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Old 03-24-2010, 11:38 AM   #1
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How does restoration add up so fast to such big money?

As so many other folks with aluminum in their eyes, I have read and read days of posts. I accept your advice it is best to buy the best you can afford to come out ahead of the game. I understand Refrigerators, air conditioners, heaters, the axels etc., like parts for a boat cost too much money. I can do some work myself, horse trade other and the inevitable trip to the dealer at $90 per hour shop rate. With that said, I suspect I donít have a full sense of how expensive restoring an older Airstream can be. Can you share your experience to help give me a feel for how restoring an as found AS (not a field model) can add up to nearly the price of a new coach. Many Thank Tony S Rogue River Oregon
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Old 03-24-2010, 12:16 PM   #2
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Well, here is one way. Suppose you pull out the old waterlines and replace with PEX. The PEX isnt bad I think $100 would buy more than you can use. The fittings on the other hand average about $5 each. Start counting all the fittings you need and it adds up fast. I bet I have well over $300 in fittings alone in my camper. Price out the copper fittings you need when replacing a propane line. Then there are tools you need but dont own. It adds up. It is worth it, but dont kid yourself, its going to cost.
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Old 03-24-2010, 12:17 PM   #3
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Tony S View Post
As so many other folks with aluminum in their eyes, I have read and read days of posts. I accept your advice it is best to buy the best you can afford to come out ahead of the game. I understand Refrigerators, air conditioners, heaters, the axels etc., like parts for a boat cost too much money. I can do some work myself, horse trade other and the inevitable trip to the dealer at $90 per hour shop rate. With that said, I suspect I donít have a full sense of how expensive restoring an older Airstream can be. Can you share your experience to help give me a feel for how restoring an as found AS (not a field model) can add up to nearly the price of a new coach. Many Thank Tony S Rogue River Oregon
Hi Tony
Sounds like you have done some research here and have culled from multitudes of threads what many discover the expensive way. The difficult part about buying a decent trailer that does not have big ticket issues is having the experience with Airstreams before searching and buying one.

With all the research I did before looking at units it still felt like a mystery of sorts while standing inside and wondering if this model / size / floor/ plan/year would work for me. And it was.

I think if you are this worried up front you may already know too much!

Just to clarify a few of the "vintage restoration cost myths"

A really nice restoration done by yourself will cost about half the cost of a new trailer. This process may take a few years.

A restoration done by professionals and even a few semi pros could match or excede the cost of new.

I can go into greater detail later at the risk of exposing a few of my cost overruns during restoration. G

Got to run now.
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Old 03-24-2010, 12:20 PM   #4
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Restore costs

Tony, It is what it is... you can spend as little or as much on an older trailer to "restore" it as you like. Some start from scratch and rebuild from the frame and up. The best reason I can give you is the older trailers seem to be better constructed than the newer ones in fit and finish. You can work on them all at once or just enough to camp in them and repair as you go. You might want to go see trailers at the Hood River, Oregon rally site. The rally is coming up soon in early April at Memaloose State Park. Ed
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Old 03-24-2010, 12:33 PM   #5
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Yes it does cost... I am doing some math actually for the one I will go with. But once my subfloor, frame, axles are done, and at least after 3 to 4 tho, I have an amazing base to start up, step by step. It will fully fit my taste, and be stronger than any new.
And an aluminum tent is still cool in the meantime.
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Old 03-24-2010, 12:48 PM   #6
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Rodney has good points as do all the rest. Nothing wrong with having an aluminum tent for a while. Go slow if you must but take time to do it right. I was listening to the VAP podcast the other night and the guys were talking about the cost of restoration when done by a shop. Amazing, approx. $3000/ft. YES. But, only about 20% of the cost is materials, the rest is labor. The more you can do the more you save. Also they all agreed that somewhere btw 1000 and 1500 hours are needed to do the job. There is no doubt I'll have over 1000 hours in my Tradewind.
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Old 03-24-2010, 01:10 PM   #7
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Tony,

Please listen to the latest episode of TheVAP. The panel of pros talk about the work involved in restoring an Airstream. Welcome to the Frontpage - The Vintage Airstream Podcast

Bill
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Old 03-24-2010, 01:31 PM   #8
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I was going to post the same thing as wkerfoot and 68 TWind. Listen to that podcast. The shop time can really add up quick.

It also looks like a fairly common figure from various projects posted in the forums for materials alone in a basic restoration (appliances, ac, axles, new wood, polishing, basic fabric) is $10,000 to $15,000. There's no labor included in that number.

Financially, the more I look at this, a several-year-old trailer makes a lot of sense. (If you have the money upfront, of course.) If you had a professional do a lot of the heavy lifting, and you did a bunch of the finishing work, you can easily - eventually - get to the $35,000-$38,000 that a slightly used Safari SE 23FB or 25FB is advertised at.

True, their interior finish quality isn't that great. And you still might have to debug the trailer. They're heavier. Some like the newer styling and floorplans (I do), while others like vintage or making something that's their own. But you can go camping right away and the thing has a known resale value.

There is a flip side - a step inbetween a big-time restoration and new/almost new. Buy something that's inherently solid enough to use. Fix what is immediately broken. Maybe replace the axles so you don't pop a bunch of rivets from the trailer shaking itself apart. Use it a while and see where you want to go. That's the approach we're taking with our Argosy.

Tom
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Old 03-24-2010, 01:46 PM   #9
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Tony S View Post
As so many other folks with aluminum in their eyes, I have read and read days of posts. I accept your advice it is best to buy the best you can afford to come out ahead of the game. I understand Refrigerators, air conditioners, heaters, the axels etc., like parts for a boat cost too much money. I can do some work myself, horse trade other and the inevitable trip to the dealer at $90 per hour shop rate. With that said, I suspect I donít have a full sense of how expensive restoring an older Airstream can be. Can you share your experience to help give me a feel for how restoring an as found AS (not a field model) can add up to nearly the price of a new coach. Many Thank Tony S Rogue River Oregon
Having to take it to the dealer or a shop seems the problem. We have been restoring a 73 31' Sovereign for 2 years and have not spent 1K of money. tires, refridg., flooring brakes and misc. + MANY HOURS of SWEAT EQUITY. I enjoy the work and have tools and reasonable amount of skills to avoid the dealer.....Good Luck....
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Old 03-24-2010, 02:10 PM   #10
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Good question. Having gone through the process, let me just give you a few examples.

When you look at your Airstream with intent to rebuild, what do you see? Most of us see flooring, cabinets, appliances, and the inside interior of the coach itself - all fairly simple stuff. But most do not realize how many sheets of cabinet grade sheeting are needed to rebuild those cabinets Ė and that says nothing about needed framework. By the way, cabinet grade sheeting is expensive. Price out 3/8ths black walnut the next time you go to the hardware store (they will most likely have to look up the price Ė itís normally a special order item Ė they canít afford to have it sitting around in inventory).

And did you want new latches/hardware to go with all that new cabinetry? That kind of hardware can cost $50 each piece.

But if you look a little past the obvious stuff, you may find the window seals are old, brittle, maybe cracked, and leak. When you go to replace that, you will most likely find that some of the window hardware doesnít work right and needs replaced. Have you ever priced window hardware for a vintage coach? Sometimes itís not available anymore, but the stuff I could find cost me something like $500 all total.

Are you going to reinstall propane appliances? Is the trailer old? Then you will need to replace all the copper tubing that distributes the propane to all those appliances. Have you priced 5/8ths copper? How about 3/8ths? This is not the stuff you find a Lowes or Home Depot Ė itís at least twice as thick. Any idea how many feet of each you need? I also bought brass fittings to go through the floor so I didnít have to worry about anything rubbing and causing a leak (a comfort zone thing). So what if I told you it would cost over $1,000 to replace the propane lines?

Do you know how many Olympic rivets you will need? Do you know how much they cost?

My propane regulator costs about $420. I also have thousands in 2024 T3 .032/.040 (aircraft) aluminum sheeting.

The cork that covers the marine grade sub-floor cost over $500. I think I have an additional $200 + just in marine grade epoxy (used to seal the edges of the marine grade sub-floor).

Do you want lights in your coach? The old lights were not efficient and were costly to maintain. I replaced them all, except for the trumpet lights (to maintain the vintage look). That includes the outside parking lights (which were re-wired). I have several hundred in lights.

I replace all of my plumbing (including the fresh and black holding tanks), and have well over $1,500 invested.


Iíve yet to talk about all the new upholstery, the new axle, wheels, tires, toilet, or the costs of insulation, electrical wiring, multimedia (check out the cost of studio-grade coax and related connectors to-RCA), re-doing the material on the awnings, frame work (welding, sand blasting, priming, painting), floor bolts and related hardware, system controls, appliances (water heater, heater, fridge, micro, and in my case a built-in generator Ė which included a switch to keep shore power and the generator from conflicting, generator control panel, custom-built fire box, venting, wiring, etc.)

Point is there are many expensive supplies you have or will want to buy that donít reach out and grab your attention. Don't forget about all the tools and related cost needed to get the job done!

BTW, if you do the work yourself, you might want to think about how you plan to insure your investment: if you are not licensed to do the wiring, or plumbing, or welding, or appliance work, you will have a difficult time finding insurance that would let you recoup your loss in the event something bad happened. Keep your receipts on everything you buy Ė the total thereof may be all you can claim in the event of an accident.
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Old 03-24-2010, 02:59 PM   #11
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I like the suggestions that have been given. I would take up the Oregon chapters offer to see vintage rigs. We went to an event in Sep 09 and saw around 100 vintage trailers. That is when we decided on an Argosy. We found one for $6,200. It is in good structural shape. We tore out the rug and replaced with vinyl looking like wood. We had wheel bearings done with some electrical and water system repairs, plus new tires. The hitch is included in the summary dollars spent at this point. We are aware that the “biggies” appliances will eventually need addressed. At this point the electrical side of the refri works and so does the stove top. The hot water tank is being tested over the next couple of days. We are repairing on a need basis. Invested at this point $10K including hitch, brake box and taxes. The rock guards, window guards will add to the price. There will be new appliances, futons and curtains and a paint job. We also have scrubbed and disinfected it from ceiling to floor. The projected updating when finished is below. You never plan as well as you think in an emotional purchase such as a travel trailer.

Dream 27’ Flying Cloud new Airstream $72,000 [If bought on time costs higher]
Projected updating total costs of Argosy 27’ $20,000.
Savings worth every penny $52,000
Since I have the MBA in the family I handle the spreadsheet on this project. [smile]

Have fun on your adventure! Judy
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Old 03-24-2010, 03:45 PM   #12
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I am getting the message. I knew I would too. I am going to see if I can pull away and go to the Hood River Rally. I would like my wife to go too and she has only every other weekend off with little flexibility. We shall see on that. As a furniture builder I do know the cost of ply and lumber for me that is the easiest part. Yup, I hear you all. The insurance issue raised is another thing to throw in the mix and I am sure that holds true for propane etc.

Let me ask this. If I buy 80's I still have a 20+ years of use on all components not already changed out. Even the early 2000s will have some years on them. Of course no axels, frame (hopefully) seals on windows but the air conditioner, refer, etc is getting some age to them. So that seems to be an issue throw into the mix. Yet on other hand the perceived value of a restored verses a 2000s model would go to the 2000's (?) especially with the insurance company.

It is a regular around and around I go. I know I am progressing in my thinking. That will accelerate if I can get to Hood River. Thanks Tony
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Old 03-24-2010, 04:46 PM   #13
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Tony, here's my take on your most recent questions.

If you buy a 1990s-2000s trailer, you will likely get an inherently solid trailer. There is still the chance that a leak can cause floor rot (they all leak), particularly in the years with OSB flooring. But the chances of major frame rot are slim. There is still stuff to fix, and the likelihood of finding peeling clearcoat. But these are modern trailers with modern electrical systems, most appliances should work (although RV frigs are fussy things), etc.

The same holds true for an 1980s trailer, but the chances of finding some floor rot and frame rot are increasing.

There are loose (and not really official in any way) guidelines to value (see vintageairstream.com) for year and condition for vintage trailers up to 1979. But an insurance company will want either a recent bill of sale from a dealer or an appraisal in order to get an agreed value policy. Of course, if you go the bill of sale route, that doesn't take into account renovations, unless the dealer does the work (which is pricey and might not be the best resource.)

Personally, I also think that there are inherent limits to what the market will bear when it comes time to resell, if you'd want to move on. For example, as much as I (or anyone else) invests in restoring an Argosy, finding someone to pay much over $10k for one will take a while - if it's even possible. A lot of restored trailers, particularly ones restored by their owners, seem to sell for the cost of the initial trailer and materials invested - nevermind the value of your time.

But we're talking a lot about money. Do you WANT to restore a trailer? Would you find it to be a satisfying hobby? It can certainly be a source of great pride and enjoyment.

You should also look at as many trailers, in all conditions and sizes, as possible before deciding on one. Your wants change as you look at more trailers.

Tom
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Old 03-24-2010, 05:03 PM   #14
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I had/ have a picture in my mind of me stepping out of my Airstream early in the morning, in the cottonwoods, by a river, and everytime I see this vision/ premonition I'm in front of a shiny vintage Airstream, so for me, new won't do.
You might find a beautiful vintage Airstream with everything there and working, needing only cosmetic repairs, and eventually replace things as needed. That's probably the cheapest route to a camp-able rig.
You might think you found that, but actually have a basket case needing new subflooring, water heater, furnace, refer, etc. You HAVE to know what to look for or you will probably end up with something that's more project than you want.
Pre '74 Airstreams have no grey water tanks, so look for '74 and later to avoid that expense. Any Airstream that's leaked for an extended period(1 or 2 winters) will need floor work. I'd even venture to say that pretty much EVERY pre '70 Airstream needs floor work somewhere, unless it was garaged or in Death Valley.
An old refrigerator is not necessarily a bad thing to have. My 45 year old Dometic still makes gin syrupy and it doesn't require 12 volts to operate on propane like some new ones. I will use it until it dies, and then look for another old one. I see them for free on craigslist occasionally.
All my insulation(Prodex) cost less than $350.00 for my Safari. Subfloor:$145.00, Finish for top, bottom and edges of subfloor:$0.00(Our local dump/ recycler gives this stuff away for free). So if you look around and weigh options carefully you can save a lot of franklins. If you run to Camping World and buy everything new and top of the line you will PAY!

Good luck with your search & may you find exactly what you are looking for.
Rich the Viking
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