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Old 06-10-2007, 09:14 PM   #1
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RICHLANDS , North Carolina
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Inexperienced buyer could use some advice

Hello Everyone,
My wife and I are thinking about buying our first motorhome and I could use a little advice. Being someone who grew up infatuated with airplanes, I pretty much have my heart set on the DC-3 without wings styling of the classic Airstreams. I was wondering what model I should look for to get the best bargain. I'd like to find something which is road worthy, which I can work on as time allows. I'm in the service, stationed in NC, and we travel home to PA with our 2 little boys (2yrs and 0.5 yrs) and dog (90lb black lab) about every 2-3 months. Every time home we feel like we're burdening whomever we stay with, whether my in-laws, parents or my brother, and it seems like a used RV (under $15k) would be a great solution for us. I have plenty of room to park a 32'+ RV in my yard, and I'm used to landing an 85' helicopter in half-acre landing zones at night, so driving large vehicles doesn't indimidate me (I actually enjoy it). I think a mid-80s 325 would be great for us. But not being an experienced RVer, I really have no idea what to look for when buying a 20 year old Airstream (aside from the basic automotive stuff). What are the major pitfalls faced by buyers like me?
Before I was a pilot I was an aircraft mechanic, so I don't mind making basic repairs (or as much as I can do with my 5 ton floor jack and basic hand tools). I certainly don't have time for a frame off restoration, but I'd really like to find something I could keep for decades and rebuild/upgrade as I go. With the timeless styling and legendary quality, I don't see why I'd ever get rid of it (but I really don't know squat about these coaches). That's why I'm here. When I graduated college I knew pretty much everything I could ever want to know about selling and installing tires. That was the job that got me through school. I posted a virtual encyclopedia of responses to tire inquirys on Now it's my turn to absorb some knowledge from others with more experience than me.
Also: we'll probably tow our 2000 Jetta 5spd behind it (any problems there?). I have an 04 Yukon XL and a trailer RV would be more economical, but I really want to go with a motorhome.
Also, living in hurricane country, I've been thinking of buying a generator for backup home power, but if I get an RV we could just camp in the yard until the power's back on.
Thanks and I look forward to hearing from you.

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Old 06-11-2007, 04:59 AM   #2
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1984 29' Sovereign
Savannah , Missouri
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Welcome Chris,
It can be done~
Check out the listing here on this website. It's got tonz of reference info as well as listing of units for sale.
Fred is a long time forum member and, an excellent person to ask questions about A/S motorhomes..
Fred's Airstream Archives - Class A Airstream and Argosy MotorHomes
BTW, all of the motorhomes have a generator "built-in"..
As for towing the Jetta, you will need to check with VW on the set-up requirments.

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Old 06-11-2007, 05:09 AM   #3
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Chris, I also know squat about moterhomes. It sounds like you've been doing some reading and investigating, that gives you a leg up.
I just wanted to welcome you to the forum.
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Old 06-11-2007, 05:20 AM   #4
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Pelham , New Hampshire
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I bought a new trailer in 05 and for what I paid I could have found a good used MH. My wife and I love the styling. If we ever get a MH it would be an Airstream. I wish they still made them. Good luck with your search, you came to the right place. Welcome to the forums.
Bob & Carla
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Old 06-11-2007, 05:20 AM   #5
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1993 21' Sovereign
Colfax , North Carolina
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I found this one in the forums classifieds, a good place to look. It is located in Kentucky. IIRC, that unit has about a 3,000 pound towing capacity:
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Old 06-11-2007, 06:23 AM   #6
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. , Illinois
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Originally Posted by overlander63
I found this one in the forums classifieds, a good place to look. It is located in Kentucky. IIRC, that unit has about a 3,000 pound towing capacity:
Not a bad lookin' unit!
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Old 06-11-2007, 06:51 AM   #7
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Welcome to the Forums! Having full-timed in a 40'diesel pusher for 5 years before going to the 19' CCD trailer I now have, there is a lot more stuff on a MoHo to deal with. I now work on these behemoths and they have more systems than trailers, are more expensive to fix (with motors and running gears, generators, inverters and such) and are much heavier.

Being a mechanic will help you tremendously, as will this Forum. Most folks have been there before and regularly post about their experiences. If you can't find it in the 'search' just ask.

As for your VW toad, Check with VW about 'flat towing' it. You can with some cars and can't with a lot. You can tow some manuals in nuetral, but better get a definitive answer from V-Dub about your specific model. I towed a full size Chevy van and had to install a drive shaft disconnect mechanism to it.

Your toad will also need it's own brake system, activated by the MoHos braking system or electronically from the brake signal. There are many units on the market that are not too intrusive to the the Brake Buddy.

Good luck in your search, keep us posted and check back often.
Lew Farber...ABYC Certified Master Marine Electrician...RVIA Certified Master Tech ...AM Solar Authorized Installation Center...AIRSTREAM Solar & Electrical Specialist...Micro Air 'Easy Start' Sales and Installations
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Old 06-11-2007, 07:07 AM   #8
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1986 34.5' Airstream 345
Louisville , Kentucky
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Welcome to the site. Yes, it can be done, I've done it. I spent a little more than you want to but a "rolling" renovation can be accomplished. The nice thing about Airstream Motorhomes is that the chassis are simple (Chevy Truck - P30), parts are cheap, systems are "standard" RV systems and if the shell is in good shape, they outlast just about anything.

The shorter the models, typically the more expensive they are. 325's are less available than the slightly longer 345. With your kids, the three separate sleeping areas (couch, dinette, bedroom) will serve you well (we travel with our three children 6,7,11) and the 345 works very well for us. Right now, with gas prices high a lot of coaches are going for less than “market value”. It’s a good time to buy a motorhome.

The trick is finding one that is enough of a basket case that you can match your budget, but also safe and in working order. Just remember to check all of the systems on anything you buy; chassis parts can be purchased at your local parts store but an RV Generator is and RV Generator and can be expensive - same for the AC units, fridge, etc. Your mechanical abilities will definitely help.

Ours was in good shape overall but needed a lot of little mechanicals to become reliable. The interior was rough, but we've been upgrading it and replacing it so that was not an issue. We’ve owned it for four years and are just now closing in on completing the interior. We’ve used it all along the way.

You can see what we've been doing on ours here (My Classic Motorhomes Member Page)

Lastly, the towing capacity is a real limitation for your Jetta. The "stock" hitch has a 2000# capacity. You can increase this with a newer/better hitch. We tow an air-cooled beetle (<1800#) which requires no supplemental braking at that weight.
Steven Webster
1986 Airstream 345 Classic Motorhome
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Old 06-11-2007, 07:17 PM   #9
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RICHLANDS , North Carolina
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Originally Posted by 53FlyingCloud
BTW, all of the motorhomes have a generator "built-in"..
Oh yes, when I said we'd be camping in the back yard until the power comes back on, I meant in air conditioned comfort
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Old 06-11-2007, 08:27 PM   #10
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Thanks for the quick responses. Lew, I have no doubt the systems on a coach are a bit more of a headache than a comparable trailer, and the more systems you have the more headaches you have, but that's the story of my life. My V22 Osprey has four generators (plus two little ones), three hydraulic systems (plus the backup brake systems), three flight control computers, two 6,150hp turbine engines (plus a 300hp turbine engine to start the main engines), two mission computers, six fuel pumps, a missile warning system, a radar warning system, five transmissions, a blade-fold wing stow system, an anti-ice/de-ice system, an engine air particle separator system, an oxygen generating system, a forward-looking infra-red (FLIR) camera, and a moving digital map capable of being displayed on any of the five cockpit multi-function LCDs. It's a miracle we can even taxi out of the chocks with all those electrons and fluid pulsing through the aircraft, but we do it every day. There's a popular T-shirt our mechs wear that says "It takes a high school diploma to fix it and a college degree to break it." I'm still not sure which role I prefer.
I'm just a gadget junky, especially on vehicles. I had a Wrangler a few years ago which I upgraded with driver-controlled Air-lift airbags for when I towed a trailer from CA to NC. I also had an ARB air-locker installed in the rear diff. I didn't do the axle work, it would have taken me too long and it was my dailer driver. I just tackled the pneumatic lines, electrical work and on-board air compresser installation. If I actually find a coach that fits my needs, I've got some big ideas...

Steven, after reading your post I'm looking more at 345s. Yours looks great. There's a good one on Fred's Airstream Archives that's pretty much exactly what I'm looking for; unfortunately it's in California, and I don't have a week to fly out and drive back a vehicle that may or may not make the trip. Yours looks like just the kind of project I'm looking for. I have about 800 bf of black cherry that's been stacked and drying for two years that I've been saving for a worthwhile project. Sure would make some nice cabinets (although a little heavy). I would love to one day own a diesel pusher but aside from knowing the basic operation of pressure-ignited combustion, the closest I've ever came to turning a wrench on a diesel was when I changed the air filter in a HUMVEE. For now I'll stick with the Chevy big-blocks with those old familiar spark plugs. Have any of you guys done a TBI or multi-port injection conversion? Seems like the mileage increase would make it worthwhile.
I could go a little higher than $15k, though I'm trying to keep it low so I'll have more reserve for pretty much continuous upgrades/rebuilds. But I can't park a complete basket case in my driveway or my wife will be instantly turned off to RVing. She still mostly associates RVs with "cousin Eddie" in National Lampoon's Christmas Vacation--even my pop's brand new Gulfstream Cruiser! Fortunately for me, she tells me Matthew McConaughey (voted most attractive man in history of the world or something) lives in an Airstream on the beach, so that makes Airstreams OK in her book.

Thanks again to all who posted. You'll be hearing more from me.
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Old 06-11-2007, 08:56 PM   #11
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1964 19' Globetrotter
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Originally Posted by marineguy
.......I can't park a complete basket case in my driveway or my wife will be instantly turned off to RVing. She still mostly associates RVs with "cousin Eddie" in National Lampoon's Christmas Vacation--even my pop's brand new Gulfstream Cruiser! Fortunately for me, she tells me Matthew McConaughey (voted most attractive man in history of the world or something) lives in an Airstream on the beach, so that makes Airstreams OK in her book.

I'd suggest that you look for one that has some interior upgrades.... or promise that fixing the inside will be at the top of the list. New floor coverings and upholstery will go a long way towards improving her buy-in for the project. The most common first timers repairs are cosmetic and they are important, sometimes doing them first will get a hesitant spouse on board for the rest of the project.
1964 Overlander | '08 Touareg V6
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Old 06-11-2007, 09:18 PM   #12
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1990 33' Land Yacht
Jacksonville , Florida
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From one Naval Aviator to another, thank you for your service. Your Osprey is one hellofanairplane! I hope you enjoy flying it as much as I have enjoyed watching you and your bros fly it!

As for me, "If your airplane does not have a round engine, a tailwheel and a tailhook, it ain't a real airplane!"

Yup, I'm that old!

HST, consider an early Airstream Land Yacht. I bought one last November, and the DW and I am delighted with it. I'm slightly over budget on the improvements and mods, but since we are having such a ball with it, we don't much care!


Frank and Susan Davis
Jacksonville, Florida

33' 1990 Airstream Land Yacht: Edelbrock, Banks, Gear Vendors, MSD, Taylor wires, Super Steer bell cranks, Bilsteins, Roadmaster sway bar, Safe Steer, Pressure Pro, Crossfire, Bigfoot levelers, Rickson 7.5" rims & 245/70 R19.5 Bridgestones on steer axle.
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Old 06-11-2007, 09:49 PM   #13
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1994 34' Excella
1978 31' Sovereign
Mansfield , Georgia
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Hey, a dimes worth of advice to another military type guy.

As an old Air Force Enlisted Man, a Private Pilot with 25 plus years of flight time, a B. S. in Business holder, but not an A&P Mechanic Certification.

My first guess is that unless your independantly wealthy, your large family demand some economy, your facing college costs for kids, and post seperation housing costs, all are looming in the horzion.

A Vintage Airstream Trailer maybe the answer for your travel fun.

A small Bambi and a slightly larger trailer, in great shape is very expensive per foot. The larger trailers, 24 to 31 feet, are less expensive as the cost of a tow vehicle increases.

If you already own a 3/4 ton or larger tow vehicle your in business. If you do not, you have the higher cost of a smaller trailer unit to make a 1/2 ton tow vehicle work.

I elected out of the MH market because I would need several specialist...the RV chassie (Ford, Chrysler, Chev) and then the RV componets specialist.

There are so many good used 24' to 31' Airstream Travel Trailers on the market for less than $15, does a guy justify spending $60,000 plus for an undocumented engine / transmission/ rearend/ on an Airstream RV?

I bought my 1968 24' Tradewind Trailer with all updated equipment from a family friend, he felt he was getting beyond his RV'ing years and wanted the trailer to go to a family friend that would use it. He slod it to me for less than $5,200.

My advice is to look around if you have time. Look for a real deal.

My wife and I have taken out our trailer three times. The previous owner, Jim, was a craftman who did everything right. We enjoy the trailer he rebuilt.

Keith and Debby
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Old 06-11-2007, 10:10 PM   #14
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Tujunga , California
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I would agree with KeithC, if I thought it would cost you $60K to get what you want. But, our story is very similar to swebster. We bought our 345 moho a little over 2 years ago for 18K. We were camping in it the very next weekend. We have camped and upgraded as money was available and wouldn't change a thing about our experience. Most of our AS friends have trailers, and they love them as much as we do our coach. I would guess that the average cost of their tow vehicles is more than what we have in our moho. It really comes down to what you like. Good luck. Ron

Ron and Debbie Lawrence
1985 345 Motorhome...... delightfully tacky......yet unrefined
AIR 7992
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