The Legendary Airnado!

We were contacted by Tim Atkins recently and he explained the origins of the Airnado. The Airnado is the combination of a 1969 Oldsmobile Tornado and a 1969 Airstream the his dad Wendell Atkins built. We thank Tim for clearing up the mystery and letting the Tin Can Tourists have the origin story behind this amazing mashup!


I’ve read in an article that you would like some info about a home made RV referred to as “Airnado”.

It was built by my dad, Wendell (Red) Atkins. I’ve read some funny things about it. An article that said it was built by a disgruntled Oldsmobile engineer, that was angry about the naming of the GM motorhome? Nope, just a GM journeyman tool maker from Grand Blanc Mi that loved to build unique things.

Here’s a couple pictures, one before he started preparing the trailer,  another after trailer and car were joined but before the windshield was fabricated. I might have other’s but not sure.

Also included pictures of a couple of pontoon boats he made. The one in the black and white photo had a cabin we slept in. The cabin was the back of a school bus. The green one was another beast that drew a crowd at the boat launch. The pontoon’s were 100% hand made, I know because I was the one who had to sit in the pontoon (that’s me with the movie camera) with a rivet dolly while dad hammered them flat with an air hammer. The wheels were retractable, like landing gear, pontoon’s swung on arm’s, up for on the road, down for the water. They added almost 6 feet to the deck when in the water.

Some additional information from Tim – commenting on “The Story Behind The Mysterious Oldsmobile Toronado Airstream The Internet Is Obsessed With”

To answer your question “Who Built this”, His name was Wendell Atkins and he was my Dad. He was an incredible engineer but did not have a college degree. He was a journeyman tool maker for GM at the Grand Blanc stamping plant affectionately known as the Tank Plant by locals. Just outside of Flint Mi. A couple of corrections, both the car and the trailer are 1969s.

The windshield is actually two Chevy pickup windshields ( brand new at the time) about 3/4 of each, left/right sides. Sorry, no window shock absorbers . When making the housing for the windshield he made a wooden mock-up of the front curve of the trailer in our basement, placed the glass on the mold and put to much pressure on one spot that left a tiny crack in the bottom corner, probably still there. The seam between the two half’s is just a piece of rubber window seal sandwiched between two pieces of aluminum strips.

He got the car cheap because the engine had been damaged by fire. He had to re-wire the the whole thing along with all of the vacuum hoses (that drove him nuts).

My mom hated traveling in it because, well it road like crap. He never got around to improving the suspension on the trailer and when ever they stopped it always drew a crowd, dad ate it up. I was still in high school and for a couple of months I had the baddest go-cart on the planet. Before the car and trailer were attached the car consisted of the front end, dashboard about 3 feet of floor board and the frame back to an axle he made to move it around. He had the gas can for the lawnmower sitting on the floor board with a rubber hose going the fuel pump and milk carton to sit on. No windshield. Let me tell you, a 455 is a monster with only half a car to move. I’m guessing he knew what I was doing but never said anything.

UPDATE: The Airnado has been recently purchased by a Youtuber @Mav and I’m sure we will see much more of it by videos:

6 comments

  1. Fun article about the time “back when” there was type of worker known as a “Journeyman!” Truly talented folks that have slowly disappeared.
    One correction: The auto is a TORONADO, not a Tornado. Therefore the finished product should rightly be called an “Aironado.”

  2. Joe Peplinski may be correct about the trailer model year but it would be news to my dad. He purposely looked for a “69” trailer to match the year of the car. I’m sure he was told by the seller at the time it was a 69. Buyer beware I guess.

  3. American ingenuity that used to be common but now the incentives just aren’t there plus laws that prohibit you from doing anything too creative….liability law suits gone wild. Fascinating article.

  4. Great to learn about this. Was watching Mav and was totally amazed at the unit. Mr. Atkins did an incredible job.

  5. Built at a time when America was having fun. I. A kid of the 70’s born in 1966 and remember lots of guys building all kinds of machines. Even as kids we built carts a d modified bicycles. I built a cart from an old wooden ironing board! Some steal bars nailed to.2×4’s and big wheel wheels, a rope for steering and zero brakes. LoL what a fun ride flying down the street on the gill a free up on. Then when we got older we turned ed. Ycyxles into.choppers. we grew up watching our fathers cobble together all kinds of things and it wore off on us kids. An aweso.e ti.e to bea kid.

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