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Old 01-23-2013, 07:26 AM   #1
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JackP's Avatar
1972 27' Overlander
New Haven , Connecticut
Join Date: Apr 2009
Posts: 35
Images: 7
What does it cost to buy and renovate a vintage Airstream?

This is an edited version of a post on my blog I'm interested in what other people's experiences have been.

In my last entry I mentioned that I am into my 1972 Airstream Overlander for $7,000, not including some planned for, and in some cases paid for, future improvements. When I total it all up, the figure looks closer to $11,000! Does that mean you have to have in excess of $10,000 lying around to get and enjoy a vintage Airstream? The answer is a
resounding – NO!

The fact of the matter is we camped in, and thoroughly enjoyed our Airstream that first summer and at that point were into it for only $5,300. As a matter of fact when I looked at the photo of our first boondocking experience in Chelmsford, Mass, I was amazed at how different our trailer looked without an awning. Awnings are nice, I’m glad we have one now, but we were still able to hit the road and enjoy our camper without it. The same could be said for many of the improvements we have made.
It is important to note that the improvements were made over the course of four years and therefore the costs were spread out over the four years as well.

I’ll break down our cost by year. Some of the costs are from memory but I am confident they are an accurate reflection of what I spent.

  • $3,500. Purchase 1972 Airstream Overlander
  • 300. Upholstery Fabric
  • 150. Toilet
  • 200. BlueBoy external grey water tank
  • 750. Tires (5)
  • 160. Countertop Laminate
  • 200. Misc plumbing/lights/hardware/flooring
  • 125. Water pump
$5,385. Total Cost Through 2009

  • 100. Labor (plumber)
  • 1,200. Awning and delivery
  • 180. Fantastic Vent
$6,865. Total Cost Through 2010

  • 275. Hot Water Heater
  • 350. Furnace
  • 300. Parts and Labor Refrigerator Seals
$7,790. Total Cost Through 2011

  • 303. New Self Adjusting Brakes (including backing plates)
  • 100. Powdercoat Cooktop
  • 200. Power converter (replaced Univolt)
  • 285. Electric Tongue Jack
  • 35. LP Gas Regulator
$8,713. Total Cost Through 2012

  • 1,300. Axles and shipping (paid for, but not yet received)
  • 1,300. Refrigerator and shipping
$11,313. Total Cost Through 1/15/13

Note: Just about all the labor was done by my wife and myself. I wouldn’t even want to venture a guess at how much this would have cost if we had a professional do it, but I am certain we would not have been able to afford it!

We will be using a professional, Colin Hyde, of Peru, New York to install grey tanks this spring.

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Old 01-23-2013, 08:23 AM   #2
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1974 Argosy 26
Morrill , Nebraska
Join Date: Nov 2009
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I have close to the same amount into the '74 Argosy 26'.
While the initial price of the trailer was $1500.00 less. I gutted the galley and dining area. Then built new lower cabinets and countertops and upgraded the upper cabinets, removed the old gaucho, replacing it with a dinette. Installed a new cooktop, sink and faucet. The refer and furnace are original and still work. Added a micro wave. But will need to be replaced sometime in the future, the refer and furnace, I mean.

Replaced all the fresh water plumbing with PEX, new water heater. Still use the original pump, but carry a spare.
Remodeled the bath with new cabinets, flooring, sink and toilet. The tub is original. Replaced the black water dump valve along with the associated waste water piping.
Replaced the original Univolt with a modern converter and installed an 1100 watt Inverter along with some wiring upgrades.
New tires and axles last year.
Built my own rock guard and installed new propane tanks.
We carry a Blue Boy, since the grey water tank is only 12 gallons.
The exterior was painted by the PO 10 years ago and looks OK. It has some scratches and dents. Doubt that it will be repainted while I own it.
The berthing area has upper cabinet and interior wall upgrades and the lower cabinets under the twin beds is on the "to do" list.
There are numerous small items, lighting, shelf for the television. Portable solar system; 85 watts.
A new Andersen WD hitch was my last purchase.
There are some old pics on my blog. None of the work was hired out. My wife and I did it all.
With the cost of the WD hitch, I am right at $10,500 including the purchase price.
Over a 3 year period and 99 nights of camping so far. I feel it has been worth the cost.
We are planning at least 30 nights of camping this year.
Would I do it again? I'm not sure. But when you consider what you get when buying new, I would say; We've done OK. It is more than we need for 2 people and a dog to travel in and be very comfortable.

Knowledge: "A gift to be shared. A treasure to receive."
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Old 01-23-2013, 09:40 AM   #3
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1972 27' Overlander
Denver , North Carolina
Join Date: Aug 2004
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I think you guys have exactly the right idea. Camp, Camp Camp and fix as needed.

I wanted to chime in here, as I have a 1972 Overlander myself. Mine is semi original in it has new axles running gear, tires , It also has a new furnace. It was kept very well by the PO who bought it new. I call it my "Hot Tub Time Machine". The only compliant I have is that the beds, Gaucho in front and futon mattress over frame in rear. That and he installed beige builder grade carpet throughout- think southern red clay and you get the idea of how nasty this is... I want to get replace the gaucho with a sleeper couch, for comfort sake and get rid of the futon mattress...think "Concrete block covered in fabric" to get a mind picture - have either of you done anything with the beds yet?

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Old 01-23-2013, 09:50 AM   #4
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1975 31' Sovereign
1973 27' Overlander
1977 23' Safari
Palmer Lake , Colorado
Join Date: Oct 2005
Posts: 3,881
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After doing 4 other Airstreams, I decided to keep track of my time and money on a new-to-me '73 Safari. Although this Safari looked pretty good, I knew there was a lot of work to do, just assuming that the axles were bad, the vents needed upgrades, tires, batteries, converter--all the normal stuff you just assume needs replacement. What I didn't discover during inspection was the bath area floor rot. Duh...

So, some things were better than expected, and a few were worse. I've attached an Excel file of the details, but it took one full month of 100% effort, an additional $3,000 in parts, and 168 hours of labor to get the Safari in acceptable shape. The electrical, water, and propane systems are safe and working. A thread with more details and photos is here.

There are still a few big issues--the awning is in tatters (I haven't deployed it yet), the Fantastic Fans aren't installed, the axles probably need replacement based on age (but they are still flexible), the stove and water heater need to be thoroughly checked out. This all could be another $3,000.

At this point the systems work, but there has been zero work on the furnishings--original curtains, upholstery, foam, cabinets are still installed. If you looked inside you wouldn't think anything had been done. But I like it. It is the perfect length and in it's current state it's a perfect Burning Man Airstream.

For newbies who are reviewing this thread in order to estimate their costs and time, remember that this Safari looked like it was ready to go, if a bit worn.

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Old 01-23-2013, 03:35 PM   #5
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1972 27' Overlander
New Haven , Connecticut
Join Date: Apr 2009
Posts: 35
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Vintage v New

I just read Tim Shepard's (of theVAP) new book "Restoring a Dream". It is an excellent account of his renovation of his 1960 Airstream. At one point he writes about why he chose a vintage trailer to fix up over buying a new one. It is his opinion that with doing alot of the work yourself you are less likely to lose money if you need to sell the trailer. Looked at another way, a brand new trailer loses value the moment you drive it off the lot. A vintage trailer, bought for the right price and renovated with lots of your own labor can be resold with minimal loss and possibly a profit. As a matter of fact that is how Tim helped finance the trailer that is the subject of his book.
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Old 01-28-2013, 09:06 AM   #6
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1972 27' Overlander
Denver , North Carolina
Join Date: Aug 2004
Posts: 652
Images: 4

I've seen most of your threads, your work is spectacular. I am a huge fan.

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Old 03-02-2013, 10:40 AM   #7
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1978 Argosy 24
1977 Argosy 28
Vintage Kin Owner
Darrington , Washington
Join Date: Oct 2008
Posts: 84
Blog Entries: 1
I was wondering who may have read Restoring a Dream by Tim Shepard. He estiamted the restoration of his Airstream was over $33,000 without labor. His first restoration didn't seem to scratch the surface of what he had to do to the later trailer. I have a 78 Argosy that i paid $3,500 with a rescue trip from WA to CA. It was bought off Craigslist in almost a panic. ( another story).

The first thing I had to do was put 3 new tires and bearings in it. ($800) before I could drive back home. Since then I have unsuccessfully tried to replace the toilet($200) , new water heater ( 200), new power jack ( $200), fixed the leaky shower($400), New sewer pipe, flat tires, New refrigerator ($1,100) the list goes on.........Did I mention the $10,000 diesel truck to pull it? ( that's a cheap truck !)

The irony of it is my wife loves the trailer, I have outgrown it and want a 28' rear bedroom model. She has never traveled in a larger trailer and only knows the 24 double bed model. She has packed every storage cabinet to overflowing and wants more storage space. I just want to go fishing. Go figure! LOL

Frankly I am a thin wallet guy who wants to have a little camping and fishing fun in three seasons. Frankly, for the money I have spent on the trailer, I could be staying in hotels cheaper. But hey, boats are more expensive than trailer ( I think)
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Old 03-02-2013, 11:06 AM   #8
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1972 31' Sovereign
Lexington , Minnesota
Join Date: Feb 2009
Posts: 3,157
Our experience has been with a total gut trailer and all new interior is: How much money do you have, and add 10%.
Seriously, we have around 30 grand in ours (so far) including the cost of the trailer. Our only "big ticket" item left to buy is an awning. We probably still have some wood for cabinets left to buy. We have done all the work ourselves. We splurged on some things (like new steps and new stabilizers) instead of renovating what we had. We are planning on traveling extensively with the trailer once we retire, so we want to make sure our trailer is very reliable.
I think the money you put into a trailer is all about what you need and want to do, what you can do yourself, what you pay for. We probably wouldn't change anything we have bought so far.
Yes, it's a lot for a trailer, but a new AS we would buy (and looked at) would have cost 90 grand a few years ago, and isn't as well built as what we have now.

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Old 03-02-2013, 11:43 AM   #9
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1964 19' Globetrotter
The Sea Ranch , California
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When I first saw this post I thought "if you have to ask...." We have a shocking amount into our trailer, paid too much for it imo, but I'm sure we can all relate to emotion driven purchases (we had seen so many scary trailers, this one was totally intact, except for the entire floor). After years of working on the thing, and it's still rough, we started camping in it with only the electric system working, and we loved it. Slowly, we've had other stuff done to make it more comfy, paying someone else to do some of it has been a wonderful relief. I don't think most people buy a trailer to make money, it's more of a labor of love.
Wherever you go, there you are
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Old 03-03-2013, 04:51 PM   #10
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1969 25' Tradewind
Shasta Lake , California
Join Date: Sep 2012
Posts: 539
Our '69 Tradewind cost us $ 5500 so far its at $ 13,000 with more to go. I figure we'll have $ 17 - 20k in it when its finished may be even $ 22k.

We are replacing all the systems & appliances, part of the sub floor, complete Marmolium floor covering, adding a 17' Casita wet bathroom, A/C, washer and a dryer, Gray water system and tank. Along with axles,brakes,tires & wheels.
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Glen & Jane 1969 Airstream 25' Trade Wind
2014 Toyota Tundra
1998 Chevy Tahoe
2001 Casita 13' Patriot Deluxe
2004 Chevy SSR+ 4 other trailers & 6 other Cars & Trucks
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Old 03-03-2013, 06:36 PM   #11
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1972 31' Sovereign
Fort Bragg , North Carolina
Join Date: Jun 2011
Posts: 268
We've owned our Airstream for almost 19 years. We were the 3rd owners with the first ones owning it for almost 20 years before my brother who owned in 3 years sold it to us. It was in great shape and back in 1995 was only 22 yo old so just broken in.
We did not like the twin bed configuration and spent (wasted) lots of money trying to do the queen sofa up front. Extra large double in the mid until three years ago redid the twins as the coach was meant to be.
major repairs
2012- new axles $1100, new vista windows, $960, three front panels $396, $395, $562 plus $1620 in labor and a new U-shape Ultra Leather Dinette installed for about $2300. So just in 2012 we spent in the "ball park $6373.00.
2011- new floor, toilet, plumbing,battery, new curtains from JPA Drapes, rock guard window, rock guard front panels, again another easily $5500.00.
2010- new roadside awning complete and rear awnings, windows resealed, new screens, TV mount and more $$$$$$$

When we do the math of purchasing a new Airstream, the $419.00 a month for 180 months, just does not work for us, now having a complete remodeled Vintage that still weighs at #5400. Yes we did put in a 34 gallon grey tank in 2005 and when we did the new hot water heater and china toilet in 2011, I just added auto drain as well for both the grey and black water valves.
It doesn't stop as we are looking at going with a Duo Therm 15K w/heat pump, replacing the current original three sets of lights with recessed LED's and then getting is polished.

By the time we are done with it, we will have close to $37K into it, the majority of the work done by certified dealers. We never planned on trying to "flip" this, but to enjoy it in which we have. The fun thing on this is seeing the main awning that was made in El Paso 12 years ago, functioning great. The tires bought in Vermont are still safe, so each repair or upgrade has a story.
Again, done over many years, but we ensured that we used it. Last year alone we spent over 59 nights in the Airstream between the NC coast and mountains. If I had purchased a room with my Marriott rewards for the two areas it would have cost us. $200 a night at the beach (30 nights x 200= $6K) and $175 a night in the mountains (29x175=($5075), totaling, $11075.00 With the monthly rates at both locations we stayed at from April through Oct we spent about $2800.00 for the campsites at a very reduced rate and about $800 in fuel driving, not towing for a total of about $3600, a huge saving.
This year we already have planned out and it will be a little cheaper based on a few adjustments and storage being literally on site.
So when you see the return in use which we hope to all get to eventually, the Vintage is well worth it, in MHO. No payment on the Airstream or TV, it almost has the latest and greatest offered and a very fun Airstream.

We are also on our fourth tow vehicle which is a diesel, so we eventually figured that out as well, just for a durable vehicle.
What kept us going was having the Airstream available for use and not always being worked on. Off season is a great time to get that stuff done.
Enjoy your time upgrading to your needs as the goal is to meet your dreams as Wally intended the Airstream to do.

Best of Luck


did I mention the NOAA W/B, CD,DVD,AM/FM radio with MP3 and the new aluminum rims?
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Old 03-03-2013, 08:25 PM   #12
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1966 24' Tradewind
1995 34' Excella
Lynchburg , Virginia
Join Date: Sep 2009
Posts: 2,133
I bought our 66 Tradewind in 2009 for $6,500. It was in real good shape with a new awning, new water heater and new soft goods on the interior. I would have paid 2k more for it, but I paid what the seller asked for. I have made numerous improvements to it and they all have been reasonably inexpensive. I have numerous hands on skills and have done all the work myself. Here is the list and cost of improvements:

Progressive Dynamics converter and voltminder $200
1,500 watt inverter $200
Two new 6v golf Batteries $150
22" Vizio 12v TV $200
Used fridge (1985) $100
New tires $500
Spare tire and wheel $150
Pex plumbing lines $100
Kit and bath faucets $200
Water tank $150
Cork floor $300
5k window AC $150
LED lights $100
Toilet $150
Total Improvements $2,650

So far I have an initial cost of $6,500 plus $2,650 for improvements for a total of $9,150.

I still plan on about $350 for new electrical improvements (main and 12v panel boxes), $1,500 for new axles and brakes and about $1,000 for a solar system, plus $500 in misc. improvements. So in the end I should have about $12,500 into the trailer. Even if this amount grows by up to $2,500 I will still have no more than $15,000 in the 66 Tradewind. This is really not much money for a trailer that will be completely rebuilt and should provide shelter and comfort for us anywhere we want to go. We also will be able to boondock pretty efficiently as my 1,000 watt genny will power the 5k AC unit. Also I will have done it my way.

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Old 03-03-2013, 10:39 PM   #13
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1978 31' Sovereign
Oakley , California
Join Date: Feb 2011
Posts: 1,197
More than you will ever plan for.
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Old 03-08-2013, 07:35 AM   #14
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1987 25' Sovereign
Oregon , Ohio
Join Date: Nov 2010
Posts: 483
We started with an 87 25' Soveriegn that I drove from NW Ohio to North Florida to get, $7000 for the trailer and $800 for gas, food and lodgeing. Then the work began. I replaced every mechanical appliance but the hot water heater, a new toliet, all the counter tops with solid surface. new curtanes( 12 yards finished ), all new upholstrey and bed mattresses, and replaced both fantastic vents which the factory provided. That was in 2011. Last year it was new axles, a quickbite coupler, and an Andersen hitch. So to date we have about $17,000 invested and I have seen the same unit going for $25,000. All in all, I would rather have this old used vintage AIRSTREAM than a new Some Other Brand trailer because Airstreams tow FANTASTICLY !!!!!!!!!

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