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Old 12-09-2007, 04:06 PM   #1
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HELP -- does a '51 Clipper have a pipe frame?

There is a 1951 Clipper in good condition for sale near me. (At least I assume it's a Clipper, a 1951 18-footer would be a Clipper, right?) Anyway, I have read conflicting information about the frame.

It says here that all new AS trailers from late 1950 on were made on a ladder frame:

But in the Vintage Airstream Photo Archive, it says Clippers had pipe frames up till 1953:

The FAQ at also says that pipe frames are not nearly as strong as ladder frames and you can't put anything heavy in the trailer. If a '51 Clipper does have a pipe frame and you can't add much to the trailer, then this is not the trailer for me. If it's not a pipe frame, or it is but there isn't really a problem with pipe frames, then I'm going to go look at this one ASAP!

Thanks in advance for any help!

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Old 12-09-2007, 04:34 PM   #2
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1950-51 was the first year of the ladder frame chassis...however, as with anything "Airstream" there are exceptions. For example, if the trailer was built in late 1950 with a pipe frame, but not sold until 1951, it could have been mistakenly registered as a 1951 trailer when in actuality, it is a 1950. Basically, it's a transiton you could have both ladder & pipe frames.

Our 1956 trailer was titled as a 1957 - but it is definately a 1956.

Do you have pictures of the trailer in question? It's pretty easy to tell if you have a pipe or ladder frame...

A ladder frame is much more sturdy than a pipe frame. With a pipe frame it's like a fish - one main structural member going the length of the trailer in the center with "bones" cantilivered off each side. A ladder frame has two long parallel structural supports closer to the outside edges with "steps" going between them.

Think of an "I" vs a "H".


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Old 12-09-2007, 05:32 PM   #3
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The only photos I have don't show the exterior front or back ends; from the interior pics I can see that the end windows are rectangular with 2 horizontal panes. Does that mean anything? I've asked for more photos, but haven't heard back from the seller.

And if it is a pipe frame, can that be strengthened by welding in additional members? Would that cost a bomb? Or is it just not worth messing with?

I like the size (18') because we'd be towing with a mid-size SUV, and I like the layout, with the twin beds in back, because I'd like to add lightweight bunks above the existing twins for our 2 (small) kids. That would make it a little more practical for a family of 4 than the Bambi or Caravel layout.
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Old 12-09-2007, 07:43 PM   #4
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Originally Posted by Corraleno
The only photos I have don't show the exterior front or back ends; from the interior pics I can see that the end windows are rectangular with 2 horizontal panes. ... I like the layout, with the twin beds in back, because I'd like to add light weight bunk beds above the existing twins for our 2 (small) kids. That would make it a little more pracical for a family of 4 than athe Bambi ir Caravel.
Hi Corraleno:

The 18' Clipper usually did not have rear twin beds. Perhaps ther seller is measuring the body only and not including the front frame, so it might be a 21' Flying Cloud with rear twin beds like the one shown here:


If the two horizontal end windows look like the ones on the above Flying Cloud, then they indicate the trailer was built between 1950 and 1952, when that style of window was used in Airstreams. Ask the seller for exterior trailer photos. Good luck!
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Old 12-09-2007, 08:23 PM   #5
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1967 17' Caravel
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Thank you 47WeeWind, that's exactly what it is, now that I compare the photos! Hmmm, I guess I have to decide if I want to go as big as 21'. Also, it seems like it would be a bit dark with so few (and small) windows.
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Old 12-09-2007, 11:24 PM   #6
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hi corraleno and welcome to the forums...

i'm not into old trailers, so ignore this post if you'd like...

-first it's irrelevant if this unit is ladder frame or pipe frame....

neither can be strengthen by simply welding stuff to the bottom...

on these old units the frame and floor are largely supported by the SHELL.

so IF you really wanted an honestly stronger frame, a shell and floor off deconstruction is needed first.

then a beefier frame could be constructed...

this is a big, time consuming and costly process.

-second adding bunk beds to a 57 year old trailer is no simple task either.

have you ever been inside an early 50s unit?

these things are narrow and have a tight radius overhead.

they are light it's true but they also have NO holding tanks...

they are relatively fragile and don't do well with crude modifications.

yes they are light, but they also have very little payload/carry capacity.

also you are planning to pull it with a honda pilot?

i'll spare the towing analysis, because there are folks who have towed bigger units with a pilot...

but you will have very little capacity to carry people or gear or the basic supplies listed in post #5 here...

in terms of usable space this 50s unit is smaller than a modern 19...

and has NONE of the features most folks need while camping...

things like a real shower, holding tanks, adequate electrical capacity, storage, insulation, weather proofing, windows that seal, a/c, and on and on...

in almost every way except shape this 50s unit is much much less ideal than the 60s caravel you mentioned here...

which would still be really tight for your family.

i'm unclear of your rv experience or ultimate camping goals...

but a family of 4 will be in for a BIG surprise trying to camp in a unit like either of these...

if it hasn't been extensively modified.

you will pay a significant premium for any of these 'hot' old models if they are camping ready..

and more likely anything you find at a good price will need MAJOR rehab b for camping...

again not knowing your budget a 70s argosy is far more likely to go camping this season and be priced affordably.

if you haven't been INSIDE many/any a/s you really need to see and touch some first hand before getting in the buy mode.

ideally folks find a unit that meets their camping needs and budget and then find an adequate tow vehicle...

the pilot really limits your options but old truck/sub-urbans can be had for very little and used for the occasional tow.

looking for a more recent trailer and buying an old tow vehicle would be less expensive than buying a 50s unit or early bambi...

sorry for butting into your old trailer romance but i'd hate to see you burn money or tear into an old unit without thinking....

best of luck and go touch some trailers!


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