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Old 08-04-2008, 07:24 AM   #1
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What does $10k-12k really get me?

Hi all - I've been surfing/shopping for about a month now for an AS, and have to admit, I'm a bit confused.

Like many I guess, my wife and I fell head-over-heels when we looked at new Bambis on a recent vacation stop at Bates RV. I'd love a Quiksilver or Bambi International, but $30k+ used can't really happen. ($50k new hurts my head.)

So, moved on to the idea of going 70s-vintage with something on the smaller side (Caravel to Safari.) I visited the Vintage Trailer Jam to get an idea of floorplans and sizing. Pricewise, I've seen small Argosys for $2000 (tempting for cheap entry) all the way to unpolished Caravels and nice-ish Safaris trying for $15k on eBay (seems pricey.) Meanwhile, seemingly piles of Tradewinds sit at $6000. It's a bit of a whirlwind.

But something rubs me a bit. All of the (very nice) owners at the Jam said that you basically "always had something to do" if you buy vintage. Listening to the VAP, I'm getting the feeling that I'd immediately be dumping thousands into most vintage trailers ($1000/axle for new axle and tires, etc.) I already own a mid-century-modern house that needs work, and my goal is to tow the trailer cross-country next June, so I'm a bit wary of having to do too much.

So that brings me (finally) to my question. I've got up to $10k-$12k in cash (and realize NADA is a guide, not golden.) I'm flexible with tow vehicles (so that's not a limiting factor), but don't want to go over 25 feet for this, my first trailer. Where does this all leave me, especially if I look over the last 20 model years?

Thanks in advance.
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Old 08-04-2008, 08:02 AM   #2
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Hi mutcth,
Welcome to the forums

Vintage can be a double edged sword. You will have to tinker no matter what you buy...even if it is brand new.

A well taken care of 70's vintage can be had for under the $10k mark, leaving you money to use for repairs and upgrades. The less you pay up front the more you will spend on repairs.

The shorter the trailer the more it is going to sell for. One the demand and two I don't think they made quite as many of them as they did the 31 footers.

FWIW I have a 31' (two actually ) I paid around $3k for my 1975, when I get done I will have less than $8k total cash outlay. However it has been a loooong project due to my work schedule. I have seen some very nice 31' trailers in the $7-9k range. Your best bet is to narrow down your choices, and take an experienced vintage person with you to help with the inspection. Somethings are fairly easy to spot, like axles, others like hidden leaks in the front wall area, previously frozen plumbing and poor repairs are more difficult.

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Old 08-04-2008, 09:12 AM   #3
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The short answer... it depends.

My wife and I have been in heavy shopping mode for the past two months. Here are a few thoughts.

Demand for travel trailers looks like a bell curve. The highest demand seems to be for trailers in the 23 to 27 foot range... big enough to accommodate a family, small enough to tow easily. The demand (and price) often drops for shorter or longer trailers. There are relatively few used Airstreams. When they hit the market, they often command more than "book" value. Not many people want to bite the bullet for a $50,000 Safari/Flying Cloud but when the same trailer ages and the price drops, it becomes more attractive.

Every house/trailer is an organic entity, requiring maintenance with age. There old saw about boats is, "They are a hole in water to throw money in." Every trailer, new or old, is going to require maintenance and repairs that cost money. Yes, on the whole vintage trailers require more TLC. If you are the sort who will take every problem to the RV dealer, it's far better to go "gently used" rather than vintage. If you are willing to don a tool belt and fix things yourself, many of the problems on a vintage travel trailer can be fixed with a modest amount of mechanical acumen. There are two basic mindsets. One, a problem is a headache. Two, a problem is an opportunity to "improve" something. A vintage trailer is a playground for natural tinkerers.

So, returning to prices. The cost of polished aluminum is higher than paint. The 70s Argosy trailers (while apparently well built) simply don't command as much as the glint of silver. For your $10k to $12k budget you are unlikely to find a fully restored AS from the 60s or 70s, but you might find something in very good condition. Given your preference for a 25' length, the Trade Winds seem like a very good option. If you do a fair bit of work yourself, $6k does buy you a few things. Axles generally hold up well. If the frame is straight and the skin is in good condition, the primary investments will most likely be plumbing, electrical, etc. If you bring in a custom shop, the $6k doesn't go quite as far. One advantage of vintage, however, is "pay as you go." If you can't do everything on Day One, you have a chance to save, scrimp and upgrade later. I think you should be able to find a usable Trade Wind within your budget. Best of luck to you.
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Old 08-04-2008, 09:18 AM   #4
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I paid $5,400 for my 28' Ambassador Which is a 68. A little high.. But it is very clean. everything worked, newer fridge and A/C. But it does need work. counter top is crack. The floor in the bathroom is a little soft in the very back... Thing was for us, It is useable as is. Where a lot of them for a thousand or two less needed tons of work just to get them useable...

We are going to go through and change all the cabinets out, basiclly redo the whole inside. but do it a little at a time so we can still make trips with our kids.

Depends where you live too... I see Airstreams go cheaper on the east coast than west.. You may be able to find a good deal.... That needs little work...
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Old 08-04-2008, 09:23 AM   #5
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Thanks so far. I'm starting to think that 19-23 feet is just about the "right" size for us - just 2 people, no kids. I like that I can get some tandems (Safari, Argosy, early-90s Sovereign) in that range.

Even though newer trailers still need work, they seem to be more maintenance than restoration issues. That's OK. I also like the idea of disc brakes and gray water tanks.

Maybe it's me, but it seems like big chunks of AS years never quite appear on the market. Plenty of vintage, with quite a few Argosys (excepting Minuets.) Plenty of almost new Bambis. And plenty of "big" trailers. But the in-between stuff, like early-mid-90s "shorter" Sovereigns or the late-90s newer Bambis, seem to be near unobtaininium. Could just be early in the hunt....
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Old 08-04-2008, 09:33 AM   #6
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IMHO, if tow vehicle is not an issue, you will get more Airstream per dollar if you buy a 31' than anything else and the extra few feet are not an issue. I have towed mine some 30000 miles in the last three years and maybe twice I couldn't get into a campground due to the extra few feet of length.

My 31' also tows like a dream -- even in nasty crosswinds it tracks perfectly and I have never experienced sway.

Just a thought...

mike
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Old 08-04-2008, 09:44 AM   #7
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Thanks - interesting thought. I toured a few 31' trailers at the Vintage Trailer Jam - they seemed to go on forever inside!

No doubt there would be a lot of "bang for the buck" there. But it seems like a lot for the 2 of us, and it wouldn't easily fit in the driveway. We're also going to do a lot of whitewater kayaking and mountain biking on this trip, and a shorter trailer would be easier to park at those trailheads/put-ins.

I should probably clarify the tow vehicle thing; I have flexibility in that I'm not hitched (ha ha) to towing with my wife's beloved 05 Honda Odyssey. But I'd have more flexibility if I kept things down closer to the 5000 lb (loaded) range.
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Old 08-04-2008, 09:54 AM   #8
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I also have a 1986 31' Sovereign. I graduated from a class b camper van (talk about small), but now the 31' seems small to me and I am now looking for a 34'. Remember to subtract 3' +/- for the tongue length. As an example, the 31' now becomes 28'. Best of Success in your search.
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Old 08-04-2008, 09:59 AM   #9
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Be carful with the towing thing. If you can only tow 5000 lb max, you need to find a trailer that weighs about 3000 lb you have cargo, water, gas to come along as well... and you don't want to max out your tow veichle for long trips...
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Old 08-04-2008, 10:01 AM   #10
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Seconding Mike

Quote:
Originally Posted by n2916s View Post
IMHO, if tow vehicle is not an issue, you will get more Airstream per dollar if you buy a 31' than anything else and the extra few feet are not an issue. I have towed mine some 30000 miles in the last three years and maybe twice I couldn't get into a campground due to the extra few feet of length.

My 31' also tows like a dream -- even in nasty crosswinds it tracks perfectly and I have never experienced sway.

Just a thought...

mike
Sometimes Less is More - and sometimes MORE is More. Mike is right about the 30/31' models. If nothing else, you can keep your kayaks and bicycles IN a bigger A/S. If you belong to a club, you could become the "hosts" of your rallys.

Before you make any assumptions about storing your A/S, check with local zoning. You may find that you can't keep it in your driveway at all, or even in your yard unless you have an 8' privacy fence.

Also think about other uses... Some people have pool Cabanas, Retreats, Hobby Houses, and Guest Houses that are silver and roll. Somewhere in this forum is a particularly "unique" picture of one with astro turf and two lawn jockeys!
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Old 08-04-2008, 10:01 AM   #11
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You got one thing going for you- assuming that because you were at the Trailer Jam- you are on the east coast- trailers will be cheaper! We were at the Jam also- we had our '61 and '39 there. Anyway- $10- 12K should buy you a camp-able trailer that you can personalize and upgrade/ restore as you go. Our '61 was purchased for about $9K in Ohio- we have since had axles replaced and new tires- and gone over the systems to get them working- total outlay about $11K- polished and camp-able we used it for 3 weeks to go to Bozeman, MT this summer. However- we will slowly be redoing this trailer over time to make it more modern- i.e.- grey tanks and other amenities. So like purman suggested - get one you can use but still make your own over time.

P.S. you can see pictures of our '61 at our website
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Old 08-04-2008, 11:57 AM   #12
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Check this one out... good luck!
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Old 08-04-2008, 12:14 PM   #13
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Availability of used Airstreams is a bit "hit or miss." The trailers are out there, but they don't turn over often. This said, you are shopping at a good time. The economic downturn and high fuel prices may push more units on the market.

I understand and respect the general comments about size. Generally, people tend to go bigger (rather than smaller) over time. As I look at my waist, I see ample evidence of this. Our decision on a more modest length is driven by a few factors. We will be empty nesters in a few years and we're not planning to accommodate more than two people. We'd like to keep our current ton truck as the tow vehicle and staying at 25' or under ensures that we will be well within our comfort zone. We enjoy boondocking in some remote areas (with unpaved roads). A smaller unit is easier to manage in a tight spot. This is just our perspective, but we're willing to sacrifice the room for a better "fit." As noted above, however, there are much better deals in the longish trailers.
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Old 08-04-2008, 12:21 PM   #14
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Steve, thanks for that link - but bit far (California, or Arizona, depending on the Craigslist ads that come up when I searched on the phone #) for me.

Thanks all for bringing up some of the other trailer owning concerns. Zoning's no problem - confirmed that when I bought the house last year. (An Airstream in my driveway would be, ummm, pretty restrained compared to the yards of some neighbors.)

Also thanks for mentioning weight concerns. I've been paying a lot of attention to the weights (and how they vary by different years - like how the Safari lost and regained a few hundred pounds over the 70s) and the fine print of tow vehicles. One big plus - I'm not loading all of the seats of the tow vehicle.

I'd have plenty of room for my whitewater kayaks and bikes in or on the tow vehicle. Given how dirty/smelly they get, it might be better to keep them out of the AS....
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