In August 2017, a 1936 Airstream Clipper was found in an area south of Mexico City.
My name is Reno Casasola. I’m Italian by birth but I’ve had a love since I was a teenager of the American lifestyle, especially motorcycles and cars like vintage Harley-Davidsons (I managed to buy one when I turned 18) and traditional customs and hot rods.
I have traveled a lot to Northern Europe–and especially Sweden–to experience all this deeply radicated car and bike culture. In all my travels, and no matter where I have lived, I have always had a natural gift for international trading deals. I even managed in Angola to find some 1950s panheads used by the local police.
I really enjoy rescuing antiques, especially with wheels on them. I can’t get enough of the hunting thrill and the joy of saving a valuable object that can be returned to life. An added plus is the variety of people that I have met in the process.
By a random car deal I managed to arrive for the first time in Mexico in December 2004. I immediately noticed the great number of American cars just sitting in the streets, mostly in unrestored conditions. Many could be bought for cheap. Coming from Italy to Mexico and finding American cars and bikes was a dream come true, so I started coming back more often. I eventually stayed.
Over the years, I have managed to find, buy, and sell 100s of old vehicles. They’ve been mostly cars, but there were a number of Harleys here which had been used by the local Highway Patrol (Policía de Tránsito). Unfortunately, most of the Harleys had already been exported from the 1970s through 1990s, so there were not many remaining when I arrived.
I’ve seen a lot in my years in Mexico, but I wasn’t expecting this summer that a rare 1936 Airstream Clipper would show up suddenly out of nowhere in the province of Morelos, 2 hours south of Mexico City.
After many years in Mexico, I have built up a good group of friends, scouts, and contacts that tell me what’s available all over the country. A few weeks ago, one of my guys was driving around when he spotted an old trailer in the back lot. Truthfully, he was more interested in a girl who was walking by than anything else, but when he turned his head around he noticed–just barely–a cool cat eye trailer sticking out from behind the corner of a house.
He realized that it was something unusual, and being a car guy too, he made a U-turn, forgot about the chica, and inquired of the guys working at the property.
Nobody had spotted this trailer before because the family that owned the property for decades had built a house behind the high wall, and the house was never used except as a warehouse. Only recently had they rented it out as an improvised tire shop and the gates were open so the tenants could work on it. That’s how my guy spotted it by accident while driving by.
My guy sent me a couple pictures of the trailer. They weren’t great, but from the moment I saw them I realized it was an old one. At first I thought 1940s era because of the horizontal stripes and those cat eyes. I had been told it was an Airstream, but I had my doubts. However, as soon I could see the complete window area I realized that it was a very rare Airstream. Further research helped me understand it was a pre-war Airstream Clipper. And with close inspection I learned it was a 1936. The first year of Airstream Clipper production.
At that point, and before I had even seen the trailer in person, my head was spinning. I kept asking how in the world such an old trailer ended up down here in this part of Mexico, and still in restorable condition. It seemed like a miracle. I knew there had to be a special and unusual story behind it right away, because in this country there are a lot of scappers or poor people that would have sold the aluminum body for peanuts, or just to buy some tequila.
I made the decision very quickly to rescue the trailer. I called my pal and told him I wanted to get it as soon as possible to avoid any risk of losing it. You just never know. That was last Monday (August 7th). He closed the deal and set the pick up day for Thursday (August 10th). We needed a few days in order to get organized.
The rescue was a challenge. I had noticed in the first pics that a large tree was growing very close to the trailer….too close. Unfortunately, the pictures didn’t tell the full story because my pal hadn’t been able to get closer and take better pics due to a pair of Rottweilers chained close to the trailer itself.
It’s rainy season here so we needed some serious help to get it out of the yard. We needed some trusted guys, and because we knew the tree was close we knew we’d need heavy equipment. We brought a Caterpillar.
The day of the rescue we left very early in the morning. When we arrived in Morelos we realized that the tree was more than just close to the trailer. The heavy rains had resulted in the tree toppling over and it had recently fallen right into the side of the trailer. Although the damage was significant, there was no going back at that point. We knew the trailer was well worth saving despite the recent damage.
It was raining hard when we got there, but we were there in force. We had a couple guys climb up and use machetes to cut branches off the top part of the tree. After about two hours, most of the big tree was cut down, but the trunk remained, laying on top of the trailer.
The Caterpillar then carefully pushed the tree body just enough so that we could slide the trailer out from under it. Incredibly, after so many years the tires still held air, and with 5 or 6 guys we could push it out out far enough for the flat bed to get it.
Being such a rare model year, there are almost no references or documentation to compare for the future restoration. I knew it was important to get any information I could while I was there. So while loading the trailer on the flat bed trailer,I carefully checked in the yard and in the empty area where the trailer had been. I was looking for any loose parts, related items or connections to the trailer’s past.
Before leaving, I thanked the previous owner for the sale and the Clipper. I asked him to please try to find some old pics of his granddaddy.
We moved the trailer close by to a friend’s property so that I could store the trailer more securely. With a hurricane coming and heavy rains all day, we wanted to get it safely under cover as soon as possible.
When we arrived at the storage area, we discovered that the metal roof at the entrance was too low and the trailer didn’t clear. The storms were moving in and we didn’t have time to find another location. We ended up letting the air out of the tires and that was all it took to get it under cover and into protection. It barely fit, but we were able to close the gates and finally say that it was officially rescued!
After taking a shower and changing clothes, the next step was a deep cleaning of the trailer. After two days of cleaning with the help of a friend I hired, I could really appreciate the interior and get a better idea of the details, as well.
We decided that there was no other choice than to cut some of the damaged floors to get access underneath the floors to let the aluminum belly pan dry out. The floors were rotted from decades of moisture and they came up easily, revealing a belly pan in surprisingly good condition and the extraordinary tubular chassis structure. We even found a few lost parts that will be useful in the restoration.
The innovative frame is constructed from round galvanized steel tube of various sizes that form a lightweight but very strong structure of aircraft design. It is remarkably still intact overall. One great detail is the original sticker still glued in the frame, proving its provenance. In addition, the frame is stamped every 10″ or so STEELTUBE.
Some inner wall panels are still mounted and will be very helpful for templates and models during restoration.
The kitchen cabinet is there with the sink included. The middle cabinet is still present, as well. Of course, all the cabinets need to be redone due to a lot of moisture after 30 or more years sitting outside but they are perfect for templates.
Obviously, this 81 year old Airstream has had a long hard life. In addition to the tree damage, there are a couple important pieces missing. There is no entrance door. According to the seller, there was no door when the Airstream was moved to its current location 30 years ago. He was only 17 years old, but he remembers the day it arrived. The serial number plate is also missing. These plates were made of brass and attached next to the door. With the plate missing, the serial number is unknown. The trailer has been positively identified as a 1936 because that was the only year Clippers had thin window rain gutters rather than large eyebrows.
A little of the trailer’s history is known. According to the seller, his grandfather Mr.Olvera Bertti (of Italian origins) owned the Clipper. He bought it in the United States and traveled into Mexico while working for the Circo Mundial (World Circus). Mr. Bertti bought it because he needed a trailer to live in while touring for many years all over Mexico with the circus. There were no trailers to be bought in Mexico of this kind. There never had been any. So he simply bought and imported one from the United States.
Mr. Bertti’s grandson said he thought it was time someone else cared for the trailer and it was time to sell. It would be fantastic if Mr. Bertti’s grandson can find a bit more information and perhaps a photo. For now, the most tangible connection the trailer has to its past is the faded sign painted on the aluminum skin right next to the door that reads Circo Mundial. And a separate wooden sign that reads the same thing.