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Old 11-22-2003, 09:56 AM   #1
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Unhappy Starting over?

Ok, I'm a new guy with the Airstream family, only about 4 years with my 1981 28 ft 454 Excella. When I bought it, the interior was a sight to see. Everything was beautiful. The engine and mechanicals had been chaparroned by a reputable shop, and there was evidence of good shop practices. I didn't mind paying blue book for a fine example of how RV'ing should be.

Several cross county trips revealed that while things were taken care of, the work had all been reactionary. I didn't see anything fixed BEFORE it had broken. Meaning that everything was stock unless it had failed, then replaced with stock. No preventive maintenance, no upgrades.

A trip through Arkansas loosened up quite a bit on the coach... like the ice maker is now sitting in my garage, and I have a nice selection of screws, nuts and bolts swept off the floor after leaving the state. Have they heard you can resurface highways there?

Whilst cruising the Arizona desert one lonely night, I was severely reprimanded by the engine for going too fast. A bang and stacatto rapping put me to the side of the road, and a tow back to Vegas where she sits quietly beside the house. I think I pushed a rod through a piston. I haven't had the heart to pull the heads yet. The engine has 89,000 miles on it, and now I understand that's a long run for an RV engine.

Ok, so here's the deal: do I start over? Chevy is more than happy to replace the engine with everything new, firewall forward, for the bargain basement price of near 10 grand. Not really an option.

I am mechanically inclined, I run a warbird restoration shop, but I lack experience in the World of Wally. I need some sage advice. I thank you all in advance for your comments.

Does anyone make a diesel conversion kit?

Rebuilding doesn't bother me, I've had good luck with "seasoned" blocks.... but how do you pull this thing out?

I've had great success with MSD ignition set ups, box, coil, distributer, wires. Spendy but it's the only thing I've found that lives up to its claims~ it makes a HUGE difference in power. Anyone have any experience with these in the MH?

Exhuast needs replaced, too.... I like the idea of streetside exits, have had good luck with Thorley headers and 3" pipes. The thicker the better on the flanges, folks! Go big or stay home, you'll be glad you did.

Many things on the coach need attention as well (ice maker), and I see my joy of RV'ing turning into a long term project. The couch has removed itself from the wall (thanks, Arkansas), the water tank valve leaks, the generator needs some serious attention, and my fridge won't work on 12 v. I have accumulated quite a list, it doesn't look like I take care of my stuff, but I do.... honest! I just can't seem to stay ahead of it!

Thank you all again for letting me whine, and thank you for your suggestions.

Kevin
"Look up to the world.... fly upside down"
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Old 11-22-2003, 10:40 AM   #2
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Kevin,

Let me be the firts to say " I feel your pain"

I have been there in the last 6 Months.

Check these threads:

The Adventures of Brett and Edie part I

Part II

Part III

To pull the engine the hood, grille, bumper and center trim all come off, then you start to dissassemble moving toward the rear. Radiator, etc. BTW the Engine I got was a reman, but from GM with the 3yr 50K warranty.

Welcome to the new engine club!
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Old 11-22-2003, 12:25 PM   #3
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Go for it, Kevin, you know you want to.
And you will have lots of support from the members of this forum. Can't beat having a place to go to where people actually know what you are talking about.
I finally took my icemaker out. Makes a lot of difference not having those 60 pounds high up in that cabinet.
I have been running the jacobs ignition system for a few years now and am very happy with it.
I just pulled the plugs to see how everything is doing. After 10K miles with the Jacobs and running advanced on my timing, they look very good.
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Old 11-22-2003, 02:03 PM   #4
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Thanks, guys.... great stuff. I have an awesome engine rebuilder in town, here.... he specializes in marine rebuilds (read high torque, high stress), but I wasn't sure if it was cheaper to buy a crate. He got me for nearly 3k on the last rebuild, a 351, and he did EVERYTHING.

Did I mention I had an angry tree assult the rear corner, and I have sheetmetal to work? I have the panel, and Lord knows I can buck a rivet. It kinda looks like an airplane, smells like an airplane, I hope it fixes like an airplane. After 20 years of fixing aircraft, it was a natural choice to pick something that was borne in the 50's of excess military aircraft stock, has the overhead bins of a DC-9, and an APU! However, any words of experience would be happily received, greatly appreciated and properly contemplated.

I loved the pics and storyline of the threads!

Kevin
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Old 11-23-2003, 12:00 PM   #5
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The best advice I can give you is that if you are replacing the engine, replace it all. Carb, and all acessories. The additional cost is a small percentage of the total and reusing an unknown Alt alone could leave you stranded.

If the tranny is ok, reuse it. The transmission is not that hard to swap out and can be easily dropped out the bottom.

Even if it looks good have the radiator boiled/checked/pressure tested or just recore it. Replacements are not available.

Overall I cannot stress that if you feel it needs to be replaced do it now, while you have the rig off the road. Later you will kick yourself if it falis, or you end up donig it later anyhow for POM (peace of mind).

Lastly, develop a healthy relationship with the funds you currently have. You may miss them when they are gone But you will be able to enjoy the MH more than you ever have.
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Old 11-23-2003, 12:13 PM   #6
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If you like the size, the floorplan, etc., etc., then go for it. Spending a gazillion dollars on a new whatever will not make your travels any more fun. If, on the other hand, you find yourself having slide-out envy, or really like the smell of diesel fumes in the morning, get out as cheaply as you can and move on.

If you have a good rebuilder, that would be the way I'd go. There have been people who have done a Cummins swap - including someone on these forums. The cost of that is in large measure the cost of the donor engine - which would make it prohibative for most of us. There appears to be no "kit" however.

Fortunately, you have a motorhome that still is capable of turning heads after 23 years. Not many can say that.

Mark
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Old 11-23-2003, 12:30 PM   #7
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I have to agree with Mark.

We bought our 78 because we wanted a floorplan the was different that our 76. I had spend a fair amount of money and time on the 76 and there was nothing wrong with it, but we wanted the floorplan. So 18 months after buying the 76 we put it up for sale.

We did the same thing on our Airstream trailers. First one was a really nice trailer. The floorplan was not what we wanted so 2 years later we traded up to a 31 that had a floor plan we liked.

Mechanicals are easy. The shell/interior changes are harder to do well. So if you like it as a coach, do it. If you want slides and to look like so many of the other motorhomes on the road, bail out.
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Old 11-23-2003, 04:48 PM   #8
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Well said, everyone. I thank you for your replies.

I believe I will end up living on the road for a while as I develop my flying career, and I really get a kick out of the MH. I always end up buying in just before a big item breaks~ from houses to cars and now MH. So much for the advantage of being a mechanic. But keep her I will, and that means rebuilding her guts, I shall.

I've already replaced all the accessories, including the water pump, alternator, new radiator (that thing was pricey), hoses, belts, etc before putting it on the road initially, so those will transfer over.

I will need a carb, and I'm interested in what people have experienced with bolt on fuel injector systems. If the performance and efficiency is really worth the cost.

Planning on a complete new exhaust system, and I've read some comments on the Thorley vs Banks systems. Still appreciate personal testimony there. Bigger is better, thicker is better, especially at the mating flanges.

Any one have any luck at soundproofing the doghouse, or quieting down engine noise? It's loud enough it's difficult to hold a conversation on the highway.

Airbags are shot. I need to know if there's a good replacement for the entire system, or should I patch together whats there and press on.

Levelers~ any one install any electro or hydraulic levelers? How much, would you do it again?

Replacement bed~ I have the couch fold out, and the frame detached itself from the wall. Has anyone found an upgrade they like, or should I remount it and press on?

The fridge 12v is inop. I'm looking for parts source, I think it's the element. Dometic. They're supposed to be pretty good, right? Worth repairing versus replacing?

Starter on the generator won't start the genset. And the thing is SO loud. Any tricks on quieting down the Onan? Once I choke the hell out of it, and jumpstart it, it runs pretty good. I know I need a major tune up on it. It's rather cranky. Cables look good, I think I'm in for a new starter.

Thanks again, everyone! Keep those helpful comments coming! I'm starting to see a light waaaaay down the tunnel!

Kevin
Vegas, baby!
1981 28' Excella
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Old 11-23-2003, 05:31 PM   #9
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Kevin,

On the doghouse I have had some sucess with the bonded logic heat reflective soundproofing. Camping world sells a kit for about $40.00. I did the whole thing with 2 layers and did the front top plate too. At 65 MPH my wife and I can carry on a normal voice conversation. The product glues in with a spray contact cement they provide.

The Airbags are available new. The issue is finding the right part number. I replaced mine but it took a while to get them and get the right part. You may want to see if there is a manufacturer brand and contact a manufacturer zone office to see if they have an application list. That was how we found out what one to order. Fleetpride will order them for you if you can get the heavy truck part number.

AS to the couch, I am curious what the floorplan is. Do you have a front (driverside) and side (rear/center)couch?

Most of the 28 footers were either this layout or center twins. Some had the rear lounge that makes into a queen size bed (mine is like that). The reason for my question is to help advise you on what to do regarding the bed.

The gensets are loud, period. You may be able to quiet it down with a new muffler available at camping world.............
If you are having to jumpstart it I woul dcheck the cables before pricing the starter. They can be a bit spendy. The Genset gets its start power form the coach start batteries.

On edit........

The refer if original and dead may just need to be replaced. You would need to check some of the RV Referieration places to see if a cooling unit is available. It could be the PC board, the 120 volt heater element or a combination of the components. I love my new electronic refer since it has a eyebrow control and I do not have to open the door to light/adjust it. I only open the outer door on the coach to check it once in a great while.
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Old 11-23-2003, 07:39 PM   #10
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Yo Propstrike,

Having messed with airplanes myself for several years before giving them up for "cheaper and safer hobbies" like motorcycles, hot rods and now a MH, I understand where you are coming from.

But on the last IO-320 I rebuilt a used yellow taged crank alone cost me $2700. and that was several yrs ago. So compared to airplane parts Motorhome parts are cheap!! And if you can rebuild an airplane a MH should be easy, and not nearly as much paperwork either.

So go for it ! and keep us posted on your progress.

Thanks
Don Nall
X EAA President and private pilot
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Old 11-23-2003, 08:33 PM   #11
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It IS an Airplane!!!

Propstrike,

As a former Navy Pilot and retired Aviation Maintenance Officer one of the reasons I chose the Airstream was for its aircraft like qualities. Still miss the flush rivets, but you can't have everything!

As for the 454, a proper rebuild is not to original specs. The engine was severly under powered when installed (about 230hp!). If you plan on rebuilding then a cam designed for towing, older, larger oval port heads, new Edelbrock Quadrejet factory replacement carb, quality dual plane manifold for the carb, Thorley's with a two into one system flowing through 3.5 inches of pipe will bring the engine and MH to life. . . . Or you could purchase a GM 502 designed for towing, putting out 338hp for less than $5K. New not rebuilt! You would still need the Thorleys and Carb.

FI -- Two schools of thought: First original factory parts for a simple install and ease of replacement parts when on the road. Or complete aftermarket set-up. FI is smoother running but the cost, when all is said and done rather tall. I have seen several sites advertising $850 for all the GM FI parts necessary to install FI "on your vehicle". Further investigation found the cost closer to $2K because it's a Big Block, or it's for a MH, or . . .

Aftermarket FI is good but costly $2K to $2.5K and parts might be hard to find on the road. However I have found overnight shipping goes to almost everywhere so I tend to discount that detractor.

PM me if you want additional information.

Take care,
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Old 11-24-2003, 09:23 AM   #12
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As a 280 owner, if it was me in your position, I would add up what I have in it now, add approximately what it will take to get it up to the level you want it to be, and then see if those numbers look ok.
If so, you will end up with a rig you are happy with and proud of, and able to enjoy for along time to come.
If it doesn't seem worth it, then consider moving to another unit that will work for you. Otherwise every little problem will seem like a big pain in the wallet.
I could stand 3000-4000 for an engine if mine went, and still feel happy with the whole deal, as I have already done quite a bit of upgrading., but if it got up in the 7-10,000 range for add ons or repairs, I would probably be bailing out.Just mhop.
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Old 11-24-2003, 01:28 PM   #13
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Propstrike:

"....any words of experience would be happily received, greatly appreciated and properly contemplated."

To echo what Alans said above, you need to be realistic about "necessary" and "non-necessary" repairs.

I got into my 345 at a pretty good price, but have since spent about twice the entry price in "personalizing"....and very little of that on the engine.

I know I will never recover the full cost of the makeover, but I went into it with eyes wide open.

The following comments are made considering you apparently have a healty list of expensive repairs.

If you have the funds, and the desire to stick with AS instead of taking the next step up to Diesels, there are several cherry 345's for sale in the Houston area. One has a recent Banks installation, and another is a practically new '92. There is also a late 80's with a 5.9 Cummins in like new condition.

I don't have any connection to any of the units, just wanted to let you know of some of the alternatives out there before you get in too deep with your existing unit.

As far as a "Diesel Kit" for it, you may want to weigh each wheel prior to considering going diesel. Any decent (read adequate horsepower) diesel and accompanying transmission will be significantly heavier than your stock engine. On my 345 I have almost no weight available for anything heavier than the 454.
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Old 11-24-2003, 11:20 PM   #14
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Thenewkid:
I have the fold out couch that lives directly behind the driver. Curbside is a pair of swivel chairs around a fold out table. Driver side sink/stove, the center section includes two singles and the rear is the bathroom.

Don~ Yeah, compared to aircraft, the price of maintaining the MH is nothing~ and a lot more comfy to sleep in. If I can keep from trying to fly it down the road, my engines will last.

Dinoburb~ Nice to meet so many aviators on the Airstream net. I guess no small wonder, huh? Anyway, I agree on the exhaust, I'm leaning toward coming off some heavy duty headers into a single 3.5 pipe exiting the drivers side.

How many knots can I get with flush rivets, do you think? LOL

I'm abandoning the FI and diesel conversion ideas.... after reading and contemplating AlanSD and Dennis. I want to do what I have to, but this could become a financial flat spin if I don't stay focused.

Unfortunately, after only owning the rig for 3 years, and fully financing her at the beginning, I've found myself inverted and unable to just dump her. So, fix it I will, and fix it well~ I'm in this one for the long haul.

I like the 28 ft length, not too long to get into smaller parks. Mom can drive her too, and that's important. Any bigger and she wouldn't.

The 502 was an interesting idea... does this bolt up? Do I have to change the mounts and trans? The 454 seems a little lifeless. If the prices are comparable, I'm willing to put in the sweat equity.

Again, thanks to all!

Kevin
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