It’d been 20 years since anything came out of Silver Streak travel trailers, the aluminum-bodied brand launched in 1946.
That’s why Rolf Zuschlag, the last owner of Silver Streak, hadn’t encountered any issues while retaining the rights to the design. But then ambitious entrepreneur Ellie Dillon acquired the rights in 2016.
Determined to bring back the once-famous Silver Streak aircraft body trailers, she and her husband, Phillip, with a team of aircraft builders, began to reimagine the trailer with various designs. (There’s even a conceptual rendering - pictured below - of what a Silver Streak truck camper might look like.) That’s when it caught the attention of Thor Industries’ Airstream, known for its iconic, all-aluminum Silver Bullet trailer. Soon after, the Dillons received a cease- and-desist letter, which explained how Thor’s Airstream had a trade dress mark for the trailer’s design.
More specifically, the document approved by the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) states: “The mark consists of the combination of the color silver as applied to travel trailers and a configuration of the trailers comprising generally quarter-spherical leading roof lines and an overall curvilinear appearance.”
However, Ellie Dillon, a former professional athlete, remained undeterred. For years, the Dillons restored vintage trailers by Silver Streak, Aero Flite, Airstream, and Vagabond Coach with the intent of reselling them, possibly starting a trailer museum, as well as traveling across the U.S. and Europe.
So, applying that know-how to upgrade Silver Streak into the 21st Century was a no-brainer for Ellie Dillon. The reimagined product line would come with a slew of upgrades and improvements for a hearty product that could be shared over generations.
Scroll down for more conceptual renderings of Silver Streaks, as well as vintage images.
“I always stand up for what I think is right,” Ellie Dillon said about pursuing legal actions after the cease-and-desist letter. She points out that with sports, players have to be mentally fit and tenacious. “It’s very competitive. You have to go through rough times. Ups and downs. You have to know about winning and losing and how to keep moving.”
After receiving the letter from Thor Industries, she took the matter to the Florida Southern District Court. Lawyer in hand, a date has been set in federal court for August 2019.
In order to pay for various legal fees, the Dillons are selling off their restored vintage trailers and have begun a GoFundMe page in hopes of potentially reversing the design trade dress mark.
“(I) don’t like the fact that (Thor is) doing this and trying to stop people from creating something amazing,” said Ellie Dillon. “Especially when these were built in 1946, before the Airstream bodies that followed them in 1948.”
Both Airstream and Silver Streak based their designs on the Curtis Wright Clipper, which was made by an airplane manufacturer as World War II ended. Airstream founder Wally Byam and coworker Curtis Wright (who founded a trailer manufacturer that became Silver Streak) went their separate ways in their own pursuits. Ultimately, Airstream garnered more success.
While the trailer museum the Dillons had dreamed of building is on hiatus, the couple hopes to reestablish Silver Streak in a time where retro trailers are making a significant comeback (here and here).
For the skins, the new units will consist of the same aircraft-intended Alcad 2024 T3 0.32-inch sheets used originally. However, the new ones will use an eighth-inch thick C channel for the body frames (thicker than the original) that are stretch-formed at an aerospace facility.
“We’re using a custom-designed and over-built galvanized steel chassis,” said Ellie Dillion. “We’ve been using them on restorations for years and have the process and design perfected, so you’ll never have to worry about frame rot, ever. We also rid the trailers of all wood in the structure – no wood floors – we have a very lightweight and super strong aluminum floor system with a lot of built-in support that will never rot out like the old plywood floors did.”
In the past, Airstream had unsuccessfully sued the Avion Coach Corp. in 1963 for similar trade dress reasons. However, it was ultimately dismissed and seen as “an effort to force the defendants out of the travel trailer business,” according to the court decision. That’s why Thor Industries saw a big win when the USPTO approved the trade dress mark in 2008.
In a statement from Airstream, the manufacturer told RV PRO that: “The appearance of our travel trailer is instantly recognizable as an iconic Airstream product and is a brand in and of itself. We have invested significant effort and expense developing this brand over the decades. We do not comment on the specifics of pending litigation matters, but we will take steps to protect our investment and the interests of our customers and shareholders when necessary. This is particularly true in instances like this one, in which Silver Streak initiated the lawsuit, filing a complaint in federal court challenging our rights.”
The lawsuit may end up costing more than $100,000, but the Dillons remain committed to resurrecting the Silver Streaks. According to the GoFundMe page, the would-be manufacturer has declined preorders worth millions.
Come next August, if the new Silver Streaks can move forward, the company intends to start by selling factory direct before ramping up production and considering dealer networks. By 2020, the new travel trailers may experience a rebirth for a new generation.
“I want to see (Silver Streak) last for many, many years,” said Ellie Dillon, “so that people can give it to their grandkids.”