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Old 09-07-2011, 02:24 PM   #1
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1981 31' Excella II
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Looking at a 28ft 1978 Airstream what to look floor

I am going to look at a 1978, 28' airstream this weekend and I was wondering how I can tell if it has frame and floor problems without pulling the belly skin. I have read that the frames tend to bend on these models especially with the rear bath. The current owner has put wood flooring in so I don't think I can use the ice pick trick to probe for rotten wood. I guess jumping on the rear bumper and looking for movement relative to the shell is one test and looking for corrosion holes in the belly and banana skins would be another bad sign. Is the part of the frame that bends visible with the skins on? I know it is just behind the rear wheels which makes sense. I guess loose rivets would be another bad sign. I don't absolutely have to have a camper right now so I can afford to be choosy.

Perry
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Old 09-07-2011, 02:35 PM   #2
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Don't give up on "the icepick trick" until you look in the cabinets. Chances are pretty good that the current owner didn't put flooring into the cabinetry unless he's specifically trying to hide something, so you may be able to see the original subfloor in a few places at the bottom of cabinets.

My understanding of the "rear sag" test is to put weight on the rear bumper with your foot and look to see if the skin moves with the bumper or allows the bumper to move on its own.

Other than that, the excellent AIRForums trailer checklist served me well in checking out old trailers.
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Old 09-07-2011, 04:29 PM   #3
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1st thing is smell check - if you don't like the smell in the first 3 seconds you never will. Should NOT smell like anything but the bar of handsoap besides the sink kinda sorta. Summer Camp latrine, chem-toilet blue preservative smell etc. is a tattle-tale that the belly area may be seriously unwell. Examine around the toilet flange and plumbing utility areas for evidence of long term leakage.

Pull the stabilizer jacks up off the ground to look at frame issues.

If the skirts above the wheels 'flare' out more than 5/8-inch or so there are problems, along the frame somewhere aft of the axles is a likely area, that flexes and the skirts get pushed out.

Remember the axle-set problem is down as well as up - if you bottle jack on the vertical axle mounting plate (only safe place to lift) and the axle does not rebound to the 20/25° down slope angle they are still too stiff even if they haven't died enough to be pointing upwards. Might be a good quick check when negotiating price.

Look for short belly edge wrap inserts, not the full length as provided from the factory, as outrigger damage from collisions (or blow-outs) is easily covered up with a small chunk of aluminum sheeting.

Also - look for the DOT etched stamp as a quick check on the windows - lexan and other easy fix replacements will not have them.

If its an original furnace don't bother testing it - the heat exchanger rust issue condemns it no matter what.
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Old 09-08-2011, 09:22 AM   #4
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1981 31' Excella II
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Here are some pictures of it. I think it is a 28ft Ambassador.

http://www.motorcycleproducts.org/AS...8ft-Airstream/

It looks pretty good inside. I am more worried about corrosion and frame problems.

Perry
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Old 09-08-2011, 10:45 AM   #5
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The pictures look promising, though the last shot (the streetside view of the entire trailer) suggests that the axles are probably "frozen"... the rear wheel should have dropped more if there's weight on the front and not the rear. Definitely something to check.

It's a bonus that the trailer doesn't have the "Vista View" windows that were popular at the time and add more places to leak.
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Old 09-08-2011, 11:15 AM   #6
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Had two 78's a 31' and a 25' both excellant trailers, the problem with the frame is more in the 69-71 trailers and people picked up on it as a 70's problem and call it a Beatrice problem! Problem started with the addition of a Gray tank and Airstream beefed up the frames about 72 or 73. That said any Airstream can have frame problems if PO overloaded the rear end. Best to check! Rust is possible in all. I have seen on the forum great frame problems in the 22-23' 2002-2004 trailers.
My 2cents
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Old 09-08-2011, 12:02 PM   #7
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1981 31' Excella II
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I sorta expect to replace the axels at some point and that is not a hard fix. I just don't want to get into one of these shell off the frame restorations. I could probably handle beefing up the frame as well. I am still on the fence about getting a newer SOB style trailer like a Jayfeather and maybe looking for a project airstream to fix in the mean time. I have seen the basket case aborted restos for around $2000. I have also seen the aborted projects for about the same price as an intact one.

The water soaked wood and two different metals is not a recipe for happyness.

Perry
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Old 09-08-2011, 01:04 PM   #8
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1978 28' Ambassador
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We have an almost exact match (1978 Ambassador 28ft) for the AS you're looking at...

We have twin beds on each side in the bedroom area, not the fold out bed shown...

We also have the vista view windows, but haven't experienced any leaks...

We only have a large single window over the lounge, instead of the two shown...

There are frame reinforcement channels aft of the axles on each side of the main frame, on our AS - they look like original 'factory' installation - perhaps an added measure for the rear bath models after the early 70's frame problems were encountered... In any event, our AS is solid back there!

As for floor rot problems...the usual places to look would be where the water pump is mounted, around the toilet, and under the galley sink (you can't look under the bath sink or tub) - in other words, anywhere the water piping is exposed...

You should plan on replacing the axles - the original rubber rods are just too old to give you any 'spring' anymore...not a big deal to exchange, as you mentioned - I did ours by myself in a day...

I had to replace our AC rooftop unit with a modern more efficient unit...and later the water heater as well...our furnace is still working great, but our AS has lived out here in a dry climate for all it's life, and rust of any steel on the trailer isn't an issue - maybe much different in a more humid climate...Original refer works great, and cools like an igloo!...

I also removed the our gaucho up front and replaced it with an upgraded futon from Ikea - they use a slip-on cover, so we can change it if it wears out!

I removed the roll-up cabinet over the refer so I could mount a small microwave oven on the shelf above the refer...

You can see some of the other stuff I changed on these threads... http://www.airforums.com/forums/f173...way-41888.html

http://www.airforums.com/forums/f173...-as-42187.html

Overall, we're happy with our AS, but as with many, a bit storage challenged! I store some of our trailer accessories in plastic bins that are carried in the back of our Ford Excursion...

If the AS you're looking at is a good, sound trailer, it will probably stay that way for another 30+ years...enjoy...!
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Old 09-08-2011, 01:14 PM   #9
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You have the same tow vehicle as I do. Nice trailer by the way.

Perry
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Old 09-08-2011, 01:16 PM   #10
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1978 28' Ambassador
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Here's some pic's of a trip this spring to Death Valley & Western Nevada areas...As you can see, we take our AS everywhere - even up dirt/gravel roads in some BLM back country! Use it or lose it, is my motto!
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Old 09-08-2011, 01:22 PM   #11
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Here's a You Tube video I shot when we were at Bonnie Claire Dry Lake in NV, not far from Scotty's Castle in Death Valley...If you pause the video at the end, you can just see the rear frame reinforcements on each side that are attached below the main frame rails...

Airstream Fly-By HD.wmv - YouTube
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Old 09-08-2011, 01:23 PM   #12
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1981 31' Excella II
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It looks like you are having fun with your AS. Nice rig you have there. How do you like the Excursion? I have a 2000 2wd V10 with the tow package. I bet your new axels help with going off road. It is nice to know what one looks like when it is not dragging the ground. Did you keep the starting arm angle stock or did you raise it a little?

Perry
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Old 09-08-2011, 01:41 PM   #13
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1978 28' Ambassador
Morada , California
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Our Excursion is a 2001, V-10, 4x4 limited version - love it for towing the AS - you hardly know the trailer's back there till you get up into some steep mountain roads...

We use an Equal-i-zer brand hitch, and with the long wheelbase Exc, we don't get any 'sway' at all...

I used 3500# axles with the 'stock' arm angle, I believe...got them out here in the West from Inland RV in So-Cal...new axles really made a big difference in the ride...using more 'angle' for higher ride wouldn't be necessary, IMHO...

As you can see from my info, I'm a tinkerer, and love to find things to fix or 'improve' on our AS!

I guess it's the 'journey' that's more fun than the 'destination'...which is definitely true in life!

Regards...
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Old 09-08-2011, 01:48 PM   #14
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1978 28' Ambassador
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Here's a fun addition I recently made to the rear of our Excursion...found it at Wal-Mart!
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