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Old 01-07-2014, 01:06 PM   #1
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1973 27' Overlander
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Missing interior skin. What's the prognosis for me?

On a whim, I was gifted a project trailer for xmas. Which I'm excited about. But also overwhelmed. Before we kick off the project, I'm trying to think things through to see how big of a project this will end up being and if I do want to tackle it or pass it along to someone a bit more ambitious.

As for details about the trailer--well, fuzzy at this point. I've only seen the trailer once and won't be towed here for another week yet. It's a '73. I believe it's a 27' Tradewind (but might be a 25')

I *may* go all-out and attempt to refurb this to be a full camper, but for now, the idea is to do a solid exterior revamp (seal, new windows, fix frame/tires/etc, upgrade AC/heat) and keep the interior rather sparse...perhaps completely open. It will then be used as a guest room/home office.

My first forum question is about my interior. The trailer is completely gutted down to the frame. This is good in that I can inspect everything, repair dents, get new insulation, rewire it all, etc.

However, now that I'm digging into the details of how to fix up these trailers, I've been reading that the Airstreams rely on the interior skin being part of the structural integrity of the shell.

So my questions:

- should I be concerned with the fact that there is no interior skin at the moment? Anything in particular I should be looking for in terms of structural problems due to the skin having been taken out?

- how daunting is the task of putting new skin back in? Is it a matter of getting sheet aluminum, doing lots of cutting, lots of riveting, and good to go? Is Aluminum the only recommended skin (is plywood or other materials viable?) Am I being overly optimistic as to how doable re-skinning an interior is?

I look forward to learning more about these great trailers from everyone here!
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Old 01-07-2014, 01:47 PM   #2
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The simplistic answer is 5052 aluminum sheets and pop rivet it to the ribs after cutting around windows, outlets, etc.
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Old 01-07-2014, 02:00 PM   #3
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Thanks, Aviator. Is it fair to ask what the ballpark guesstimate cost in aluminum reskinning may be for a trailer of this size? hundreds vs. thousands of dollars?
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Old 01-07-2014, 06:00 PM   #4
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The importance of the interior skins depend on whether you are planning to make it a permanent guest cottage or if you are going to make it a towable camper. Is it getting towed or flatbedded to you? If it is being towed, consider bracing it beforehand since it is missing the interior skins. Putting it on a flat bed might be a really good idea! On the other hand, if it is to become a permanent guest house and never move again, you can handle a lot of the redesign etc very differently.
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Old 01-07-2014, 06:50 PM   #5
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What about birch plywood for the interior? I like the look of the old "birchwood beauties" from the fifties. I think it would make a nice interior and offer better insulation than the aluminum.

The question is, would it be strong enough? Which brings us to the question, is the inner skin part of the structural strength of an Airstream?

Spartan made very well engineered aluminum trailers with birch ply interiors. They screwed horizontal wood strips to the aluminum vertical framing and fastened the panelling to them. This made a thermal break between wood and aluminum, making the insulation more effective.

"The Adirondack" Airstream with wooden interior by Craig Dorsey of Vintage Vacations for Ralph Lauren.
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Old 01-07-2014, 07:09 PM   #6
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5052 with protective coating, 4 x 8, 35$ per sheet. This was here in Texas. Maybe the Boeing surplus shop in Seattle may have sone too…unless the idiotic Coucilwoman has not driven them to close shop. Other than that…check sheet metal shops in the area…they can get it and save you shipping.
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Old 01-07-2014, 07:43 PM   #7
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Skatiero...I guess that's the big question I need to figure out first...will it ever be towed again.

My thinking is if any amount of money is going into this, it's really a shame if it couldn't be towed again in the future.

As for getting it here, it's already been towed minus the interior skin to the lot nearby. So, I suppose if any damage will be done to it, it's already happened. I'll be the second owner since the skin was removed. The previous owners had purchased it as a project but never got around to doing anything with it.

Ganaraska...I do like the wood, and that was my original idea. But if that compromises the structural integrity, I may have to rethink.

Melody Ranch...thanks...that's actually not a scary price at all. Much less than I imagined. Plus, now I have an excuse to by some nice powered sheet metal sheers...
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Old 01-07-2014, 07:54 PM   #8
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I towed mine without the interior skins, while I wouldn't do a long trip like that, I towed it four hours to home, no issues.

Most people who do a wood interior, do it over the aluminum skins , as the skins do add appreciatively to the overall strength of the structure. Of course that's not an issue if you want to use it as a guest house.
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Old 01-08-2014, 08:58 AM   #9
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I am not convinced that the interior skins add significantly to the overall strength of the shell. When you consider how sparsely the skins are pop-riveted into place, it just isn't believable that they are providing a critical component of support.

I have been using my trailer as an "aluminum tent" (ie., no interior skins) for a few months now, and have noticed no adverse effects. Two trips down the road, a few hundred miles on each tow, zero problems.

As for towing the trailer to your place, I would be much more concerned about the condition of the wheel bearings, functionality of the electric brakes, functioning of the signal lights, and mostly, the integrity of the trailer frame. When you said that the trailer had been "gutted to the frame," I assume you are talking about the interior (by "frame," you mean the aluminum ribs in the shell). Is the wood floor still in place? what is its condition? A dramatically rotted floor will have a much higher potential for causing damage than missing interior skins, as it can allow the steal trailer frame to move independently of the shell.

As for how big of a project this is going to be, let me share my own anecdote. I picked up a '73 Globetrotter 2 1/2 years ago, thinking I would be sprucing up the interior with some cabinetry work, new floors and upholstery, and some general repair. Since the purchase, I have done a shell-off, repaired disintegrating frame, replaced the rotting subfloor, replaced two exterior panels, the axle, the AC, and all exterior lights. I am finally putting the trailer back together again, and am just at the point where I slap some insulation in the walls and put the interior skins back in. This has been my primary "hobby" for 2 1/2 years, and I have a ways to go yet.

So think carefully as to whether this trailer will be towed appreciably, or will spend the rest of its life as yard-art. The resale value of a properly repaired trailer is dramatically higher than a shell that can't be safely towed, but the amount of work is potentially much higher as well. What is critical is the condition of the steel trailer frame (which you won't be able to check unless the bellypan is no longer in place), and the condition of the subfloor. If frame and floor are in good shape, then all you have to do to make the trailer road-able is replace the axles and get the signal lights working.

Good luck!
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Old 01-08-2014, 11:13 AM   #10
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How about Formica for interior skin? Stiffer and stronger than aluminum, but can be bent to shape. Comes in your choice of colors and patterns. Easy to clean, will wear forever. Could be too expensive though.
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Old 01-08-2014, 11:46 AM   #11
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The interior skin provides some support but I don't think it is something to be overly concerned about. The interior skin would make the roof more stiff as far as someone walking on it or it supporting an AC unit bouncing up and down on it. I don't think it is going to do much for overall strength. The main weakness in these trailers is that the frame and shell are weakly attached to each other. Rear end separation due to corrosion and rot are the main issues with these old trailers. I do think it would be a good idea to put some sort of skin on the inside especially in the bowed overhead sections. The interior skin will help them keep their shape. You also need something to hold in insulation and cover up wires etc. The hardest areas to skin will be the interior end caps. The wood approach looks good there. The interior end caps don't do much for structure there and I don't think there are any ribs to support the end caps either.

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Old 01-08-2014, 05:03 PM   #12
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Another comment on the original question (of how difficult it is to recreate the interior): Yes, it is just a matter of getting a bunch of sheet aluminum, cutting it to fit, and riveting it in place. In fact lots of vintage owners do this because they want a shiny interior rather than the original vinyl coated look. The advantage they have is that they can use the original pieces as templates for the replacements. Well, this is a minor issue--not rocket science to figure out where to cut.

The place where you will really require some artistic skill is in reproducing the interior end-caps. In '73, the endcaps were a single piece of formed ABS plastic. You will have to recreate these quarter-dome shapes using many segments of aluminum. This is also something people do to replace plastic endcaps that are beyond repair, but it will require some skill and or experimentation. There was discussion on the Vintage Airstream Podcast (The VAP) recently about Colin Hyde offering either a set of patterns, or a complete kit of pre-cut segments to build-your-own interior endcaps, but if it is anything like his super-secret polish, we could be waiting a while.
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Old 01-12-2014, 03:25 PM   #13
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My 2 cents

With 20+ years of aviation experience I would give the following input. The interior skin is not technically structural but where you will see the big difference is when you try and reinstall existing skins they will not line up and be difficult to finesse into place. I have owned and worked on several different types of trailers. My wife and I love our birch interior trailers but I am convinced that the angles and compound curves of an Airstream make any other interior very challenging. We are in the beginning of our next "big project" restoring our Excella back into a trailer after turning it into a pottery studio for our daughter. I am looking seriously at 3M vinyl graphic "wood grain" or paper backed veneer to add a wood touch to our trailer. Good luck with your gift project!!
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