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Old 08-23-2019, 05:09 PM   #1
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Shopping Advice Needed

I have been looking at various online advertisements in search of what I hope will be my first Airstream. I know for sure that I want a vintage trailer, preferably something that is in one of the older body styles - before the mid 1980s. I know that I want to do some fairly substantial remodeling but I do not want to have to do a skin off renovation. Itís very hard to determine a fair price to pay because prices are so all over the place. My budget for purchase price is $15-$20,000. Do you think that is possible to find an older airstream in that price range that will be structurally sound? Any and all advice is appreciated.
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Old 08-23-2019, 09:35 PM   #2
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At the vintage you're looking at, some subfloor or frame repairs are virtually inevitable. After seeing all the hidden secrets in mine, there's zero chance I'd want to put so much effort into remodeling another without stripping it down to its bones to make certain I was building on a solid foundation.

And when you buy it, there's no way to know what you've got until you get it home and start digging. You can jump on the bumper. You can take a big whiff of the inside. You can poke at the floor in the corners. But there's no substitute for dropping the belly pan and pulling out fixtures to see what's really going on, and that's not going to happen before the sale.

Go ahead and spend $15,000 or $20,000 on something that looks nice. But I bet ya what you get is going to be in about the same condition as my $5,000 rig that I probably overpaid for. Maybe it'll smell a little better inside, but probably not $15,000 better.

Maybe if you found a well-documented recent renovation where someone pulled a rig apart, re-welded and coated the frame, replaced the subfloor and the axles, and put everything back where it was, taking pictures throughout the process. Then maybe $20,000. But that's going to be tough to find.

Just my $0.02.
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Old 08-23-2019, 10:00 PM   #3
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Originally Posted by sterlinghick View Post
I have been looking at various online advertisements in search of what I hope will be my first Airstream. I know for sure that I want a vintage trailer, preferably something that is in one of the older body styles - before the mid 1980s. I know that I want to do some fairly substantial remodeling but I do not want to have to do a skin off renovation. Itís very hard to determine a fair price to pay because prices are so all over the place. My budget for purchase price is $15-$20,000. Do you think that is possible to find an older airstream in that price range that will be structurally sound? Any and all advice is appreciated.
They are absolutely out there...You are already getting in the ballpark for a budget......IMO, you should budget about $30,000 for the whole deal.....Try to find a unit from a dry climate...it matters....You may be able to find one that has documented photos of the frame and subfloor which would be great.....

The old axles will need replacing....
Don't even fantasize about using the old appliances.....
The a/c will need replacing if it is not new, sooner rather than later.....
I found one with all the water lines already replaced with pex.....but it is doable, if yours needs it.....
All the faucets will need replacing....
Learn how to build cabinets, so you can customize it just how you want it...its not that hard really.....
Find a good upholstery shop, like a mom and pop.....
Some things are hard to find, like curved windows, old skin panels, old doors, etc.....Try to get one with a nice skin.....that can make or break your project.

If you budget $30,000, you will likely not be disappointed.....if you try to do it for a lot less, you may be....it adds up....and we have not even talked about window treatments, control center, converters, audio, television, wiring, painting, refinishing cabinets, flooring, hardware, latches, catches, countertops, toilets,gas lines, propane tanks, jacks,tires,brakes, lighting, bedding, etc......If you budget enough, you can make it real nice, and you will love it much more, if it is real nice.....and you will use it more. Trust me.

What size are you looking for? What is your tow vehicle? Do you have experience towing big things?
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Old 08-24-2019, 03:44 AM   #4
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We have an F-150 4x4. I think it caps out at 7,500 pounds. We want something small to mid-size, no more than 28 feet. Our current Sunline is 21 feet and it is a little small. As far as skill set, I can do upholstery, curtains and build almost anything...gutted and remodeled a bathroom in our home, only subbed out the rough plumbing. I’ve reupholstered furniture. My husband is good at electrical. I was thinking about doing a complete rebuild, but a few things scared me off. We live in the sticks of Connecticut, and I think finding a competent frame place isn’t going to be the easiest thing. Also I’ve been looking at some blogs of people who did complete remodels and it seems like everyone had trouble finding black and grey tanks for their frames. Finally I’ve seen comments that the weight distribution is extremely important and that seems a little bit out of my skill set too. Still, it would be amazing to have one that was totally custom inside.
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Old 08-24-2019, 05:33 AM   #5
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One other question, what would be the cost of having professional do the skin off, tanks, and put down the subfloor? That part seems to be the worst and I’d be more than comfortable just doing the inside.
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Old 08-26-2019, 06:26 PM   #6
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Originally Posted by sterlinghick View Post
We have an F-150 4x4. I think it caps out at 7,500 pounds. We want something small to mid-size, no more than 28 feet. Our current Sunline is 21 feet and it is a little small. As far as skill set, I can do upholstery, curtains and build almost anything...gutted and remodeled a bathroom in our home, only subbed out the rough plumbing. Iíve reupholstered furniture. My husband is good at electrical. I was thinking about doing a complete rebuild, but a few things scared me off. We live in the sticks of Connecticut, and I think finding a competent frame place isnít going to be the easiest thing. Also Iíve been looking at some blogs of people who did complete remodels and it seems like everyone had trouble finding black and grey tanks for their frames. Finally Iíve seen comments that the weight distribution is extremely important and that seems a little bit out of my skill set too. Still, it would be amazing to have one that was totally custom inside.
You are being very smart asking questions....
I have a 26' and I do not want one any smaller.....airstreams are not tall, and if you are in it for a while, it becomes more and more apparent....To me, larger is preferable to smaller, IMO......Incidentally, the general consensus is that 26-28' is ideal....

YOu want to be very careful about modifying things a lot...the weight dist. is a big deal.....you can have the cooles looking Airstream in the world, but if it is awful to tow, it will suck, and weight dist. can really affect that.....IMO, try to maintain the original weight dist. plan as much as possible.

I can send you some photos of mine and some of the things I did that were very useful, but still maintained the original vintage feel, which is very cool to me.....email me at yz450@comcast.net if you like and I will send those photos.....


As far as the answer to your next question about the cost to pay a shop to do a shell off, I am going to say min. $30,000, if the frame only needs a coat of paint.....thats a big job that is almost always done by the owner...its just not cost effective to sub out.....and the 30,000 is for a very basic job.
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Old 08-27-2019, 06:10 AM   #7
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You are being very smart asking questions....
I have a 26' and I do not want one any smaller.....airstreams are not tall, and if you are in it for a while, it becomes more and more apparent....To me, larger is preferable to smaller, IMO......Incidentally, the general consensus is that 26-28' is ideal....

YOu want to be very careful about modifying things a lot...the weight dist. is a big deal.....you can have the cooles looking Airstream in the world, but if it is awful to tow, it will suck, and weight dist. can really affect that.....IMO, try to maintain the original weight dist. plan as much as possible.

I can send you some photos of mine and some of the things I did that were very useful, but still maintained the original vintage feel, which is very cool to me.....email me at yz450@comcast.net if you like and I will send those photos.....


As far as the answer to your next question about the cost to pay a shop to do a shell off, I am going to say min. $30,000, if the frame only needs a coat of paint.....thats a big job that is almost always done by the owner...its just not cost effective to sub out.....and the 30,000 is for a very basic job.
Thanks for your input. The husband and I had a pretty serious chat last night about why we wanted to do this. Will be retiring within the next year or two and hope to spend some serious time camping. For us, this means real camping, not driving around in something pretty, going to restaurants and never seeing the outdoors. It amazes us when we go to a campground and the shiny RV will pull in with its tow vehicle behind. It becomes immediately clear that the owners are using it as a traveling hotel. That is not us. For the amount of money that will be committed to this project, we could certainly go and buy a brand new mid priced travel trailer. The problem is, they all look like plastic crap “designed” by the same person who said this year’s trend is dark. All the pictures I’ve seen of new Airstreams have the same blonde wood that looks like it came out of a modern office building. Those white sofas wouldn’t last 15 minutes with our two labrador retrievers. So that leaves us with trying to find something older that we can morph into what we want. My preference would be to not have to tear the frame off, but I realize that’s going to be incredibly difficult to find. Right now, I am obsessively looking at classifieds, Craiglist and RV trader.com. One thing that has surprised me is that I really love some of the Argosy trailers that people have done up. They seem to lend themselves a little better to the black and white floor and 50s color scheme that I’m seeking.
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Old 08-27-2019, 06:25 AM   #8
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For us, this means real camping, not driving around in something pretty, going to restaurants and never seeing the outdoors. It amazes us when we go to a campground and the shiny RV will pull in with its tow vehicle behind. It becomes immediately clear that the owners are using it as a traveling hotel. That is not us.

I like your idea, attitude and format of camping.

We pull in with a nice 30í hook up and my next task is usually cleaning out the fire pit. Campfire cooking is a big part of our enjoyment and in the AM while itís still quiet out comes an old Coleman stove and coffee pot.

Good luck finding your starting point for the adventure.

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Old 08-27-2019, 01:08 PM   #9
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It amazes us when we go to a campground and the shiny RV will pull in with its tow vehicle behind. It becomes immediately clear that the owners are using it as a traveling hotel. That is not us. For the amount of money that will be committed to this project, we could certainly go and buy a brand new mid priced travel trailer. The problem is, they all look like plastic crap ďdesignedĒ by the same person who said this yearís trend is dark. All the pictures Iíve seen of new Airstreams have the same blonde wood that looks like it came out of a modern office building. Those white sofas wouldnít last 15 minutes with our two labrador retrievers.
Just realized I sounded judgemental about how other people camp. Didnít mean to come off that way. Apologies.
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Old 08-27-2019, 01:26 PM   #10
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Quote:
Originally Posted by sterlinghick View Post
Thanks for your input. The husband and I had a pretty serious chat last night about why we wanted to do this. Will be retiring within the next year or two and hope to spend some serious time camping. For us, this means real camping, not driving around in something pretty, going to restaurants and never seeing the outdoors. It amazes us when we go to a campground and the shiny RV will pull in with its tow vehicle behind. It becomes immediately clear that the owners are using it as a traveling hotel. That is not us. For the amount of money that will be committed to this project, we could certainly go and buy a brand new mid priced travel trailer. The problem is, they all look like plastic crap ďdesignedĒ by the same person who said this yearís trend is dark. All the pictures Iíve seen of new Airstreams have the same blonde wood that looks like it came out of a modern office building. Those white sofas wouldnít last 15 minutes with our two labrador retrievers. So that leaves us with trying to find something older that we can morph into what we want. My preference would be to not have to tear the frame off, but I realize thatís going to be incredibly difficult to find. Right now, I am obsessively looking at classifieds, Craiglist and RV trader.com. One thing that has surprised me is that I really love some of the Argosy trailers that people have done up. They seem to lend themselves a little better to the black and white floor and 50s color scheme that Iím seeking.
Honestly to me, you are better off buying an older Airstream....Vintage Airstreams are now increasing in value by virtue of the fact that they are so darn old !
And based on what I read, the folks buying new Airstreams are spending plenty of time working on things on their new Airstream, so........

As it relates to the big square ugly plastic campers, here in the world of Airstream, we refer to those as "SOB'S", (some other brand)

In general, the lifespan of an SOB is 15 years, and the average lifespan of an Airstream is 40 years, and with good maintenance, many more years than that, as you have seen.....
The big boxy shiny things you see, are framed up with wood studs, they leak like a sieve, and rot out and fall apart, very quickly. Thusly they have very little value after a few years.....
Airstreams are not perfect, and a person looking for something to complain about, can find plenty of things to complain about.....there seems to be an attitude among some, that if you buy an Airstream, it is unacceptable for there to be any problem ! But it just is not realistic.....its a mobile house, with all the amenities, and things will need service, and mistakes will be made, as they are hand built, and moving and shaking around all the time.
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Old 08-29-2019, 04:59 AM   #11
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If I increase my budget to the $30,000 range, I should be able to get a 1998-2003. I’m thinking that would be less repairs. Would you agree?
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Old 08-29-2019, 06:39 AM   #12
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Don't forget the second BIG budget item behind money when tackling the rebuild of a vintage Airstream trailer.

TIME!!!

Rest assured your modification, restoration, upgrade whatever you wish to call it on a "Vintage" Airstream with take at least TWICE AS MUCH TIME if not longer than you think it will and generally cost TWICE AS MUCH MONEY or more than you think it will as you lose interest over TIME in that never ending Airstream project.

At that point you will start to contract out more and more of the labor (Expensive) just to git the damn thing finished OR throw in the towel and sell your unfinished retirement dream. This is why you see so many "Gutted" Airstream trailers for sale everywhere across the USA! The Airstream dream that turned into an Airstream Nightmare!

The rebuild of a vintage Airstream is not as easy, quick, cheap, romantic or as much fun as you might think it will be. It's a Hell of lot of WORK!

Having said all the above if you still in for the adventure GO FOR IT! We are all here to help.
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Old 08-29-2019, 07:01 AM   #13
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I hear you loud and clear. The two things that scare me the most are getting the design right and for some reason the electrical. The plumbing probably should scare me, but that at least seems limited in scope. I went shopping yesterday to look at brand new SOBs. I just can’t see us going down that road. And even if the budget would allow for a brand new AS -which it won’t- it just doesn’t have what we want. My husband thinks I’m nuts, but he’s kind of learn to live with it. The worst part seems to be the living in New England really limits our options on what’s even available to go see.
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Old 08-29-2019, 07:05 AM   #14
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I have to agree with Vintageracer, every day we see folks who joined the forum with every intention of bringing a vintage Airstream back to life and end up in over their heads and giving up on the Airstream dream. It may be worth a second look to think about maybe paying a little more for a newer model and being able to camp now instead of spending the next two years working on repairs and upgrades. Just a thought...
If you’re concerned about the sofa, don’t be, I have 2 dogs and after 3 years of almost full timing it looks brand new. I also have the cherry cabinets and know what you mean about the light wood but to each their own.
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