My search for a 1970 Airstream Safari

This is the story of how I found myself on a mission to find a vintage Airstream trailer. In particular, an early 1970’s single-axle Airstream. That I’m on this quest at all is as surprising to my wife as it is to me. She’s long since accepted the fact that I stumble into obsessive spirals over new-found interests, hobbies, and other distractions. Often to the point of ignoring more important matters, like life. I take in hobbies the way some people take in every lost stray that passes their door. This time, however, it was a bit different.

Last summer my family and I visited my father at home in Michigan. During the visit I found old photos that I’ve not seen in decades. Photos from my grandparents, my father’s parents, who lived in the small town of Saline, Michigan near Ann Arbor. Among them were pictures taken during a very special trip they took to Sedona, Arizona in their brand-new Airstream trailer.

 

They loved their Airstream and had long dreamed of owning one when they retired. My Grandfather, Maurice Doll, was the head Accounting Administrator for the City of Saline. He was well-regarded and quite capable of his duties, although he didn’t particularly enjoy dropping in on the Ann Arbor Art Festivals to remind the dealers how important it was to properly fill out their sales tax forms for anything sold that day. My Grandmother, Marjorie Doll, was a nurse at the local hospital and likely more pragmatic than my Grandfather. Both had a wonderful sense of humor, and were great company.

 

Confirming my genetic pre-disposition to grab hold of an opportunity when it arises, regardless of the risk, they decided to purchase an Airstream several years before either of them had retired. They arrived at our house for a visit after buying it, and I remember it parked next to our home while they stayed. It was a beautiful sight and they were thrilled. The next day they were off to Sedona, Arizona to visit longtime friends and to shake out the new silver bullet.

Many of the photos I found were from that Arizona trip, and I don’t recall ever seeing them.

After they returned, I was often invited to join them on local trips to campsites in and around the Ann Arbor area. My younger brother had just arrived, and was too young to join us. I recall many summer trips, staying at RV campgrounds populated with retirees, with posted signs explicitly prohibiting children of any sort on the site. Either I was better company around adults than I remember, or my grandparents held a lot of sway with their community of friends. Their grandchild was coming along for the trip.

During the work week my Grandfather would drive in to his job in Saline, while my Grandmother lined up swims at the beach, bicycle riding, and the usual activities reserved for grandparents and their grandchildren on vacation. She would make sure that we found as many nature talks as we could find, docents and storytellers who ran daytime classes on local animals, monarch butterflies, turtles, insects. I was fascinated, transfixed. We even made several trips to the University of Michigan’s Museum of Natural History to see their collection of dinosaurs, exhibits on human history, and the planetarium.

And at the end of each day, we’d return to the campsite and the Airstream.

If you’ve not seen an Airstream up close, they’re pretty impressive. In my mind’s eye it wasn’t a camper, it was a spaceship taking us to fantastic places.

Sadly my grandmother fell ill before they retired. She passed away in 1976. A hard lesson for this young boy, and undoubtedly a difficult time for all. Had they waited for their retirement to buy this Airstream, it would’ve been too late. Instead they had six or seven years of wonderful memories that they shared with their family and friends.

My grandfather kept the Airstream until around 1980, when he remarried and the priorities of a new life shifted.

[devider type=”” height=”” no_border=””]

What did those red numbers mean?

While looking through the stack of old photos, some tattered, some water damaged over time, one picture stood out. It was a nice shot of their Airstream parked in front of the St. Louis Arch. And on the top of the Airstream, clear as day, were big red numbers 24175.

“What do you think those numbers were?” I asked my Dad.

“I’m not sure, but I’ll bet someone can find out”

It occured to me then that many older Airstreams are still on the road. On my drive from Washington State to Michigan I probably saw a hundred Airstreams of various ages. More so than any other type of RV, Airstreams have staying power. They’re valued by restorers because they’re rugged and even when reduced to a hollowed out shell rotting in the field, the aircraft aluminum holds up.

It dawned on me – My Grandparents’ Airstream is probably still out there. Airstream estimates that 60% to 70% of all the trailers they’ve sold are still operational. Could it be rotting in a field? Maybe it’s been turned into a trendy food truck, or maybe it’s been restored by someone who found and loved it as much as my grandparents did. It’s merely a matter of tracking down this particular trailer. After so many years it wouldn’t be simple, but it wouldn’t be impossible either.

[devider type=”” height=”” no_border=””]

The Search Is On

It wasn’t long before I found all of the most visited and populated forums dedicated to Vintage Airstreams, Airstream restorations, and more importantly the Airstream classifieds. I even found out that the red numbers, 24175, were the Wally Bayam Caravan Club membership numbers. Wally Bayam was the Airstream founder and original designer, and club membership was a prized accompaniment to Airstream ownership.

The Wally Bayam Caravan Club is, of course, still operating, and my initial email message to them was answered promptly. As was a similar email sent to the Airstream company. They were unable to identify the actual Airstream trailer, as the WBCC numbers were assigned to the person not the trailer. For now, it was a dead-end. I was then put in touch with Joe Peplinski, a member of one of the Vintage Airstream clubs and a historian. He took a look at the photos I sent along, and was kind enough to help me identify the specific model trailer my grandparents owned:

Based upon the provided photo, I agree that the Airstream must be between 1970 and 1972.  It cannot be 1969 or earlier because they used a different rear window shape and it cannot be later than 1972 because of the date on the photo.  Digging further, the compartment door over the rear bumper seems to have been used more on 1969 and 1970 23′ Safari’s than on 1971 and 1972 Safari’s.  This suggests to me that the trailer is most likely a 1970 Safari

Clearly I’d found the right people to help me on this search. I was thrilled. Of the 1970 Safari models, it appears as though it was a “Safari Double (Deluxe Land Yacht)” from this brochure, taken from the Airstream website archives:

 

So now the search is on. I’m keeping a sharp eye out for any used 1970 Airstream Safari Doubles being sold in and around the Great Lakes area. And because I cannot possibly know if its later owners kept it within Michigan, I’m even looking cross country. Joe has even sent me several links from his area, although so far none of them have panned out. In particular, their Airstream had the following features:

  • 23 feet long, single-axle
  • Sofa-bed in front
  • Second fold-down sofa opposite the kitchen
  • Rear Bathroom
  • No air conditioner, no awning. They could’ve been added later
  • Curiously this model doesn’t seem to have the little windows that faced the sky, these showed up the next year, 1971.

So what would I do if I find it? At minimum I’d like to know if it’s still out there. If it turns up for sale, I would be very tempted to find a way to secure it. But I wouldn’t want to harass an owner if they had no interest in parting with it. For me it’s mostly to find out where it ended up. And if I find that it has long since been wrecked, or is otherwise unfindable, I may just have to go pick up my own vintage Airstream.

[devider type=”” height=”” no_border=””]

My New Wally Bayam Caravan Club Membership Numbers

As thanks for the help I received from the Wally Bayam Caravan Club, and to secure ongoing help with my search, I sent in my membership form to join the club. I wasn’t sure they’d accept me as a member, I am not (as yet) an Airstream owner. In fact, I actually own a 2003 Fleetwood Bounder motorhome. A far cry from the sleek silver bullets. Membership numbers are assigned as requests come in, with the option of requesting any previously un-assigned number. On a hunch, I requested my grandparents’ number, 24175. A couple of weeks later, a welcome package arrived with my new numbers:

14 comments on “My search for a 1970 Airstream SafariAdd yours →

  1. Hi Chris!
    What a wonderful task you have set yourself. I actually read you post on the Vintage Airstream Forum. My only suggestion is the Airforums.com site too. Its much more active and has a model specific area on the forum.
    Best of luck

    Stephen

  2. Thank you, Stephen. I just discovered why Airforums is a more active site, indeed. I have no idea of the history of the Vintage Airstream Forum, or what troubles it’s facing, but the interaction I’ve just had over a response to my story – the first thread I’ve ever posted – has left me with little further interest in participating there. I’ve been around a lot of special interest forums, you can usually smell the ones run by foul-moody, angry individuals.

    Clearly that board won’t be a place for me to update my story. I shall focus on the more public-friendly forums going forward.

  3. Those numbers are assigned to the member, not the trailer. So your grandparents trailer may now sport different numbers. In fact, since you were issued the same numbers, that means they are not current on the trailer. They may still be there, though, since not everyone becomes a member, when they have an Airstream.

    I happen to have that year and model, with the single axle, but a different inside configuration, here in the city of Detroit.

    If you can find the original registration, the VIN of the trailer may allow you to find if someone has it currently registered.

    Bill
    1970 Airstream Safari.

    1. Thank you for finding my article, Bill. Glad to see the word is getting out there.

      It’s true that the numbers are assigned to the member, and I’m thrilled to have secured the same number my grandparents once had. In fact, nobody’s used those numbers since he let his membership lapse around 1979 or so. I’ve tried to find any leftover paperwork that would indicate the trailer’s serial number, but nothing can be found. I’ve even gone so far as to contact the Michigan Dept. of Records but they tell me they don’t keep records for that long. My search stopped there, so now I’m going by the possibility that their old WBCC numbers may still be visible on the front or back. If it’s been reconditioned at all, then it would be hard to see them, certainly. From there I’ll have to go by details from the existing photos (most of them are posted here in this article).
      Glad to hear you’ve got a 1970 Safari. I’ve grown to love the size, and may just find one of my own even if I don’t locate the Safari owned by my Grandparents. Do you have the table/bench setup in front or the split bath in back?

      Cheers!
      Christopher Doll

  4. Is this search still on? I saw you visited my site – Airstream Diary, and we are back at work on our 1970 Safari 23′. Have not seen another come into AP Vintage Trailer works yet. I guess the single axle was pretty rare, and hitting the exact year – 1970 – narrows your search even more. I wonder how many of these they actually made?

    1. Hi Shannon! Yes, my search is still on but I have seen a few that were VERY close indeed.

      From what I’ve been seeing so far, the 1970 single-axle Safari was somewhat rare indeed. Most of them appear to have the split rear bath, as opposed to the rear full bath (you can identify them from the exterior by the window above the axle on the passenger side, which is smaller and more rear-ward in the split bath option).

      A couple were turned into Food Trucks, which pretty much erases any clues as to their origins.

      I hit a dead-end with sales records from the State of Michigan. They do not go back that far, at least as far as I was told from the archives that I contacted last year.

      So I am continuing the search, but I’m feeling like I need to maybe settle on a vintage Airstream of my own from the same era. I’ll continue the search but my family and I are wanting to move to an Airstream of our own – especially since I now have my grandparents’ WBCC numbers.

      How is the work progressing on your Safari?

    1. And my apologies for the 3 week delay in responding. I’ve been on a new job recently, which has taken me away from the day-to-day activities on my own site here. Definitely looking forward to speaking with you soon. Thank you, and I’m thrilled that you found my story.

  5. Stumbled across your site as I was searching for the meaning of the Big Red Numbers. I have come into possession of a 31 ft 1972 Landyacht Sovereign that has been kept in my family since purchased. First my sister-in-laws parents had it for years and her mother eventually started using it as a hunting camp in Florida. Then my father purchased it and moved it to Alabama to be his primary residence in retirement. Then last year it went to my brother with the intention of moving it to his property in Oklahoma. Then my brother decided he had too many projects and it wouldn’t be fair to just let the Airstream sit so, knowing that I’ve always wanted a vintage Airstream, he sold it to me. It is fully functional and dent free. It rocks. I was wondering if you purchased your Grandparents Airstream from Nanette. That would be way cool. thanks, Doc

    1. Great story, Doc, thank you for sharing! I’ve since been in touch with Nanette about her Airstream. It’s sounding a lot like my grandparents’ but we’re still looking to confirm. She has owned it for 12 years, and it’s in good, almost-original condition. Nanette says it’s been in the backyard on their farm, and has been fun for guests and outdoor gatherings. I believe she mentioned it was decked out as a Tiki-Bar, which sounds wonderful! I’m planning a trip to visit this summer and there is a chance down the road that she may be selling it.

      It’s been wonderful to have found such a good lead and I’m looking forward to reporting on my visit after it takes place. Cheers!

  6. I’ve owned a 1970 Airstream Safari land yacht deluxe twin full bath in the rear.23′ single axle.all original .Roof air , electric awning 2 large aluminum propane tanks. I live in Arizona, near Laughlin NV. On Colorado River. I have all paper work even the original dealer invoice with all extra up grades.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *