Home » This Polished Aluminum Airstream Argosy Motorhome Is Cheaper Than A New Camper Van And Looks Way Better 

This Polished Aluminum Airstream Argosy Motorhome Is Cheaper Than A New Camper Van And Looks Way Better 

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This year, RV sales are returning to pre-pandemic normals. Despite that, camper vans continue to be a substantial segment. If you like Airstreams, its cheapest new camper van is the $147,570 Rangeline. Or, for half of that money, you can roll into a campground with something that’ll break some necks. This 1977 Airstream Argosy Motorhome is the same size as a Rangeline, but looks stunning and comes complete with a restored, yet largely period-correct interior.
 
As you know, I have a rather long list of cars I want to buy should I ever run into the requisite money. Well, I have a similar list of campers, too. In fact, there’s a very pink vintage canned ham camper that I’ve been eyeballing for a couple of weeks. I should get to fixing my U-Haul, but the cuteness is almost too hard to resist. If I ever happened to come across enough money, I’d love to pick up a vintage Airstream. I’m a sucker for polished aluminum, I mean, just look at this Argosy!
 
 
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The Painted Airstream

While the motorhome before us today is shiny enough to look at yourself in, it didn’t start out its life that way. Here’s what it looked like when new.
 
Heritage Pastmodels 5050 70s Arg
Look at that puddle!
 
You’d be forgiven for thinking that an Argosy was a clone of an Airstream. They have the look, but what’s up with the paint?
 
As Airstream writes from its archive, in the early 1970s, the company began exploring the idea of offering a mid-priced line of campers. Then Airstream president Chuck Manchester saw the need for a separate line featuring campers with a mix of characteristic Airstream traits and experimental design.
 
Airstream Argosy History
Airstream
 
Airstream opened a plant in Versailles, Ohio, 36 miles from its facility in Jackson Center. The new camper line would have a separate production and management team. Those first Argosy trailers were delivered in 1972 and Airstream marketed the campers almost Airstreams. Basically, you were buying a trailer with the riveted aluminum body and quality that made Airstream famous. Even the axle underneath was the same used on trailers branded as Airstreams.
 
By all accounts, these were real Airstreams, but Airstream distanced the Argosy trailers from the main line. Airstream informed Argosy owners that they could not attend Airstream rallies and were locked out of the Wally Byam Caravan Club. Still, Airstream wanted owners to know: “Argosy, above all means value,” and that their campers were “built by the pioneers of the trailering industry.
 
Argosy At Beach
Airstream
 
Airstream says that the Argosy name fits with the company’s nautical naming scheme as Argosy was the name of a merchant ship. The company got Argosy pricing down in a couple of ways. These campers were filled with less-expensive equipment, but their bodies were also sometimes intentionally imperfect.
 
Unlike a mainline Airstream, the factories building the Argosy line used scratched and dented aluminum panels. The shells also weren’t fully aluminum, either, as galvanized steel was used for camper end caps. An attractive paint scheme would hide the aluminum damage and different end cap material. By 1973, using cheaper parts and sometimes damaged aluminum meant buyers got to save $1,500 to $3,500 ($10,708 to $24,986 today) at purchase time. Airstream also reduced its guarantee from lifetime to just a year to further cut costs. A year later, Airstream’s California plant began producing Argosy campers to cut transportation costs out of the equation.
 
Argosy Interior
Airstream
 
The Argosy line wasn’t just Airstream’s bargain brand, but also a sort of skunkworks where the company would try out new ideas before moving them onto the main line. Experiments back then included panoramic wrap-around windows, rear doors, and a front bed setup. Some of those features were more popular than others. The panoramic windows were loved so much that they made it onto the main line. Airstream tested the steel domes to see if the company could save money by not having to make end caps out of expensive segments of aluminum. In Argosy campers, the steel caps sometimes had problems retaining paint.
 
The Argosy experiment also included more ambitious projects such as the Argosy Motorhome, also known as the Argosy Touring Coach. Introduced in 1974, the Argosy Motorhome was Airstream’s first motorhome and technically the predecessor to Airstream’s coaches of today.
 
 
Argosy Mh In The Woods
Airstream
 
In terms of technology, the Argosy Motorhome went in a different direction than other innovators of the era. This was the era that the GMC Motorhome stole the show with its front wheel drive, low floors, and aerodynamic body. The Argosy Motorhome also took on a more aerodynamic shape than most coaches of the day and it had an air suspension, too, but it was based on a Chevrolet P-30 chassis and motivated with either a 350 or 454 cubic inch V8 driving the rear wheels. That said, the Argosy Motorhome was still an Airstream at heart. It was built out of hand-riveted aluminum like the trailers and featured extruded aluminum bumpers and a rollbar. Even the cab was largely made of aluminum.
 
The Argosy Motorhome was such a success that the California factory began production of the coaches in 1975 and by 1979, Airstream began selling coaches under its own name. The Argosy Motorhome also formed the basis of the Argosy Compact Bus, a small transit bus!
 
Argosy Compass December 1977 Cb
Airstream

This Argosy Motorhome

The most striking difference between a stock Argosy Motorhome and the 1977 unit up for grabs today is the lack of paint. Argosy Motorhomes were painted like the trailers with Centauri Dupont enamel, but this one has been stripped of it and wears its polished aluminum with pride.
 
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This Argosy Motorhome is a 20-foot model, which means it should be about as easy to drive as a camper van. Of course, no camper van looks as fantastic as this Airstream does. Sadly, the Argosy does sit taller than a van. At 10 feet tall, it’s not going to be fitting in your garage. However, with 6 feet, 7 inches of interior height, most people can stand in there. One potential benefit of its more typical drivetrain is 13 inches of ground clearance, 7 inches at the differential. The Argosy Motorhome shouldn’t struggle going down an unpaved road to a campground.
 
Before we head inside, check out that greenhouse. The cab gives you a commanding view of your surroundings and the camper itself has large windows and wonderful skylights. I’ve noticed that many camper vans don’t have a lot of natural light, leading to a cramped feeling. That’s not a problem with this Argosy Motorhome.
 
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Moving inside, the interior has been updated. What I love about this renovation is that the original character of the Argosy Motorhome has been retained. Check out the period-correct seating and overhead storage bins. You get that 1970s aesthetic without being chained to 1970s camping equipment.
 
The seller notes a new combination stove and oven unit, LED lighting, USB ports, curtains, water pumps, and cameras for the sides and rear. Also pointed out in the listing is a Maxx Air fan and the carpet has been replaced with vinyl flooring. Changes not noted in the listing appear to include a renovated bathroom and what looks like a low-profile air-conditioner.
 
Airstream1
Facebook Seller
 
Stock, an Argosy Motorhome came with wear-resistant vinyl walls laminated to aluminum, a lounge that converts into a bed, and a forced-air gas furnace. In terms of holding tanks, a factory Argosy had 35 gallons of fresh water. Black tank and gray tank capacities are not listed, but these coaches did come with both. Options included a central vacuum system, a 3 kW Onan generator, a four-speaker stereo system with an 8-track player, and more. It’s unclear what options this unit has, but the seller does say it has the optional 454 cubic inch V8 engine. Airstream does not list power figures, but I’d expect this unit to make around 240 HP.
 
 
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There are some quirks to this camper. Since it was stripped of its paint, you can clearly see what parts are steel and what parts are aluminum. You’ll notice that the end caps are dark gray steel and look closely enough you’ll see little dings and dents on the body. Of course, it’s a 46-year-old coach with 109,100 miles, so some of the damage almost certainly occurred over the years. Though remember, Airstream also used imperfect aluminum to construct these, so I wonder how many of the dings came that way from the factory.
 

An Expensive Gem

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As I said before, this camper is half of the price of getting a brand-new $147,570 Airstream Rangeline. The seller, based in San Jose, California, wants $75,000 for it. Prices for Argosy Motorhomes suggest that the price should be lower, but there aren’t a ton of sales to go on. One person wanted $34,950 for an Argosy Motorhome in original shape but wasn’t roadworthy due to a failing control arm and ball joint. A restored Argosy 20-footer sold for $44,000 at a Barrett-Jackson auction last year. Airstream says that these are rare but are they $75,000 worth of rare? I’m not so sure. Though, I bet the seller would be willing to negotiate with a serious buyer.
 
Airstream says the original Argosy line was discontinued in 1980, only to be brought back in the middle of the decade for a square body travel trailer made with bonded aluminum skin. Airstream also turned the ’80s Argosy into a fifth wheel design.
 
Argosy 5th Wheel
Airstream
 
Funeral Coach
Airstream
 
The company also went a bit nutty with coaches, making the Air Coach mobile office, Sales Coach mobile sales office, the NASA Astrovan, and even the Funeral Coach, which was essentially a mobile funeral home.
 
All of those coaches blazed the path for the Airstream coaches of today, and I suppose you could argue that the Rangeline itself is a return to the Argosy days. Either way, I dig this 1977 Argosy Touring Coach. I love restorations that remind you of what the camper used to be and this just hits the spot.
 
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Chandler McElroy
Chandler McElroy
10 months ago

Hi, really wish Airstream would reproduce the 20′ and 24′ models again with awd/graded dirts forest service suspension and a diesel engine with 3season plus insulation. Would be highly marketable. With all the motor homes out there airstream would clean house.

The Car Accumulator
The Car Accumulator
10 months ago

Yes, America! We used to pull trailers with sedans and even coupes!

Kevin B Rhodes
Kevin B Rhodes
10 months ago

Just goes to show how today’s pickup truck is just yesterday’s land yacht with the trunk lid missing.

PropWash
PropWash
10 months ago

I had a 1978 Argosy 24 that was in near original shape other than some tail rot and upgraded PEX plumbing. It had the full pano front windows(untinted) and the cool early version of the hanging bunk beds on each side. I bought it in 2013 ish for $3500 and sold it a couple years later when we moved to a 2017 Bambi 16. Last I saw, my old Argosy was re-sold 3 more times and was commanding over $15,000 and sporting a new paintjob. Im now rocking a 2007 International CCD 28 footer and I tow it with my Jeep Gladiator. See you at Osh?

DadBod
DadBod
10 months ago

To me the one big advantage of an Argosy is the paint. Why polish it? Polished aluminum is an absolute bitch to restore if it ever goes to crap.

R53forfun
R53forfun
10 months ago

That’s a pretty epic bathroom window.

Last edited 10 months ago by R53forfun
Kevin B
Kevin B
10 months ago

Damn, Mercedes, I had no idea Argosy was part of Airstream! I saw these all of the time when my parents would make me go with them in their non-air-conditioned Oldsmobile across the country twice, towing their Steury pop up camper trailer in the early Seventies. I never made the connection. Thanks for tying up a loose end in my life.

Aidan Waite
Aidan Waite
10 months ago

Hmmm the funeral industry might be interested if you take a look close at the last picture. I love the color and take and an something vintage.

BigThingsComin
BigThingsComin
10 months ago

The word Argosy is way too close to Agony in my head for me to ever consider owning one.

Steve Schwinghammer
Steve Schwinghammer
10 months ago
Reply to  BigThingsComin

Funny how words can do that. I’m a web designer and the currently most popular software for web design is Figma, but I can’t for the life of me get myself to buy into it because its name is too close to smegma.

R53forfun
R53forfun
10 months ago

Ngl, that’s immediately where my mind went too … and that was before I’d even read beyond the word “Figma” in your comment! Yikes. Good grief. Phrasing, people.

415s30
415s30
10 months ago
Reply to  BigThingsComin

I think of Argonauts first.

Aidan Waite
Aidan Waite
10 months ago
Reply to  BigThingsComin

I’m already in agony just looking at it Big.

Gilbert Wham
Gilbert Wham
10 months ago

A funeral one would make a great camper conversion; that coffin-hole looks just about right as a stash place for a Honda Grom or suchlike.

ADDvanced
ADDvanced
10 months ago

Weird timing, currently in discussion with a guy selling a project airstream, and spent the past 3 days learning about restoring them, and in my research I didn’t understand the Argosy vs Airstream thing, then BAM, this article. Thanks for the history dive, much appreciated!

3WiperB
3WiperB
10 months ago
Reply to  ADDvanced

Do a lot of research. It’s a huge job to restore or remodel an Airstream, and most remodelers seem to get them stripped down and then give up and put them up for sale with no interior (they have very little value at that point). On the larger ones, be aware of rear end separation of the frame, which typically requires the shell to be removed from the frame. If there have been any leaks, look for soft spots in the floor. Replacing parts of the floor isn’t easy without removing the shell either. Depending on the level of remodel, it’s a big job with a huge time commitment. Just know what you are getting into. I don’t say any of this to discourage you from doing it… just be honest about your skills and how much time you want to devote, and inspect the heck of out of them to buy the best one you can.

ADDvanced
ADDvanced
10 months ago
Reply to  3WiperB

Yeah, still researching. Anything can happen if you take small steps and never give up. 🙂

TheHairyNug
TheHairyNug
10 months ago

This Argosy Motorhome is a 20-foot model, which means it should be about as easy to drive as a camper van

I really doubt that this 1977 marvel of engineering drives as well as a modern camper van

ADDvanced
ADDvanced
10 months ago
Reply to  TheHairyNug

I don’t think those overloaded sprinters drive especially well, either tho. They’re usually going like 10-20 under going up mountain passes.

TheHairyNug
TheHairyNug
10 months ago
Reply to  ADDvanced

Zero chance that something from 1977 drives even remotely in the same class as a modern vehicle. I regularly see vans hauling perfectly well on mountain passes over 11.000 ft, and this thing will be lucky to make it up them reliably.

Judging by the amount of comments here, you seem interested in something like this. You will be just like the person selling it. Having dumped tens of thousands into a fundamentally flawed vehicle, it’ll never be truly confidence inspiring and still a death trap

Last edited 10 months ago by TheHairyNug
Pedro
Pedro
10 months ago
Reply to  TheHairyNug

2 words: Electric conversion.

Ted Fort
Ted Fort
10 months ago
Reply to  TheHairyNug

Who hurt you.

ADDvanced
ADDvanced
10 months ago
Reply to  TheHairyNug
  1. You’re negative AF
  2. This is a real generic drivetrain, and anything that holds a big block could be converted to a more modern drivetrain
  3. I am unaware of anything horribly wrong with the suspension at this point
  4. I am in CO half the year and I see sprinters/transits going quite a bit under the speed limit in mountain passes
  5. I have 2 entire channels dedicated to my project vehicles and builds, so maybe you shouldn’t make assumptions about people:

Example:
https://youtu.be/aCHIA7dao8U

Chandler McElroy
Chandler McElroy
10 months ago
Reply to  TheHairyNug

Well upgrade the suspension and engine.

MikeInTheWoods
MikeInTheWoods
10 months ago

This is why I love reading the Autopian, what would have been a quick click article on another site: Why have that when for half the money you can have this. Instead there is a deep dive into Airstream and Argosy. I learned a lot. What struck me most was that $3500, 3 years before I was born, would now be a lightly used car or cheap new car. $3500 is also about my total budget for a fun project car, wishing it could be $24,500.
So in 1973 you could get a decent car for $3500 and these days you could pay for a BMW heated seat subscription for a short time. Wow, progress.

Widgetsltd
Widgetsltd
10 months ago

Do I see knives hanging in the knife rack – just waiting to chop off a finger or stab a sucker to death on a hard stop?!? Also: It’s cheaper than a camper van, but is it cheaper than Camper Van Beethoven?

Last edited 10 months ago by Widgetsltd
ADDvanced
ADDvanced
10 months ago
Reply to  Widgetsltd

They’re secured by that board…. but yeah… noticed the same thing lol

Pedro
Pedro
10 months ago
Reply to  Widgetsltd

That’s why they have the coffin storage bin.

Crank Shaft
Crank Shaft
10 months ago

$75k! FFS! 😀

Lokki
Lokki
10 months ago
Reply to  Crank Shaft

The seller has made the mistake that a lot of people make with restored classic cars:

Thinking that the money spent in the restoration can be recouped in the sale of the vehicle.

Sadly, though (with a few special exceptions) the rule of thumb says that the restored value of a vehicle is generally about 50% of the cost of restoration.

I do like this thing a lot though. I had never heard of Argosy and it’s this kind of article that makes The Autopian special, and my favorite automanic website.

Bruce Smith
Bruce Smith
10 months ago

Sorry, but this is still a want to be Airstream and I wouldn’t buy it for half the price. !970s tech means a 454 at 6/8 MPG. The drum brakes are horrible. Nope

TheHairyNug
TheHairyNug
10 months ago
Reply to  Bruce Smith

yea, the MPGs and ancient chassis/suspension tech, let along the safety equipment, is a huge nope

ADDvanced
ADDvanced
10 months ago
Reply to  TheHairyNug

You’re looking at it wrong. I don’t want this one, but now I’m low key looking for a project version. Drop a modern diesel in it, discs are easy to add, etc.

Pedro
Pedro
10 months ago
Reply to  ADDvanced

electric conversion

DadBod
DadBod
10 months ago
Reply to  Pedro

You’d need a metric shitton of batteries

Beached Wail
Beached Wail
10 months ago

Love the photo of the four trailers in which the tow vehicles are all conventional sedans. Just cars. Not a truck, SUV, or even an all-wheel drive vehicle in sight.

Back in the ’70s, you could tow a fairly substantial trailer with a sedan plus a factory tow package, or – per the photo – go wild and tow with your baby blue AMC Pacer.

RataTejas
RataTejas
10 months ago
Reply to  Beached Wail

Sedans? Those are coupes. I can’t tell the third one, sort of vaguely looks like a Granada, but the others only have two doors.

Shop-Teacher
Shop-Teacher
10 months ago

That is very very nice, but wowzers that price!

ScottyB
ScottyB
10 months ago

This Argosy definitely deserves the Baby Airstream title, very cool. Maybe pricey, but you’d be the cool kid on the block with something no one else had for sure.

Great article, tons of great info here I didn’t know about Argosy. Hysterical photo of Ken-doll dad getting ready to obliterate Little Skipper with a 50-foot beach ball.

Inthemikelane
Inthemikelane
10 months ago

I would love to have this, just not 75K love it.

Rust Buckets
Rust Buckets
10 months ago

This is super cool, but “cheaper than a camper van” says remarkably little. Used Lamborghinis are pretty consistently cheaper than camper vans. So are Dodge Vipers. There are even houses that cost less than camper vans.

Like others said, cool, but still kinda expensive.

Mr Sarcastic
Mr Sarcastic
10 months ago

Nice but price is too much. And since Argosy were cheaper than Airstream you cant argue at half the price because not the same. But very tempting

Brian Ash
Brian Ash
10 months ago

What no polished or chrome mags on it. Should be driven while wearing the polished Iron Man suit.

Baron Usurper
Baron Usurper
10 months ago

Mobile funeral home just feels like “murder van with permits”.

3WiperB
3WiperB
10 months ago
Reply to  Baron Usurper

My understanding was that it was more of a family limo combined with a hearse. It sat quite a few people and also transported the casket in a separate compartment.

Ranwhenparked
Ranwhenparked
10 months ago

They’re never going to match, but I’d want to at least try and paint the steel parts to blend them in a bit better, maybe with a shiny silver paint or a chrome vinyl wrap, or just embrace the difference and paint them something that really contrasts, like white or something.

This kind of illustrates why American Airlines moved away from their iconic polished aluminum planes, supposedly, with some many parts being composite now, they couldn’t come up with a variation on that livery that would keep everything matching

Last edited 10 months ago by Ranwhenparked
RataTejas
RataTejas
10 months ago
Reply to  Ranwhenparked

Conventional paint is incredibly difficult to bond to galvanized steel. The sacrificial zinc coating generally makes it easy to peel off.

Drew
Drew
10 months ago

Until you got to the price, I thought this might become Autopian Mobile Command. Looks neat, but not 75k neat.

Drew
Drew
10 months ago
Reply to  Drew

By the way, have you found the right camper yet? Excited to see the project once it gets going!

Chronometric
Chronometric
10 months ago

Oh you MUST do an Ultravan. For the uninitiated, it is a Corvair powered, lightweight fiberglass egg and very advanced for its time.

Drew
Drew
10 months ago

That will be awesome!

John Hower
John Hower
10 months ago

My vote goes to the Ultravan, no matter what the competition may be!

3WiperB
3WiperB
10 months ago

I really hope you can find an Ultra Van!

Phantom Pedal Syndrome
Phantom Pedal Syndrome
10 months ago

Ultra Van! Ultra Van! Ultra Van!
If this plan comes to fruition I for one expect a spare tire properly mounted as the nose between those big bug eye headlights. With an Autopian logo spare tire cover.
(Hmm, Autopian logo spare tire covers? This should be a thing regardless.)

Chris Stevenson
Chris Stevenson
10 months ago
Reply to  Drew

Come on, no Autopian vehicle should ever be that shiny.

Drew
Drew
10 months ago

I just figure they could go for rust patina all over it to make it obvious David Tracy has been near it.

Dead Elvis, Inc.
Dead Elvis, Inc.
10 months ago
Reply to  Drew

He wouldn’t be allowed to actually touch it, let alone drive it!

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