Mod Squad in the New Caravel

For the past couple of weeks we’ve been prepping to go to Palm Springs for Modernism Week. We, along with a few other vintage trailer owners, will be on exhibit at the Ace Hotel on Saturday February 20.  There’s not much that we need to do except clean up the trailer and pack for a few nights, but the opportunity to get into the modernism spirit has gradually overtaken us. That means “accessories” circa 1968, so we have a prop box going to collect the things that will help set the mood of 1968 as people tour the trailer.

barbarella.jpgAt this point we have some Melmac dishware, a couple of Life magazines (Jane Fonda as Barbarella on the cover of one), a transistor radio (non-working), an old plaid Thermos, some James Bond paperbacks, Jiffy-Pop, and various other things.  The problem is that accessorizing can be addictive, so it wasn’t long before Eleanor was making 60’s-looking pillow shams, and hunting up giant peace-sign earrings for herself at the resale shops.  Then I spent an evening collecting three hours worth of 1968 music for the iPod, which will play from a hidden location inside the trailer.

Now Eleanor has an entire costume for herself, and she’s begun to dress me as well.  Of course, anything I wear from the 1960s is destined to look immensely nerdy.  Since I currently have close-cropped hair, I’m going to run with the nerd look and perhaps don a clip-on tie or find some dorky pants. That shouldn’t be hard.   Eleanor, on the other hand, will be looking more like a flower child.  Emma will probably just be hiding from embarrassment the entire time, so she won’t need a costume.

When we first bought the Caravel, we had no thoughts of vintage style.  The trailer was simply an inexpensive way to get into Airstream ownership.  But like a lot of vintage owners, we fell in love with the trailer and it became part of our lifestyle.  (That little trailer is exactly the reason Airstream Life magazine exists.)

caravel-being-restored.jpgWe eventually kept upgrading the Caravel until it was no longer inexpensive.  Worse, somehow along the way the trailer became the star, and we became its agents. I’ve camped in it exactly four nights in the past five years, and all of those nights have been in service of the trailer itself, not for my own recreation. Now it has become so exotic that to take it out we need to dress it up first.  It is a sort of trophy trailer.

Well, that won’t last.  We don’t own things just for the sake of having them.  Everything has to have a purpose, or it soon finds another home.  This little voyage may be just the thing we need to “break in” the trailer, and make it our own again.

That may seem an odd statement, but in the process of refurbishing the trailer, we managed to make it nearly unrecognizable to ourselves. The interior is nearly all new and smells like wood finish and sawdust.  The cushion fabric is red rather than green.  The cabinetry is smooth light blonde, rather than honey covered with water stains and burn marks. The big dents on the roof are gone, as are most of the scratches along the curb side.  We replaced nearly everything that was broken or worn-out, and now the trailer is better, but it is also so different that we wonder if we chased out its soul.  We look at it and think, “Is this still our trailer?”

caravel-at-lansing-2004.jpgProbably the passage of time has done as much to separate us from the Caravel as the refurbishing.  On our last trip in the trailer, Emma was a four-year-old toddler and her parents were still novices at trailer travel.  Our formative memories were riddled with minor disasters coupled with wonderful irreplaceable memories.  The trailer got dusty every time we towed (from the floor rot), the black tank oozed out the top and smelled terrible when it got full, the bed foam was painfully uncomfortable, the windows leaked, and the spare tire didn’t fit.  It was dented, and festooned with all sorts of ridiculous non-period things, like a giant white air conditioner that sat on the roof like a goofy cap.

Yet we loved the trailer and the adventures it led us to, enough to invest five times the purchase price in refurbishing it over the next several years.  This was a leap of faith.  We were trusting that it would lead us to more adventures and bonding once we had it back. Now we shall find out.

I expect that we’ll come to know and love the “new” Caravel very quickly. Just spending a few nights in it at Quartzsite I came to remember how fun it is, how neat & compact, how I get the exciting sensation of camping when I sleep in it, how much it is a joy it is just to look at the rounded silvery proportions of it.  Even though Emma is no longer the tiny toddler that we remember tucking in on the dinette, there are good memories ahead to be made with the nearly ten-year-old kid we have today.

But if things don’t work out, there won’t be any trouble finding a new owner for the trailer.  We are allowed to solicit buyers at the Modernism Show if we wish, and I’ll surprised if there aren’t a few folks in Palm Springs next weekend prowling the show for a nice restored trailer.

We’ll be on the road Wednesday night, and as always, I’ll blog from the road frequently until we get back to winter home base.


  1. Tim says

    Just received the Spring 2010 issue of Airstream Life. Great Job!!!! Loved all of it, especially the Andy Thomson column, the issue was worth 10 times the cover price.

    Thanks for your hard work on this great magazine.


  2. Marie Luhr says

    Although I sort of remember the old Caravel (and may even have a picture around somewhere), I’d ditto the request from Mike–before and after pictures would be wonderful to see! Please make it so!


  3. Tom says

    More props on the Andy Thompson article – he set up my Minuet/Odyssey, and now I’m starting to understand all of adjustments they made!

    I’ll also be interested to hear about how camping with the Caravel goes. While we really like having a small trailer, there is something about a 25FB that appeals – but I wonder if that becomes a different experience all together…

  4. says

    The differences between the “old” Caravel and the “new” are pretty subtle in photos. From the outside, it’s still the same trailer, although the clearcoat has been stripped off, the aluminum has been polished, the stoneguard has been removed, the door lock has been changed to the correct style, and the scratched/dented curbside aluminum has been replaced. We also switched from 20-lb to 30-lb propane tanks, and mounted a spare up front.

    Inside, the interior is quite different (wood & fabric) but I’m having trouble finding the original interior photos. Still, the bulk of the work was in places you can’t see: frame repairs, floor repairs, new wiring and plumbing, glass windows replacing plastic, new axles, brakes, tires, etc.