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Is an Argosy an Airstream?

In 1972 Airstream launched a new line of trailers under the brand name Argosy. So the answer is yes .. Argosy is a product of Airstream. Having said that, and so this is not the world's shortest blog post ever, here are the details ...

Although owned and sold by Airstream, Argosy was produced in a separate manufacturing plant in Versailles, Ohio, a tiny village about 35 miles from the Airstream Mothership in Jackson Center, Ohio.

Argosy was created as a mid-price brand to compliment the premium Airstream brand and open up the product line to a wider market. The idea was to not compromise on quality, but to create new manufacturing techniques and design styles that would lower the cost of production for the trailers so that they could be sold at a lower price point and be accessible to more consumers.

The Painted Airstream

The most noticeable difference between the Argosy brand and the Airstream brand is the Argosy has a painted exterior instead of the classic aluminum exterior of the Airstream line. Underneath the paint the Argosy still had an aluminum outer skin. The exterior painted finish allowed for imperfect aluminum panels to be used that could not be used on the Airstream trailers. This provided a nice cost saving measure that did not affect the quality of the trailer.

Painting the exterior also gave Argosy trailers a totally different look from Airstream which was important to not diminish the value of the Airstream brand.

Argosy end-caps: A new idea is born

The aerodynamic rounded end-caps (the curved upper portion on the front and back of the Airstream) was a beautiful and effective design that started at the inception of Airstream in the 1930's. Smooth, sleek, and aerodynamic ... it set the visual image of the trailers that is still a hallmark of Airstream trailers today.

This beautiful design came at a price - literally. It was very time consuming and expensive to produce. In the early days - the 1930's 40's and 50's - Airstream end caps were made from multiple pieces of flat aluminum due to limitations in manufacturing technology. 13 flat panels were cut and fit together beautifully to create the compound curve of the airstream front and back end caps. As manufacturing technology evolved, only 7 panels were required - that switch happened in the 1958 model year. It's an easy way to tell if an old airstream is older than 1958 - just count the end panels. The photo below shows a 1955 Airstream with the 13 panel front end cap.

One of the innovations tested in the Argosy line was a new way to make the end-caps. Instead of using individual pieces of compound curve aluminum, they were stamped out of one piece of steel. This was a much less labour intensive and less expensive way to create the curved end-caps for the trailers. And since the trailers were painted the fact that the end-caps were steel and the rest of the trailer was aluminum made no difference to the exterior appearance.

It actually worked great - except for one thing. As the years and decades passed, the paint on the steel end-caps did not adhere as well as the paint on the rest of the trailer. So it is very common to see the famous "Argosy Peel" on these trailers today - where the paint on the body of the trailer is great, but the painted end-caps are peeling and flaking away.

Design - Choices, choices, and more choices

Airstream also experimented with different floor plan layouts in the Argosy line - LOTS of them. Browsing the old Argosy brochures you see variation on variation of bed placements, floorplans and space utilization.

The Minuets

While "The Minuets" sounds like a great name for a 70's Soul group, it is actually the name chosen by Airstream for a very unique run of Argosy trailers built between 1977 and 1979. The Minuet line was created to cater to small car owners and the gas conscious consumer.

Minuets were designed to "hold more and weigh less" according to their marketing materials. I'm not sure about holding more, but they did weigh less, thanks to the unique design and material choices used. Minuets are narrower than the other Argosy trailers - only 7 feet wide compared to the 7' 8" of the "regular" Argosy trailers.

In keeping with the European sounding name, the Minuets were badged in meters instead of feet, even through the brochure (shown below) shows the sizes in feet. Confusing. They came in 3 sizes - 20, 22 and 24 feet, or 6m, 6.7m, and 7.3 meters. Ok, so not every idea around the Minuets was a great idea.

Another Argosy experiment tested in the Minuet line was the extensive use of light weight materials like aluminum inside the trailers. Furniture frames and surfaces were aluminum instead of wood - with a woodgrain vinyl coating on the exterior surfaces.

Some Minuets even had an aluminum floor instead of plywood! This reduced weight and also made the Minuets immune to floor rot if moisture permeated the inside of the trailer. Another weight saving measure is the Minuet trailers used acrylic rather than glass in the side windows. The curved "wing" windows at the front of the trailer were still made of glass.

All of these design ideas added (or subtracted) up, and the small, 6m Minuet tips the scale at a feather-light 2450 lbs.

Argosy lives on ...

Airstream concluded the first run of the Argosy brand in 1979. After nearly 50 years, the legacy of the "Painted Airstream" is alive and well. Thanks to the creative minds of owners like Chad and Cate Battles, the limits of what it means to paint an Airstream have reached new heights - you can follow their adventures on Instagram @argosyodyssey.

Safe travels - Airstream onward!

Ward

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