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Old 09-28-2011, 01:01 PM   #1
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When to Call in a Pro?

All -

I hope to launch my foray into streaming this winter and am leaning toward a mid-70s Sovereign or Excella 500 that I'd like to rehabilitate/redecorate. I'm looking forward to working on the cabinetry and counters, flooring, interior skin, windows, buffing the outside skin, and even some of the systems.

But I admit the frame, sub-flooring, and general structural integrity questions and issues might be beyond me, especially as they seem to impact the safety of towing, and I definitely want to travel with it. If I had to leave some key structural issues to a pro to make sure it gets done right, what would folks recommend? For example:

- wheels, suspension, brakes, axles?
- tow hitch restoration, including new jack and sway bars?
- frame? fixing any rust and addressing any serious problems?
- flooring? The rear end sag with rotting flooring problem is especially daunting, although I am leaning toward a center bath model precisely because the bath is over the wheels and I'm hoping the rear sag issue isn't as pronounced.

Thanks in advance for advice. Oh, I'd appreciate any recommendation on a good pro Airstream/RV mechanic for said work in the greater Baltimore - Washington, D.C. area. I had intended to take my new project to a pro anyway for a comprehensive evaluation, but if they can do some major work as well, so much the better.

Best,

-Jim
Arlington, Virginia
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Old 09-28-2011, 01:17 PM   #2
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It all depends on how handy you are and how much you want to spend. You can sub out the welding if you are not comfortable with it. I just wanted to learn how to weld so I did a lot of it my self. Frank Yensan and Colin Hyde are on the East Coast and have been very helpful with my project. Good Luck!!
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Old 09-28-2011, 01:48 PM   #3
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Don't make the mistake of assuming because someone calls himself a pro, they will use the right approach on your Airstream. Be especially skeptical of service at big box dealerships. Even official Airstream dealers may be clueless when it comes to vintage. References, references, references!
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Old 09-28-2011, 02:33 PM   #4
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When to Call in a Pro?

Greetings Jim!

Welcome to the Forums!

You have been doing your homework, and that is a good thing when you are considering the purchase of an Airstream that is more than 30 years old. When I purchased my Overlander in 1995, the Internet was just getting a good start and resources such as Airforums were only a dream . . . so I just lucked out in purchasing a coach that didn't have any major defects requiring immediate repair. I was able to travel and enjoy the coach while repairs and upgrades were made over a seven year period of time.

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All -

I hope to launch my foray into streaming this winter and am leaning toward a mid-70s Sovereign or Excella 500 that I'd like to rehabilitate/redecorate. I'm looking forward to working on the cabinetry and counters, flooring, interior skin, windows, buffing the outside skin, and even some of the systems.
My suggestion would be search the North American continent for the best coach that you can afford, and definitely have a comprehensive pre-purchase inspection performed by someone who is familiar with the vintage Airstream that you are considering. While improbable, you may actually find a well preserved 1970s model being sold by either its first or second owner with a lineage of care and respect of the coach (my Overlander was in the hands of its third owner when I purchased it in 1995). Due diligence inspecion of any coach regardless of its ownership history can help to insure lasting satisfaction. I mention this often, and still believe that it is an excellent way of locating a quality coach . . . . visit an activity of your nearest WBCCI Unit and introduce yourself as an interested buyer for an Airstream . . . . you may find an offer of a prized member of the family that is being sold because the owner has decided to retire from traveling, and sometimes these are even package deals with a matched tow vehicle.

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Originally Posted by JBSVirginia View Post
But I admit the frame, sub-flooring, and general structural integrity questions and issues might be beyond me, especially as they seem to impact the safety of towing, and I definitely want to travel with it.
In 1995, I was in a position similar to yours. I wanted to purchase an Airstream, but it had to be roadworthy and ready to travel with a minimum of fuss. My search took nearly a year as my focus started with coaches no more than 15 years old (my assumption being that they would be less likely to have major problems). After nearly a year of searching, I ran across the advertisement for my 1964 Overlander. It was much older than I had initially intended to consider, but once I inspected it and spent an afternoon getting acquainted with the coach there was no question that the coach would follow me home.

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Originally Posted by JBSVirginia View Post
If I had to leave some key structural issues to a pro to make sure it gets done right, what would folks recommend? For example:

- wheels, suspension, brakes, axles?
- tow hitch restoration, including new jack and sway bars?
- frame? fixing any rust and addressing any serious problems?
- flooring? The rear end sag with rotting flooring problem is especially daunting, although I am leaning toward a center bath model precisely because the bath is over the wheels and I'm hoping the rear sag issue isn't as pronounced.
(IMHO) The key is to only takle those repairs/modifications/upgrades with which you feel comfortable, keeping in mind that many repairs may require that you purchase tools that you may not currently own. Careful inspection can nearly rule out any coaches that have existing rear end sag, and the later you go in the 1970s decade the less the chance as the coaches received reinforcing plates at the factory around the middle of the decade. Rear end separation on the other hand can impact any coach particularly if the rear compartment door has ever leaked or the joint between the bumper compartment and coach has been permitted to leak. Rear end separation is most often accompanied by floor rot in and around the rear compartment, and again, a coach with this problem can readily be excluded from consideration through careful inspection.

My reading of your plans is that you are looking for a coach needing primarily cosmetic attention. There are such coaches out there, but it will take careful shopping and inspection to ferret out a coach meeting your criteria. The careful pre-purchase inspection will also arm you with the facts regarding repairs and costs to get the coach to an acceptable level for you . . . some repairs are comparatively straight-forward requiring little speculation regarding cost . . . but if a major defect such as bad floor, frame damage, etc. is encountered the actual cost is much more difficult to determine as the total cost won't be readily apparent until the project is opened up. You can almost count on having to replace any of the original appliances sometime within the first few years of ownership (air conditioner, furnace, water pump, refrigerator, water heater) as these devices are nearing the end of their service life (don't be afraid to use the original appliance until they expire providing that they are able to pass safety inspection).

Something else to keep in mind is to consider making use of AirForums voluntee inspectors. These members have the knowledge of Airstreams and can assist you in uncovering obvious as well as less than obvious issues with a particular coach.

Good luck with your search and investigation!

Kevin
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Old 09-28-2011, 02:53 PM   #5
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Hi Jim I have a 73 Excella center bath model myself. I love the Excella's they have several features not found on any other A/S of that decade. Look for one 73 and up so it has a black tank as well as a grey tank. In 1974 grey tanks became standard in all A/S but the Excellas had them starting in 73.
I can highly recommend Frank's Trailer Works in Baltimore. Frank Yensan is a great guy to work with and really knows his stuff. I am sending him three trailers to be done.
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Old 09-29-2011, 09:03 AM   #6
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Rear End Sag and 1970's Models, 5" Deep Frame

Kevin,

Thanks for the superb feedback. On the rear end sag and the 70s models, if I'm reading my Airstream history correctly, it sounds like Beatrice added a lot of weight and width to the Airstreams without properly reinforcing the frames, leading to the dreaded sag. I wonder if this is especially the case if not only the bathroom but possible the black and gray tanks are also toward the rear, this would be heavy.

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Careful inspection can nearly rule out any coaches that have existing rear end sag, and the later you go in the 1970s decade the less the chance as the coaches received reinforcing plates at the factory around the middle of the decade.

Kevin
Do you by chance know when in the 70s they started reinforcing the framing in the Sovereigns and Excella 500s? I read in one post that they went from a 4" to 5" deep frame that apparently is much stiffer and addresses the problem. Does this sound right? Does anybody know what year they introduced the 5" deep frame?

I wonder if going with a 5" frame plus a center bath can be a smart way to avoid the most serious sag related frame issues.

Best,

Jim
Arlington, Virginia
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Old 09-29-2011, 10:03 AM   #7
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Jim my 73 has a 5" frame. In the center bath models the waste tanks are located in the middle of the trailer. The grey tank is in between the axles and the black tank is just behind that. Most of the weight problem lies with the rear bath models.
The rear end seperation problems stems from the way that the bumper cover funnels water in to the shell of the trailer which then gets into the floor, rotting it and rusting out the rear crossmember of the frame. The rear holddown plate and it's bolts also rust out leading to seperation problems. This is worse with rear bath models with the access hatch back there as the holddown plate is smaller to allow for the hatch.
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Old 09-29-2011, 12:07 PM   #8
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Jim,

I have a 1974 Overlander double in very good shape if you're willing to look at a 27' footer out here in Front Royal, VA. PM me if you have any interest.
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Old 09-29-2011, 03:46 PM   #9
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So mid- to late-70s Excella Center Bath it is

All,

thanks again so much for the superb advice. In conclusion, I wonder if a good start to my project might be a mid to late 70's 31' Excella 500 center bath twin in great structural condition; a little wear/ roughness on the inside and even failing appliances wouldn't bother me, as I intend to update those with energy efficient models anyway. I can take it to someone like Frank's Trailer Works in Baltimore for a comprehensive inspection and have him do any structural/ road safety work like new axles/wheels, etc., then just tow it home, park it my backyard, and have fun doing the cosmetic work over time.

The Excella 500 just seems so interesting because of all the special gadgets and features it had, and the fun of replacing any missing items with modern models. Like the vacuum cleaner, or the "Dish-Quick Dishwasher," or built-in safety deposit box. And what exactly, I wonder, is a "Concealed Refreshment Center"? Is that some sort of hidden shag carpeted bar that is revealed by a secret switch that also activates disco music on the sound system? If not, should it be? Ah, the 70s.

Cheers,
Jim
Arlington, Virginia
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