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Old 02-24-2009, 04:44 AM   #1
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Considering purchasing a gutted '49 Limited Cruiser...

This weekend I drove 2 hours out into the boonies to take a look at a 1949 Limited Cruiser that I found listed locally on Craigslist. The shell appeared to be in excellent condition, with only one moderate sized dent, on the top rear right side. Inside, it has been gutted, with no flooring and almost all of the interior amenities removed, though all of the riveted interior aluminum panels are still intact. The seller still had some of the original interior pieces in his garage—most notably the refrigerator and sink, as well as a couple of the original cabinets. The flooring would need to be completely replaced/redone, and a couple of the underbody panels needed replacement as well. A few of the window panes are missing, as well as a few other things here and there (missing front step, needs electrical work, etc.).

Essentially, it's a complete project trailer, that will need a total overhaul and restoration. The seller is asking $2,500 firm, and I am wondering if this would be considered a reasonable price for this model in this condition. Beyond that, my only concern is the strength of the pipe frame chassis. I would want to put some modern amenities in there, and while I don't plan to load it up with lead bullion, I'm sure it would end up weighing quite a bit more than it was originally designed for.

That said, are there any reasonable modifications that can be made to strengthen it up, other than turning the pipe frame into a pseudo-ladder frame? Would solid hardwood flooring (i.e. 2x4's in place of plywood) be adequate to stiffen up the interior to bear more weight, or are these old pipe frame Airstreams simply possessive of more novelty than actual potential, akin to Grampa's old damascus barreled shotgun, that will blow up in your hand if you try to shoot it? (I've heard horror stories of pipe frames pulling out from under the trailer...myth?) Any insights or suggestions would be greatly appreciated.



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Old 02-24-2009, 05:58 AM   #2
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You really do need to create a more modern frame. The pipe frame can be modified or an entirely new frame can be fabricated to put the trailer on.
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Old 02-24-2009, 12:04 PM   #3
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Good excuse to build an aluminum frame to put under it. Always wanted to build a completely aluminum 'Stream, complete with an aluminum honeycomb floor and an aluminum frame.
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Old 02-25-2009, 01:16 PM   #4
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Would an aluminum frame be rigid enough? That said, I think building a frame from scratch is beyond my skill level. Do most people that purchase these old trailers for use build new frames for them? Or do they just keep them very, very lightly loaded?
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Old 02-26-2009, 04:57 PM   #5
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To me the main value of a trailer like that is that it is the lightest. It should be restored and towed with an early 50s car to car shows. But that's just me.

It has now been butchered to the point where it is hardly worth restoring. I would pass and get a better one especially at that price. Leave it for someone who wants a 49 model bad enough to pay a stupid price for a butchered trailer.
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Old 02-26-2009, 05:08 PM   #6
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The old pipe frame was plenty strong for its intended application. Remember that is a very light trailer for its size with no bathroom and minimal accessories. The furnishings were made as light as possible. If you keep it stock the plywood floor and pipe frame are fine. If you want to go getting ideas of your own, and load it down with things it was never meant to have it will need a heavier frame and a lot of other changes. But in that case you would be a lot better off to start with a newer trailer that was made heavier and made to handle all the modern conveniences.

On the subject of aluminum frames. It would be quite possible, technically, to make an aluminum frame. Look at transport trucks, their trailers have used aluminum frames for 20 years or more.

But it would be a lot of expense for no practical gain. The weight saving would not affect your towing ability or mileage significantly. The weight of the frame is carried low down so an aluminum frame would actually be less stable. Although the difference would be too small to notice.

In short the aluminum frame and composite floor would be cool to have but not worth the extra expense.
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Old 02-26-2009, 05:14 PM   #7
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It's worth remembering that in 1949 the typical American car had a flathead 6 cylinder engine of 100HP or less, the weight distributing hitch had not been invented, there were no multi lane hiways and towing speeds were 50MPH or less.

Light weight was a lot more important than it is today.

Furthermore many things we take for granted like air conditioning, TV and even bathrooms were not considered necessary in trailers.

So light weight and simplicity were not only more desirable but easier to achieve. When they got more powerful cars the trailers started to put on weight to the point where today's Airstream of the same size weighs about 3 times as much.
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Old 02-26-2009, 06:49 PM   #8
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Jhealy1955, I would consider this further before walking away from it. The desireability factor is always a personal decision. The rarity of this trailer has something to be said for it. A search of our member list shows one (1) of this model and year, out of twentysomething thousand members.
Look at vintageairstream.com/archives for some good info about this year. It was larger than the year before and the one following it. It was also the last year for the pipe frame.
The price is okay IMHO. If it crumbled to dust in your driveway you could recoupe that investment in parts or scrap (GOD FORBID!)
If you want a second set of eyes on it I'm not far from you. Send me a PM if you need help.
Personally, I like lots of windows, and I just can't find them on this trailer no matter how hard I look!
Rich
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Old 02-26-2009, 09:18 PM   #9
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I have a 50 Flying Cloud with a pipe frame. I have found very little about restoring a pipe frame on the forum. It seams most suggest beefing it up with a "pseudo ladder" as you have mentioned. Most do not have a ladder frame. I did that but now regret it (too much weight). This is what I learned and my opinions.

The pipe and the brackets that hold the pipe to the ribs, and the "runners (a manufactured c-channel of light weight steel) that support the axle are all steel. A lot of this on my trailer was very corroded. I thought that I needed to beef it up. I did with 4 inch steel c-channel. Now it think I would have replaced the "runners" with purlin (light c-channel used in steel buildings) instead as this is much lighter than the c-channel I used. I have added so much weight to my trailer that in the end, in my opinion, I have ruined the original very light design. I think if you build it back to the original design that the strength is in the whole, not the frame of the floor or the shell.

You might need to build new ribs. These are simple and are either a C or I (two Cs back to back). The brackets to connect the rib to the pipe or runners you will have to manufacture something. I used a combination of the old bracket and stainless pipe clamps.

I replaced the floor with 5/8 inch ply wood. This added a lot of extra weight (20+ pounds a sheet). I should have uses 3/8 as the original had.

This pipe down the middle limits your space for under the floor tanks. When I replaced some of my ribs as they were too corroded, I made nine inch in place of six inch ribs. This modifies the look of the trailer as it gives it a “junk in the truck” look if you know what I mean. Where to fit in tanks is a question. One person said he was going to build a steel frame on top of the original frame out of 2 inch c-channel. I like this idea. It may be worth the consideration. You gain some added strength and space under the floor for tanks. You will have to replace the belly skins but are probably going to have to anyhow.

In restoring you will probably end up taking out all the inner skins, replace all the insulation and electrical and have to mod-in plumbing and tanks and any other modern convenience you want. This also includes lifting the shell off the frame and restoring the frame.

If I had to do it again I would
1. Stay true to the uber light pipe frame. (limit the amount of steel framing)
2. Not use 5/8 plywood. (Adds 20+ pounds a sheet), use 3/8. This is also making me adjust the wheel wells as they no longer match the outer skin (they are too high, floor is taller)
3. understand and measure all dimensions and patterns because after you lift the shell and have to fabricate a floor that did not exist when you bought it (mine too did not have a floor, just rotted pieces and plywood and other), you will need to match the shape of the curves of the shell. You cannot rely on the shell’s shape once it is pulled.
4. rob a bank
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Old 02-26-2009, 09:47 PM   #10
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I used the pipe frame

The flooring and pipe frame on mine (47 Curtis Wright) was perfect. I replaced the floor to access the belly and insulate. I went back with original type marine plywood and have no worries about the structural strength. It also feels rock solid. The original cabinetry is extremely light weight....and not much of it.
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Old 02-28-2009, 05:02 AM   #11
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Melody Ranch, Can you explain what is in those photos? In the right one on the top... to the left end of each cross member... is that rusted out or is that a strange reflection? The white strips of wood with the screws showing in the first and last photo... is that a cleat to hold a patch? And in the first and last photo there is what apears to be a pine or fir 1 x 6 on edge... what is that? I am kicking around buying a 49 myself and want to know what I am getting into.
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Old 02-28-2009, 08:57 AM   #12
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My bad picture taking.

No rust at all on the frame. Well, maybe a little surface, light, on the two outboard frame sections that are over the axle.....the only frame parts made of steel other than the pipe. Thats what you are seeing. The floor is absolutely pristine and what you are seeing with the "white pine 1 x 2 boards is the original framing for the floor heater which was never installed. I just held the camera under the belly to get the pictures and took whatever. Deceptive also is that this part of the belly, the 4 foot section centered on the axle, never was covered with belly skin. My Curtis is unique in that it was never used on the road...just skirted and parked in a very dry environment. I plan to eventually put some tanks in there...but only have 6 inches vertically to work with, then install a belly pan cover using rivnuts instead of rivets.
If you both have a chance at 40's Airstream...go at it. If you don't want it...call me...I'm already numb from the costs involved.
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Old 02-28-2009, 11:13 PM   #13
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You have the most original, perfectly preserved, never used Curtis in the world and you want to modify it? Are you crazy?
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