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Old 04-18-2012, 10:00 AM   #1
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Question about a 1971 Airstream Sovereign 31'

There is a 1971 Airstream Sovereign 31 being sold nearby for $12,500. The unit has new pergo floors, but the owners have no maintenance records. I am worried about the condition of the axle and the possibility of aluminum wiring in the unit. I was told that all of the appliances, plumbing, and air conditioning work but have not seen so for myself. The shell seems in pretty good shape and there is no sign of any leaks. Cosmetically many of the cupboards and auxiliary tables are in tough shape and the mattress and couch cushions smell like smoke. I am definitely new to this but the asking price seems steep. What should I pay for a unit in this condition? What other questions should I ask the owners? I am hoping to live in an airstream this summer while the farmhouse I live in Maine is being renovated. After the renovation I would like to restore the airstream for either my own use or a friends. I have never worked on an airstream before but I do have experience working on antique tractors and farm equipment. Thanks everyone!- Nick
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Old 04-18-2012, 10:12 AM   #2
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Hello Nick,
that is a VERY high price. If it is all original I would say it's worth more like 3K tops. The longer trailers are less expensive and if nothing has been upgraded it could be worth even less. If you can work on tractors you can probably work on an airstream, the learning curve would be fairly quick I would think.
The best thing you can do is read a bunch of stuff on here and SEE AS MANY TRAILERS AS YOU CAN. Don't just jump on the first one. The more of them you see the more you will get a feel for them.
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Old 04-18-2012, 10:16 AM   #3
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The price seems too high for a 71, 31' in the condition you mention. Pergo floors don't compensate for the other cosmetics and smoke smells.

My '71 Caravel does not have Aluminum wiring, but Airstream was not consistent in what they did from plant to plant and unit to unit.

Look at other units and do lots more research would be my advice. Then you will know a good one from a great one, and be able to act immediately when the great one comes up.

Just my opinions of course. Your milage may vary.
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Old 04-18-2012, 10:37 AM   #4
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I would be tempted to consider the Pergo floors a liability. They cover up valuable information about the condition of the subfloors.

Without maintenance records, one has to wonder whether sufficient care was taken to prevent and deal with leaks that could have caused rot in the plywood subfloor.

Also, that era and especially that length of Airstream were known for developing rear end separation. Because of how the back end of the shell attaches to the subfloor and frame, water could get to the plywood, causing the back end floor to rot out and the shell to separate from the frame. The Pergo floor hides all that.

If you can move the bumper (stand on it) and the back of the shell doesn't move with the bumper, there is rear end separation. This requires removing the interior of the bathroom to repair. Consider that when talking price with the seller.

Also, if the axles have not been replaced, they will need to be. The rubber in them just won't last 40 years. Old, stiff axles will shake rivets loose and cause damage to the trailer.
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Old 04-18-2012, 11:01 AM   #5
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Question about a 1971 Airstream Sovereign 31

Greetings Nick!

Welcome to the Forums and the world of Airstreaming!

Quote:
Originally Posted by nhanlon15 View Post
There is a 1971 Airstream Sovereign 31 being sold nearby for $12,500. The unit has new pergo floors, but the owners have no maintenance records. I am worried about the condition of the axle and the possibility of aluminum wiring in the unit.
First of all, I don't think that aluminum wiring is likely to be found. The only coaches that I have heard reports of issues with aluminum wiring were 1966-1968 coaches. There are few absolutes with Vintage Airstreams, but I don't believe that there is a high probability of finding aluminum wiring.

The lack of maintenance records or records of component replacements/upgrades make the price seem very high. It doesn't take long to spend eight to ten thousand in replacement of such components as Dometic/Norcold Refrigerator, axles, holding tanks, furnace, water heater, air conditioner, etc. A coach of this size and vintage that is mostly original and with unknown maintenance/upkeep, in my experience, typically has an asking price between $3,000 and $6,000. Vintage coaches 26 feet and over tend to carry lower prices than the coaches under 26 feet . . . and the larger coaches tend to be somewhat more numerous on the market as well.

Quote:
Originally Posted by nhanlon15 View Post
I was told that all of the appliances, plumbing, and air conditioning work but have not seen so for myself. The shell seems in pretty good shape and there is no sign of any leaks.
If this proves to be the case, the coach could be considered campable as found, but this would still make the asking price very high . . . particularly if the condition of the interior isn't mint or near mint.

Quote:
Originally Posted by nhanlon15 View Post
Cosmetically many of the cupboards and auxiliary tables are in tough shape and the mattress and couch cushions smell like smoke.
I believe that 1971 was the first year of mostly laminate interior cabinetry. While the laminate was high quality, if maintenance wasn't the strong suit of previous owners the laminates don't age well. Restoring the laminate constructed interior components isn't as easy as restoring the earlier plywood-based cabinetry. Some or all of the cabinet doors may have been tambour by 1972 as well. Tambour can be repaired, but it is a labor intensive process . . . or it can be replaced with new tambour that is available in a number of materials . . . the part that can cause difficulty is the roller assembly that the tambour runs in . . . if these roller assemblies are damaged (unique to Airstream and made of plastic/nylon material) restoration can prove to be a real headache. I like my Argosy's tambour cabinet doors, but they are temperamental and become expensive to repair/restore.

On an as-found coach, it is not uncommon to face replacement of all soft goods in the interior. My Argosy needed new soft goods not because of smell or staining, rather, its fabrics were all beginning to disintegrate due to age. This is something that should be factored into the value of a Vintage coach as it can cost around $5,000 to replace all of the fabrics, mattresses, cushions, etc. -- particularly if the work has to be done by a professional. I was able to use my Airtream for six or seven years before I had to replace all of the soft goods as its original owner was accustomed to replacing all fabrics every four or five years.

Quote:
Originally Posted by nhanlon15 View Post
I am definitely new to this but the asking price seems steep. What should I pay for a unit in this condition? What other questions should I ask the owners? I am hoping to live in an airstream this summer while the farmhouse I live in Maine is being renovated. After the renovation I would like to restore the airstream for either my own use or a friends. I have never worked on an airstream before but I do have experience working on antique tractors and farm equipment. Thanks everyone!- Nick
I agree that the asking price seems very steep. Without proof that major appliances have been replaced, it is almost a certainty that at least one or more of the major appliances will likely need to be replaced in a very short time. I purchased both of my coaches in camp-ready condition, but they were both nearly all original as far as appliances. Before the end of the first season of use, both needed new water heaters, univolts, and the Overlander needed a new furnace. When it comes to the interior, it can become costly very quickly if the interior is laminate construction and requires major rehabbing to bring it up to your expectations -- replacing soft goods is more of a normal part of making a Vintage coach ready for your use but the price should reflect these needs and I would have reservations whether the asking price for this coach reflects the level of refurbishing that is likely to be needed. I purchased my Overlander nearly 17 years ago and paid $5,000, and it doesn't seem that the as found value of a Vintage 26' or larger coach that is mostly original but camp-ready has changed singnificantly with $3,000 to $5,000 seeming to be something of a normal range.

My suggestion would be to download the trailer inspection check-list that is linked on the Forums homepage. This check-list will give you a number of questions to ask the owner as well as things to observe when you inspect the coach. Given what you have posted about the coach, I would be looking for verification of the age and condition of the major appliances as these could make for a major expense very quickly if they are all original. I would also be concerned about the axles if they have not been recently replaced as age would be against the axles if original . . . both of my coaches had poor axles when I purchased them and replacement was high on the priority list. Brakes, bearings, and shock absorbers would also be on my list even if the axles check-out as a complete brake overhaul and new shocks can exceed $1,000 depending upon what replacement parts are needed.

Good luck with your inspection!

Kevin
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Old 04-18-2012, 11:18 AM   #6
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Quote:
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...that is a VERY high price. If it is all original I would say it's worth more like 3K tops. The longer trailers are less expensive ...
I agree, but it takes a lot of looking to get one for $3K. The longer Airstreams are lower priced, so keep that in mind. You can find 31 footers listed on eBay almost every week. If all the systems are working and it's not leaking, then even $5-6K could be fair, depending on how it stacks up against my comments below.


Price is dependent on 3 things, in order:
  • First, good frame and shell. If you have that, you can build on it. You'll have to get new axles, which is a given, and new tires, so put $2K+ in your Airstream fixit account for that.
  • Second, systems and appliances. If the stove and fridge are working, that's the first step. You usually find the water heater is OK, but after 40 years it may be ready to perforate at any time. Look at the water pipes, water pump, and 12V converter/charger. These may be working, but a modern converter is a must if you don't want to ruin your battery. Cooper pipes are almost always freeze damaged, even if they dont leak. Once the cooper is swelled, you can't repair it because the fittings don't fit. Count on replacing it with PEX. Make sure the water tank and black tank aren't cracked. This is a major problem if it exists and it is probably the most difficult to correct--don't buy unless you're an expert craftsman.
  • All this being said, you still only have a useable camper and it's now worth $3K, minimum, but not too much more.
  • Third, interior and appearance. A polished trailer is a big deal and worth at least $3K, on top of any other value. If the interior has been refurbished in a workmanlike manner, with new foam, then that's worth an additional $3-6K. If the interior is superior, with fine finish and expert design, whether it's modern or faithfully preserves the original (See INSIDEOUT's Birdie), the added value can climb more than $20K.
It sounds to me like you're looking at a $3-5K Airstream, with another $3-5K in fixes (if you do it yourself). That's still a very acceptable price for a fully functional Airstream.

I bought a '75 Sovereign five years ago that had sat for 25 years. The interior is completely redone, with unique aluminum kitchen cabinetry and maple/birch for the remainder. All the dual pane windows have been disassembled and put back together with new solar film and gaskets. The black tank crack has been repaired and the dump valves for both tanks have been replaced. With all that it still only appraises at $16K. Next steps are polish and new axles.

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Old 04-18-2012, 11:22 AM   #7
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Take a look at what else is in your area on a search engine like this one:

SearchTempest - All of craigslist. One Search. (uncheck Ebay to unclutter it)

31 footers are the most common trailer you see on places like Craigslist here in Central OH. There are several out there now that may give you some comparision value. Use 43230 as a zip to search if your intrerested. There's even a 76 rear bed mid bath Sovereign listed - and I think it's overpriced also.

Good luck finding the right Airstream for you.
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Old 04-18-2012, 11:22 AM   #8
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I recognize that this is not near your home in Maine, but I'm linking it in as just an example of what's more in-line with the market. This one seems a bit low in price, actually, though the dreaded "rear separation" is mentioned. I know nothing of the unit other than what I read in the ad linked below.

1970 31' Land Yacht International $2700
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Old 04-18-2012, 11:31 AM   #9
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Quote:
Originally Posted by DKB_SATX View Post
I recognize that this is not near your home in Maine, but I'm linking it in as just an example of what's more in-line with the market. This one seems a bit low in price, actually, though the dreaded "rear separation" is mentioned. I know nothing of the unit other than what I read in the ad linked below.

1970 31' Land Yacht International $2700
I took a look. If you're willing to tackle the separation problem that's a reasonable price. Fixing the separation isn't that difficult if you're willing to remove the bathroom cabinetry so you can get at the interior of the shell.

That being said, taking out the bathroom often results in finding soft subflooring, which begins to be a significant fix.

If you were going to install the Airstream in a fixed location, like your hideaway in the woods, then separation isn't an issue. It gets worse as you tow on the bumpy highways.

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Old 04-18-2012, 12:34 PM   #10
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The floor covering would be the least of my interest. A 71 with no maintance records and in the north east WILL HAVE FRAME AND SUBFLOOR ISSUES.
Last week I bought a 75 31ft for less than 1500.00 and all the orginal equipment works. After a full week of inspection and demo to repair frame and subfloor I am wondering if I paid to much.
If or when you can drop the belly pan for a frame,subfloor inspection then you will know the value of a airstream
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Old 04-18-2012, 01:10 PM   #11
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Whoa. $12k+???

If* the shell is polished and the clear-coat has been replaced... AND it was garage kept its whole life... AND has all new lighting fixtures, vents & covers, rock-guards, converter, stereo, window & compartment seals, updated A/C, furnace, water heater, faucets and dump valves... Need I continue?
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Old 04-18-2012, 01:28 PM   #12
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"Whoa" was my immediate reaction to the price listing too. And judging by everyone's helpful posts I believe that reaction is justified. It seems like this airstream in particular would need some work to get safely back on the road. Well, I guess I have some bad news to deliver to the owner about their asking price. Another option I was considering, is to restore an airstream (perhaps one past its prime) and put it on a fixed site to house a rugged, free-spirited farmhand for the summer, fall, and early winter on the farm I manage. I hope taking an airstream off the road isn't considered blasphemy on this forum. Has anyone out there in the northern regions of the country (or Canada) spent a winter in an airstream? If so would it be to much to ask of an intern/farmhand?
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Old 04-18-2012, 01:44 PM   #13
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Ouch! Without seeing it, it sounds like a $3-$4K trailer. I purchased a '77 31' in January for $8500. All I had to do to the interior was add my own personal style. It had pergo installed a few years ago. My interior is in great condition. My fridge is not functional though. Will cost be about $500-$700 to repair.
We just got back from a 1000 mile trip to Oregon. It was great! I know there are things I will change this summer like the faucets and the couch cushion. They are certainly in usable condition. I just want to change them. I don't think I got this trailer for a steal but I'm very comfortable with what I paid.

Good luck in your search!

P.s. I splurged and got a new toilet for $200 at camp world. I like fresh potties with no cooties.
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Old 04-18-2012, 08:56 PM   #14
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Bumping this thread to put it above duplicate thread in Portal and to see if anyone has anything more to add.
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