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Old 08-14-2014, 05:44 PM   #1
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Is buying vintage and fixing it up worth it?

I really want to buy an old airstream and fix it up and personalize it. I have an extensive background in home remodel but I'm nervous about the learning curve with an airstream trailer. Part of me wants to buy new and bypass the headaches. I really want to find a livable airstream and slowly fix it up until it's perfect while living in it full time. Am I fooling myself thinking it's not a total money pit?

The goal is to live in the airstream full time. I work construction during the summer and travel during the winter. I just bought a ridiculously expensive tow vehicle and now I'm looking at my options for the trailer.


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Old 08-14-2014, 06:28 PM   #2
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Boats and trailers are without a doubt money pits. They both break sitting still. That said, if it is what you want go for it.


Do you know what a learning experience is? A learning experience is one of those things that says "You know that thing that you just did? Don't do that."
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Old 08-14-2014, 06:33 PM   #3
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Hi Pete, welcome.

I have been a remodeler for 35 years and I can safely say there is nothing on a coach that you will not be able to do. In addition you already own 99% of the tools you will need. Thats the good part.

Living in it while you do the work will be difficult unless you can go for extended periods with no power, no sewer, no water, and you can sleep in the truck. You get the picture.

As for as the costs go, if you can even entertain the price of a new one you can surely afford the cost to rebuild one, even though there will be more than meets the eye. Most of the affordable used ones need a lot of work. Is it worth the effort? I think it is.
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Old 08-14-2014, 06:39 PM   #4
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I don't think you can buy an old airstream and slowly fix it up and live in it unless you buy one that's not so old. If it's old (lets say pre '63) it'll most likely need a shell off or at least substantial work that doesn't lend itself to being inhabited. my 2 cents.
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Old 08-14-2014, 07:56 PM   #5
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First, welcome. This forum has an incredible depth of knowledge. Spend some time reading some of the "full monty" restoration threads and you will quickly get a sense for what is involved and the time it takes many to accomplish those renovations.

If time equals money to you, renovation may not be the way to go. Also read the threads carefully, and you will start to get a sense of the parts needed for various tasks and can start to price those things out. This can be a very helpful tool so that you can start to estimate the costs you will incur for parts.

I am still looking for my unit, which will hopefully have the right mix of current condition/work needed/cost for work needed/time to get work done. It's a tricky balance. I have a spreadsheet that I pulled together so that I can see how much money I will have in a unit to get it up to speed. These costs add up quickly. So does the time, and the various line items remind me of the work that will be needed. There are inspection forms available on this site that are very helpful. I've turned down a number of units that would have needed a full new floor as that is something I don't want to tackle.

By way of example of costs, if you are looking at an AS or Arogosy that is 20 or so years old or older (for Argosy), you will almost assuredly need new axles, which also means rotors and brakes. Add tires into that equation, and it's very easy to add north of 2k to your purchase price if you do all of the work and don't have shipping costs for the axles. All of the "little" items like gaskets for doors or windows, pex, water line fittings, pumps, tanks, etc add up quickly. Looking at costs will also give you an idea of systems that will need work - and that work will take time.

Only you will know if that time and expense are worth it to you. It is unlikely that you will recover your costs of repair if you choose to sell your unit, but you will have it exactly as you want it at a fraction of the cost of a similar unit new.
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Old 08-14-2014, 08:02 PM   #6
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I appreciate the input. Learning how to do the riveting correctly and waterproofing is my main concern. Ideally I want to buy something with a decent shell and frame maybe 60s or newer. I live out of a tent in the winter a lot so going a week or two without a bathroom or shower or kitchen or power wouldn't kill me. I enjoy remodeling And would love to take on the project I just want it to be worth it. I don't live the standard life and I think it would be awesome to live in an airstream and be portable.
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Old 08-15-2014, 06:35 AM   #7
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Read all of the rebuild threads you can stand.

Welcome, Nomad.

My advice is to read all of the rebuild threads you can stand. Most mention time and cost for the rebuild. Don't start too small if you intend to live in it.

How much you will spend depends on what you will end up with.

There are lots of late 70's on the market, chances are you can find a good one that has been stored under a shed or an enclosed building for 5 to 7 grand. Be prepared to walk away if you don't like the one you are looking at.

Most important thing to look for in a trailer is the frame/floor/interface. This is the single most important structural joining on the trailer - and probably the most difficult to fix properly (read lots of threads about shell off).

Axle replacement is a given, but really not a difficult chore to replace - and you get a new set of bearings and brakes.

I spent an incredible amount of time and money while "customizing" the '78 31' Sovereign. The time and effort was worth it for me.

I have lived in the trailer for months at a time while building my current residence and also working the oil fields as a consultant for the past three years, but having experienced recreational AS camping previously helped me with my choices when renovating the '78.

It's doable, but like others have said, will be MUCH more difficult if you are trying to live in it while working on it.

"Suck it up, spend the bucks, do it right the first time."

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Old 08-15-2014, 10:45 AM   #8
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Moneywise you can fix up an old trailer cheaper than buying a new one but you probably won't get your money out of it if you sell it.

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Old 08-15-2014, 11:19 AM   #9
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If you can afford a new trailer, you can afford a dang nice old trailer that has already had the frame fixed and floor redone! Just go get a nice trailer you can live in for a while, and then once you see what it's like to live in you can start modifying things to your taste.

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Old 08-15-2014, 11:48 AM   #10
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Stefrobrts is dead on. I'm wondering if you've priced new Airstreams. You might be in for a shock--60-100K! There are a fair number of "full-monty" renovated AS's out there for a lot less.

Still, I hope you chose to find one to fix up. I'm stuck searching out a "road-worthy," "camp-ready" unit because I don't have the skills-tools-space to take on that kind of project. And it has been very disheartening to have to pass on so many rigs in need of major rehabs.

There are also a number of partially completed renovations out there which may be a better value to you.
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Old 08-15-2014, 12:39 PM   #11
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All said and done I hope to be finished with my renovation for less than 25k including purchase price. I've done all the work myself. Working 16-24 hours a week, I estimate that I'll end up with about 9 months of work in the trailer. I'm currently about 3 months in. This does not include polishing or a complete shell off. However, I bought a trailer that did not need a full shell off, only a small floor replacement. It will be much cheaper than a new airstream. Additionally, I know all the work was done right and it has been customized to my taste.

If I had a lot of spare cash sitting around, I might consider buying new. Personally, I enjoy working on old stuff and saving the money. I cannot imagine trying to live in the trailer during the project, though.
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Old 08-15-2014, 12:58 PM   #12
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I think its quite possible to find a trailer to live in while you fix it up, especially if you go section by section rather than a total gut. That is what I have been doing on mine. You just have to take your time and find one that doesnt have extensive frame damage and floor rot. Even if you have to pull down the belly pan to clean and paint the frame and replace insulation, you can live in it while that is going on.

If you wonder whether its worth it, look two posts up, HawkinGal is dead on, new trailers are way past expensive. Even if you buy in at 8-10k and end up putting in another 10K in new appliances and parts/materials, you are way ahead and will know the ins and outs of that trailer intimately. Its hard to value your own labor, but most of us just dont even count that in the final equation. I would say go for it, you have all the skills you need. I've learned riveting on this trailer, its not that hard, at least with the pop rivet types to make something that looks fairly good.

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Old 08-15-2014, 02:37 PM   #13
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I really appreciate the feedback. I'm going to look at a 1969 Airstream Ambassador 29' in Illinois tomorrow after work. They want 12,000 for it and the pictures look good and it seems like it's been maintained well. Hopefully seeing it in person doesn't disappoint. I'm glad everyone is so positive about rehabbing and living in an airstream full time. Most of my family and friends think I'm insane. The idea for this was nothing more than a silly concept 3 months ago. Now I have a brand new truck and may be purchasing sooner than I thought. Oh and yes I'm well aware of what a new airstream costs and it would scare me to spend 85,000 on the new one and then deal with filiform corrosion and all sorts of other issues. The benefit of buying new is the ability to finance. What scares me about used is it would be a rather large chunk of money to buy outright and what happens if you run out of cash while rehabbing. I rehab houses on the side and work road construction and I know first hand it's never as easy as well it should cost this much and take this long to do. Once you open things up you can find yourself with a whole new set of problems.

Also I'm still looking to find a place to park my airstream in the western suburbs of Chicago at a reasonable price. Currently I haven't found anything that fits my requirements. Anyone have any suggestions or ideas?
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Old 08-15-2014, 02:48 PM   #14
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Remember, too, that a 1969 is a crossover year and some parts won't be available. 12,000 for an un restored 69 Ambassador is steep. Look around some more.

"If it can't be reduced, reused, repaired, rebuilt, refurbished, refinished, resold, recycled or composted
then it should be restricted, redesigned or removed from production."
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