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Airstream inspiration Road Chief puts an off-grid luxury camper on the road

Thoroughly updated to handle off-grid living for one or two couples, the new Bowlus Road Chief Endless Highways edition awaits your tow hitch and your wallet. The Road Chief’s original iconic design, quality details, integrated technology, and colorful origin combine in a highly functional, world-class recreational conversation piece you can tow with most mid-sized SUVs.

The Road Chief’s history traces back to 1934 when aircraft engineer, designer, and builder Hawley Bowlus decided to manufacture a trailer to carry flight crews to distant airfields. Using the same materials in the manufacture of airplanes, Bowlus constructed the exteriors with Duralumin, an aluminum alloy. After building 80-something campers, Bowlus shut down the business in 1937. Bowlus put his entire focus back on the aircraft industry, where he was a well-known figure associated with Charles Lindbergh and the design of The Spirit of Saint Louis. In the brand’s short early history, the Road Chief attracted the attention of movie stars and celebrities such as Clark Gable and Carol Lombard.

Soon after Bowlus left the business, Airstream founder Wally Byam, who had previously built wooden-walled trailers on steel frames at a location about 25 miles away, began manufacturing aluminum trailers with the business success that continues today.

1936 Bowlus Road Chief Image used with permission by copyright holder

According to the new company’s website, current Bowlus Road Chief CEO Geneva Long fostered the rebirth of the brand in 2014.

The modern Road Chief’s exterior design is an unmistakable update of the original version — a quick look at the photos of the 1936 and 2019 models above underscore the resemblance. The interior design and the standard tech incorporated in the new Bowlus, however, leap more than 80 years ahead of the original to offer class-leading features in each hand-built trailer.

The basic Road Chief Endless Highway edition status are as follows:

  • Exterior length: 25 feet, 9 inches
  • Exterior width: 80 inches
  • Exterior height (including a non-removable antenna): 8 feet, 6 inches
  • Interior height: 6 feet, 4 inches
  • Base weight: 3,300 pounds
  • Hitch weight: 250 pounds
  • Gross vehicle weight: 4,000 pounds
  • Sleeps and dines: 4
  • LP gas tank: 28.3 pounds
  • Battery: 4 kWh Lithium iron phosphate (a type of Lithium-ion)

According to Bowlus, the lithium iron phosphate battery can power the Road Chief for up to a week off the grid, as long as you don’t run the A/C. For shorter forays, the power system keeps the A/C going for up to four hours. Among its unique touches, the Road Chief Open Highways has heated floors, continuous hot water, and remote power management via mobile device or the internet. The system has a cellular booster, cellular modem with a SIM card, and a private Wi-Fi network capability. An optional 120W solar panel that stores in a closet can extend your stay when you would rather not travel back to the physically connected world.

The camper’s interior has real wood walls and ceilings with teak and chrome in the en suite bathroom. In addition to silent gravity ceiling vents, the Road Chief has rigid insulation, large side windows, luxury commercial grade flooring,  LED lighting, and bronze screens on all windows, vents, and the exterior door. Separate interior doors for the bathroom, bedroom, and main cabin allow privacy.

The Road Chief’s exterior is polished high strength aircraft aluminum with aircraft rivets built on a TIG welded aluminum spaceframe skeleton. A thermal barrier between the exterior structure and the internal wooden walls assists climate control and insulates noise.

The extensive Bowlus feature list of structural details, conveniences, appliances, and capacities is replete with unexpected and well-thought-out specifics. The 26-foot Bowlus Road Chief Extended Highways starts at $187,000. The only other Bowler model is the 24-foot Road Chief On the Road, which has a starting price of $137,000.

We’ve written about many campers and travel trailers in the past, but the Road Chief is the only one that Clark Gable and Carol Lombard slept in.

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Bruce Brown
Digital Trends Contributing Editor Bruce Brown is a member of the Smart Homes and Commerce teams. Bruce uses smart devices…
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