Wouldn’t it be awesome to have the class and comfort of an Airstream combined with the size and floor plan options of a fifth wheel? I wondered if a fifth wheel Airstream existed, so I did some research and here is what I found.
So, is there such a thing as an Airstream fifth wheel? Airstream does not manufacture a fifth wheel model. Although some people have converted their Airstreams into fifth wheels, this is very rare and you aren’t likely to run into one.
Airstreams don’t usually come in sizes as big as a fifth wheel, but bigger isn’t always better. The classical design and layout of an Airstream make it one of the best options for a trailer out there.
What is the Difference Between a Fifth Wheel and an Airstream?
Airstream is the name to both the manufacturing company and the classical travel trailers that they produce. Founded sometime in the 1930s, Airstreams have become an American classic. The ideal vehicle to tour the country while on the road.
Airstreams vary in size (usually anywhere between 16 and 30 feet) but are usually around 28 feet in length. Although they vary in length, it is pretty easy to pick out an Airstream in a line up of travel trailers.
Airstreams are often called “silver bullets” referring to their sleek, aerodynamic shape and silver color. It’s a vintage look that reminds us of how people in the 40’s thought our day would look like.
Fifth wheels, on the other hand, are made by a variety of different manufacturers and in huge array of styles. All Airstreams have a similar polish and feel, but not so for fifth wheels which could be set up in any number of ways.
The biggest difference between fifth wheels and Airstreams besides the obvious differences in aesthetics, is the size of the trailers. Fifth wheels are MUCH bigger than Airstreams.
Like I mentioned earlier, you would be pressed to find an Airstream larger than 30 feet, but fifth wheels can easily be 45 feet long or larger. They are more like a home on wheels than a travel trailer.
Although shorter in size, Airstreams are still considered the luxury travel trailer kings of America’s highways.
Converted Airstream Trailers
There have been very rare cases where people have taken a classic Airstream model and converted into a fifth wheel, but this is very rare. I would estimate that there are under a hundred models like this.
The process of converting an Airstream into a fifth wheel is long, arduous, and will, in most cases, devalue the vehicle.
When one goes about converting an Airstream, it requires work on both the hull of the vehicle, and its inner utilities. The first step would be to knock out the lower half of the vehicle and extend it about 15 feet to make it the size of a fifth wheel.
Next, serious modifications would be needed to extend water, electricity, and heating/air conditioning to the new space of the vehicle.
Finally, flooring, couches, chairs, and other furnishings would need to be added in just the right way to give it that Airstream feel.
There aren’t a lot of these out there, and for good reason. Airstreams are more valuable in their original condition and, in the opinion of most enthusiasts, more fun.
If you are looking to convert your Airstream, be prepared for a long project that may not turn out the way you had hoped.
The Curious Case of the Argosy
Starting in the 1970s, Airstream started producing a separate line of travel trailers under the name of Argosy. Argosy trailers boasted similar features as classic Airstream travel trailers, but without the classic chrome exterior as their cousins.
Argosy trailers were advertised as a medium-priced trailer. The every man’s trailer with marginal success. While they were originally advertised as being “almost an Airstream” today Argosy trailers are quite rare and have taken on an identity of their own.
During the fuel crises of the late 1970s, Argosy closed their doors, but reopened briefly from 1986 to 1989. During this short time period, Argosy did manufacture a fifth wheel trailer, but with a square shaped exterior, in place of the classic rounded, aerodynamic design that made Airstream famous.
These shortly lived trailers, somewhat unpopular in their own day, have gained a kind of cult following in recent years. The “Squarestream” trailers, as they are known as, have the same feel and are built with the same meticulous attention to detail as a classic Airstream, but a completely different aesthetic.
The exterior of an Argosy fifth wheel squarestream is a light beige color, rather like the shades of a California beach. They are painted with a solid red racing stripe that runs around the length of the vehicle and give it a sporty feel. It would seem at home on the coast of the Pacific with surfboards cluttering the roof.
Argosy fifth wheels are rare. In some estimates, as little as 125 were actually created, so good luck finding one if you were interested in buying. Nevertheless, Argosy is a fascinating part of Airstream’s history.
Why Get an Airstream?
Bigger is better, or so the saying goes, and if it holds true, why would you want to get an Airstream if a fifth wheel trailer is so much larger?
I’m not going to lie, fifth wheel trailers can be beautiful, and if you are looking for a lot of space, then they will most definitely be the best buy for you.
However, their large size can make them unwieldy, thus limiting their camping accessibility. A fifth wheel will almost invariably get stuck in the mud, and paying to park one in an RV park can be expensive.
Airstreams, on the other hand, are lighter and more agile. Will you struggle getting one up the hill? It won’t be easy, but you also won’t go sliding backwards like you are liable to do if you are hauling a fifth wheel.
Fifth wheels are comfortable, but Airstream remains the gold standard for luxury in the travel trailer world. I have heard of seldom few people who have complained about the lay out of their Airstream. Perfection is hard to come by, but Airstream get’s pretty dang close to the mark.
Plus, they just look so damn cool. The silver bullet has pierced my heart. These bad boys are the kings of trailers.
Why Doesn’t Airstream Manufacture a Fifth Wheel Model?
It can be hard to guess why Airstream doesn’t make a fifth wheel model. There seems to be a huge market that is ready to consume anything that Airstream produces and there is no doubt as to the quality such a product would have.
Historically, Airstream has been fiercely loyal to the original design their founder, Wally Byam, first produced. In fact, you could say that while the quality of Airstream travel trailers has improved over the years, there has been little innovation in the original design.
Airstream fifth wheels would be a dream come true to many consumers. The luxury of an Airstream combined with the size of a fifth wheel would be more comfortable than my own house. Although Airstream doesn’t manufacture a fifth wheel model that doesn’t stop scores of enthusiasts from hoping we will see one some day.
Is Airstream a company or a trailer? Airstream is both a company and a trailer. While officially a travel trailer, Airstreams unique trailer design has given them a unique identity. Thus anytime you see an Airstream travel trailer, it is usually just referred to as an Airstream.
Are Argosy trailers still in production? Argosy trailers ceased production in the late 1980s. Very few models remain on the road today, but those that do are coveted by travel trailer enthusiasts all over the world.