The fine folks of George Sutton RV towed three spanking new Airstream trailers* to a recent WBCCI rally for us to paw over. (Little-known perk of Wally club membership: your local dealer may offer a discount on parts, service, or a whole new Airstream for members and rally attendees.)
When we bought our little DWR lo these many years ago, the sales process was a simple matter: we pointed to its photo on the cover of the Design Within Reach catalog and exclaimed “we’ll take it!” I wasn’t aware of the usual drill when purchasing a new Airstream: options abound, Chinese menu style, and many features are customizable.
I was also unaware how intimately involved local dealerships are with Airstream production and innovation. I knew that The Mothership encourages user input and collaborates with dealers to make the best possible trailer, but I was impressed to learn how dealers take a hands-on, active role to develop new features and floor plans.
“A lot of the things that happen to the Airstream product come out of the Sutton dealership,” said Mark, an “RV chat master” and specialist in Airstream products and service, who seems to love aluminum as much as we owners do. “It’s pretty cool.”
For instance, Mark and company contributed to the floor plan of the new 25ft rear queen. “Sutton RV was administered three different potential floor plans for this trailer,” he said. “They asked for our input so we critiqued it. We wanted to accomplish a couple of things,” such as moving the refrigerator to accommodate a microwave, elongating the bathroom, and changing the straight counter to one with a “bump”.
“Number one, it’s very Airstreamish, and two, it’s valuable,” said Mark, demonstrating the storage space inside the round counter cap. “It’s where I put my pots and pans.”
The bathroom remains segregated—shower on one side, loo on the other—with a divider on each side. “So if you were entertaining people and somebody was sleeping, you could still use the bathroom; or if somebody were to get up and you had people in front you could close up the side so they could take a shower privately.”
Other late-model features that he has encouraged include porcelain toilets, both gas and electric water heaters, larger (LED) TVs, and swanky dimmer switches. “I was in one of the first Airstreams at the factory with LED lights in the ceiling and I asked adamantly to put dimmer switches on them,” he said. Later, Mark tinkered with the lights in a 25 International Serenity while at the Pendleton Round Up.
“We used a very expensive rheostat to see if we could successfully dim the lights, but they pulsed, so if you moved your arm they would actually flash,” Mark explained. “I did personal research on it and I discovered there are two different types of LED lights: one is meant to be dimmed, and one is not.” He waxed on enthusiastically about slowing pulse widths and built in registers at the loom—of which, of course, I have no understanding. But the conversation illustrates the level of passion he has about building better Airstreams…which now come from Ohio with factory-installed dimmer switches.
New style highlights include the Winick-like porthole window in the bathroom door, subtle tiger-striped wall paneling, and espresso Ultraleather.
Mark, who owns three Airstreams, helps customers trick out their trailers to their specifications, down to the awning packages and hatch bracketry. But there’s more to consider than simple aesthetics.
“The thing about the Airstream product that a lot of people don’t understand is that when they are completely empty, they are perfectly balanced,” he said. “And when you fill them up with water, and then add your clothing and your pots and pans and such in their logical places, they are still fully balanced. That—with the fact that 50% of the weight is below the floor, and the torsion axels, and the shape—is why they tow the way they do. So Airstream is very reluctant to change floorplans on just a whim like most manufacturers do. Others aren’t concerned about weight ratios. Airstream is, because of their reputation for the way they tow. That’s why it takes so long for them to develop new floorplans. They are very specific about that.”
Sutton has ordered two Sterlings, that darling of the internets: a 25ft and a 27ft. While I’m disinclined to alter my Chris Deam trailer in any way, necessary adjustments are planned for one of the Sterlings.
“I already have a gentleman interested in the 27,” said Mark. The customer plans to tow it to Belize, where he has lived for several months. "His biggest issue down there is monkeys.” (Excuse me, what?)
“He had a friend come along with him who had a regular box trailer and the monkeys would just tear the windows right off,” he said. (Egad! Important travel tip when Airstreaming in monkey-infested areas.) “Also, they are attracted to the silver. So this trailer that we’re going to do for him will have a stainless steel air conditioning shroud so the monkeys can’t pull it apart, and we’re going to encapsulate the dump valves into a stainless steel body. We’ll basically make it monkeyproof.”
* A 2012 25 Rear Queen Flying Cloud Golden Night; a 2012 27 Front Bed Flying Cloud; and a 2013 International CCD 23D.