Go glamping in this luxury travel trailer, which blends art deco looks with modern technology.
By Robbin Gould, Editor
William Hawley Bowlus was a renowned figure in the early days of aviation. He started designing and constructing gliders in 1911, as a teenager. He went on to train glider pilots, and he served as factory manager during construction of the historic Spirit Of St. Louis monoplane flown by Charles Lindbergh.
Drawing upon his expertise in engineering aluminum aircraft, Bowlus turned to a land-based project: constructing a lightweight vehicle to transport glider flight crews to remote areas. In 1934, he introduced the Bowlus Road Chief, said to be the world’s first aluminum riveted travel trailer.
Despite a relatively small production run — 80 units — these eye-catching, aerodynamic RVs satisfied folks’ desire to camp in the Depression era. They were purchased by Hollywood royalty, including Clark Gable and Carol Lombard, and featured in Popular Mechanics and other high-profile magazines.
The Bowlus brand was reimagined by current founder Geneva Long in 2011. Today, designer Long is at the helm as CEO. She and her team have re-created the silver-sided towable, emphasizing craftsmanship, technology, and luxurious yet functional designs. The Terra Firma Limited Edition is the latest travel trailer model produced by the Oxnard, California, company.
Folks familiar with RV designs, even upscale ones, may be surprised when they inspect the Terra Firma Limited Edition.
When one encounters a Terra Firma, and other Bowlus travel trailers, it’s immediately apparent that it travels in a lane of its own. An ultra-reflective aluminum exterior complements a distinct teardrop shape reminiscent of streamline moderne design. This style reflects the horizontal lines, curves, and aerodynamic details common in art deco styling, minus the ornamentation.
The Terra Firma measures 25 feet 9 inches long and 80 inches wide. With a base weight of 3,200 pounds, it can be towed by a variety of vehicles, including electric-powered vehicles (EVs).
Like Bowlus’ other models, this home on wheels incorporates a hand-welded monocoque frame that is precisely shaped from aluminum tubing to specifications within 1/64th of an inch. Technicians fasten 80 panels of polished, high-strength aerospace aluminum to the frame using 5,000-plus aircraft-grade rivets. Each rivet insertion point must conform to tight specifications — about half the thickness of a human hair. A thermal barrier is placed between the external and internal structure of the vehicle. Windows are hardened polycarbonate.
The Terra Firma’s lower center of gravity, lighter weight, and aerodynamic design contribute to safer handling. It is equipped with a torsion axle system that has E-Z Lube fittings, as well as electric brakes. Goodyear Endurance 205R15 tires are balanced on stylized aluminum wheels.
For towing, Bowlus includes its signature 60 Second Hitch, which is said to make the hookup process quick and easy. The Terra Firma also comes with a Bluetooth-enabled smart brake controller, which provides responsive braking and requires no modifications to the towing vehicle.
When relaxing in camp after a day of travel, occupants can enjoy several al fresco features. An outdoor café table can be pulled out of the storage closet. A lightweight awning attaches to either side of the RV. The Terra Firma is “outdoor kitchen ready” and includes 120-volt-AC and propane outlets. A 28.3-pound propane cylinder is provided. For those traveling with a zero-emissions towing vehicle, the Terra Firma has an exterior outlet that can charge an EV SUV if necessary, extending the vehicle’s range up to 16 miles.
Bowlus travel trailers are bespoke units. While clients make their custom selections, they can have their name added to the fender skirts for a personal touch.
Paralleling its striking facade, the Terra Firma’s interior is equally unexpected. “Vintage” definitely comes to mind, yet modern touches are apparent as well. The walls and ceiling are constructed of birch wood and boast soft, rounded contours. The soothing, natural décor colors embody names such as Field, Oyster, and Open Sky. Fabrics are carefully selected and turned into designer seating, bedding, and window coverings by the company’s team of seamstresses.
Luxury commercial-grade flooring and LED lighting are used throughout. Bronze screens adorn windows, vents, and the door. Two large skylights fitted with blinds are installed above the living area.
The Terra Firma sleeps four. In the “Zen like” master bedroom, as described by the company, twin beds are topped with high-quality memory foam and graced by curved headboards. They can be moved together to form a king-size bed. Wood inserts on the bedroom windows are paired with designer drapes to enhance privacy. In the living room, the sofa converts to a third sleeping berth; armchairs convert to a fourth.
A hotel-style en suite bathroom can be closed off by privacy doors. Features include a vanity and a stainless-steel sink, a medicine cabinet, and a 4.5-gallon cassette toilet. The two wardrobes contain hanging bars. The shower features teak seating and flooring, and a marine shower head that extends outside the RV for use there. A heating fan in the bathroom is integrated into the Terra Firma’s hydronic heating system, which also supplies continuous hot water.
In the galley, appliances include a two-burner Italian cooktop, a microwave oven, and a 3.1-cubic-foot 12-volt refrigerator-freezer equipped with a high-efficiency compressor. Here, as in other locations, stainless steel abounds, including the sink and countertops. Aluminum is prevalent inside as well, evidenced by three large aluminum cupboards, two aluminum shelves, and a sizable drawer for stowing items.
Canine travelers benefit from Bowlus’ Pet-Flex Friendly features: remote temperature monitoring, feeding bowls that slide out on a designated drawer, and a pet bed that coordinates with other furnishings in the unit.
Charging stations for tablets, laptops, and other devices are conveniently located throughout the interior. A wireless router and Wi-Fi amplifier extend connectivity.
The Terra Firma incorporates numerous other high-tech features intended to enrich the travel experience, but “without adding more technology for technology’s sake,” as Geneva Long noted. The list includes a lithium-iron-phosphate battery system, which produces 8 kilowatt-hours and provides extended living off the grid without an external power source; the system rapidly charges in three to four hours. The 3,000-watt pure sine wave inverter offers power boost capability. All 120-volt outlets operate from the lithium power system and remain live; that also means the 10,000-Btu-equivalent air conditioner, microwave oven, etc. can be utilized without an outside power source. A 120-watt solar panel is optional.
The propane-electric hydronic heating system mentioned earlier silently warms the interior via eight registers, with output comparable to a 25,000-Btu furnace.
The Bowlus power management system relays information about dozens of vehicle functions. Occupants can view and operate them via a touch-screen panel or a smartphone app.
The “Find My Bowlus” GPS tracking system provides owners added security and allows them to enable others to access their location or view their trip status.
The Terra Firma is outfitted with HEPA air filters, a two-stage fresh-water filtration system, and UVC lighting for disinfecting, among other amenities.
As company literature states, Bowlus RVs are targeted to the “luxury land traveler.” Pricing for the top-of-the-line Terra Firma begins at $265,000. Bowlus offers two Bespoke Customization Programs, which enable clients to personalize their unit, working with Geneva Long and her team to select from countless design combinations.
For those seeking an upscale travel trailer, the Terra Firma Limited Edition offers a vintage look with modern conveniences, allowing owners to enjoy camping — or glamping — in style.
SPECIFICATIONS | BOWLUS TERRA FIRMA LIMITED EDITION
Bowlus; (855) 955-5232; bowlus.com
Terra Firma Limited Edition
25 feet 9 inches
8 feet 6 inches
6 feet 4 inches
GROSS VEHICLE WEIGHT RATING (GVWR)
NET CARRYING CAPACITY
Goodyear Endurance 205R15
FRESH WATER CAPACITY
HOLDING TANK CAPACITIES
gray water — 21 gallons;
black water — 4.5 gallons per cassette
hydronic — equivalent to 25,000 Btu
battery-powered unit with remote; equivalent to 10,000 Btu; up to 16 hours in 85-degree heat
3.1 cubic feet, 12-volt
2 years, limited
MANUFACTURER’S BASE PRICE