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Old 08-11-2010, 01:57 PM   #1
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Newbie - want to buy, scared by rust, lots of questions...

Hey guys!

I guess I must be looking for a project, because I'm considering buying a vintage airstream (60s, 70s, not too big - 17'-21') to do a full interior renovation on. I think it would be really fun to gut out the interior and rebuild it into my traveling basecamp. I'm an engineer/product designer, quite handy, and have access to a pretty decent set of tools/shop space.

I've been doing some research, and it looks like frame rust is a fairly common issue... On top of that, it's hard to detect without poking holes in the trailer, which is hard before a purchase. I don't really have any desire/patience to do a frame rebuild, remove the shell from the floor, or any of that. Ideally, I would want a trailer in good structural shape that I can just gut the interior of and rebuild.

The possibility of running into a rusty frame is a big turnoff. Am I worrying too much? Is there anything I can do prior to the purchase to make sure the frame is going to last another 20 years without extra work? Are California airstreams less rust-prone?

Just fyi, here's one near me that I'm thinking of checking out: 1969 AIRSTREAM 21' GLOBETROTTER

Also, I'd like to spend about $15k total to complete the project. I'm willing to do lots of labor, just not major structural work like pulling the shell off or rebuilding a frame.

Thanks!

Frankie
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Old 08-11-2010, 02:22 PM   #2
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I think with the age of Airstream you're looking at, you will have to count on some frame repairs, a new floor, and new axles. Unless you know these things have been done already and figured into the purchase cost, you should pay to do them yourself or have them done by a professional.

Another thing you need to face - if you really want flexibility with the position of areas of your airstream, you'll be committed to moving the tanks, plumbing and wiring, which means completely stripping the interior *anyway* and replacing the floor and fixing a few elements of the frame on top of that is hardly any extra work at all in the grand scheme of things.

Also, a 1969 railer is 41 years old, and if you do it properly, you're looking at 2051 before it needs this kind of refurbishment again.
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Old 08-11-2010, 06:03 PM   #3
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Thanks for the input!

Do you know how hard it is to replace the subfloor and repair the frame without lifting the shell off? For some reason, lifting the shell scares me a little...

Also, any rough sense of what it the range of costs to get a shop to fix up the frame, floor, axles, etc, assuming that I gut it myself? Any experts on this stuff in california?
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Old 08-11-2010, 06:25 PM   #4
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I was lucky. My 65 had mostly surface rust on the frame. I removed the floor and found heavey rust thru as a result of interior bath leak. I found a moonlighting welder on craigs list who repaired those spots for $200. I removed the rear section of bellypan after slipping off the frame and falling thru. I will remove the rest as I move to the front. The work is a bit tedious but not difficult. I used an angle grinder with
a heave duty sanding disc.
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Old 08-11-2010, 06:29 PM   #5
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First - buy with your nose. If you can't make instant friends with the trailer smell you never will. It appears to need axles - and tires - and if they are split-rims, new wheels.
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Old 08-11-2010, 07:23 PM   #6
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My 68 had lots of surface rust on the frame, but all 40+ y/o trailers do so just count on it. With the new products by POR and Eastwood Company, it is fairly easy to deal with the rust and stop it from getting worse. Lot's of threads here about that. If you have the skill to build new cabinets for the inside you have the skill to replace portions of the floor and it can be done without doing a shell off restoration. As stated by others, count on axles. If you chose to do the project, do not underestimate the time. Every thing you do will take a lot more time that you ever dreamed. Figure how long you think it will take and multiply by 4 would be a good rule of thumb. Also, whatever you figure on spending, double it. That way you will have realistic goals and cost.
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Old 08-11-2010, 07:39 PM   #7
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Axles:

$450 per bare axle
$750 per axle with new drums/brakes hardware

Installation can be done yourself, or $200 for one or $300 for two seems to be a common price for labor.

The floor can be replaced "shell on" and it's definitely lighter work, if technically "less proper" and there's no real flaws with the shell on method.

As for the welding... This is highly variable, but you can make friends with a welder, or buy a welding set-up and do a class to learn to do it yourself for $300-$40 and have a useful new life skill and set of tools!

One of the great benefits of restoring airstreams - you learn a multidisciplinary RAFT of skills from fine sheet metal work to glazing to carpentry to plumbing and electrical, and all in the safety of your own home from home!
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Old 08-11-2010, 08:14 PM   #8
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I just read the ad for the trailer you are looking at.
1) Original propane tanks may need to be refurbished to meet new code.
2) Toilet flange has been leaking and holding tank has problems - most likely if this has been a problem for a long time then count on frame damage.
3) None of the appliances have been tested if none of them work could possibly cost several thousand dollars to replace.
4) 2 windows have been replaced possibly leaking before replacement or after and detracts from the value w/o original glass
5) No mention of the axles ever being replaced another $1000.
6) Seller says bring towing lights indicitve of wiring problems.

$9000 for this trailer seems way too high in the stated condition.
A lot of the problems like floor and frame rot are not evident until you open it up. My 73 seemed fine but once opened up the entir frame needs to be rebuilt and I have to remove the shell now.
Caveat Emptor.
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Old 08-11-2010, 08:19 PM   #9
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Go to this site to see values
Price vs. Condition - Airstream Values

$2900 to $4400 seems more in line with the current value.
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Old 08-11-2010, 09:08 PM   #10
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not everyone needs their frame repaired. i didn't. i could see from the tongue / rear frame that attaches to the bumper and the outriggers on either side of the step that they were solid. if you stick to pre-68 under 24 ft with no history of leaks you'll have a better chance. a trailer that has been well kept, or barn stored will also be a better chance for a strong frame. would you consider going to AZ or somewhere dryer to look for an AS? if you're looking to spend 15k total your budget should be more in the $5k or less range for an unmolested trailer. IF it has upgrades - you can spend more. by upgrades i dont mean new cabinets, i mean they have done a frame off floor replacement, then spend the extra $$ upfront.
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Old 08-11-2010, 09:22 PM   #11
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shell on

Quote:
Originally Posted by fbrahic View Post
Thanks for the input!

Do you know how hard it is to replace the subfloor and repair the frame without lifting the shell off? For some reason, lifting the shell scares me a little...

Also, any rough sense of what it the range of costs to get a shop to fix up the frame, floor, axles, etc, assuming that I gut it myself? Any experts on this stuff in california?
Check my thread "gutting the 65" and also member Rich Viking's blog.you will see what is involved in replacing the floor shell on.It's really not rocket science, but lots of work.My frame had some surface rust,but was generally in great shape.A welder can fix the major stuff as needed and you can do the rest.The only welding I did was some reinforcement angle in the rear.I cut out the floor and am in the process of putting in new tanks,then the floor.I also dropped the bellypan.These are not difficult ,but time consuming tasks.The POR products will attack any rust and the frame will look new.
I bought mine at Christmas time and started in Jan.I had the help of many on this site with anything I didn't know and I just jumped in.
I think anyone who ever worked on cars or did woodworking as a kid or are just plain mechanically inclined will be fine restoring an Airstream.There are some great crafstsmen on this site to guide you through.
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Old 08-11-2010, 09:25 PM   #12
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PS If you are looking for an expert in CA.Check out Uwe Salwender's site Area63Productions.He was at the Restoration Rally in ABQ in June and his work is outstanding.He's really a great guy and very generous with his knowledge.
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Old 08-12-2010, 12:16 PM   #13
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Where to buy?

Thanks for all the great advice!

Is there anywhere I should be looking for trailers besides ebay and craigslist?
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Old 08-12-2010, 12:24 PM   #14
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Originally Posted by fbrahic View Post
Thanks for all the great advice!

Is there anywhere I should be looking for trailers besides ebay and craigslist?

Our classifieds.
Your local wbcci newsletter
Newspaper
Word of mouth. Tell ALL your friend you are in the market. They can be your network of neighborhood eyes. Often a for sale trailer will just have a sign on it in someones yard.
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