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Airstream quality & Capetown to Cairo

I was re-reading some entries from the Vintage Thunder blog we used to do, researching a few things, and found an entry from September 11, 2005. The entry had to do with a comment from a friend who wanted to hear about our experiences with a new trailer. At the time we hadn't yet taken delivery of our new 2005 Airstream Safari and I was as curious as he was about how well it would hold up. Both of us had heard all kinds of horror stories about new trailers not having the "quality" of old ones.

In part, I wrote: "I don't expect a perfect product. I do expect a product that works as advertised. I expect Airstream will stand behind it when there is a real problem. And yes, if we need service along the way, I'll blog it and talk about what we had done. You can decide for yourself if Airstream QC and Service up to snuff, based on our experience."

Well, we've been on the road for 18 months, full-time. We've towed this trailer nearly 40,000 miles, crossing the country five times from coast to coast. Every sort of road condition you can imagine, we've driven (except snow). It's been "rode hard and put away wet", pounded by washboard roads and putholes, and yet not a rivet has loosened.

Yes, there have been problems, but they have been mostly minor: a balky water heater, some loose trim, a couple of latches, a bad kitchen faucet, etc. All were fixed under warranty. The leaky front compartment was probably the worst problem we've encountered; It seems to be a design issue specific to the Safari 30 bunkhouse. Overall, I'm favorably impressed.

This probably means more to people who knew us when we traveled in our 1968 Airstream Caravel and 1977 Argosy 24. We were "vintage snobs" then, and didn't trust new trailers because we'd never owned one. The feeling among vintage owners is often that new trailers "aren't built as well," and "could never survive the kind of trips they did in the old days."

Now that we've had a new one, I can honestly say that the rumor of new trailers not being up to snuff is, at least from our experience, not true. Ours has been well-used from Maine to Mexico, from Glacier to the Keys, and shows every indication of being ready to keep on going steady for many years yet. The method of manufacture and materials have changed over the years, but in the final analysis our new Airstream still has that sturdy all-aluminum riveted construction that just keeps going and going ...

So I'm sitting here the trailer trying to figure out why other makes tend to be ready for "trade in" five or so years after they're made. There was an article in Good Sam's magazine a few months back where a pair of RV experts were repeating the common wisdom that after five years you ought to be looking at trading in your rig because at that point they'll start to fall apart and get uneconomic to maintain.

Maybe that's true for other brands. I don't know, I've never owned one. All I can say is, in five years I expect my Airstream to be just about broken in. Heck, our other Airstream is 39 years old, and I'd take that trailer to Africa tomorrow. It's still rock solid.

Speaking of Africa, I heard from Bert Kalet today. He's organizing the Capetown to Cairo caravan in 2009. Bert told me something rather shocking: the WBCCI leadership has refused to approve the caravan. This means it will have to run as a private caravan, without the support of the Airstream club.

On one hand, this is an opportunity. Now anyone who wants to take an Airstream on the trip can go, without having to join the club. Bert says they already have 52 couples signed up for both the north- and south-bound legs. More are welcome. We are even considering it, although I have no idea how I could possibly break away for four months by 2009.

On the other hand, it's a really sad moment for the club. This was the club that, back in the 1950s under the leadership of Wally Byam, caravanned in Africa, the Middle East, Asia, Central America, and around the world. Now the club is such a timid shadow of itself that a single African caravan is considered too much, and European caravans don't even take Airstreams (they rent other brands locally). They've lost the spirit of adventure that once made the club great.

If you want to have the adventure of a lifetime in Africa, send a note to me via the Contact form on this website and I'll send you the email addresses of the administrators who are organizing it.


Great April fools joke Rich!


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