This history of Avion begins not with its founder Loren Cayo but with his father Julius N . Cayo. Julius was the founder of Cayo Manufacturing Company. He trained his sons in the tool and die designing industry. As a result, the sons became skilled craftsmen so that each son successfully engaged in businesses for themselves. Howard M. Cayo was president of the K-O Products company, Loren Cayo was president of Star Stamping Company. This company was engaged in the manufacture of oil filters and components. Robert Cayo was owner of Robert R. Cayo Company, a manufacturer of televisions mast components and stampings. Loren was an avid sportsman and camper as were his friends Allen Grams and Larry Zuhl. They wanted a recreational vehicle that could be used with full hookups, or be self-contained when hookups were not available. Allen and Larry were building contractors. These backgrounds were a good blend and in 1955 the Avion Coach Corporation was formed in Benton Harbor, Michigan. The goal was to build America's finest travel trailer. Allen Grams served as President of the Corporation for the first several years. The company prospered and by 1967 was operating plants in Benton Township Michigan and San Jacinto California. Loren passed away suddenly from a heart attack at age 51. Following Loren's death Robert became President of Avion Coach.
In 1970, controlling interest in the Avion Coach Corporation was sold by the Cayo family to a Detroit family headed by Robert M. Ligon. Ligon Enterprises, who continued to build and market the same high quality product with Robert Ligon as its president. In 1976 Ligon Enterprises sold the company to Fleetwood Enterprises. The Silver Avion was built until the 1990's when Fleetwood decided to build the Avion Product with more traditional RV construction methods. Fleetwood continues to sell 5th Wheel Trailers under the Avion Name.
For many years Avion's were built at a plant located at 1300 East Empire. Later the plant was located just down the street at East 1550 Empire Avenue. During a business trip in 2003 Paul the Avion Guy took a trip over to East Empire Avenue to see if the old buildings were still there. The first thing I noticed was that the old campground at the intersection of M139 and East Empire. Many of us parked for the night when visiting the plant. I was surprised to see that both buildings are in use. 1300 is now the distribution center for Tile Mart and looks much like it did in the 1960's. 1550 East Empire is now the Benton Harbor plant of the J. L. French Company. The property is virtually unchanged from my last visit in 1987. The only thing missing is the front lot full of new Silver Avions waiting to be shipped to a happy owner. The only sad part of the journey was when I came across the building of Star Stamping which is located on M139. The building is abandoned and for sale. Apparently Star was the only company to ever operate there and the company name is still on the front of the building.
THE EARLY YEARS OF THE AVION COACH, INC. June 2006
In the early 1950s, Robert Cayo and his family hooked their nineteen foot Little Gem travel trailer to a 1951 Chevrolet and headed west for a family camping vacation. At the same time, Robert’s older brother Loren and his family headed west in their Packard automobile with an Airstream in tow. The two families set up camp at Fishing Bridge in Yellowstone National Park. As they sat around the campfire, the two brothers talked about how their trailers could be improved. Both admired the aircraft-type construction of the Airstream. But they agreed that they could manufacture a better trailer. Both Loren and Robert had experience in metal fabrication, product design, and the manufacturing process. Upon return to their homes in Michigan, Loren secured the agreement of two other partners and in 1955 Romany Coach, Inc. was founded. Apparently Robert didn’t have sufficient capital at this time to be one of the major partners. Loren’s other two partners were in the construction business. Two events significantly affected this new company from the very beginning.
First, the name “Romany” was chosen because it reflected the carefree lifestyle of the Romany Gypsies. The following quote is taken from a 1955 brochure: “. . .the Romany caravans are horse drawn vehicles which serve them in much the same manner in which a modern house trailer serves us today. It is from this, the earliest of mobile homes, that we have taken the name of our modern travel trailer. We feel that there is a little of the Romany in all of us and we have an inherent desire to be ‘free as the birds’. To travel and relax, to laugh and sing, to hunt and fish, to travel to new and far off places, to see what is over the next hill. “
Both Loren and Robert were avid outdoorsmen – they enjoyed hunting, fishing and traveling. Selecting the Romany name seemed fitting; however, the Romany gypsies in the Michigan area protested the use of their name on a modern travel trailer. So the name was changed to “Avion” and the few trailers that were made with the Romany nameplate were called back to have the name changed to Avion. A rumor arose (of unknown origin) that the name was changed because Airstream had a model called the Romany and threatened a lawsuit. In an interview with Bill Cayo (Robert’s son who was old enough during the Yellowstone National Park camping trip to remember the early discussions and subsequent company issues) stated that Airstream did bring lawsuit(s) against Avion, but never challenged the use of the name “Romany”. These lawsuits contended that the Avion design was copied from the Airstream, but none were upheld in court. There were significant differences between the two trailers and also, there were a number of travel trailers that utilized riveted aircraft-construction, i.e., Spartan, Silver Streak, and others. In 1956, the second event was a disagreement between the original three partners. It was decided that one of the partners, Larry Zuhl, would sell his shares to Robert Cayo. This resulted in the two Cayo brothers, Loren and Robert, holding major positions in the company.
Oral history has the inherent characteristic of ideographic perception that produces factual distortion every time the story is repeated and these distortions are apparent in the Avion story. Examples are: Romany name (sometimes erroneously spelled Romney), reason for changing the name (someone probably guessed that there was a threatened lawsuit), and the spelling of Robert Ligon’s last name (spelled Legan). The story in this last example: Robert Ligon and Associates acquired majority interest in the Avion Coach, Inc. in 1970. Somehow, it has been written in various publications and on internet web-sites as “Legan Enterprises”. I can find no evidence that this name was ever used by Robert Ligon in his business affairs.
I have been researching Avion history and involvement of the Cayos in preparation for a book that will be entitled “Silver Avions and Cayos – A Tribute to one of the Best Travel Trailers ever produced and an Extraordinary Family that Made it Happen”. The information included in this editorial is being released now inasmuch as I believe it is needed to help us in the effort to be accurate about Avion history.
I have used the following sources for this information: conversations with and printed materials supplied by Bill Cayo, Chuck Cayo (Bill’s son), Charles Adair (who worked for Avion Coach for a number of years), Chris Garlanger (Loren’s grandson), early copies of the Avion Travelcade News (1960s and 1970s), and Benton Harbor newspaper clippings,
I welcome suggestions, criticisms, and additional information. I take responsibility for the above remarks. For accountability, please give credit to me if any of this information is used.
Robert J. (Bob) Muncy,
Founder and Program Leader
Silver Avion Fellowship
Note: This editorial will be distributed to participants in the SAF by E-mail and USPS mail, and to others who are interested in Avion History. It may be copied and shared with others if appropriate credit is given. RJM
Robert Cayo became president of Avion Coach following the death of its founder brother Loren. The Cayo interests in Avion were sold to a Detroit family headed by Robert M. Ligon in April 1970. In July of 1970 Robert Cayo purchased the Pickup Camper Division of Avion and began operations as the Cayo RV Corporation. Robert Cayo who had been the president of Avion until its sale now became the president of Cayo RV Corporation. The company built the same high quality pickup camper as was manufactured by Avion. The plant operations were at 1550 East Empire Avenue just down the street from Avion which was at 1300 East Empire. Robert's sons Bill and Dennis played important roles in the company. Dennis was the Office Manager and Bill became the production manager. It was Bill that built the first Avion camper for his own use with basic components of the Avion Coach. In 1965, the Pickup Truck Camper went into production at Avion.
Bill Cayo and his son Chuck operate CAYO REPAIR SERVICE.
They offer Part and repairs for all years and models of Avion and Cayo RV's.
Address: 4835 M-140
Watervliet, MI 49098
The Avion Travel Trailer was first built in 1956. Classic Aluminum trailers were built through the 1990 model year.
A 1957 Brochure features 3 different models; a 20' Rambler, a 23' Rover. and a 26' Regal. IN either model you had a choice of dinette (converts to double bed) or sofa (converts to double bed), table and 2 chairs.
The 20' Rambler had either rear twins or a rear crossways double. There was not room for a shower in this model, but a marine stool was located under a foldaway lavatory.
26' Regal Overall weight: 3300 pounds (approx)
Hitch weight: 300 pounds
23' Rover Overall weight: 2700 pounds (approx)
Hitch weight: 300 pounds
20' Rambler Overall weight: 2300 pounds (approx)
Hitch weight: 290
The body of the AVION Travel Trailer is two complete Aluminum shells one inside the other, separated by a blanket of 1 1/4“ plastic treated fibreglas insulation, riveted together as one unit on aluminum stretch formed bows and stringers. The only wood used in the construction of the AVION is the plywood floor and cabinets.
1956-1990 1963 Holiday 24 HT is a twin bed model with dinette/kitchen in front; twin beds and bath aft.
50's models: 26' Regal 23' Rover 20' Rambler
60's models: 30' Imperial 27' 24' Holiday 21' Tourist
68-77 years 31' LaGrande 31' Imperial 28' Travelcader 25' Voyageur
19' Sportsman (limited production) (Ultra name in early 70's)
1976-1977-1978 AVION built a mini motorhome (fewer than 500 were built)
1978 The Fleetwood years begin. AVION has one of the first triple axle trailers. A 32 foot model with rear bedroom.
Then in 1981 a 34 foot trailer is constructed and the most popular floorplan the V model makes its appearence.
V–twin beds, rear bath
W–rear bedroom, center bath
1986–Silver Anniversary Model ( 200 numbered editions)
1987–A new front kitchen floorplan, model 32S appears, along with 34X model with rear bedroom (only Avion ever to offer a full-sized rear queen island bed), center split bath, kitchen/dinette, and front living room 1987–Zip Dee awnings (last year factory installed)
1988–last year for anodized aluminum 1988–First year for A & E brand awnings (factory installed)
1989 Dura-Brite aluminum (looks painted) appears
1990 38' 5th wheel appears. (very limited production)
Cayo Motovator by Bruce Hampson
“The western shoreline of Michigan has long been considered prime real estate for boat repair businesses but if you look inland a few miles east of Benton Harbor, you'll find a seven-bay service facility that, while focusing on recreation vehicles, rarely entertains anything without wheels. Fiberglass guests are just as infrequent at Cayo Repair Service, where the specialty of the house is riveted aluminum renovation.
Granted, Cayo isn't alone in practicing what's fast becoming a lost art among motorhome collision-repair facilities. The difference is a matter of pedigree; on a good day, the marquees sequestered on the grounds will include one sharing heritage with the shop itself.
The Cayo Motovator is tangible proof that imitation truly is the sincerest form of flattery. This precursor to a contemporary Class C coach has its roots in a metal-stamping business - and a travel trailer. Any discussion of the Motovator, however, must by nature include a brief history of the Avion Coach Corporation.
“My father, Robert, and my uncle, Loren, were both outdoorsmen,” recalled Bill Cayo. “In the mid-'50s, Loren bought an Airstream trailer, during a camping trip to Yellowstone National Park, they reflected on how great it was and decided to build one like it.”
Drawing on metalworking backgrounds forged at the metal-stamping business owned by their father, the Cayos and a third partner, building contractor Alan Grams, introduced their first trailer in 1955.
“The first few vehicles were actually built under the Romney Coach badge,” Bill noted, “but apparently there were some problems with the name, so in 1957 the company name was changed to Avion Coach Corporation.”
Travel trailers weren't the only vehicles manufactured by Avion. Using the same basic parts that went into the Avion trailer, Bill cobbled together a pickup camper for his own use and the company liked the result. In 1965, Avion started offering pickup truck campers, as well. That division would figure prominently when, several years after Loren's untimely passing in 1967, Avion was sold.
“The company (Legan Enterprises) really didn't want to manufacture pickup campers,” Bill said, “so part of the purchase agreement was that they would sell the camper division back to my father, my brother and myself.” In 1970, the Cayos affixed their own name to the familiar streamlined camper shell. A year later, they extended the length of the camper, slipped a cutoff chassis beneath it and christened the self-propelled coach the Cayo Motovator.
Available in 20- and 22-toot models, the Motovator featured an anodized aluminum shell (sporting a 13-panel rear cap design so familiar to owners of mid-'50s Airstream trailers) and metal framing which allowed the mini-motorhome to maintain its structural integrity, In fact, the Cayo RV Corporation offered the coaches with a lifetime warranty to the original owner, “When we designed it, we realized that the body of the coach would last longer than the chassis,” Bill pointed out, “so it was actually designed to be removed and placed on a newer chassis, should the need arise”.
Originally available on a Dodge one-ton chassis with a choice of a 360 cid or 318 cid Dodge, 350 CID Chevy or 302 CiD Ford V-8 engine, the Cayo carried a dry weight of 8,245 pounds (20-foot model). The spacious interior (6 feet, 8 inches, floor to ceiling and 7 feet, 7 inches wall-to-wall) was fitted with most conveniences then available, including maple hardwoods, a dual-battery charging system with 30-amp converter, 22,000 BTU forced-air gas heating system and sizable 5 cubic-foot refrigerator. Options included an auxiliary gas tank, 2.5Kw AC generator, roof rack and ladder, Therma San waste incinerator, water purifier and 10,000 BTU roof-mounted air conditioner (which raised the height to nearly 10 feet). The 52-inch cabover configuration offered sleeping arrangements for four.
While the Motovator proved popular and its size and reliance on small-block V-8 engines allowed for relatively respectable mileage - the Cayo earned 10-12 MPG in an era where big block-powered Class A coaches were getting just half that - sales dropped off following the gas crunch of 1973-74. Although the OPEC oil embargo lasted just six months, the Cayo Motovator never really rebounded; in 1974, Cayo RV Corporation closed its Benton Harbor, Michigan, factory after approximately 600 Motovators passed through the facility.
The small number of coaches produced essentially precludes the possibility of a Cayo-only national club, but Cayo owners are welcomed at the Avion Travelcade Club (avionclub.org). In 1977, Bill funneled his experience into Cayo Repair Service, which he operates today with his son, Chuck. You could say that they know this coach from the inside, out - it's in their blood.”
Avion's aluminum interior walls were Zolatone painted thru the 1967 year. Beginning in 1968, Avion used vinyl coated aluminum and used this til the end of production of the aluminum riveted trailers.
The Avion was built using outer aluminum skins that could be polished to a mirror finish until late production of the 1962 units. The 1963 units began with a satin finished Anodized Aluminum finish that was actually “harder” aluminum and more resistant to dents and scratches. Avion adopted the revolutionary MOR/ryde (smooth glide) suspension system back in 1967. Engineering tests proved it to be so good, that it soon became standard equipment. Avion, along with the supplier, MOR/ryde pioneered and perfected this suspension system on travel trailers. Avion trailers use a strong triple beam of heavy duty steel, including a rugged center beam for added support. Frame members are 5” deep (6“ deep on 31 ft.) Urethane foam, called THERMO-X by Avion was first introduced as the total insulation for the entire coach in 1966. THERMO-X also adds to wall rigidity. 1968-1972 Avion used tinted *Plexiglas* acrylic windows with black anodized aluminum frames. Beginning in 1972, Avion was among the first to make dual waste water tanks, standard equipment. 1980 Avion suspensions were called Adjust-A-Ride. It was an innovative independent suspension of half-axles with a center pivot point. The axles were upgraded to heavier material beginning with the 1985 year models. In 1989 and 1990 Avion used axles by Alko-Kober and this was a torsion type axle suspension.
In 1989 Avion began using a coating created by a 5-step electrolytic process, and continued with this coating until production ceased after 1990. Many people wrongly believe these last Avions were “painted”, but the coating is not paint, and has proved to stand up very well over time. It's also easier to cover scratches by using touch-up paint that matches the coating. An important feature of Avion quality was its use of all hardwood interiors with dovetail and tongue-and-groove drawer and cabinet construction. The overall quality of Avions was unsurpassed, and still is not met by any other trailer manufacturer.
1957 Avion Regal 26ft. Believed to be the 4th Avion ever made. Bought from the Cayo family that started the Avion company. We'll take more pics soon. - Terry Bone (firstname.lastname@example.org)
Mark and Kathy Bailey, Johns Island, SC, 1966 Avion Travelcader 27
Pictures from 1964 Avion Brochure
Early Avion camping in 1961
1965 Restored S-21
1986 SILVER EDITION in 2010
Here is a picture of a 1969 Avion C-11 truck camper still very much in use. All interior and exterior lights have been upgraded to LED's, but otherwise it is pretty much original with fresh varnish on the inside.
User Manual from 1970 Avion Ultra 31'
Jimmy Cannette, Emerald Isle, NC 1969 Sport Special
Terry Bone, Wixom MI - 1957 Avion Regal 26ft
Tim Casteen, Chesapeake, VA past owner of 72 25'Voyageur, 83 30P, and currently 89 34X
Ruel Scott, Chesapeake, VA 86 30R Silver Edition
Durand Hines, Patrick Springs, VA 82 34V, also has Avion truck camper of unknown year.
Kevin Davis of Vale, NC 1988 X 34', 1976 mini motorhome (Dodge Chassis), 1964 Holiday 24', 1974 28'
Bebe Gordon & Kevin Davis, Lafayette La, 86 34' Silver Anniversary Edition #78
Tanner Flanagan,Jackson Hole Wy, 1973 Avion LaGrande 28'
Curt&Tina Parrish, Ladysmith Wi- 1968 A25 Argonaut 25'
Eric & Tracye Letendre, Wilmington,N.C., 1972 Avion 31' Imperial
Terry & Crista Brumby, Crawfordville, FL 1962 Avion T20
JP & Vicki VanGundy, Palatka, FL 1962 Avion T20
Dave & Alana Piper, Brookfield, IL - 1970 Avion A 24ft
Eric Scott, Aurora, CO 1978 Mini Motorhome (Dodge Chassis) Sportsman Class C
_ Sharon Smithem Charlevoix Michigan 1972 Avion Travelcade 28'