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Old 03-03-2014, 09:17 PM   #1
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Raincoaster to renovate

Hello there! What a great site this is.

I am investigating buying a 1970 31' Sovereign international twin for sale near me. The idea is to park it on my property for vacation living, something that will extend the opportunity to enjoy our property beyond the tenting/camping season. And make it more accessible for young ones.

The 1970 Airstream I'm looking at has significant interior smoke damage, we would plan to gut the entire thing. That's what brought me to these forums - what an incredible collection of information is here!

We're just trying to decide whether this is a good buy or not, whether we're getting in over our heads in trying to gut it and redo the interior more simply. My brother is a finishing carpenter and is confident we can make quick work of the interior. We also have a lead on getting some welding done at a good price - the back end of the trailer needs some sealing to the frame.

Any advice on taking on this project will be greatly appreciated, that's what I'll be looking at on this forum.

Thanks again for the warm welcome and for sharing your thoughts, everyone!
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Old 03-05-2014, 10:06 AM   #2
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The 1970 Airstream I'm looking at has significant interior smoke damage, we would plan to gut the entire thing. That's what brought me to these forums - what an incredible collection of information is here!
Can't say whether it's a good purchase. First, when you say "smoke damage" do you mean staining due to cigarette/cigar smoke, or do you mean soot/staining from an interior fire? Both are smoke damage, but entirely different as to consequences.

Fire means heat. Heat and sheet aluminum may not mix well; the aluminum might have lost some of its tempering, which can occur at temperatures as low as 300°F for some alloys (house fires, and by extension RV fires, often burn at temperatures over 800°F, though any firefighters out there are free to correct me if I'm wrong). Damage to the metal is especially likely if, as in most fires, heating and subsequent cooling happened at different rates in different areas.
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Old 03-05-2014, 11:25 AM   #3
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The 70 Airstream models do not have gray tanks. No problem, if state laws allow you to dump. You need to determine how you will handle septic before you commit money to something that may not be capable of meeting your goals.
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Old 03-05-2014, 11:56 AM   #4
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As to whether it is a good deal or not, pictures would be helpful, and asking price required. Some trailers are in such bad shape that they are too much work, at any price.

At the risk of being accused of heresy, I would say that you could buy a recently used "FEMA" trailer for under $3k, and be using it tomorrow. Or, you could buy a 40 year old Airstream with lots of character, smoke damage, and labor required, and spend the next couple of years trying to make it liveable. It is sort of like saying "I need a truck just to drive around on my farm." You probably wouldn't expect to take a 1970 Chevy that had been parked behind someone's barn for the last 20 years and expect it to be something you could use safely and reliably, right?

Are you getting in over your head? Well, if you can observe problems with the rear end, then you likely have extensive "rear end separation," which means decaying frame, rotten flooring, and possible damage to the aluminum skin. To correct the problem, you are looking at gutting the rear end, and removing lower skins, dropping the bellypan, and replacing plywood, rebuilding frame, etc.. When you open up those walls, you will discover the vermin infestation, and before you know it, the shell will be hanging from a tree in your front yard, and you will be doing a shell-off.

Or not, it all depends on how far you are willing to go. It just seems that all Airstream projects take twice as long as you think they will, and cost three times as much as you plan.

good luck!
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Old 03-05-2014, 12:14 PM   #5
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At the risk of being accused of heresy, I would say that you could buy a recently used "FEMA" trailer for under $3k, and be using it tomorrow.
Not any of the used FEMA trailers I've seen along the Gulf Coast! They were used hard by people who didn't own them and didn't even want to be in them in the first place, and weren't all that great when brand-spanking new. They were designed to be used for three to six months and then thrown away, even though there were people living in the same trailer for three years before FEMA finally took them back by force. I've seen FEMA trailer graveyards around here. NOT a pretty sight!

Not to mention that they were all "park" models with no holding tanks at all and no 12v systems, and were therefore useless unless connected to the full range of utilities.

But that doesn't make the point you were making any less valid. There aren't very many Airstreams for sale that are so badly gone that they're worthless except as scrap, but some will require more TLC to be usable than others.
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Old 03-05-2014, 12:18 PM   #6
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Before you buy, look up rear end separation here.
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Old 03-05-2014, 01:35 PM   #7
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Well, I should have looked carefully at where the OP was posting from, and I'd have seen that a FEMA trailer, good, bad, or otherwise is likely pretty scarce in BC. Point I was trying to make is that if you are buying a wreck of an Airstream because you think it will be cheap or easy to make it liveable, even as a permanently parked model, you should consider all options, as you can probably find something immediately useable, in a less stylish package, that will cost way less time and money in the long run.
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Old 03-06-2014, 12:37 AM   #8
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Wow, thanks everyone, this is helpful.
The asking price for this Airstream was $2500, I planned to propose $1800 given the damage. The smoke damage was extensive, some kind of furnace or stove fire, most of the kitchen needed replacing but fridge and come cupboards intact, the rest of the unit just in neglect and disrepair. I thought to gut the whole thing. I have access to a space for rent to work on it with my brother's expertise and tools at hand, including welding and carpentry. But at $200/month for the rental space, and the cost of towing and materials might outweigh the free labour and expertise. I'm hoping to extend the season of enjoying my property sooner than later, like having that in place this year even if there are longer term goals to build something permanent there. I really like the Airstreams, but this damaged beast might be more to bite off than I can chew... still, my brother and I are up for a project and motivated to make something special.

I will look up rear end damage on these forums to be sure.
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Old 03-06-2014, 08:39 PM   #9
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Look at it this way, the money you save by buying a basket case, you will spend many times over doing repairs. So whether you spend $2500 or $1800 isn't really material. Assume that everything on the interior will have to be replaced--all appliances, all furnishings, probably the AC (if you think you need one in BC). Even if you don't worry about holding tanks, condition of frame, or making it "roadworthy," because it is going to be parked and plumbed to a system of some kind, there is still a lot of expense in materials and time that you will burn through. I'm two years into the refurb of a trailer that I bought planning to do some superficial sprucing up, and I am just now beginning on the rebuild of the interior.

Anyway, if you continue on the path, good luck--just manage your expectations--you have a big project ahead of you!
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Old 03-06-2014, 08:55 PM   #10
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Personally, I wouldn't spend any amount of money on a metal trailer that has fire damage. The heat could have warped panels and/or structure, reducing the chance of maintaining any reliable seal against water ingress. Also, the 30 foot trailers from the 70's are pretty plentiful around these parts, so if you're patient you can afford to be picky. Also, if the trailer is to remain stationary, you would probably be better finding a used park model.
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Old 03-07-2014, 03:18 AM   #11
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This may sound really bad but for the airstream I would offer him or them 725.00 (scrap and part value unless aluminum drops again) then I would start looking at all internet used airstream ads to include Craigslist and see if there is something in better shape. No it is not an insult to offer thousands less then the asking especially for a salvaged airstream which the burnt airstream is. Then if you find something more in the cost and condition range that you are looking for it would be time for a road trip adventure! Your motivation is noteworthy and 99% or the forum shell off renovations started with just that and some of us have and are enjoying the ride. As for the rest you can find many gutted airstream ads in the classifieds and it is all good they ran out of time, money or motivation which happens so buy but do not over pay for scrap and try (I could not) to slow down and look carefully.
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