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Old 09-28-2010, 07:48 PM   #1
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1983 31' Airstream310
Santa Cruz , California
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Two year progress report, '83 Airstream 310 TD

It's been nearly two years since I bought the 1983 310 Turbo Diesel that's shown on airstreammotorhomes.com "exhibit J" from a fellow near Tacoma, Washington. He had overheated the engine (two trashed pistons, all liners scuffed badly), it was barely running, but seemed to be otherwise in nice shape with some useful upgrades. I had a diesel mechanic friend nearby so launched into the project. Happy to report that after many false starts, the Airbozo seems happy to be on the road again. (Airbozo because ... girlfriend's 1984 Winnebago is "Winnebozo")

The coach part was without serious issues except for the refrigerator which would not operate on AC at all, and weakly on propane, so that was replaced with a new Dometic. I also replaced the carpet (with engineered cork flooring in the front, new carpet in the bedroom) and replaced the cooktop and microwave with a new stove/oven.

The chassis is a regular P30 that came from Chevy with a 454 but had an Isuzu 6BD1A installed by Airstream. They also reprogrammed the TH475 transmission and added a BAE turbocharger kit. The second owner added a Gear Vendors over/underdrive, an Omni-Cool intercooler, a prelube pump, a fuel flowmeter/totalizer, Henderson bellcranks, IPD anti-sway bar and a 105 gallon diesel tank. No issues with handling on the road! The rear end was another problem, the coach seemed to travel down the road at a crab angle of a few degrees and some of the bolts holding the leaf springs seemed to be missing or cracked so the rear axle ended up crooked even after it was loosened and jacked back into position. I think the last owner might have used it a bit too heartily off-road (according to his report.)

The engine work was fairly comprehensive -- new pistons, rings, liners, one connecting rod, exhaust valves, grind and surface the head, etc. Bearings were all within spec so we left them alone. Made the trip from Washington back to California without incident. We won't talk about the second bout of engine work due to this owner's not noticing that the cap had blown off the coolant bottle and things getting very hot again -- the damage was much lighter this time. There are always lessons to be learned.

Brakes were a continuing issue. Soon after getting home, the brakes would start dragging and then gradually start applying until they were locked up. Not wheel cylinders, not hoses. Changed the master cylinder, problem went away for a couple of weeks and came back. Not the proportioning valve or the hydraulic booster (changed all that). Changed the master cylinder again and it seemed to fix the problem. Got it home again and it seemed to drag some more so I decided to get into it myself. There were probably two problems. One was the master cylinder. But -- the PO had installed a Mico Lock brake system as a parking brake since he had removed the driveline brake when the GV was installed. He used 3/8" hydraulic line between the Mico Lock control and the proportioning valve -- which was intermittently collapsing and trapping pressure. Hydraulic hose isn't exactly compatible with brake fluid, and the steel inner jacket had rusted too, detaching the inner hose and making it even floppier. Replaced with new Teflon/steel brake line, all problems fixed now and brakes feel like new.

While the shop was testing the brakes and the repairs they had done putting the missing bolts back in the leaf springs, the rear suspension exploded. Specifically, the curb side leaf spring eye, where it attaches to the frame, broke. It was probably cracked there the whole time. The spring came loose, tore open the outside tire, knocked a drain valve off the fuel tank and thrashed part of the wheel well. Apparently the mechanic who was driving had an urgent need of laundry services too, once it had come to a stop. There is a truck spring shop in Fresno that built a new set of springs for it, we won't be having that problem again. It does ride a little higher in the back now, not a problem.

Cooling was the other issue. The radiator was fairly well clogged with minerals so took it out and recored, filled with antifreeze with deionized water as the local tap water is highly mineralized here. Also installed a separate transmission oil cooler. There was a Desert Super Cooler installed but inoperative, fixed that and now can keep reasonably cool going up a steep grade in hot weather, with water (pumped from the main drinking water tank) spritzing on the radiator every few seconds. The Desert Super Cooler is no longer made but I have had some discussions with the owner of the name and history, we'll see if it can be returned to the market as it is certainly a good way to make up for more heat from an engine than the given radiator can get rid of.

Everywhere I have looked, there have been a few demons waiting to be exorcised. But, I am happy to report that once chased away properly, they have stayed gone, so far. I saved the easy parts for last, chasing the power and grounding problems out of the dashboard so everything gets stable battery voltage. There is still significant loss in the original GM fuseblock and ignition switch, so I'm moving circuits to their own fuses and adding relays.

The vacuum step works, and I was happy to find that the alternator is not the 50 amp unit listed in the book but 80 amp. There is still wiring to replace as it's only 8 gauge or so coming from the alternator (among other ills). The Onan 6.5 kw genset works fine as do the two air conditioners.

The roof now sports 3 150 watt solar panels and there is a Solar Boost controller that keeps the coach batteries full even in a mostly shady campsite. The PO had replaced the original charger with a Xantrex 3-stage smart charger -- together these keep the batteries happy in sun or shade (if hooked up) even though they're 4 years old.

We've made a trip to the mountains (past the same place where it blew up a year ago) and a few trips to the beach. We've put in a new driveway along the side of the house so (with about two inches to spare) we can park it in the back yard on its own concrete pad.

I can give a basically solid report for the people and services of Sierra Heavy-Duty in Sonora, California. Their work on the engine was fine. Troubleshooting the brakes was a little trickier for them, a lot of stuff was done that probably wasn't needed, and they didn't catch the hoses to the Mico Lock, which should have been staring them in the face (and me too, but I can claim ignorance.) Their handling the radiator work and spring rebuild was fine. I think they probably did better than most shops would have. I don't want to think about how much it cost, but in the end I have a mostly rebuilt engine and chassis for a lot less than a recent plastic box, and it will be around for a lot longer.

I learned some stuff in the process. It is a 28-year-old truck; the systems are fairly simple but you do have to get in, skin some knuckles and twist your back to figure out what's going on. Your biggest enemy is not wear or decay in most cases, but indifference and incompetence of owners and mechanics (including yourself.) Be willing to open up and touch every d&*n thing in there and see what's going to bite you next (like the goofy piece of once-clear PVC hose that fed fuel from the fuel flow transducer to the injector pump). Be glad it's not a Wanderlodge or some new thing with computers and dozens of extra systems. Find the grease fitting for the water pump, because no one else will know to look for it. Realize that there *is* probably a way to change the belts without lifting up the engine. Don't trust temperature gauges until you know they are right.

Anyway thanks to all the people who helped, including many on this forum. Now I have my own collection of experiences with this thing (and most manuals), hope to help if I can.
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Old 09-29-2010, 07:52 PM   #2
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Wow.
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Old 10-02-2010, 09:27 PM   #3
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Wow indeed. Thankfully mine didn't need that much work, wouldn't have been able to pay the mechanic. Did you get a big discount on your original purchase?

"I saved the easy parts for last, chasing the power and grounding problems out of the dashboard so everything gets stable battery voltage." - OK, that's easier for some than it is for others, I guess that requires patience and focus.

Totally agree with you about indifference and incompetence. Fixing the things that PO's have done makes me wonder how much they actually gave a s$%t about their 'investment.'

I eagerly await your next report
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Old 10-04-2010, 02:01 PM   #4
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Robfike View Post
Wow.

Ditto
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Old 10-04-2010, 08:20 PM   #5
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1983 31' Airstream310
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Originally Posted by elbundi View Post
Wow indeed. Thankfully mine didn't need that much work, wouldn't have been able to pay the mechanic. Did you get a big discount on your original purchase?
Yes, the repairs cost quite a bit more than it cost to buy. He was asking 15K, we settled on 11 and he took the fancy speakers that I didn't want but left the fancy adjustable mattress (which is definitely worthwhile.)

Quote:
"I saved the easy parts for last, chasing the power and grounding problems out of the dashboard so everything gets stable battery voltage." - OK, that's easier for some than it is for others, I guess that requires patience and focus.
Or some years of skinning knuckles on airplanes, fire trucks and other vehicles getting the electrons to go the right place. The little Tyco ice-cube relays are easy to use and get rid of a lot of problems.

Quote:
Totally agree with you about indifference and incompetence. Fixing the things that PO's have done makes me wonder how much they actually gave a s$%t about their 'investment.'
Well ... a lot of them don't have the means to even understand the problem. Apparently the first owner spent a lot of money having some pretty good shops in Seattle work on things (and drove it ~90K miles in ten years) but lost interest. The second owner was at his limit fixing small things and seemed to never have found a good shop to work on it. That's a major challenge for owners of older vehicles -- the shops just don't want to touch it. If you can show a truck shop that what they're doing will be the same as fixing a bread truck, they can handle it but they are scared of motorhomes. I asked them to replace all the heater hoses, they said it would take too long to open up the "dash" to get at the heater core, so cut off the hoses coming through the firewall and tapped in to the old hoses. *()^*!! idjits didn't bother to spend two minutes inside, seeing that the carpeted panel would come off in another minute, exposing the whole heater core where it is easy to get to. These were good mechanics, too!
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Old 03-20-2011, 12:00 PM   #6
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Plastic Box

Plastic Boxes were also built by Airstream and owned and maintained by the same people you speak of, some good at maintenance and some - well not so good!!!!!!
The quality of the OEM build is important, but the ongoing maintenance largely determines the life cycle of any unit.
Unfortunately those who buy new units usually have the money to ignore signs of approaching problems, and trade up to solve the problems. This generally leaves the problem to develop further before the next owner realizes it exists.
This undesirable chain of events can cause serious damage when it includes water penetration.(whether tin or plastic) A quick read of the various threads on this and other sites will convince us as to the critical damage that can be done with unwanted water penetration. (The most important key to any quality construction is the basement and the roof.)
However, I disagree with your comment on longativity of one over the other.
If any RV owner, like yourself, takes the time to investigate and maintain/repair/replace as needed, any unit life cycle can be extended almost indefinitely.
Myself - I would rather have a quality HD Chasses to start with so that the money spent above the chassis is not in vain.
I was not aware that the Diesel's on your units were a Jackson Center swap? Any more information on that might be of interest to myself and others.
I do agree with you that the new electronic equipment that is prevalent in all the units after about 97-8 restricts us as backyard mechanics to repair, and adds considerably to the expense to keep these units on the road.
Dave




Quote:
Originally Posted by dljosephson View Post
It's been nearly two years since I bought the 1983 310 Turbo Diesel ----------------------------, but in the end I have a mostly rebuilt engine and chassis for a lot less than a recent plastic box, and it will be around for a lot longer.
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Old 03-20-2011, 04:43 PM   #7
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Did you use de-ionized water or de-mineralized(distilled) water? I ask as de-ionized water can be highly corrosive without the correct chemical package in the antifreeze.

DanN
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Old 03-21-2011, 02:21 AM   #8
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1983 31' Airstream310
Santa Cruz , California
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Originally Posted by masseyfarm View Post
Plastic Boxes were also built by Airstream and owned and maintained by the same people you speak of, some good at maintenance and some - well not so good!!!!!!
The quality of the OEM build is important, but the ongoing maintenance largely determines the life cycle of any unit.


In our family there are two motorhomes; my Airstream and my partner's 1983 Winnebago. Each has its applications and she uses hers a lot, mostly when she has to ride herd on some project at the hospital where she works and needs to be available at all times when something doesn't work right. When we want to go somewhere where 31 feet just won't fit but 21 will, we take hers and have a fine time. It is a well cared for unit but whenever I am inside fixing something I am taken aback by things like delaminating plywood/fiberglass. The systems are very similar and the P30 chassis is nearly identical. Airstream bought more expensive options, like disc brakes instead of drum, and the PO of mine put in a lot of front end suspension upgrades which makes it handle with much less wallow than I guess is usual.

Indeed the vector for a lot of damage is any kind of water penetration, and there are certainly as many potential routes for this to start in an Airstream. The biggest difference is that I can use traditional aircraft repair methods to repair the Airstream and there is no good way to fix the fiberglass/foam/plywood sandwich in the Winnebago.
Quote:
However, I disagree with your comment on longativity of one over the other.
If any RV owner, like yourself, takes the time to investigate and maintain/repair/replace as needed, any unit life cycle can be extended almost indefinitely.
I thought that too, but the failing bonds between the fiberglass and the foam sandwich concern me. If the panel remains intact it's great but once the fiberglass starts to peel from any sort of trauma I don't know of a good way to fix it.

Mainly though, we both like the look and feel of the Airstream
Quote:
Myself - I would rather have a quality HD Chasses to start with so that the money spent above the chassis is not in vain.
That is a problem. The P30 chassis and the TH475 transmission aren't exactly heavy duty. It is clear that Airstream focused on keeping things light, and while this rules out brute force heavy-duty, it works well 28 years down the road. I strongly considered a Wanderlodge for that reason but am happy that I settled on the 310, at roughly half the weight.
Quote:
I was not aware that the Diesel's on your units were a Jackson Center swap? Any more information on that might be of interest to myself and others.
The VIN number shows that it came with a 454 Chevy gas engine, and I had to show the California DMV that it was in fact a diesel, they wanted me to smog it. The service manual refers to this in a few places, indicating for instance that the transmission shift points were reprogrammed (by substitution of different internal parts) to suit the power curve of the Isuzu diesel.

I was told that Airstream was not able to buy the chassis except with the gas engine. Even though Chevrolet made trucks with the Isuzu motor, this was only available with the full cab. What's more, they would not sell Airstream the turbo version of the motor, so even that is aftermarket. The engine is a 6BD1A, not a 6BD1T. Airstream contracted with BAE to build a special turbo kit which seems to be at least as reliable as the version used by Isuzu.

Quote:
I do agree with you that the new electronic equipment that is prevalent in all the units after about 97-8 restricts us as backyard mechanics to repair, and adds considerably to the expense to keep these units on the road.
Dave
Then there are those really dedicated types like a friend of mine who has a converted 1960s Greyhound (MCI) bus that originally had a Detroit Diesel 6-92 ... he spent a whole winter swapping a Series 60 engine into it, with electronic engine control, which he says provides significantly better performance and mileage. I think I'll stick with the all-mechanical Isuzu...
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Old 03-21-2011, 03:17 AM   #9
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1983 31' Airstream310
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Did you use de-ionized water or de-mineralized(distilled) water? I ask as de-ionized water can be highly corrosive without the correct chemical package in the antifreeze.

DanN
Our water here has a very high mineral load, so I used the same industrial deionized water that I use in the electronics lab at my company. We use it in some fairly aggressive ultrasonic cleaners with precision parts made of brass and steel and have never had a corrosion problem since we switched to DI. Tap water sometimes reacted with the brass. I had heard the same cautions about corrosion and spent some time talking with a chemist, a race car mechanic and a radiator shop about this idea. I also have some background in chemistry too so wondered what it was all about. I replaced the radiator core because it showed fairly significant mineralization *and* corrosion so I didn't want to let either one start.

None of us could figure out how DI or distilled water could be corrosive to any of the metals in the system by themselves, but apparently the issue is that when there are dissimilar metals in the coolant (particularly aluminum water pumps with iron engine blocks) plain water allows galvanic corrosion to start if the water is even slightly acidic (generally due to nitrates in the water supply). To combat that, nearly all ordinary antifreeze mixtures contain either sodium silicate, a phosphate or a borate to form a barrier layer on the aluminum and to raise the pH. Ordinary American antifreeze uses silicate, which only lasts two or three years before it precipitates out. The Japanese automakers apparently prefer borates because they last longer (but are more expensive). Many newer cars use an organic corrosion inhibitor, some of which cause problems for certain kinds of seals and gaskets. Apparently even 250-300 parts per million of silicate is enough to provide the corrosion protection you need, and even 10-20% antifreeze solution provides this. It is important to flush and replace the antifreeze after two or three years in order to keep that level of protection, however.
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Old 03-21-2011, 11:29 AM   #10
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Looks like you've done your homework on the coolant. I work as a field Rep for a mgr of large industrial engines. Customers sometimes get confused and add straight de-ionized water instead of following our recommendations. Any metal seal quickly corrodes, with ensuing coolant leaks into the engine. It is explained to me that the extra oxygen molecule causes the aggresive oxidation of metal parts. Distilled water is much less corrosive. Either will work fine with the corrct inhibitor package.

Best regards,

DanN
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Old 03-23-2011, 12:49 AM   #11
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1983 31' Airstream310
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... It is explained to me that the extra oxygen molecule causes the aggresive oxidation of metal parts. Distilled water is much less corrosive. Either will work fine with the corrct inhibitor package.
Where does the extra oxygen molecule come from? Why is distilled any less corrosive? There's no chemical difference between distilled and deionized except that distilled also gets rid of any organic junk that might be in the tap water.
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