Following on from our pics of the Minimalist Airstream arriving safely at it’s destination in the South of France, this week the Airstream’s owner, Doug Hamilton sent us these snaps of the Airstream taken in 2003, during it’s former life as a corporate promotion vehicle for 3 mobile. As you can see it was a different kind of minimal then with no windows and a futuristic spaceport style interior!
The Airstream was in a sorry state when it came to us at the end of it’s life with 3 – here Doug and Jane Hamilton tell the story of the Airstream – where they bought it and how they worked with ARC to get it back on the road:
“Our project began in a vast empty warehouse in Watford. Our first live sighting of Airstream Sovereign LandYacht no T3I-O6J-3602; ‘a travel trailer’ completed 17-06-76 at Cerritos, California was in a space big enough to conceal an entire tank army. (pic). The 1976 trailer looked fine and dandy to me, because I didn’t know what to look out for. All the windows were covered up with vinyl and the interior had several tons of chipboard shelving lining the walls pretending to be record racks. The Airstream had seen hard service at music festivals on behalf of Three™, ‘the mobile phone company made for the internet’. It was no longer needed on the festival circuit and was going for a song. More about that later. Being parked indoors meant you couldn’t see any sign of leaks.
It had an Exit door as well as an Entrance door and that should have raised early suspicions about might be beneath the surface, as these vehicles generally only sported one door when they left the California factory. My intention was to put the restoration job in the hands of Dave and Budgie, who had no experience of Airstreams, but had done a good restoration for us of a 1962 VW ‘splittie’ the previous winter, in an enormous freezing barn on the Essex Suffolk border. I thought ‘it’s like the van only bigger’.
(Un)fortunately, Budgie set up shop on his own and Dave didn’t feel he could take this project single-handed so were now at a loss as where to turn. Google showed there was significant UK interest in the Airstream mythology. Lots for sale and companies doing renovations. We read about ARC Airstreams and we made some tentative enquiries elsewhere. We didn’t think it would be that hard to find someone to restore a caravan. Lots of choice.
The Airstream idea appealed to me in a number of ways. I like the strong and lightweight airplane aluminum technology applied to ground accommodation and transport. It’s romantic. Airstream says ‘freedom’. It says America. It paints a picture of a point in time when roads were open and went on for ever and fuel was cheap. When the journey was as important as the destination. Especially, I liked the mantra of Wally Byam, the founder of the Airstream Company. ‘We don’t make changes, only improvements’. Something ignored by the previous corporate owners.
ARC Airstream’s response to our enquiry was by some margin the most responsive and convincing of the people we contacted. They had the right questions and answers.
We met with Kathy and Darren. It became clear immediately that with this particular Landyacht we had almost certainly bitten off more than we could chew.
Inspection showed there were not only too many doors, but that there had been an awful lot of crude butchery. The wheels were the wrong size and the oversize tyres were from the farmyard, possibly OK for the trenches of Glastonbury, but rubbing away at the chassis. (We found that the airstream wasn’t really roadworthy and had been transported on a low-loader from venue to venue). The axles were wrong, the steel frame was rotted and the interior lining was shredded or wrong or both. The access covers were corroded. The original electrics and wiring had been trashed and replaced with pretty rubbish parts. The list was endless. There were some hefty loudspeakers and a plasma, but we left them in the warehouse.
It also became clear that as far as Darren and Kathy were concerned, none of this presented a real problem. It was all certainly do-able and probably even worth doing. It was a relief to be in the hands of people who clearly knew what they were doing and were rather good at it. At the time of our project there were different cost options available from ARC. From modest to luxury. We wanted quality and economy. Our concerns were taken seriously and we were assured about meeting our particular budget, which has been pretty much adhered to. Quite a lot of the parts and materials have been salvaged and restored from other projects.
Our idea was to convert the vehicle back to something at least respectful of the original principles. There would be a kitchen galley, a wetroom/bathroom, a pair of bunks behind sliding doors, a rock and roll bed/sofa and a bit of storage, As usual with us, there would be an exotic foreign boiler and invisible underfloor heating, but above all there would be the luxury of space. This is somewhat at odds with the norm, as most of the other Airstreams we’ve since come across are packed so tight with ‘stuff’ that moving around inside is something to think about before doing.
There would only be a few materials used. Matt white aluminum for the walls, oak faced ply for the cabinets, oak veneer for surfaces and white laminate for the door/cb’d fronts. White Corian for the bathroom, with a cedar duckboard over a stainless steel shower tray. Stainless steel for switches. Both 240v and 12v.
Darren and Kathy were pretty receptive about our ideas and very good about how to achieve them technically. They were rightly critical too, when we went off track. It’s obvious to us now, but wasn’t so much then, that weight and weight distribution is a significant design consideration. Material stability was an issue. We know from experience that a simple modest aesthetic is both difficult and expensive to achieve. Kathy coined our project ‘the minimal airstream’.
The land yacht is destined to occupy a south facing French hillside 550m above sea level where the temperature can typically range from -10 to +40 degrees. Although occasionally it can go both a bit colder and hotter.
The finished product is better than we could have expected. It is conspicuously plain. The look is pretty austere and the detailing quite robust. The process was fun all the way.
As usual ARC exceeded expectations, as Darren and Will towed the great shiny lump from Taunton to the South of France without a hitch, (or a break)! Even effortlessly through two tiny and tortuous villages. They made it all the way up the hill till the last sharp right hand bend, until after a thousand miles with 50 yards to go everything came to a dead halt. The village troops were assembled along with ‘Capsule’, a necessary, calming golden mongrel sort of dog. It took the rest of the day to manouvre the van into position using a kangoo hammer and a dumper truck.
Finally, looking like this was always meant to be, she? Sits on the hill underneath the pines and olives, screened a little, but with sensational views over the valley right down to the coast. Darren fired up the systems and we were in business.
Darren and Will stayed for dinner, but refused to stay the night and headed back to the UK in time for a Friday deadline. Typical.
A grand job, well done. ”
Jane and Doug