Roadtripping a Homebuilt, Oldsmobile Toronado-Airstream RV Is As Sketchy as It Sounds

When you take a homemade one-off RV from the ’60s across the Midwest in December, what could possibly go wrong? Funny you should ask…

byJames Gilboy| PUBLISHED Jan 2, 2023 3:43 PM
Roadtripping a Homebuilt, Oldsmobile Toronado-Airstream RV Is As Sketchy as It Sounds
Mav on YouTube
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Dude, I have an idea. Hear me out. Let's go buy a homebuilt Airstream RV made from a 1969 Oldsmobile Toronado, and drive it 10 hours home across the Midwest in December. Wait, what do you mean that sounds like an awful idea? OK, fine, we don't have to do it—if only because someone already has, and they filmed their mishaps for the rest of us to live vicariously.

The credit for this (blessed) idea belongs to Mavrik Joos, who posts on YouTube as Mav. He's the new owner of the "Aironado Airstream," a one-of-a-kind RV built from a classic Olds Toronado and an Airstream camper. It's been something of an automotive cryptid for decades, with a single photo appearing in the January 2007 issue of Car & Driver. It wasn't until recently, though, that the Aironado became widely known, with an appearance on The Autopian, and the son of its creator stepping forward to shed light on the strange contraption.

From his post on Tin Can Tourists and the Mav video, we gather that the Aironado was built by a GM toolmaker by the name of Wendell Atkins—not an Oldsmobile employee as rumored elsewhere. It was apparently made from a 1966-1968 Airstream camper, to which Atkins bonded the front of a 1969 Toronado that he got for cheap—it apparently had an engine bay fire. Atkins fixed up its 7.5-liter V8 and three-speed automatic (powering the front wheels), creating this funny looking, but well-equipped—and dare I say stylish—RV.

Given that RVs are Mav's main focus, he couldn't help being drawn from Minnesota down to South Bend, Indiana, to buy the Aironado, which even Mav himself acknowledged isn't the ideal winter road-tripper. While the Aironado had new tires and tie rods, it lacked a heater, a working gas gauge, and its owner didn't know its gas tank's capacity, so judging range could only be done the hard way (running out). All of this is on top of it being a FWD V8 GM product from the '60s with a trailer mated directly to it. And the Aironado showed just how rough around the edges it was on the drive home.

While the RV apparently managed a panic stop with only a little panic, it easily splashed gas out during a fueling stop. That's a problem if your exhaust is routed below the filler neck, which it appears to be. Just before filling, Mav also had a problem with the gas pedal basically rusting out of the floor, which he wasn't able to repair by the roadside. That meant he couldn't apply enough throttle to get past about 35 mph, and the Aironado is so big that it wouldn't fit on a U-Haul trailer.

So, Mav simply soldiered on, only for his tenacity to be punished. A nasty sound forced Mav to pull off the road near the Wisconsin border, after which he found the Aironado wouldn't go into gear. Its transmission had probably failed, forcing Mav to take a rental car home while the Aironado got help at a nearby shop.

Perhaps there isn't much to learn from this misadventure. Driving a homebuilt RV from the '60s RV across the Midwest in December turned out to be just as bad an idea as it sounds. But while the journey may not have been a success, it still made for a hell of a YouTube video, and a memory to last a lifetime. (I'd know, I've been there.)

Got a tip or question for the author? You can reach them here: james@thedrive.com