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Old 04-04-2007, 11:29 PM   #1
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I'm brand new to this forum, seems like a great group. We are looking to buy our first trailer. The notion has always been that Airstream was the Cadillac (Mercedes?). I don't want to be ill informed so I'd like advice on the best build quality, towing ability, and resale. I have a Toyota Tundra V8 and am looking in the 16 to 20' range. Want to go off the beaten track where the big behmoths can't go. How do the top fiberglass brands compare to Airstream?

Mike
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Old 04-04-2007, 11:35 PM   #2
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How do the top fiberglass brands compare to Airstream?

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Old 04-05-2007, 05:54 AM   #3
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Hi: In my humble opinion and looking at the pics Brian BP took a new Escape Fiberglass trailer(Chilliwack B. C. Canada) is top notch quality Alf S. North shore of Lake Erie
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Old 04-05-2007, 06:04 AM   #4
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Did someone whistle?

Michael,

First, with a 6300 lb towing capacity (or higher depending on year model) your Tundra is well suited to tow any of the trailers you're considering.

I don't pretend to be a know-all end-all, but I bought my first Airstream, a 1970 Safari Special 23' single axle trailer in 1987 and sold it in 1994. This might get a little lengthy, but I’ll share the comparisons I’ve been able to draw.

Since 1997, I've had and used a '61 Bambi for 3 years, a 325 moho for three years, and a 1994 34' Limited tri-axle for three years. Interspersed there I've aquired and resold a '77 Argosy Minuet 6 metre, a '57 Overlander 26', and a 1953 Flying Cloud 21'.

I've also had a veritable parade of fiberglass trailers since 1980 including three Scamps, all three 13, 16, and 19', a UHaul CT 13, a Trillium 4500 briefly, a Love Bug II 18', a Burro 17' widebody, and now an '04 15B17CB 17' Bigfoot and an '06 25B25RQ 25' Bigfoot; most of them in the past four years. Why I’ve had all these trailers is a long story. I won’t bore you with it here.

I bought both of the Bigfoot trailers last year. I bought the 17’ Bigfoot to replace the ’02 Scamp 16’ Custom Deluxe side dinette in May. I wasn't looking to replace the Scamp, but this trailer popped up for sale at a really good price. I bought the 25' in September after attending the Bigfoot Owner's Club Rally in Rapid City with the 17' and seeing several 25' trailers there. I sold the 34' Airstream immediately after buying the Bigfoot 25'.

Asking how they compare is like asking how the Chevy and Ford products compare across the line. They're all different, at different price points and with different features. You wouldn't buy an Ford F550 dump truck to haul your kids to school and you wouldn't buy a Chevy Malibu to run a construction business. Trailers have pretty much the same range of options. Is a Chevy Topkick truck better than an F550? It's all in the eye of the beholder and the jobs you want them to do. If they're similarly equipped to do the same job, it may boil down to the one you like the looks of better, or who gives you the best deal.

It is difficult to directly compare aluminum monocoque design, molded fiberglass, and stick built trailers. Each brand and each model has its own strengths and weaknesses. I'll try briefly to give you an overview though... but since I'm not much on stick built trailers, and you didn't ask about them anyway, I won't discuss them.

First, all manufacturers use the same appliances, fixtures, plumbing etc. etc. etc. so there's no advantage from one to the other except for model variations in the appliances used, and that depends of course on how expensive and large the trailer is. Construction quality (and simplicity of system design for repairs later), layout (including bed size, location, and amount of storage), and cost are the three features I look for.

Fiberglass trailers are (generally) smaller and lighter weight per foot than late model Airstreams (that may not apply to vintage Airstream trailers which were lighter by up to 50% than current construction), and are easier to repair when damaged. They're hail resistant. There are no caulked seams to leak (although there ARE leak points around through-hull cuts), and no seam rivets to pop (although Scamp uses through-hull rivets to mount cabinets). They generally have insulation (if they have insulation) that is some sort of non-absorbent foam. The fit and finish quality ranges from crude to extremely well done depending on make, model, and age. There are currently several fiberglass trailer manufacturers in business all over North America. Except for Bigfoot's 21 and 25' trailers, and the Escape and Scamp 19' fifth wheel offerings, all of them are 17' or less in length. They will run, on average, about $800 per linear foot new.

Airstream has trailer sizes ranging from 16' through 34' and they run, on average, about $2200 per linear foot for a new trailer. The aluminum used in the wide-body trailers and late narrow bodies is very thin and susceptible to hail damage from anything larger than pea size hail. Therefore, insurance rates are through the roof. I have full coverage on both of my Bigfoot trailers for over twice as much as the value of the '94 Airstream 34' and my insurance costs for two trailers are less than half that of the '94 Airstream alone.

Aluminum is hot in the sun, and a 13k btu A/C unit couldn't keep up in the 34'. The 325 moho had two 13k btu units and they struggled in direct sun. The 11k btu unit in my 25' Bigfoot is more than sufficient with the better insulation and dual-thermopane windows. Airstream has an advantage in over-all height with the rubber-torsion axles. It had two steps to get in; my '06 Bigfoot 25' has three; however the '05 model had only two. My 34' Airstream had two forced air furnaces, a heat strip and a catalytic heater installed. When it was cold, all four ran to keep it warm. The Bigfoot generally does OK with a heat strip, but the single furnace kept it toasty with little effort in windy 10* weather last October. The ’02 Scamp was also very good with heating and cooling. The ’87 Burro was drafty because of poor door fit and Plexi windows, but had fiberglass batting insulation similar to what Airstream uses. Later Burros used the same insulation Scamp uses.

Airstream uses genuine wood cabinetry in it's trailers, and the cabinetry is gorgeous. Bigfoot uses beautiful wood doors, and drawers, but uses some wood products for cabinet framing. They use the same appliances. The Airstream 34’ weighed 7700 lbs dry at about 230 lbs/linear foot on average and the Bigfoot 25’ weighs 5300 lbs dry about 212 lbs/linear foot. The Standard Scamp equipped similarly will weigh about 2300 lbs. The Burro 17’ was (guessing here) around 2000 lbs as equipped without A/C. That puts the standard 16’ & 17’ fiberglass trailers at around 150 lbs per linear foot as a round number.

The Airstream weight per linear foot stays pretty constant across their line. The wide body trailers will weigh more per linear foot of course. The Scamp 16’ I had and the Bigfoot 17’ both have dry weights of about 2800 lbs as equipped (with all options) at an approximate 170 lbs/linear foot.

The biggest factor for me was features per dollar. A new 25’ Airstream Safari will run you about $60k. I bought my new Bigfoot 25’ rear queen with all of the same features for about half of what the same Airstream cost. The “wow, look at the Airstream” factor wasn’t worth $30k to me.

A new, loaded Scamp 16' custom deluxe, Casita, Eggcamper, or Escape will run you about $12-17k compared to $33k for a 16' Bambi. I think you'll find the fiberglass trailers to be more rugged long-term, and much more simple to perform repairs in and on. They all use rubber torsion axles and have similar features. Resale will be easier for the fiberglass trailers as they just don't cost as much to begin with, so the market is larger. The initial depreciation will be significantly less as well with the FGRVs.

So, if you want value for the dollar, IMHO Airstream isn't close. If shiny aluminum is what you're after, though, you'll pay what they ask.

Sorry to be sooooo long winded… but you DID ask!

If you have specific questions that you think I may be able to help with, please don't hesitate to ask. I'll try to be more brief with answers...

Roger
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Old 04-05-2007, 07:43 AM   #5
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We just picked up our Escape and are very pleased. Very well made and also a little higher off the ground than some, so it should go off the beaten path without any problems... certainly worth a look. We pull it with a Toyota Tacoma so towing for you will be a breeeze!

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Old 04-05-2007, 11:09 AM   #6
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Roger, I want to compliment you on your comparison of a fiberglass vs aluminum unit. The information you gave was very well reasoned and most important, did not denigrate either kind of unit.

That said, I feel you forgot the most important item. People who own fiberglass are AWESOME . As an example, you and all the help you give to others in this forum.

If you own fiberglass, you will meet people where ever you camp. Yep, people just want to see "what you got in there". I can't imagine anyone doing that to an aluminum thingie .

So, it is simple: great people own fiberglass, and use and enjoy them. And some of the best participate in this forum
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Old 04-05-2007, 11:27 AM   #7
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Roger:

Did you mention what it takes to keep that shiny aluminum skin... well, shiny?
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Old 04-05-2007, 11:39 AM   #8
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Roger et al. Thanks so much for the well reasoned analysis. This is really helpful. The comment about the really friendly fiberglass people I'm sure is correct. Still, the Airstreamers would say the same on their site. The point on keeping aluminum polished is also well taken. I checked and to polish an older model is between $150.00 an $200 per foot. Ouch. Shows how much work it is. New Airstreams have a coating, but I don't know how long it lasts.

Now on to the hunt. I'm going to look at them all.

Thanks,

Mike
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Old 04-05-2007, 11:50 AM   #9
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ooooh Michael I see you're in Anacortes...You've got to hop across the border and go see the Escape's built in Chilliwack

If you're buying new and having a trailer shipped....remember that adds to the overall costs. Escape is close by
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Old 04-05-2007, 11:51 AM   #10
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I think that if you took a poll of all of the members of this forum you would find out that fiberglass is the best.
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Old 04-05-2007, 02:27 PM   #11
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My humble input.
The fact that you are comparing Airstream to Fiberglass means obviously money is no object.

I see $34,000 for a Bambi compared to maybe $19,000 tops as a huge difference.
For $34,000 I would expect old European workmanship on everything.
I didn't see any evidence of that kind of workmanship at the RV show 2 months ago.
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Old 04-05-2007, 02:49 PM   #12
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Another Escape convert here!!!

The Bambi is very very cute - but was crossed off my list due to price and weight, weight, weight.
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Old 04-05-2007, 03:10 PM   #13
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Roger et al. Thanks so much for the well reasoned analysis. This is really helpful. New Airstreams have a coating, but I don't know how long it lasts.

Now on to the hunt. I'm going to look at them all.

Thanks,

Mike
Mike, first, you're welcome! I'm glad it helped.

The coating on the aluminum is problematic. One of my Airstream friends has an '06 coach that is crazing already. The '90s coatings were awful. The '70s coatings were awful. The uncoated '60s coaches are probably the least trouble. The 90s coaches are probably the best value given the features they offer in comparison to their prices.

The last point I forgot to mention is repair punch lists on new trailers. Many of the Airstreams coming out of the factory have repair punch lists of 70 to 80 items; some owners have complained of significant structural, plumbing, and assembly issues in that punch list which tends to indicate that quality off the line isn't perhaps what it should be on a coach that costs that much. In comparison, the punchlist on my Bigfoot 25' was a whopping seven items; all of them resolved by the dealer in an hour and a half. The most severe was a 1/4" divot in the vinyl floor that could have been made by someone with a rock in a boot walking through. Not too bad, all things considered!

Happy hunting!

Roger
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Old 04-05-2007, 03:44 PM   #14
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WOW!

Roger, I must say, a well thought and comprehensive analysis of the pros and cons of the many units you have had. I especially like the details on cost/weight per foot. This should be a tutorial for future reference. How about it Moderators?
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Old 04-05-2007, 05:46 PM   #15
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Roger -

a question that's on all of our minds - did you have a favorite among that rather impressive list of yours? If I had to guess I would say that the early Bambi would be one of the top contenders - the pre-68 models generally get very good reviews from their owners.

Nice comparison of the trailers - very well thought out and stated.
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Old 04-05-2007, 06:36 PM   #16
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My humble input.
The fact that you are comparing Airstream to Fiberglass means obviously money is no object.

I see $34,000 for a Bambi compared to maybe $19,000 tops as a huge difference.
For $34,000 I would expect old European workmanship on everything.
I didn't see any evidence of that kind of workmanship at the RV show 2 months ago.

Ann,

I have been meaning to ask you---but have always forgotten. What are you towing with and do you have a weight distribution hitch for the Escape? If so, which one?

Thanks,

Art
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Old 04-06-2007, 06:26 AM   #17
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Roger -

a question that's on all of our minds - did you have a favorite among that rather impressive list of yours? If I had to guess I would say that the early Bambi would be one of the top contenders - the pre-68 models generally get very good reviews from their owners.

Nice comparison of the trailers - very well thought out and stated.

Thanks, everyone, for the kind words. I'm glad I can help.

A favorite? That's tough. They've all got some really good features, and what is "best" is really subjective and is dependent on how you use them. I've enjoyed all of them. The Bambi had "that's cool" appeal, but the Scamp 16' actually attracted the most attention! I probably had the most fun with the Bambi and the Burro, bringing them both back from the brink of abandonment.

I have decided that a travel trailer (again, this is for us...) is better than a moho. My favorite Airstream was probably my 23' Safari. It was almost the perfect length and had all of the features in a 3,700 lb trailer. It, however, did NOT have a gray water tank. My wife, OTOH, really enjoyed the room and luxury features of the 34' Limited and the 32.5' Airstream motorhome. I think her favorite was probably the tri-axle trailer though, with the leather upholstery. She does really like the 25' Bigfoot though.

In the small Fiberglass units, it's a toss-up between the Scamp 16 and the Bigfoot 17. They weigh about the same. The fit and finish quality is higher on the Bigfoot, and there's more room because it's wider and boxy. The Scamp had all the amenities, but in a smaller and easier to tow package. That "smaller and easier to tow package" meant that the interior is more cramped. The Bigfoot has better insulation, dual thermopane windows, more interior room, a slightly larger bath, and is really a significantly higher quality coach, but tows a little harder than the Scamp.

My Bigfoot 25' is my favorite of all of the trailers I've had. For me, it's about as perfect as a trailer can be. It has all the "right stuff" in the right places in the right quality. The Bigfoot isn't such a monster size that it's tough to tow, but it has a full 80" queen bed, a nice comfy couch for seating, the full-size double door fridge, stove and oven, and enough room that you don't feel crowded if you can't go outside. It also has a shower that's tall enough for me to comfortably stand in at 6'5". It was reasonably priced (in comparison to other trailers of similar size and quality) and is nothing short of bullet-proof in it's construction, and excellent in it's fit and finish.


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Old 04-07-2007, 10:27 AM   #18
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One last thought regarding the Airstreams and their reputation. When Wally Byam took the plans for the Bowlus Road Chief and changed them to make the first 1936 Airstream Clipper, there was nothing else like it on the market for use of materials or long-term durability. The fact that some 80% of all Airstreams ever built are still towable is a testament to Byam's vision and use of the most modern engineering of the day.

Through the 1980s, that engineering remained at the forefront of product design in travel trailers. Now today however, we recognize that the fledgling fiberglass industry has made huge leaps toward taking that crown. Looking at the development of fiberglass engineering in ocean-going yachts, for example, has shown the material to be extraordinarily durable under all but hitting a reef at speed, all the while lightening and strengthening the materials. The first fiberglass boats were laid up as one to one-and-a-half inch thick hulls that were very strong but very heavy. New construction is lightweight but just as strong or stronger as those original mid-1960s hulls. Many of those early boats are still in daily use, by the way.

So, in another thirty years our fiberglass trailers from the late '60s or early '70s will be seen in the same light as being as revolutionary for their day as Byam's aluminum construction was in his. The Airstream, rather than being in demand today for it's ruggedness, is sought for it's novelty as many other construction techniques are overtaking Airstream for ruggedness and durability at a significantly lower cost.

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Old 04-08-2007, 06:52 PM   #19
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Hi,

For years I was a member of the Vintage Airstream Club and was going to restore one...then I saw a picture of an Airstream at Mount Rushmore which had spent the previous night in a hail storm...looked like crazed monkeys with ballpeen hammers had been high on speed or something and beat the mess out of it...it was a dented mess...I lost the stars in my aluminum eyes...then found fiberglass...found my Casita (which in my opinion is very well built)...the fourth night out after picking up our brand new Casita two years ago we had a tremendous hail storm at Lost Maples State Park in Texas...went out the next morning to find...much to my relief...absolute NO damage. The poor tent campers next to us had spent the night in their cars after their tents collapsed. If you gave me an Airstream I would sell it ASAP and buy another Casita for my daughter.

Rand:-)
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Old 04-20-2007, 05:59 AM   #20
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For anyone who's interested, someone posted a similar question on AirstreamForums.com. I thought the discussion was interesting.

Here's the link: If Not Airstream, then what?

I linked that thread back to this one as well.

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