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Old 07-17-2013, 10:00 AM   #1
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Looking for a Restoration Project - Need Advice

Hello Everyone,

I'm new to the Airstream Forums, and I'm here, because I'm looking for a restoration project. I want want to restore an airstream that would be suitable for 2 adults (who would have a separate bedroom), plus four kids. When I have looked at new trailers, we have been looking at bunkhouses. To help me narrow down my search, does anyone have a suggestion as to the model or era I should be looking for? I'm prepared to travel extensively to find the project if necessary, and I'm prepared to wait for the right project to come along.
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Old 07-17-2013, 11:45 AM   #2
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yes. i think you'd be looking for a sovereign probably (31 ft) with twin beds and bunks. then the 2 adults can sleep in the front pull out gaucho. i *think* you can add bunks to any set of twin beds. i think you'll find this layout in almost any year of vintage airstream, but they seem much more common in the 70's trailers.

Look out for rear-end separation. Jump on that back bumper, and make sure the unit bounces up and down as one cohesive unit; if the body stays in place and the bumper moves ; that's 'rear end separation'.
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Old 07-17-2013, 12:21 PM   #3
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If you want something small and cheaper to tow, I would recommend a Tradewind. Two singles and above space for bunks, plus the gaucho at front. To me that is the ticket.
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Old 07-17-2013, 12:25 PM   #4
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In order to accommodate 6 people, you are going to have to get creative. Most of the vintage trailers are set up for no more than 4, and the "factory" bunk beds are limited as to how much weight they can accommodate. I'm not saying it can't be done--just depends on how creative you get. That being said, shorter trailers (for instance Tradewinds and Overlanders) could be set up with bunk beds for 4 and a pull out sofa for the parents. You may find it very tough to get the layout you describe (with separate bedroom) in the older Airstreams--I'm guessing you will have to accept that the parental bed will become a dinette or a sofa during the day.

Be sure you understand the scope of the project you are considering as well. When you say "restoration," do you mean that you want to shine it up and change the upholstery, maybe do some painting in the interior, and repair broken appliances, or that you are willing to lift the shell from the frame and rebuild completely. If the former, then you will need to find a trailer that has already had a lot of work done on it (depending of course upon how old it is, and how it has been stored). If the latter, then consider how much time you have for the project. I am exactly two years into a complete rebuild of a 21' trailer, and have A LOT of work to do yet. It has been my primary "hobby" during this time.

Look through the Forums for the full restoration (Full Monty) threads, and you will get a glimpse of the time it takes. You might also buy a DVD with all of the back episodes of The Vintage Airstream Podcast (The VAP), and listen to them during your daily commute--they go into all kinds of restoration and repair topics. May help you to manage expectations.

I am curious about your desire to have a "project." Do you want to do a restoration because it sound like fun, or to save money vs. buying new?

Good luck
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Old 07-17-2013, 01:21 PM   #5
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I want to do a restoration because I'm looking for a long term project, and the reality is that once I'm done I'll have a trailer that will be better than what I could buy new. When I say restoration, I'm talking gutting the entire trailer, and rebuilding from the frame up (so new electrics, new appliances, rebuilding or replacing counters/shelving/beds/upholstery, etc.). My assumption was that I am looking at a one to three year project.

In terms of new vs. old, I would reuse anything that was good on the trailer, with the caveat that when it is complete, I would want it to look and last like new. I build fine furniture, so I have some skills to start out with.

My difficulty right now is I don't know the extent to which I'm ignorant about restoring airstreams - I do know that I want something that is structurally sound.
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Old 07-17-2013, 01:38 PM   #6
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So here is the next question - when looking at airstreams, what do I need to look for to determine whether an airstream is structurally solid?
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Old 07-17-2013, 02:11 PM   #7
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Treat it like you would a "classic" car restoration. If you buy something that is 30+ years old, you won't expect to take it on a road trip, and the same generally goes for any travel trailer.

Just another word of anecdotal caution, I spent two years looking for "the trailer," my requirements being a certain size, floor plan, and no major skin damage. When I finally found my candidate, I drove 600 miles, and wasn't even about to go home empty handed. So I accepted that there were some soft spots in the floor (no problem, I'm a wood worker), and a pushed in segment (I'll pull it out with a suction cup), and went merrily on my way. Floor rot can be inspected for, but when the previous owner assures you that the floor is solid, chances are he hasn't gone around the perimeter with an ice pick looking for rot. It is very difficult to tell how rotten a frame is without drilling out rivets. So my "spruce-up" job turned into a shell-off, which was a bit more of a project than I had bargained for.

Well it turned out that if I had bought the first trailer I looked at two years earlier, I would be finished with the reconstruction and on my way to the desert/mountains/beach right now!

There are plenty of trailers out there that someone took on as a project. They did the shell off, frame repair, axle replacement and floor replacement, and then ran out of steam. If you buy one of these trailers, you would be way ahead--all you have to do is construct an interior.
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Old 07-17-2013, 02:13 PM   #8
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Search the forums for terms like "inspection checklist," and you will find threads full of things to check for. Another option is that many of the Forums members offer their services as inspectors. If you find a good candidate that is further than you want to drive, you might look for a forum member ins the area who is willing to take a look at it for you.
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Old 07-17-2013, 02:22 PM   #9
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Start with an ice pik or a screw driver and poke around the floor to see if there are any soft spots...around wheel wells, door, behind fridge, under windows and especially in the bathroom. The sub-floor is usually the first thing to go in an older Airstream. If the floor has been wet and started to rot, then you can pretty much assume that you have rust and damage on the frame. Hard to check that out without dropping the belly pan. If there is a battery in it, providing it has been properly maintained, plug the Airstream into a 30 amp socket and see what works. If it has a Univolt power converter in it, you will probably hear it humming. And you will probably want to replace it anyway, since the old Univolts are notorious for boiling batteries dry.

Also check for rear end separation (where the shell has become detached from the frame). You do that by having someone bounce up and down on the bumper while you are observing whether there is visable movement between the shell and the frame. If the axels are original torsion, they will need to be replaced. If the shell looks as if it is sitting low down over the wheels, the torsion axels are shot.

If the unit has been sitting a long time, you might want to consider putting new tires on it before you try to tow it down the road. A tire separation can do a lot of damage at highway speed.

If she powers up on shore power, then I would hook up to your tow vehicle and see if you have running lights and brakes.

These are just some of the more obvious things to consider....and should be reflected in the asking price.

Good Luck!
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Old 07-17-2013, 02:39 PM   #10
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Quote:
Originally Posted by pckeen View Post
My assumption was that I am looking at a one to three year project.

In terms of new vs. old, I would reuse anything that was good on the trailer, with the caveat that when it is complete, I would want it to look and last like new. I build fine furniture, so I have some skills to start out with.

My difficulty right now is I don't know the extent to which I'm ignorant about restoring airstreams - I do know that I want something that is structurally sound.
As soon as you mentioned the expected duration, I had more confidence in you. Having a long term mindset is the best way to approach this. I had a long term mindset, but also set myself aggressive goals in order to propel things along. I would say that I hit most of my goals until I had a campable trailer even without the interior cabinetry. Your family will probably find it fun to just use it as a giant aluminum tent once you are a year in and have replaced the shell onto the frame. For me, once it was barebones road-ready and could be used for camping, my weekends for working on it turned into weekends of camping in it and the timeline slowed. So basically, expect it to take 3 years, set a goal of 1, and have at it.

If you are really serious about the search, I would recommend reading a few of the different Complete Renovation threads listed here: http://www.airforums.com/forums/f44/...ons-35399.html

It is good to have that sort of background knowledge on issues that people come across. It also helps to see what should be in the trailer or what is behind the walls/ under the floor/ etc.

And welcome to the community!!
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Old 07-17-2013, 03:09 PM   #11
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Contact me I have a pretty solid '79 international sovereign land yacht 31', I done a lot to it to make it road ready. I need a residence camper for work full time on the road. Indeed something ready to live in.

I sent you a PM
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Old 07-17-2013, 05:32 PM   #12
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Looking for a Restoration Project - Need Advice

Greetings pckeen!

Welcome to the Forums and the world of Airstreaming!

Quote:
Originally Posted by pckeen View Post
I'm new to the Airstream Forums, and I'm here, because I'm looking for a restoration project. I want want to restore an airstream that would be suitable for 2 adults (who would have a separate bedroom), plus four kids. When I have looked at new trailers, we have been looking at bunkhouses. To help me narrow down my search, does anyone have a suggestion as to the model or era I should be looking for? I'm prepared to travel extensively to find the project if necessary, and I'm prepared to wait for the right project to come along.
Starting sometime in the 1950s, Airstream began offering a fairly "standard" floorplan in its travel trailers that were 24' or larger that is often referred to as the "Center Twin". With a center twin floorplan, you would find a bathroom across the rear of the coach with twin beds along the center aisle then the galley with the living area in the very front of the coach. With the longer coaches, most of the extra length went into the living area. While both Airstream and Argosy offered bunk bed options with the center twin, they were far from universally installed and the bunks often became separated from the trailer over time. You will find a number of threads here on the Forums that chronicle the addition of bunks over the center twins or rear twins (beginning in the late 1970s and 1980s rear bedroom mid-coach bathroom floorplans became more common). The Vintage models that would have had twin bed floorplans include:
  • Tradewind -- 24' or 25' depending upon model year
  • Overlander -- 26' or 27' depending upon model year
  • Ambassador -- 28' or 29' depending upon model year
  • Sovereign or Sovereign of the Road -- 30' or 31' depending upon model year
The Caravanner is an interesting model that, depending upon year, was offered as a 22', 24' or 25'. The Caravanner likely wouldn't be particularly good for your plans as there wasn't a "fixed" bedroom . . . it is what can best be described as an "open floorplan" with convertible sofas rather than fixed beds. It has the advantage/disadvantage of a large number of big windows that make for a very open feeling.

The Tradewind and Overlander also have two quirks that might impact your search should you decide one of those would work for your plan. Prior to 1961, the Overlander was available as either a single or tandem axle with the single axle Overlanders becoming much less common after about 1957. The Tradewind was single axle until 1965, but for some time prior to 1965, the Tradewind could be ordered as a tandem axle coach (the single axle was much more common prior 1964.

You also have similar length (without associated model names) with Argosy travel trailers (1972-1979). Argosy travel trailers are built just like Airstreams of similar vintage with two exceptions . . . the endcaps are most normally galvanized steel, and they have deep-wrap-wing-window now referred to as Panoramic Windows (these were an Argosy first and didn't see Airstream production until they were proven in the Argosys). There is one floorplan unique to these first generation Argosys that would provide an interesting adaptation to your plan -- the Argosy 24 Rear Door -- in this floorplan the door is behind the axles and enters behind the L-shaped dinette (converts to double bed) with twin lounges in the front that could be adapted with a pair of bunks added above -- the floorplan is very open and airy as the front bedroom divider is a heavy fabric device.

For a period of time in the mid-to-late 1980s into the early 1990s, there were Squarestream travel trailers and fifth wheels that would offer additional avenues to explore as would their Square-Argosy cousins. The construction methods weren't monocoque, but there is an enthusiastic following of these coaches here on the Forums.


Quote:
Originally Posted by pckeen View Post
So here is the next question - when looking at airstreams, what do I need to look for to determine whether an airstream is structurally solid?
You might find some of these articles of interests as you explore the possibilities:The Trailer Inspector's Check-List noted above will give you a good outline of components and assemblies that need to be examined on an Airstream or Argosy being considered for purchase.

A caveat to keep in mind as your consider Vintage Airstreams is the fact that they were designed to be towed by the family automobile so their designs stressed streamlining of chassis weight as well as the weight of furnishings. The weight of the newly outfitted Vintage coach is a consideration in terms of loading of chassis and running gear . . . a significant upward movement in weight can make chassis and running gear modifications necessary.

Good luck with your investigation!

Kevin

P.S.: When I first read your post the thought of an early 1980s 34' Airstream crossed my mind. These coaches typically had rear bedrooms with mid-coach bathroom. It would be possible to develop a floorplan in one of these trailers with a rear bedroom and front bedroom with living and kitchen facilities between the bathroom and front bedroom. The front bedroom would likely be less private as it would be less "separated" from the balance of the trailer. There were a few of these trailers made with front and rear entry doors that could make for additional possibilities.
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Old 07-17-2013, 09:42 PM   #13
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Overlander - thanks very much - this gives me a great set of information to start with. Same thanks to all other posters here - very helpful!
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Old 07-18-2013, 08:28 PM   #14
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Hi pckeen,

Welcome to the forums! I smiled when I saw that you were prepared to travel extensively for the right trailer, I'll bet you're kind of used to long drives living in Dryden. If you need me to look at anything for you in the Toronto/Niagara/South-Western Ontario area let me know.

We have 4 kids too. We started out with a '64 Overlander when the kids were aged 7-11, but once they started to get into their teens we realized that wasn't going to be big enough. Now we have a '74 Sovereign, and even that can be a bit tight for six. I like Overlander64's suggestion of considering a 34 footer.

Lots of people get along fine with converting between a dining area and sleeping area, but we got tired of that in our Overlander. When we got the Sovereign the plan was to have a permanent dinette in the front that would seat six, and have bunks for six in the rear. We got a mid-bath model, gutted it, repaired the frame, replaced the floor and axles, etc. There are lots of more detailed restoration threads, but if you want to get an idea of what we're doing have a look at Moving up to a Sovereign.

Rebuilding the inside of an Airstream is a very time-consuming task. We've been at it for 3 1/2 years now, and still not finished. Of course having four kids and a full-time job has something to do with setting the pace. It's the curves that really slow things down! My wife jokes about me "taking the walls for a walk" when she sees me repeatedly moving pieces back and forth between the workshop and the trailer trying to get everything to fit just right.

We bought the mid-bath model with the idea of putting a set of bunks across the hall from the bathroom and two sets in the rear bedroom. I did get proper bunks installed across from the bathroom, but with limited time available and a looming trip to California we decided to install temporary bunks in the rear built out of 2x4s and plywood. They worked okay for the trip, but also made us reconsider our plan. Now with our two oldest at university we've decided to build the trailer to sleep five and keep the back a little more open. We'll have a set of bunks on one side in the rear and a single bed on the other. We tow with a pickup with a cap so one can always sleep there if we need room for six.

One of the challenges of installing bunk beds in the rear is that they will block the rear window unless you can come up with a creative way to curve them out at the rear. That's my current project, using a vacuum bag to create a curved side to a bunk bed to keep the area in front of the window open. I'm hoping to post pictures of that part soon.
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