It’s rare that you can pair “art piece” and “recreational vehicle” into the same sentence, but there are a few camper manufacturers that somehow do it. Bowlus is one of them. The company is known for building fantastic aluminum trailers that are far more luxurious and cost more than your house. The company has unveiled the Bowlus Heritage Edition camper, and not only is it a nod to Bowlus’ past, the still-nicer-than-your-house camper is actually somewhat affordable!
Something that can be really disappointing about the RV world is that nice campers often have prices straight into the stratosphere. I’ve stepped into Prevost coaches that cost more than a nice home in many states. There are towables with prices that would make a rare hypercar blush. The modern incarnation of Bowlus has also largely catered to the high-luxury end of the market with its $285,000 Terra Firma and, recently, the $310,000 Volterra. Both of those trailers look fabulous in any setting and come loaded with tech. Now, with the Bowlus Heritage Edition, you get great looks and a more authentic nod to history for a far lower price.
If you don’t know Bowlus, you might see this trailer as a sort of offshoot of an Airstream. You would technically be close because Bowlus and Airstream have a similar origin story. I’ll explain.
Bowlus Came First
The original Bowlus trailer was created 89 years ago by William Hawley Bowlus. Back then, Bowlus was a pilot and aircraft engineer with an impressive resume. He is most famous in the aviation world for his role as Superintendent of Construction for the building of Charles Lindbergh’s Spirit of St. Louis. Bowlus’ mark in aviation wasn’t limited to that aircraft, as he was enthusiastic about gliders. As the USA Soaring Team explains, while the concept of a glider has been around since Leonardo da Vinci’s drawing of a sort of glider in 1490, gliding as a sport took off in the 1920s in Germany. Enthusiasts couldn’t build powered aircraft in Germany after World War I, so they turned to gliders. This reportedly caught Bowlus’ attention, and he worked to bring soaring to America.
Bowlus was renowned for his experience in soaring and in building gliders; he was inducted into the Soaring Hall of Fame in 1954. Along the way, Bowlus also constructed a type of trailer that remains popular today.
Prior to building the first Road Chief in 1934, Bowlus built trailers for aviation purposes. His gliders needed to be towed to launch sites, so trailers were built for that. Those transport trailers were built similarly to how Bowlus built gliders: aerodynamic and lightweight.
Bowlus discovered that he had another problem, and it was where ground crews would sleep at the launch site. At first, they slept in tents set up at the site that would get blown down by wind. Bowlus would later get the idea to put a tent inside of the glider transport trailer, but his wife reportedly wasn’t fond of the idea of sleeping in a tent in a trailer. So, Bowlus tossed that idea in the trash and eventually came up with what would become the Bowlus Road Chief. Yep, Bowlus’ campers originally weren’t meant to be homes on wheels for families, but a place for crews to stay at landing strips.
Bowlus built 80 Road Chief trailers between 1934 and 1936, with a highlight of their design being the fact that they weren’t just inspired by aircraft design, but actually built like a plane. These trailers featured riveted aircraft aluminum alloy supported with stringers. And like Bowlus’ gliders, they were built to be as lightweight as possible. Bowlus was also an inspiration for Wally Byam, who went on to create Airstream’s famous trailers.
The New Bowlus
Unfortunately, as I said before, Bowlus built just 80 of them (of which 40 are known to survive today) before honing back in on his love of aviation. Later, he would even help Bill Lear create the Lear Jet. Byam’s Airstream would go on to be the aluminum campers everyone knows and loves. That changed when in 2011, then Wharton Business School student Geneva Long saw the future of the RV as being fully electric and pulled by an EV. She teamed up with some engineers and designers to take the Bowlus design and reinvent it for the modern day. Long was inspired by finding a 1935 Bowlus Road Chief in a field and restoring it with her parents.
Long’s reincarnation of Bowlus launched in 2013 and these new ones look like, and are built like, the trailers of old, but that’s where the similarities end. A new Bowlus is built with a TIG welded aluminum spaceframe featuring 2024-T3 aluminum and about 5,000 rivets spaced one inch apart. The interiors also tend to be lavish and inspired by yachts.
The Heritage Edition
Last week, Bowlus unveiled its newest model, the Heritage Edition. This camper pays tribute to the original 1934 Road Chief. It eschews the mirror finish of Bowlus’ other trailers for a satin “mill finish” exterior, and the interior is still luxurious while looking like its 1930s inspiration. If you don’t like the look, Bowlus will also wrap the camper in matte black or grey. I dig the look and the camper almost looks ripped out of the 1930s, but it gets even better.
Inside, the Heritage Edition dials back a bit on the luxury that you’d find in Bowlus’ more expensive models. However, not only is it still very nice in there, but this interior is a great throwback to the trailer that inspired it.
Starting from the rear, you get a bedroom that’s designed to be like a hotel room. There’s a king-size bed in there, drapes, and a nightstand. Bowlus says that it accepts custom orders so that the bedroom can be just how you want it.
Moving forward, the camper’s bathroom is attached to the bedroom and it features a bathroom that is also modeled after hotel accommodations. There’s a sizable shower, a stainless steel sink, composite floors, a cassette toilet, and more. A sort of trick feature of the bathroom is that the shower head extends outside of the trailer so you can wash off inside and outside.
Forward from there is the combination living room and dining room, which double as extra sleeping areas. And finally, the galley kitchen, which nets you a two-burner gas cooktop, composite countertops, a 12V refrigerator, and a microwave.
Holding your liquids are a 19-gallon fresh water tank, 21 gallons for grey water, and the cassette toilet holds 4.5 gallons of waste. You do get an air-conditioner, a propane furnace, and a 2-kWh lithium iron phosphate battery.
All of this adds up to a 27-foot camper that weighs just 2,900 pounds. Bowlus calls this the lightest full-size camper in production. While I haven’t been able to confirm this claim, it is extremely light for its size. A 27-foot-long travel trailer often weighs in at around 6,000 pounds, so the weight advantage here is real.
Bowlus sells options geared towards making the Heritage Edition more off-grid-friendly, too. You can get packages that increase the house battery up to 6 kWh, allow you to monitor the trailer’s power remotely, add wiring for solar panels, and more. Bowlus says that, with the 6 kWh battery, you could run the camper’s air-conditioning for eight hours straight off-grid. Of course, solar panels can extend that. You can also get a cellular booster, a 5G router, Starlink hookups, and a rear camera.
Bowlus is taking orders for the Heritage Edition right now for a base price of $159,000. Yes, that’s still a ton of money for a camper, but it’s actually the cheapest way to get a Bowlus this century. It’s also cheaper than a number of the smaller, less feature-packed vans that I’ve seen out there. Plus, just look at it.
(All images from Bowlus unless otherwise noted.)
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I’ll keep my house, thank you very much. 😛
Which is actually the choice here. It may be slightly cheaper than my house was, but it’s still well within spitting distance. Then again, people shopping for $160k barebones travel trailers probably have houses an order of magnitude or two more expensive than this.
People are inheriting too much money without consequences. Once the boomers are all dead and my generation burns through their leftover money we can all live in the ratted out shells of these things.
tre triangular cabin is natural to have in the front on a sailing boat, but here it seems a bit gimmick’y and a waste of space. Tre reason most camping trailers are rectangular is that is is just a good idea.. The front door is also such an idea. A bit better than on the Isetta, where you were stuck in the vehicle in a front collision, but not much.
It looks super cool and probably has some good insulation, but I am still concerned about moist bedroom and cooking air condensating on the many exposed metal surfaces inside.
A black camper
… in a desert.
Most trailer interiors leave me meh, but I could see wanting to spend plenty of time inside this one. Supernice.
Very nice and arty. And lightweight. But for the price…
Small tanks, and casette toiltets on a $160k RV- not a luxury feature.
RV air conditioning units take a lot of battery juice. The 8 hr AC run time on that battery pack seems to be a tremendous stretch.
That dry weight seems almost impossible. That’s around the same as a 19′ molded-fiberglass Escape. The Escape does have a steel frame, but I still don’t see how a 27′ could hit the same weight even with all aluminum. Maybe that’s the weight of just the shell with no frame, cabinetry, or appliances?
This and every other premium Trailer is both more expensive and cheaper than my house.
I would compare it to gold encased outhouse with a diamond toilet paper holder. Sure it is more expensive but i still prefer a bathroom, with a door, and heat or AC and soundproofing. I dont care how fancy it looks but 27 foot long made with light weight material? Yeah momma cooks chili for dinner everybody is hearing and smelling it all night long. Granted it would be far superior to a tent but noone is living in it full time and thinking they got it better than Jed, granny, Jethro, and Elly Mae.
I’ve seen a few of these in the wild and they are beautiful. When you own a Bowlus you have the sexiest RV in the campground. If I could afford one I would marry it to a Diesel Sprinter cut away and build the coolest class C ever. I’m finally over towing travel trailers.
Do Big Money camper buyers go for cassette toilets? I feel like I would hire that bit out while I went ascot shopping.
I’ve liked the Bowlus trailers for a while now, but there was always something at the back of my mind that made me pull back. Now, in this version, I finally see what it is.
The top of the Bowlus looks like an inverted steel boat hull, with the chines from the stem raking back, and the taper to the transom. The windows look even look like portholes. If you welded 3′ of metal the gunwales of a 27′ fishing boat, flipped it over, and put it on a trailer, it’d look exactly like a Bowlus.
And be cheaper, too.
Yeah, I was wondering why they were trailoring it backwards.
Looks like an angry knight from 3/4 view. Wouldn’t want to follow this guy too close!
I’ve had the pleasure of camping with and touring an original 1930’s Bowlus at a Tin Can Tourist rally a few years ago. It’s really hard to tell the new ones from the original on the outside. They were really ahead of their time. I’d never be able to justify the price, but I’m glad these exist. Plus we wouldn’t have Airstream without Bowlus.