The company’s top-of-the-line travel trailer offers a timeless look and modern amenities.
By Lazelle Jones
Airstream Inc. has been building travel trailers in Jackson Center, Ohio, since the early 1950s. As far back as 1936, however, the company’s riveted-aluminum trailers were produced at its Culver City, California, factory. Such longevity speaks volumes about Airstream’s footprint in the towable RV market, as well as its current, growing presence in the Type B motorhome sector.
Airstream’s silver-sided travel trailer, the Classic, seems aptly named. The company’s top-of-the-line towable has built a loyal following over the years. As recent sales have suggested, Airstream’s timeless look has intrigued boomer and millennial RV enthusiasts alike. Not surprisingly, many have followed in the paths of their Airstream-owning parents, grandparents, and great-grandparents.
Earlier this year, I visited the Airstream Los Angeles dealership, where I climbed around and through the Airstream Classic 33FB. My mission: to gather impressions and information for those considering joining the travel trailer side of the RV lifestyle, as well as current trailer owners who may be looking to move up the towable pyramid.
The quality, attention to detail, and forethought this company has put into creating such a luxury domicile is considerable. The Classic’s exterior profile harkens back to more tranquil days of yesteryear. Inside, it is replete with systems, features, and appointments that should satisfy those interested in state-of-the-art design and technology.
I found Airstream Los Angeles (1212 E. Las Tunas Drive, San Gabriel, California) a good place to begin exploring this legacy recreation vehicle. Inside the huge showroom is a 60-year-old Airstream travel trailer on static display. The rounded riveted-aluminum exterior walls, which sweep up to meet the roof, embody Airstream design, where old becomes new. Here, design and style fuse with craftsmanship for an enduring look.
The Classic comes in 30-foot and 33-foot lengths; both are available with a queen bed or twin beds. Aside from the obvious length difference, the interior configurations enable RV enthusiasts to choose the best floor plan for their needs. Otherwise, both units are engineered, designed, and constructed exactly the same.
Construction And Exterior
The Classic features a semi-monocoque design. Extruded-aluminum wall members used for framing are attached to steel structures that make up the platform, or chassis, upon which the unit is built. Steel is down low, while aluminum is up high, which creates a lower center of gravity. The extruded-aluminum, semi-monocoque shell bolts to the steel frame to become one uniform unit. Sheets of fluorocarbon-treated, UV-protected aluminum measuring 0.04-inch thick are hand-riveted to the structural members to create the exterior walls.
For thermal efficiency, the one-piece aluminum roof surface is painted white to reflect the sun. Airstream officials indicate that this white roof reflects up to 7 degrees of heat. Sheets of exterior aluminum are contoured as needed to create the curved walls that wrap up to the roof and also wrap around to meet the front and rear of the unit; the Classic has no corners. The aluminum sheets are buck-riveted (mechanically fastened) to the frame members, a process that has been used for years in the aircraft industry. It takes two technicians — one on the inside and one on the outside — to place and buck each rivet. Once the rivet penetrates a sheet of aluminum and passes through the aluminum frame member, the end of the rivet is flattened, or bucked, on the inside, permanently fixing it in place.
The holding tanks are enclosed beneath the floor with a barrier of insulation and a sheet of aluminum that faces the road below. These tanks (fresh, gray, and black — 54, 37, and 39 gallons, respectively) are protected from freezing with electric heat pads and blankets; heat tape wrapped around the water lines provides further insulation. A 12-volt-DC electric current from the house battery pack heats these elements.
The Classic does not incorporate solid axles or leaf-spring suspension. For years, Airstream has employed a proprietary rubber torsion axle system, which yields independence at each wheel as it moves over a road obstacle or hits a pothole. Each 16-inch wheel has its own square tubular housing. A metal rod runs down the center of the housing, which is then injected with super-cooled rubber. When this process is completed, each rod that is attached to a wheel can twist as the wheel rises and falls over irregular road surfaces, and then return to normal after navigating a hole or a road bump.
The chassis features an 8.5-inch ground clearance (from the underbelly to the ground surface below). The lower roofline and lower center of gravity are said to work in conjunction with the torsion-axle suspension to yield over-the-road stability and a gentler ride.
Exterior storage for general items is limited, with one small compartment in the rear. However, a long, unit-wide compartment is incorporated inside the Classic’s rear bumper. This makes an excellent place to stow items such as the rod used to extend or retract the stabilizing jacks at the rear of the unit. It’s meant for long objects that don’t need protection from the elements. The sewer dump hose has its own storage compartment; up front is a compartment for stowing the 50-amp shore power cable when it is not in use.
The trailer tongue is equipped with a 12-volt-DC-powered jack for raising or lowering the RV when hitching and unhitching. Two 40-gallon custom aluminum propane cylinders (with regulator) are sequestered inside a cowling immediately aft of the tongue jack.
Stainless-steel rock guards are placed on the outside front of the Classic to deflect the road debris that often gets kicked up from a tow vehicle’s wheels.
Airstream uses eco-friendly Knauf EcoBatt insulation, which is sandwiched between the interior and exterior walls. The interior is dressed with Infinity Luxury Woven Vinyl flooring, which is low-maintenance; resists stains and punctures; and lends itself to use in high-traffic areas. Pet owners will want to note that this material seems to be impervious to dog claws.
Since the early 2000s, Airstream travel trailers have included aluminum interior walls and ceilings. Just like the exterior aluminum surface, which is contoured, the interior walls and ceiling wrap around to meet; again, there are no corners inside either end of the unit or along the ceiling. Thermal tape separates the exterior aluminum sheets from the aluminum studs, preventing heat transfer from outside to inside, and loss of cooling from the inside out. In the interior, the sheets of aluminum are riveted in place.
Window frames are extruded aluminum. The windows are made with tempered, glazed automotive glass; just as the aluminum is shaped to create the exterior and interior walls of the Classic, the glass used for the front windows is curved to accommodate the wraparound look.
Currently, the Classic is the only Airstream model available with hydronic heating in place of a furnace. Fluid is warmed in a closed-loop system and circulated to baseboard heat exchangers that emit radiant heat. The interior is quieter without the sounds of the furnace cycling on and off; likewise, there’s no burst of hot air being blown into the living areas.
Baseboard heaters are located in the sleeping area, bathroom, living area, and galley. This heating system can be enjoyed during stand-alone camping; the 12-volt-DC electricity required to power the pump that circulates the heated fluid throughout the RV is drawn from the dual house batteries. The hydronic system also provides hot water. The fuel source for the hydronic boiler is the twin 40-pound propane cylinders located on the trailer tongue.
Two roof-mounted air conditioners — one 15,000-Btu, one 13,500-Btu — deliver cooled, dehumidified air via direct ducting to the interior. These roof units also feature heat pumps. For 2019, the Classic is outfitted with two 15,000-Btu units with heat pumps.
The electrical system on the Classic includes a 1,000-watt inverter that draws DC power from the two deep-cycle house batteries to operate all of the 120-volt-AC-powered appliances and equipment, with the exception of the roof air conditioners. An optional roof-mounted solar electric system is offered. In addition, 30-amp couplers permit the 50-amp shore power cable to be plugged into a 30-amp pedestal if necessary. Extended primitive RV camping can be made possible by bringing along a 3,500-kw auxiliary generator in the bed of the tow vehicle.
As noted earlier, some differences exist in the layouts of the 30-foot and 33-foot Classic. For example, the 30-foot unit places the stateroom in the rear, with either a power-adjustable queen bed or twin beds, and the bathroom is located in the center. In the 33-foot unit, which I reviewed, the bedroom is at the front and is available with the same choice of beds. A huge bathroom stretches across the rear of the unit.
Four décor packages are offered. Choices include both light and dark DuPont Corian solid-surface counters and various shades of Ultraleather upholstery. Cabinetry can be either Mocha Cherry or Cognac Maple handcrafted wood. LED lighting is controlled with a dimmer. Day/night powered shades topped with designer valances stand ready to let in sunlight, provide filtered light, or totally black out any evidence of the sun. Overhead roof lockers with automatic LED lighting provide interior storage.
The Classic 33 welcomes RVers to relax in its spacious living room, where a 60-inch HD power-projection smart television with a Bose sound bar rises from a solid-surface-topped credenza at the touch of a button. Polk audio surround sound enhances the viewing experience. A Blu-ray DVD player comes standard as well. The interior also features a Polk stereo XM/FM/AM satellite radio with Bluetooth.
The galley is a chef’s dream. It includes a three-burner propane cooktop with a glass cover and a lighted Baraldi vent; a microwave-convection oven; a 9-cubic-foot two-way refrigerator/freezer; and a stainless-steel Kohler sink and faucet, with DuPont Corian sink covers. Ample storage is available in this area.
The 33FB’s spacious bath area hosts a labyrinth of cabinets and wardrobes with drawers and mirrored doors; a huge corner shower with tempered glass walls and door; a porcelain toilet with macerator (standard in the Classic 33); and a lavatory cabinet topped with a DuPont Corian solid-surface counter.
Because of the Classic 33FB’s length, a gross vehicle weight rating (GVWR) of 10,000 pounds (including a net carrying capacity of 1,739 pounds), and a tongue weight of 1,175 pounds, this luxury travel trailer must be pulled by a substantial tow vehicle. The base manufacturer’s suggested retail price is $156,400, and with a few options added, the as-tested price of my review unit came to $158,600.
The recently introduced 2019 Classic features the same upscale quality and amenities as the 2018 unit I inspected. Perhaps the most notable new feature for the 2019 model year is the debut of Airstream’s Smart Technology, which digitally connects owners to their RVs for a more enjoyable camping experience. The 2019 Classic is Airstream’s first model to include it.
The Airstream-designed technology enables owners to control and monitor systems from anywhere. Lighting; HVAC; awnings; vent fans; water, holding tank, propane, and battery levels; and more can be accessed remotely with an intuitive app using a compatible iOS or Android device. Airstream customer service, roadside assistance, and an owners manual are also accessible from the app. An integrated GPS locator allows owners to find their Airstream even if they veer far away on an outdoor adventure. And Wi-Fi boost and a 4G LTE modem enable RVers to connect to campground Wi-Fi or stream data from a secure network.
As the old saying goes, some things get better with age. As Airstream’s longest-running model, the Classic travel trailer seems to fit that description.
Specs | Airstream Classic 33
Airstream Inc., 419 W. Pike St., Jackson Center, OH 45334; 937-596-6111; www.airstream.com
stylized aluminum, 16 inches
(2) AGM with multistage converter
9 feet 9.5 inches with roof A/C
6 feet 7.5 inches
GROSS VEHICLE WEIGHT RATING (GVWR)
NET CARRYING CAPACITY (NCC)
FRESH WATER CAPACITY
HOLDING TANK CAPACITIES
gray water — 37 gallons;
black water — 39 gallons
(2) 40-pound cylinders
hydronic; continuous hot water
(1) 15,000 Btu, (1) 13,500 Btu, both with heat pumps; 2019 models: (2) 15,000-Btu units with heat pumps
9 cubic feet, 2-way (propane and 120-volt AC)
porcelain with macerator (standard flush on 30-foot Classic)
3 years, limited
BASE SUGGESTED RETAIL PRICE
PRICE AS REVIEWED