1970 Avion C11 truck camper parked along a dirt road with the driver looking out over a tree-lined mountain valley.

Today I received a comment asking why Avions are dull. “I would think a polish and good wax would be a good idea. Any thoughts?” And I have more than thoughts, I have an explanation. And given this isn’t the first time I’ve fielded a similar question, I figure I might as well share my feedback outside of the comments.

The reason Avion campers are not shiny like Airstreams has nothing to do with a lack of care. Instead, it is because they are made that way. Avion exteriors are constructed of anodized aluminum. Anodization is an electrochemical process where aluminum is treated in an acid bath in which electrical current triggers an anodic layer to grow on the surface of the aluminum.

The anodization process makes the aluminum much more strong and scratch-resistant while imparting a satin effect to the surface. You may have noticed this look on a lot of Apple watches and iPhones. It’s a profoundly practical material to use on a camper that will inevitably have close brushes with tree limbs and other pointy objects. And because this is a chemical process it will not chip, flake, or peel like paint or some other applied substance. It may not be shiny, but it also doesn’t require the maintenance that a high-gloss aluminum camper does.

Braving traffic to see Half Dome and El Capitan in Yosemite National Park.
1970 Avion C11 truck camper parked among the fall colors

Why aren’t all aluminum campers anodized?

Now, a very reasonable follow-up question might be: if anodization is so great, why aren’t all aluminum campers anodized? And there’s another reasonable explanation: it’s expensive. The anodization process is costly and so a camper made out of non-anodized aluminum is less expensive to produce than anodized aluminum. At the time these campers were designed, Avion took great pride in the quality materials they used in building these rigs. You can see it in their promotional pamphlets that highlighted Avion’s use of high-end materials such as spray foam insulation and anodized aluminum.

Woman holding up samples of standard aluminum sheet and anodized aluminum sheet.
Here’s a close look at the non-reflective characteristics of Avion’s anodizing. Compare to the ordinary type of travel trailer aluminum.
Rolls of sheet aluminum in a factory being anodized.
Avion aluminum being anodized in giant electrolytic tanks. This process is time-consuming and costly, but well worth the advantages to Avion owners.
Hand wiping down the riveted exterior of an Avion travel trailer.
Avion’s anodized aluminum combines structural strength and a satin-like, non-glare surface. For easy maintenance, simply wash it as you do your car.

Not All Avions

With all this said some people do have glossy Avions. It is a grueling process because it requires removing the anodized surface (so they will no longer be scratch-resistant and low maintenance). It’s doable but pretty much irreversible. Once the anodization is removed, you can’t just spray it back on. You would have to replace the altered aluminum with new anodized sheets.

So we are happy with our durable design just the way it is. As we’ve been renovating our 1970 Avion C11, we took quite a bit of time to match our new aluminum for patches and replacements with the original material. Overall, we think it looks great!

Learn how to source aluminum sheet for patching and repairing a vintage Avion camper. Understand alloy, anodization, thickness, and dimensions.
Comparing Anodization Samples
1970 Avion C11 truck camper driving down the dirt River Road towards the Mule's Ears rock formation in Big Bend National Park in southwest Texas.
Driving toward the Mule’s Ears rock formation.

Lexi lives in a truck camper down by the river.

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