Vintage RV

Vintage RV: 1970’s Argosy — “the almost Airstream”

Though Argosy trailers are relatively rare, they, like other vintage-era trailers in the RV industry have a passionate fan base and enthusiast following.

An Argosy trailer.
An Argosy trailer, dubbed "the almost Airstream". — Photo courtesy Keith Powell

Evidently, not all Airstream trailers sport their trademark—an exterior skin of flashy silver, shiny aluminum. A fact I discovered a few weeks ago when I encountered a vintage Argosy travel trailer for the first time – it looked like an Airstream, it was shaped like an Airstream but its logo read Argosy – and it was painted a light beige colour.

Some have called the colourful trailers – the "almost Airstreams.” While others have suggested that the Argosy is actually just a “scratch and dent” version of the real thing.

A little research on Airstream's website quickly explained the legacy of the Argosy line, “With domed end caps and panoramic windows, Argosy trailers look a lot like Airstreams. Instead of the iconic shiny shell, though, Argosy trailers sport an eye-catching paint job. Often they feature their original color scheme of creamy white and dusty tan with maroon accents.”

A vintage brochure, showing a selection of floor layouts available for the Argosy trailer.
A vintage brochure, showing a selection of floor layouts available for the Argosy trailer. — Graphic courtesy Keith Powell

Airstream further explained, “The story goes that in the early 1970s Airstream wanted to offer a medium-priced trailer. Airstream’s then-president Chuck Manchester saw the solution in a separate line of trailers sharing some of Airstream’s time-tested features, while adding new twists. The company purchased a new plant in Versailles, Ohio (36 miles down the road from Airstream’s Jackson Center plant) and established separate management and production teams. In 1973 the first Argosy trailers rolled off the line. Many Airstream dealerships sold and serviced them, and an uneasy balance developed as the company took pains to advertise the Argosy as almost an Airstream.”

So what's the difference between a silver Airstream and Argosy trailer? “Many of the differences were in the shell itself and the paint applied externally. The company used lower-grade aluminum as a cost-saving measure. The paint job sometimes hid scratched and dented aluminum sent over from the Airstream plant, and cost-effective steel formed the front and rear dome segments.”

The website adds, “The fuel crisis of the 1970s took its toll on the economy, and the Argosy plant closed in 1979. In 1986, the line was reintroduced in a radically redesigned form, complete with fiberglass end caps (one of several early Airstream experiments with fiberglass) and a square design. The Argosy trailers kept the familiar external colour scheme, though, and were produced through 1989.”

Though Argosy trailers are relatively rare, they, like other vintage-era trailers in the RV industry have a passionate fan base and enthusiast following. Just don't tell these folks that the Argosy is just a “scratch and dent” version of the popular “silver clouds” or a “poor man's Airstream.” You might be in for a bit of a fight!  And they'll be sure to remind you that Airstream welcomed them into the Wally Byam RV Club years ago.

Do you have a Argosy trailer story or an vintage RV story or photos to share? Email them to [email protected]

 

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