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Old 03-16-2012, 02:01 AM   #1
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Noob looking at a 31' '77 AS

We're going to look at a 1977 31' AS Sovereign this weekend. I've been doing research here about what to look for and it's been great! I've noticed several people saying that for $6000 you should be able to get a REALLY great trailer in excellent condition...this is quite contrary to what I'm seeing in looking at them. The one we're looking at is priced a $11K and from everything I've asked the current owner, it sounds like a good one that has been completely restored. I'm willing to pay more for one that is ready to go camping immediately, but I don't want to spend more than around $10-11K on the front end. Is this realistic or am I dreaming?

One other thing- I've restored several classic muscle cars from the frame up with the intention of driving them as often as I want to...with a 43 year old car, it's just not going to happen without frequent tinkering. I almost feel stupid asking, but won't a 35 year old travel trailer be about the same? We just sold an 03' Sunnybrook TT that I really had nothing to do to after I attended to some basic maintenance issues when I initially bought it. Is frequent tinkering part of the deal/allure?

Thanks in advance for your replies.
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Old 03-16-2012, 03:48 AM   #2
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It all depends on how you use the trailer and what you consider excessive maintenance. Anything that bounces down the various quality roads in North America is going to damage itself occasionally. Doing a great job fortifying it will lessen the amount of the damage but not eliminate it. A trailer has all the same functions a house has plus wheels and suspension. At least it does not have a internal combustion engine and transmission, like a car. These components cause many of the problems associated with a motorhome. There are known weaknesses in the 1977 31 foot model. I have one which I and others have used roughly for 37 years. If you like doing the back country roads, you need to take it slow to make it last.
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Old 03-16-2012, 04:32 AM   #3
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In a vehicle that has a steel frame and aluminum shell corrosion is always going to be an issue, but it also means that no matter how far gone a TT is, it can always be renovated back to near-new condition, given enough money and/or attention. Not always the case with the so-called "stick and tin" trailers, where roofs can literally dissolve with time.

However, with a 35-year-old AS, it would be unusual for the floor not to have rotted out in at least some sections, and the infamous rear sag can make things awkward.

I think that you need to get a clear picture from the seller for those two issues before you can decide if it is worth $10k+.

By the way, the floor rot is a by-product of leaks, which are the real enemy. Older trailers are usually more leak-prone. Vigilance in stopping them is key to longevity of the TT.

Good luck! I love my '74 and so does my family. Keep us informed, and we love photos...
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Old 03-16-2012, 06:06 AM   #4
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Quote:
Originally Posted by dwightdi View Post
It all depends on how you use the trailer and what you consider excessive maintenance. Anything that bounces down the various quality roads in North America is going to damage itself occasionally. Doing a great job fortifying it will lessen the amount of the damage but not eliminate it. A trailer has all the same functions a house has plus wheels and suspension. At least it does not have a internal combustion engine and transmission, like a car. These components cause many of the problems associated with a motorhome. There are known weaknesses in the 1977 31 foot model. I have one which I and others have used roughly for 37 years. If you like doing the back country roads, you need to take it slow to make it last.
Excessive maintenance is chasing leaks every time it rains, rotten floors, sagging rear end. Normal wear and tear from towing is understandable and expected. We go camping at least one weekend per month and we mainly stay in Georgia with the TT and use the motorhome for longer trips.

So are you saying the maintenance is no worse for an older AS than a later model "disposable" camper? I say disposable because it seems that every other camper made is good for about 10 years the way most people maintain them and 20 TOPS if you're meticulous...this is my draw to AS, their 35 year+ campers are plentiful and many still appear to be in excellent shape.

Thanks for your input!
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Old 03-16-2012, 06:15 AM   #5
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Originally Posted by Aage View Post
In a vehicle that has a steel frame and aluminum shell corrosion is always going to be an issue, but it also means that no matter how far gone a TT is, it can always be renovated back to near-new condition, given enough money and/or attention. Not always the case with the so-called "stick and tin" trailers, where roofs can literally dissolve with time.

However, with a 35-year-old AS, it would be unusual for the floor not to have rotted out in at least some sections, and the infamous rear sag can make things awkward.

I think that you need to get a clear picture from the seller for those two issues before you can decide if it is worth $10k+.

By the way, the floor rot is a by-product of leaks, which are the real enemy. Older trailers are usually more leak-prone. Vigilance in stopping them is key to longevity of the TT.

Good luck! I love my '74 and so does my family. Keep us informed, and we love photos...
The one we're looking at has supposedly been in the southeast US it's entire life so I would expect zero corrosion issues. Does floor rot usually come from the metal deteriorating underneath? I guess it can come from anywhere...are the roof seams bad about leaking? I know with any camper, conventional or AS, water is the enemy and I'm hyper vigilant on maintenance issues. But if the older ones are particularly leak prone that would be a deal killer for me. Generally, with a conventional TT, if the roof is kept clean and caulked and all the seams are caulked then the water will not come in. How do you seal riveted seams?

BTW- what does it typically cost to have the rear sag issue fixed?
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Old 03-16-2012, 06:18 AM   #6
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I also just read an article about the suspension/axles and how to check those. Apparently the suspension working properly, as well as wheel/hub/drum balance is vital to the structural survival of the camper. I've never heard of having the tire, wheel drum and hub balanced as one unit... How the heck do you do that???
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Old 03-16-2012, 06:39 AM   #7
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Quote:
Originally Posted by 270win View Post
The one we're looking at has supposedly been in the southeast US it's entire life so I would expect zero corrosion issues. Does floor rot usually come from the metal deteriorating underneath? I guess it can come from anywhere...are the roof seams bad about leaking? I know with any camper, conventional or AS, water is the enemy and I'm hyper vigilant on maintenance issues. But if the older ones are particularly leak prone that would be a deal killer for me. Generally, with a conventional TT, if the roof is kept clean and caulked and all the seams are caulked then the water will not come in. How do you seal riveted seams?

BTW- what does it typically cost to have the rear sag issue fixed?
I would not be quick to assume that since it's from the SE there will not be corrosion. Plenty of things to get the rust and corrosions going down here! The floor rot usually comes from leaks in the roof that then rot the floor and THEN that same water moves into the frame and continues it's rust mayhem (or at least this was the case in mine).
I don't know about your particular model, but I have not heard that there are some airstreams that are more leak prone then the rest (I guess the larger ones would have more problems just because of the extra seams).
Someone please correct me if I'm wrong...

I'm not sure on the conventional wisdom of seam sealing, but I have a 1974 and when I got it the ONLY thing that leaked was the vista view window, which are notorious for it anyway.
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Old 03-16-2012, 06:40 AM   #8
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270win floor rot/rear end seperation or sag and frame rust out issues mostly all stem from one basic design flaw in all Airstream trailers. that flaw is the connection point between the rear of the shell and the frame. There is a horizontal cover over the back bumper area with a hinged lift up door. Below that door is an area of the under belly that is utilized as a storage compartment for your sewer hose and shore power cord. Well that cover tends to cause water to flow back against the edge of the shell and if that area is not sealed properly water will leak into the edge of the floor and it will rot. As the water seeps down into the belly it is absorbed by the fiberglass insulation and trapped there. Then it will rust out the frame and aslo wick back up against the bottom of the floor again rotting it out.
The "restored unit" you are looking at to be worth that kind of money MUST and I can's stress this enough MUST have been attended to. Ask for proof that the frame and floor have been repaired and that the connection between the frame and floor area at the rear have been properly sealed.
Other areas to look at for leaking are very similar to any trailer, windows,doors, any attachment on the roof like vents, antennas etc.
Closely inspect the entire perimeter of the floor right where it meets the shell paying particular attention to the rear and any area below windows and doors.
I would also expect that all the appliances to have been replaced with newer more featured and efficient models on a trailer with that kind of asking price.
The plumbing system should aslo have been updated too.
ask for pictures of the "renovation" process as that is the only way to actually confirm most of the structural frame/floor repairs.
Be very wary of hardwood or laminate floors installed. this kind of finish flooring has been used before to hide severe floor rot.
I personally know of several forum members who have discovered poor and almost criminal attempts to disguise floor rot issues with this type of flooring. I'm not saying that this seller will be doing this but "caveat emptor"
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Old 03-16-2012, 11:04 AM   #9
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Originally Posted by Eric H View Post
I would not be quick to assume that since it's from the SE there will not be corrosion. Plenty of things to get the rust and corrosions going down here! The floor rot usually comes from leaks in the roof that then rot the floor and THEN that same water moves into the frame and continues it's rust mayhem (or at least this was the case in mine).
I don't know about your particular model, but I have not heard that there are some airstreams that are more leak prone then the rest (I guess the larger ones would have more problems just because of the extra seams).
Someone please correct me if I'm wrong...

I'm not sure on the conventional wisdom of seam sealing, but I have a 1974 and when I got it the ONLY thing that leaked was the vista view window, which are notorious for it anyway.
I will be assuming that it's rotten until I see otherwise. Supposedly they had all the flooring out and took pics to document that there was zero rot and no rust on the frame. They put laminate wood on the floors except in the bathroom.
They did mention that they welded doublers to the frame for "insurance" against sagging. I'm wondering about the consequences of added weight to the frame that far out from the rear axle...added weight moment could cause more stress than the doubler can deal with. Or am I not thinking about this right?
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Old 03-16-2012, 11:19 AM   #10
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270Win,
We just bought a 77' '31 that had been sitting for 2 years. We paid $8500. The overall condition is very good. The previous owner disclosed to us that the fridge was on the glitch and perhaps the a/c was not working, he wasn't sure. I felt we got it for a good price.
Upon further inspection, we found the entire brake system was not working. I suspect the PO knew this since the breakaway and trailer light were wired to work anyway. Plus we called him to ask a question about the funky wiring and, hmmm, no call back.
We also found a pin hole leak at the toilet. I don't believe the PO was aware of this and I think it occured from sitting. Due to the nature of the leak, it would have been impossible to ignore and we found no signs of a long term leak.
Brake worked cost us about $700 for parts and labor. My husband installed a new toilet which cost us just under $200. Estimated cost to repair the fridge, which is super clean inside, is about $700.
The interior is very very clean. I an in the process of adding out personal decor. I still feel we got it for a fair price. Plus we found that the A/c DOES work. Score!
If you're looking at a fully restored unit for $10-$11, I'd say that really good.
Every situation is different. You never know what little surprises will pop up on a used rig. Good luck in your search.
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Old 03-16-2012, 11:30 AM   #11
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A trailer from the SE is going to have the most issues with floor rot because it is always wet here. The worst place for leaks is the plate at the rear of the bumper. This plate funnels water under the floor and rots it out. This leads to the frame separating from the body. What complicates things is the bathroom and lots of weight is back there as well. When things get really bad the rear end starts sagging. You can jump on the bumper and see if it moves relative to the shell. This is just a worst case test. The floor could still be rotten. Rear bath models are the hardest to fix. I would have a hard time believing that your 35 yr old trailer is without major issues unless kept in side. Many owners cover up problems with laminate flooring. Other areas where rot occurs is at the 4 corners and also to the right of the door. Many trailers look nice inside but are rotten under all the new curtins and the laminate flooring. Floor rot means you are going to spend months or years fixing up your trailer.

Perry

Quote:
Originally Posted by 270win View Post
The one we're looking at has supposedly been in the southeast US it's entire life so I would expect zero corrosion issues. Does floor rot usually come from the metal deteriorating underneath? I guess it can come from anywhere...are the roof seams bad about leaking? I know with any camper, conventional or AS, water is the enemy and I'm hyper vigilant on maintenance issues. But if the older ones are particularly leak prone that would be a deal killer for me. Generally, with a conventional TT, if the roof is kept clean and caulked and all the seams are caulked then the water will not come in. How do you seal riveted seams?

BTW- what does it typically cost to have the rear sag issue fixed?
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Old 03-16-2012, 03:25 PM   #12
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Quote:
Originally Posted by 270win View Post
We're going to look at a 1977 31' AS Sovereign this weekend. .
My experience with Airstream travel trailers is that people fall in love with the body. I never heard anybody say: "I loved that frame at first sight!". I didn't check out the frame on mine until I got it home . . . then I got to practice up on my welding.

Purchase price and condition is relevant to the buyer's needs, abilities, and finances. Price and cost are very different. My advise follows the experienced posters of the forum. Discount and pay for somebody else's work and investment. Airstreams hide their defects. All the damage on mine was at the floor/wall locations. All of those locations were concealed by builtins and sofas.

Another real issue is odor. That odor won't go away with cleaning.

I didn't know anything about Airstreams until I bought mine two years ago. I bought mine with the idea I'd clean it up and go on a trip. I started fixing and cleaning and I'm still not done and will be starting my third summer.
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Old 03-16-2012, 05:45 PM   #13
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Originally Posted by wasagachris View Post
270win floor rot/rear end seperation or sag and frame rust out issues mostly all stem from one basic design flaw in all Airstream trailers. that flaw is the connection point between the rear of the shell and the frame. There is a horizontal cover over the back bumper area with a hinged lift up door. Below that door is an area of the under belly that is utilized as a storage compartment for your sewer hose and shore power cord. Well that cover tends to cause water to flow back against the edge of the shell and if that area is not sealed properly water will leak into the edge of the floor and it will rot. As the water seeps down into the belly it is absorbed by the fiberglass insulation and trapped there. Then it will rust out the frame and aslo wick back up against the bottom of the floor again rotting it out.
The "restored unit" you are looking at to be worth that kind of money MUST and I can's stress this enough MUST have been attended to. Ask for proof that the frame and floor have been repaired and that the connection between the frame and floor area at the rear have been properly sealed.
Other areas to look at for leaking are very similar to any trailer, windows,doors, any attachment on the roof like vents, antennas etc.
Closely inspect the entire perimeter of the floor right where it meets the shell paying particular attention to the rear and any area below windows and doors.
I would also expect that all the appliances to have been replaced with newer more featured and efficient models on a trailer with that kind of asking price.
The plumbing system should aslo have been updated too.
ask for pictures of the "renovation" process as that is the only way to actually confirm most of the structural frame/floor repairs.
Be very wary of hardwood or laminate floors installed. this kind of finish flooring has been used before to hide severe floor rot.
I personally know of several forum members who have discovered poor and almost criminal attempts to disguise floor rot issues with this type of flooring. I'm not saying that this seller will be doing this but "caveat emptor"
Excellent post! Thank you and I will be looking for the telltale signs and proof you have advised!
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Old 03-16-2012, 05:46 PM   #14
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Originally Posted by Mrs.Mod View Post
270Win,
We just bought a 77' '31 that had been sitting for 2 years. We paid $8500. The overall condition is very good. The previous owner disclosed to us that the fridge was on the glitch and perhaps the a/c was not working, he wasn't sure. I felt we got it for a good price.
Upon further inspection, we found the entire brake system was not working. I suspect the PO knew this since the breakaway and trailer light were wired to work anyway. Plus we called him to ask a question about the funky wiring and, hmmm, no call back.
We also found a pin hole leak at the toilet. I don't believe the PO was aware of this and I think it occured from sitting. Due to the nature of the leak, it would have been impossible to ignore and we found no signs of a long term leak.
Brake worked cost us about $700 for parts and labor. My husband installed a new toilet which cost us just under $200. Estimated cost to repair the fridge, which is super clean inside, is about $700.
The interior is very very clean. I an in the process of adding out personal decor. I still feel we got it for a fair price. Plus we found that the A/c DOES work. Score!
If you're looking at a fully restored unit for $10-$11, I'd say that really good.
Every situation is different. You never know what little surprises will pop up on a used rig. Good luck in your search.
Yeah, I'm not so worried about the little expenses! It's rotten garbage that would concern me!
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