inch at least three times. You finish the first step and it really looks shiny, until you start the second step, then you know it's shiny. But when you finish the third polishing step, you really have a mirror shine.

What is the most unique Airstream you've polished?

Since most Airstreams are trailers, I would have to say the 1992 Classic 35 foot Motorhome was the most unique. Parts of it were painted and parts were plasticote aluminum. There was an undercoating on the bottom that had to be scraped off with plastic razor blades. It was a lot of work, but boy did it shine when we were done.

What's the oldest Airstream you've ever polished?

A 1959 Tradewind. There is actually a club of just 1959 Tradewind owners.

What makes Airstreams so special?

Airstream is the oldest and longest operating trailer company in the US. I have one that is over 50 years old. They are so well made that 70% of the original trailers are still on the road, and Wally Byam started making them in 1936. They are built like an aircraft with aluminum sheets riveted to a light weight aluminum frame. They have a very low center of gravity and torsion axels that make them very easy to pull. You can find videos on YouTube of an Airstream going through a high speed slalom course back in the 1960's.

How do people react when they see the final product? Do they lose their minds?

I love it when the owners get out of the car and there is always a big smile on their face. They say they could see it from blocks down the street. Then they walk up close and begin primping. This happens every time.

People love their Airstream trailers, how do they display that love?

They definitely love their Airstreams. They join clubs like the Wally Byam Caravan Club International (WBCCI) or The Airstreamers Club (TAC). Airstream trailers are an American classic and their owners want to get together with others who admire them. They want them to be in top shape and shine just like the day they left the factory.

In my polishing business, it is much the same. It's like they are giving me one of their children or a beloved classic car to polish. It is their baby. They're really concerned about the steps, and how the process is going. They're constantly checking up on their trailer. They think about the trailer all the time. Many come and visit it while it is being polished. I love to see the glow on their faces when they see it shine.

Do you have an Airstream?

Actually I have four; three trailers and a motor home. My family and I love to take them out camping or on road trips ourselves. Yes, I love Airstreams too. We also rent them out to people so they can enjoy their own vintage Airstream experience.

Are there trends among Airstream owners? What are some of the trends?

With the vintage Airstreams, the smaller the trailer the more its worth. The main reason is they just look cute. They are also easier to maneuver and park, and fit into more campsites.

There are two trends among vintage Airstream owners. One is to restore them to their original state. The other trend is to customize them to a much more "modern" look. It all depends on what you want. Many people customize them to fit their specific needs. Customizing is really an Airstream idea, because originally each trailer was custom built for an individual owner. However, restored trailers have a higher value on the resale market.

What type of travel do Airstream owners use their trailers for?

Some folks head out on long cross country road trips exploring the US and beyond. Others use them more for weekend escapes. Many families use them for vacations and camping trips. And while some live in them full time, scores of retired people love them for wintering in the southwest.

What types of people own Airstreams?

Young professionals. Families with young children. Families with teenagers. Empty nesters. And retired people. That is the beauty of Airstreams, they appeal to everyone.

To learn more about Airstream shining services visit Airstreams4Rent.

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