American outdoor lovers are no stranger to aluminum trailers; the iconic “silver bullet” Airstream trailers can be found everywhere from campsites to hipster vacation rentals. But few are familiar with the Bowlus Road Chief, an aluminum travel trailer first designed and built by engineer Hawley Bowlus in 1934.
Bowlus—known for sailplanes, gliders, and working on the early development of the Learjet—used the aerodynamic principles from aircraft and race cars to design a luxury travel trailer. Inspired by the curving forms and long horizontal lines of the Art Moderne period, the Bowlus Road Chief featured a lightweight design, low center of gravity, and efficient interior spaces. A Bowlus employee, Wally Byam, eventually took these same features and built the first Airstream Clipper in 1936.
But whereas only about 80 Bowlus Road Chiefs were produced in the mid-1930s, Airstream went on to become a household name. In 2014, Geneva Long and her father, John, decided to relaunch the Bowlus brand, combining a love for their own vintage Bowlus trailer with an entrepreneurial spirit.
Today, the Bowlus Road Chief is back, available in two models: an On The Road Edition that starts at $137,000 and a Limited Edition Endless Highway model that costs $219,000. Both Road Chiefs are made from sheet aluminum with approximately 5,000 true aircraft rivets and a towing weight that’s 3,000 pounds lighter than similarly sized travel trailers. That means a vast array of cars and SUVs can pull the featherweight trailer, and its aerodynamic shape contributes to better handling and gas mileage.
Marine-grade interior components are built to last, and both Bowlus models feature a full cook’s kitchen with stainless steel countertops, a fridge, a microwave, a cooktop, and large cupboards. The living room comfortably seats five—and transforms into two twin beds—and the trailer also comes with a bathroom and a separate bedroom that converts from a king to two twins.
The more expensive Limited Edition model boasts some extra amenities, like two large skylights, a screen porch door, and signature heated floors. But the biggest upgrade is the lithium battery system that lets you go off grid for more than a week at a time.
As the world’s first travel trailer operating under lithium power, the lithium-iron-phosphate battery is 2.5 times more effective than absorbent glass mat batteries. A 120-watt solar panel supplements the batteries, and a charging station lets you hook up your laptop, tablets, and smartphones. In layman’s terms, this thing can power everything from the lights to the air conditioner.
While the Bowlus Road Chief is a pricey investment compared to smaller teardrop trailers, it’s on par with many of Airstream’s more expensive models. Even more important, it’s encouraging to see a vintage brand rejuvenated into something stylish and modern.