I think the difference in the Wally years compared to the Thor years is simply that Wally was out on the plant floor with a real big vested interest in the company. It wasn't his job, it was his passion. I as well as others have heard about how Wally when he found something wrong would rip it out of the coach and say, don't make that mistake again.
Of course, times are different now and HR would cringe at some of the ways Wally ran things. Heck, having worked for some startup companies that grew (like CDW), the the founder then CEO was a real jackass in regard to how he treated folks when he came across something he didn't like, but as the company grew, he too had to watch his Ps and Qs....
I think that Thor has done a good job with Airstream. I think the problem sits squarely with the skilled labor.
I have heard rumors that the current CEO of Airstream wasn't going to pay the folks what they wanted and as a result a bunch of the folks that could do this with their eyes closed vanished leaving the newbies to pick up the slack. Now I've heard this happend about 2001ish which would kind of match the quality issues folks have been having with Airstream lately. Keep in mind that this is all hearsay, not fact.
I know from the many folks out there I've spoken with on and offline, that the older coaches (90s, 80s) outside of some issues with the clearcoat were fantastic coaches. Most folks you couldn't pry the keys out of their cold dead hands.
I hope with my '04 that I'll be one of those people (just not quite dead yet)!