RV review: $190,000 Bowlus Road Chief Travel Trailer

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These RV reviews are written based on information provided by the manufacturers along with our writer’s own research. We receive no money or other financial benefits from these reviews. They are intended only as a brief overview of the vehicle, not a comprehensive critique which would require a thorough inspection and/or test drive. 

By Tony Barthel
I’ve been looking at the most awarded RVs to see what people are getting excited about and came across the Bowlus Road Chief Endless Highways edition. I’ve actually seen a vintage Bowlus trailer at an RV rally and they’re very distinctive with their airplane fuselage look and the placement of the door on the tongue of the trailer. The new interpretation of the brand is equally as unique. 

However, be forewarned: Getting your own copy of a Bowlus is going to set you back at least $190,000, and that’s before taxes, license and any extra add-ons. Yeah. So what do you get for the price of another motorhome and a travel trailer to tow behind it? Some history and some leading features to start. 

History

1935 Bowlus Road Chief
1935 Bowlus Road Chief

The Bowlus Road Chief’s history stretches back almost 90 years, with fascinating origins as the creation of designer, engineer and aircraft builder Hawley Bowlus. Best known for his role in building the famed aircraft Spirit of St. Louis and training many of the first glider pilots in the world, Bowlus was determined to design and build a lightweight travel trailer that could transport flight crews to remote takeoff locations.

Today Bowlus continues thanks to Geneva Long, who brought the company back to life and remains the only RV company founded by a woman. It is said that the Airstream was inspired by the Bowlus. Perhaps. 

Leading features

Geneva Long in a Bowlus
Company founder Geneva Long in a Bowlus Road Chief travel trailer

There are a number of standout technical features on these trailers. One is they have enough included battery capacity to run the microwave, for example. If you’re not impressed by that, consider that the air conditioner, too, can run on batteries for up to four hours. This is made possible by 4 kWh of lithium iron phosphate (LiPO) batteries. 

Those batteries can also operate a 2000-watt pure sine inverter to power the plugs, and there’s even an inverter whose claim to fame is being able to boost a 15-amp circuit to 30-amps. All 120vac outlets operate from the lithium battery system and there’s a mobile router with embedded 3G/4G modem and GPS. This creates a private Wi-Fi network either with external Wi-Fi networks or the cellular system through an added SIM card. 

The build of this is much like a race car in that it’s a monocoque design. The body acts as the frame, to put it crudely. 

Heating comes from a silent hydronic heating system that can run on either propane or 120vac and heats the floor. The tank monitoring system has no probes in the tank, which means no gumming up those sensors with toilet paper. 

The interior is actual real wood, not a picture of wood on particleboard. That teak in the shower is actual teak, and there’s a bathroom heating fan integrated into the hydronic heating system. 

The layout of this trailer is truly unusual with the entry door up at the front, essentially on the tongue, and the whole thing tapering off to a point at the rear like a vintage aircraft, which was the way these all started. A hallway, of sorts, bisects the trailer with a kitchen up front by the door, then two dinettes, then the toilet/sink on one side and the shower on the other and, finally, a bed that can convert from a tapered king to two tapered individual beds. 

That aluminum, birch and stainless steel you see and touch on the interior is the real McCoy. The word “simulated” doesn’t appear in the company literature at all and the company really prides itself on being sustainable and environmentally focused. 

The manufacturer states that the exterior is built of 80 panels held together with more than 5,000 rivets, each of which requires two people to put together. From this point there are over 100 hours spent polishing the exterior to a mirror finish. 

Let’s be honest, here. This is a beautiful piece of craftsmanship and a work of art and it truly is functional in every sense of the word. The off-grid functionality of this trailer is as good as it gets from any trailer directly from the factory. 

So that begs the question of who the customer would be for these. Now I know they are absolutely going to show up at Concours d’Elegance and places where people can brag about the functionality, design and materials even though they’re really bragging about how much they spent. But there is so much functionality and such wonderful design for camping, and I hope some of these actually get used as such. 

Another option would be the folks who are buying goodies out of the Neiman Marcus Christmas Catalog. In fact, you can have a special edition Bowlus from the iconic luxury shopping spot that comes with a custom design consultation and even includes a $10,000 donation to The Heart of Neiman Marcus Foundation, supporting Boys and Girls Clubs of America. Oh, this special edition will set you back $255,000, but you get to work with designers to make the Bowlus uniquely yours. Heck, I knew someone who bought a Porsche with an ostrich skin interior since he raised them as a hobby – so there’s value in being unique.

In the world of bragging rights, there are plenty of Maseratis, Ferraris and other high-end cars that basically are never driven because they’re more showpieces. At $190,000, this could likely appeal to that same customer. 

However, these may also be very collectible in 50 years or so as the current vintage Bowlus models are. Obviously, this is way out of my league in price although the sustainability and usability absolutely appeal to me. Kind of like a supermodel. I’m certainly an admirer but I’m not going to be stopping by their houses for a cup of coffee any time in my lifetime. 

Bowlus Road Chief specificationsI can’t even fathom putting down this much money for a travel trailer; however, I am definitely not the customer for this. But then again, having lots of friends who would have the scratch to do this and have spent princely sums on classic cars, perhaps towing this beautifully crafted showpiece with a vintage car might ultimately be who the buyer is. Really, I’m not the one who has to judge the value. 

By my judgment, this is a nice and well thought out trailer that will certainly stand out towed behind a 1960 Chrysler New Yorker wagon with a 383 and ram induction. Though would that counteract the environmental friendliness of this trailer? I’d certainly like to find out.

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Linda
14 days ago

Can’t imagine cooking in there and then trying to wash any dishes in that sink. Also I don’t want to climb into my king bed and have my head by the toilet area. And where’s the bedroom storage?

Sink Jaxon
14 days ago

190K for a cassette toilet…wow.

Ron T
14 days ago

I’ve seen one of the originals at AirVenture. The folks who can afford one of these new ones would include those who can also afford an aircraft that costs 4-5 times as much. They can also afford to pay someone to keep it nicely polished. But there are many more in the aviation world who would love to find the remains of an original and use their restoration skills to bring it back to life. As to the front door being awkward, it fits right in with entering most general aviation aircraft.

Donald N Wright
14 days ago

Wow, what a beautiful trailer. Aerodynamic, unique, well thought out. Use a Tesla for the tow vehicle. As for the price, how much do folks pay for ugly motorhomes ?

LeonG
14 days ago

That has got to be one of the ugliest TT’s I have ever seen. Looks like somebody took parts of an airplane apart in their backyard, shined it up and glued it together. And the price!?!?!? That should be in the Smithsonian Institute under “FAILED” back in 2020.

Tommy Molnar
14 days ago

19 gallons of fresh water, and this is set up for off the grid camping? Is that for two days? It does sound like a quality build, but it is so lacking in what I want in a trailer there’s just NO way I would have one – even if I had the money (which I DON’T!). No mention of what they think you need to pull it. I’m no fan of single axle trailers either. If a tire blows, this becomes a control issue, and also leads to trailer damage to the body.

Snayte
14 days ago
Reply to  Tommy Molnar

Looks like almost zero CCC too.

Roger Spalding
14 days ago
Reply to  Tommy Molnar

Tommy, it couldn’t be said any better than the way you put it. Cassette toilet? Entrance door over the tongue? You must be joking. By the way, Tony, Maseratis and Ferraris, purchased at retail, are meant to be driven, and are are not strictly “garage queens”; That classification is reserved for vintage high end collectors’ cars; usually with exclusive provenance (e.g. any of Steve McQueen’s Ferraris, Porsches and motorcycles worth $Millions). This TT hardly qualifies for that treatment. It’s expensive, but is intended to be a working RV. As such, it fails

John Crawford
14 days ago
Reply to  Tommy Molnar

Why would you want a larger Grey water tank than the fresh water tank?

Marty chambers
14 days ago

Saw one of these on SR 54 in Pasco county November 5th.

Judy G
14 days ago

At least it’s not likely to be parked near me. Can you imagine the sun glare reflected in a neighbor’s windows?

Dan
14 days ago
Reply to  Judy G

I hear that! Imagine heading west on the highway shortly after sun up and this thing is headed east. On the other hand, it doesn’t have the trendy, but worn out, swirls and swoops paint job. The electric, heat systems etc. sound good too.

Really
14 days ago

$190,000 for that? And it’s UGLY TOO!