The Origins of WBCCI Europe
Twenty years ago Airstreams were extremely rare in Europe. However, we became interested in them when visiting the US and seeing them in movies, etc. Some entertainers who toured both sides of the Atlantic used them and Perry Balfour, a circus clown, had them for his touring circus over 30 years ago.
The interest soon became a need for some of us and the enthusiasm was infectious when a few trailers were brought across the Atlantic. As the first European owners, we have to be determined to make the dream work out. It is so easy to buy a cheaper, reliable European trailer and American owners posting online give us plenty of signals that Airstreams need a lot of work. In addition, importing a trailer also involves shipping costs, taxes, risks, insurance and time. As well as a leap of faith, around $3,000 is needed on top of the purchase price. Finding value for money is also difficult and the costs do not end when the trailer gets to Europe.
However, as the numbers of vintage imports continues to grow, small life-style businesses provide modifications to meet European regulations and to repair, restore, refit and polish them. There are new types of owner. Some pay to have their Airstream modified for Europe, refitted and polished. Other uses appear, like fast food outlets, outdoor recording studios and even beauty parlours.
The European Specification
Anthony Slocock, an engineer in England, was a visitor to US rallies in the 1990s. He had been a vintage Airstream enthusiast for several years and was a founding member of a vintage focused WBCCI Unit in Washington DC. In the late 1990s, he started a website ‘Eurostream’ promoting the concept of a new European specification Airstream. In 2001 a new management team at Airstream Inc. encouraged Slocock to join with Michael Hold (sales) and David Rowell (Finance) to found Airstream Europe. Together they put a business case to the American company for what were soon to become the new European specification trailers.
The engineering work took two years with many changes including a new narrower body shell, a German galvanised chassis and suspension, Swedish heating, German furniture and a composite floor. The first European Airstreams were put into production in Ohio in 2005 and from 2011, the internal build was carried out in the UK Cumbria dealership factory. In early 2014, the fit-out returned to the Ohio factory, because other overseas markets were becoming interested in the European specification. Through the hard work and clever marketing by the founders of that pioneering business, their popularity spread and there are now dealerships in several European countries. See the links page for Europe. Although most European campers are now familiar with Airstreams, they still attract interest on the road and in campsites.
Today there are hundreds of Airstreams across Europe, ranging from 1940s models through to this year’s European range. In various countries small groups of owners have formed and rallies are organised. There is no central source of information about these and most are held without details being made available to all owners or even the rally-going owners. For years various groups have discussed the formation of a Europe Unit of the WBCCI, but lack of numbers and lack of contact with owners dampened the enthusiasm.
Eventually in the summer of 2015 a few friends contacted each other again about the possibility. The Central Office in Ohio helped us with how to start and anticipation grew. After countless emails, the first European Constitution and Bylaws were drafted, agreed and sent to Ohio. When approval came through the excitement was unprecedented. We could start recruiting members and the numbers have been growing week by week across the continent ever since.
But what should this new unit be like, thousands of miles away? We do things differently in Europe, but at no point did anyone want the WBCCI Europe to be different to the US models. We were all agreed that we did not want to create a new identity – that would defeat the purpose of joining the worldwide Airstream community. The name, look and feel of the Europe Unit had to be part of the WBCCI brand and the website name and email address had to follow the formats in the same domain names.
We looked at the ideas across the other units to help come up with logo ideas. They include drawings of trailers, landscapes and symbols of local culture, but the countries of Europe together are bigger than a unit or even a region in the US. In the end, we needed a brief for the designer so we asked for a circle the same size as the international logo with a European section of the globe similar to the one behind Wally’s head. We wanted a European flavour but something that would also relate to America. The European flag only represents the twenty-eight countries of the European Union but we are covering the “continent” of Europe which includes many more.
The graphic designer came up with a number of concept ideas. As the international and Europe logos will usually be displayed side by side, we went for “WBCCI Europe” as the other gives the full name. By coincidence, the colour of the European flag is the same as the vintage Airstream one! The yellow stars of the European flag look quite American and were inspired by the stars and stripes. So the yellow stars link us with America and Europe and the blue links us with Airstream and Europe! There was debate about a slogan or strapline as we wanted links with the Club, Airstream and America. In the end, nothing came out better than the new International Club line. In fact, it sounded just perfect.
“The International Airstream Club – WBCCI Europe.”
The website and logo have been a success and as the stickers appear on Airstreams with the Big Red Numbers, we get more people wanting to join. We also get requests from American members for our logo stickers and flags and we are pleased to offer them now with Affiliate Membership.
Already we have a diverse group of members with ages ranging from the 30s to 70s. A few are retired full-timers but most are a mix of young enthusiasts from a wide range of backgrounds. Most are experienced Airstreamers able to help with questions and problems and to share experiences of travel throughout Europe, with Airstreams ranging from 1950s to the new models. At last there is a central place where Airstreamers in Europe can communicate across national borders. As news spreads by word of mouth, facebook, the website and the dealer network we pull in more Airstreams.
Just as in the US, the biggest assets in the European Airstream community are the people who own them. Socialising with them is very easy and, throughout the countries, members are having fun meeting and communicating with people they look forward to seeing at the next rallies.
Wally Byam did not just sell trailers. He sold an idea, a way of life, a way of seeing life and then made the trailers available. By joining WBCCI Europe you are extending and promoting the ethos that makes the International Airstream Club unique in the world.