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Old 05-18-2008, 06:03 PM   #1
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Berwyn , Alberta
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'77 Excella 500

Hello To All,

I've been skulking in the background, reading and learning, for the past year and have finally located a 1977 31' Excella 500 that I will be seeing for the first time in two weeks. Although my wife and I have owned SOB's for 25 years ( currently have a 27.5' Kustom Koach - Canadian, eh ), I was wondering what may cause us grief on the '77 Excella.

I've heard references to hydraulic brakes ?? ( I thought they went out in the 60's ) and tail droop due to weak/undersized frames ( this is a rear bath model ) and floor rot, so I can probably spot the obvious, but are there other 'issues' that we should be aware of?

According to the current owner, the unit is pristine ( aren't they all? ) and can be had for $6000.00 (CDN) and is within 200 miles of our current location. If any of this is true, doesn't that sound like a deal, or am I just trying to sell myself on owning an A/S?

Thanks for any and all fedback.
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Old 05-18-2008, 06:27 PM   #2
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If it's in great condition, that's not a bad price. The rear bath models did have the separation problem; however, it can be fixed, but that would drop the price a bit. Check the frig to see if it will work on both gas and electric. That's about $900.00 to $1400.00 to replace. Check the A/C, if it has one in Canada. That's about $600.00 to replace. Do the ice pick test on the floors and hook it up to shore water to see if it leaks under pressure. See if the windows open and what the gaskets look like. Gaskets are cheap, but it takes time to replace them. If it has vista-view windows, forget how they look. They all look terrible by this time and are a bummer to clean. Don't let anyone tell you it's easy to clean them...it's not, but you can camp with them the way they are until you want to tackle the job. Make sure if there are vista-views that the shades are there because they get really hot in the sun if you can't cover them. Check the axels, first by just seeing how high the coach is riding on the tires. You should be able to see 2 or 3 inches up on the rubber past the wheels. Axels are about $800.00 a piece. Just look the trailer over and if there are things you need before you can go camping, discuss the price with the owner. Oh yes, check the inside lights and outlets to see if the 12V and shore electric work. Also check the running lights if you can hook it up to your tow vehicle. HOWEVER, if you love it and can work on it....everyone here knows it will be at your house in 2 weeks and ONE DAY.
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Old 05-18-2008, 07:10 PM   #3
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The ice pick check should be used especially on the floor at the entry door. The '77s had true vacuum assist hydraulic brakes - not electric over hydraulic. A vacuum hose was connected between the TV and trailer. Most original installations probably won't be working after all this time unless they were meticulously maintained. I understand parts are still available.
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Old 05-18-2008, 08:13 PM   #4
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Look for a telltale bulge over the wheelwell-if there, it indicates the frame has bent.
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Old 05-18-2008, 08:55 PM   #5
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Thanks for the heads up on the hydraulic brakes. I plan on crawling underneath to check the axles and look for any obvious signs of fatigue, so I'll keep an eye open for hydraulic lines, rather than wires and an eye open for bulges over the wheelwells.
Good point about window gaskets and operability. I'll definitely check all of the appliances - including the water pump and water heater and the holding tanks. Unlike all of our previous trailers, the A/S has enclosed tanks and lines and the possibility of a leak inside all of that sheet metal is daunting, to say the least.
I shall take a 110 volt light tester with me and all of the lights should be 12 volt shouldn't they? We will hook up the TV to check out the running lights, signals etc. and the brakes - if they are electric. Our TV is a Dodge diesel, so I don't know about vacuum over hydraulic brakes. Hopefully the PO will have changed the axles out for electric brakes by now.
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Old 05-18-2008, 09:08 PM   #6
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Quote:
Originally Posted by RockStar
Hello To All,

I've been skulking in the background, reading and learning, for the past year and have finally located a 1977 31' Excella 500 that I will be seeing for the first time in two weeks. Although my wife and I have owned SOB's for 25 years ( currently have a 27.5' Kustom Koach - Canadian, eh ), I was wondering what may cause us grief on the '77 Excella.

I've heard references to hydraulic brakes ?? ( I thought they went out in the 60's ) and tail droop due to weak/undersized frames ( this is a rear bath model ) and floor rot, so I can probably spot the obvious, but are there other 'issues' that we should be aware of?

According to the current owner, the unit is pristine ( aren't they all? ) and can be had for $6000.00 (CDN) and is within 200 miles of our current location. If any of this is true, doesn't that sound like a deal, or am I just trying to sell myself on owning an A/S?

Thanks for any and all fedback.
That trailer should have hydraulic "disc brakes."

They are far superior than electric brake, period.

Rear end separation, or tail droop, has nothing to do with the frame.

The principal method of construction of an Airstream, is called Monocoque. That means the shell is load bearing.

The rear end problem happens when the shell no longer holds the frame up.

Causes?

Rotten floor in the rear, lack of proper running gear balance (tires, wheels and hub and drums, as an assembly).

Mounting something on the rear end, that has more than 20 or 30 pounds of weight.

The distance from the rear wheel to the bumper is about 13 feet or so. That means each pound of weight that is added to the rear, weighs 13 pounds, sitting still. When a bump is hit, that weight multiplies rapidly. Therefore 100 pounds on the rear, is actually 1300 pounds sitting still, and when hitting a bump, can go to several thousands of pounds.

That's called "moment arm."

The shell is not designed to hold up thatkind of weight.

Beefing up the frame, makes the problem even worse.

The fix is to repair the separation, and then "ADD" many more hold down points.

That's not a "biggie" but it must be done correctly.

Check the axles. If the trailer has been parked for a long time, the rubber in the axles could have solidified, making the trailer have a rough ride, which in turn, causes many other problems, that get to be expensive to correct.

Dura Torque Axle

The above article will help you check them out in less than one minute.

Andy
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Old 05-18-2008, 09:13 PM   #7
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Quote:
Originally Posted by RockStar
Thanks for the heads up on the hydraulic brakes. I plan on crawling underneath to check the axles and look for any obvious signs of fatigue, so I'll keep an eye open for hydraulic lines, rather than wires and an eye open for bulges over the wheelwells.
Good point about window gaskets and operability. I'll definitely check all of the appliances - including the water pump and water heater and the holding tanks. Unlike all of our previous trailers, the A/S has enclosed tanks and lines and the possibility of a leak inside all of that sheet metal is daunting, to say the least.
I shall take a 110 volt light tester with me and all of the lights should be 12 volt shouldn't they? We will hook up the TV to check out the running lights, signals etc. and the brakes - if they are electric. Our TV is a Dodge diesel, so I don't know about vacuum over hydraulic brakes. Hopefully the PO will have changed the axles out for electric brakes by now.
Electric brakes are a far second to disc brakes.

The old system requires a source of vacuum that your tow vehicle does not have.

However, that can be over come by removing the booster assembly from the front of the trailer, and adding a new style "actuator." The new style actuators, run on electric only. No vacuum is required.

Also, we are the only company that has parts for the original disc brake system.

Andy
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Old 05-18-2008, 09:50 PM   #8
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Thanks, Andy for your excellent point about disc brakes. Of course they are far superior to drums and shoes, but I was concerned about vacuum on the diesel. But now that I know that there is an alternative to having to find a vacuum source, no worries.
Your point about monocoque construction is well taken. I was mistaken in the belief that the frame was bearing the weight of the shell and componants, not the other way around. With such a long overhang, it is easy to see why tail sag takes place.
Any other things that we should watch for or be thrilled about on that particular model/configuration?
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Old 05-18-2008, 10:38 PM   #9
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Go newer!

Dear Rockstar,

I had a '77 Excella 500 with the rear bath. I thought it was awesome when I first got it. Then I started digging...

The short answer is....buy one that's 20 years newer and save yourself a lot of trouble.

Mine had frame sag (you could see the buckle in the skin), rear end separation, the vacuum brakes that there was nothing left of, the vista view windows that looked like someone poured a bucket of broken glass shards between the panes (that would be the scotch tint disentigrating), worn out axles (they all are at that age), rotting floor, tambour doors that would hang up (those things are a menace), nasty 30 year old carpet, shot upholstery, a fridge that wouldn't work, worn out water heater, gnarly electrical system....the list goes on.

Unless you're supremely lucky, you'll be buying a shell that will need a total rebuild to make it right, most likely with extensive frame work.

I came into it wide eyed thinking I was getting a deal. Got mine for $2300 US. I did a lot of work to it (non structural) and sold it for $3000 US and was darn glad to get that for it. Not counting sweat-equity, I about broke even. If you count my hours of labor, I lost big time.

Not to be gloomy, but those old long coaches have so much trouble that unless you're planning on a super rebuild, I honestly think you'd be better off with a newer one. They upgraded the frames in 1985. I'd go newer. I'm not sure of the exchange rate right now, but $6000 Canadian ought to get you a 1987 rig I'd think.

Best of luck, whichever route you go,
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Old 05-18-2008, 11:08 PM   #10
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I've also had a '77 Excella 500 31' with rear bathroom and it had signs of rear end sag. While I really like my '86 Sovereign 25' with beefier frame, I'd make the trip anyway to see what condition the coach is in. I've seen one that was in really good shape with an excellent frame and rear floor (no prior repair to these areas).
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Old 05-18-2008, 11:43 PM   #11
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I definitely will go over to check this coach out,but i'm no dreamy-eyed optimist and I certainly don't need another 'project', so if there's any sign of a major problem - we're outta there. We have a perfectly useable SOB now and don't NEED the A/S, but it would be nice to live the dream.

Thanks for all the input. Many good points to ponder and I'll update you on the results of our inspection.
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Old 05-19-2008, 12:04 AM   #12
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We got our 1976 31ft Sovereign last October. It is NOT the rear bath, but I was expecting problems with it anyway. I will say that this trailer is in wonderful condition and was extremely well taken care of. It is perfect for what we want to do with it, which is take it to the lake in the Spring and bring it home in the Winter. It rides and tows very well, the coach sits high up on the wheels and stops on a dime. I'm not certain I would want to pull this 31ft all over the country, it's just too much trailer for that. Soooo, think about what you intend to use this old trailer for and take it from there. Several of us here on the Forum have these long vintage AS and like them a lot. If you intend to trade in your newer SOB for this trailer and tow it extensively, you might want something newer
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Old 05-19-2008, 10:49 AM   #13
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Quote:
Originally Posted by juel
... If you intend to trade in your newer SOB for this trailer and tow it extensively, you might want something newer
I've also been impressed with the '95 Excella in the 28' length. Just about perfect for towing and plenty of room. It was the rear bed/mid bath model.
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