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Old 10-30-2003, 08:15 PM   #1
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Join Date: Oct 2003
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Possible new owners!!

Hi All

New to this list and thought I would say hi and ask for some advice.
Wow, Airstream owners sure are passionate!! Just started surfing and what a ton of info, I am overwhelmed.

We are going to look at a 1978 31' Excella 500 this weekend and hope it as great as it sounds. There will be 2 adults and two (5&2) children plus a couple of dogs that hope to be enjoying it for many years.
I have a few questions I was wondering if someone could help me out with.

Our tow vehicles are an '03 Windstar and an '03 Ford F150 4x4 Supercrew with a 5.4L engine. We would really like to use the van for towing because we have some place to put the dogs and it is much better to travel with the kids. Is it possible to safely tow with the van or should we use the truck?

Is there anything I need to know about this trailer model? This one sounds great and seems to be a great fit for our needs. Any info about it would be appreciated.

Is there somewhere to download/view/buy manuals? How about copies of old floor plans?

Thanks for any help and hopefully we will shortly be contributing to this forum and camping with others in the near future!!


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Old 10-30-2003, 08:22 PM   #2
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1968 17' Caravel
Battle Ground , Washington
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I think the weight of a 31 ft trailer will greatly exceed the towing capacity of a Windstar. I have a full size E150 van (1/2 ton) and it only has a towing capacity of 6000lbs, and I suspect your trailer will be more than it could handle. You need to find out what the trailer weighs, and how much your truck is rated to pull to figure out if you have a safe combo. There are other considerations as well. I discovered my Bronco was not good for towing because of it's short wheelbase, and ended up trading my car away for a suitable tow vehicle. Better safe than sorry! There are quite a few towing threads on the forum you can spend the next few days reading. I'm sure it will all become clear as you look into it.

I think you can buy manuals for those trailers from the Airstream company, or copies of them. Do a search on the board, as this has been discussed before. I'm sure you can spend a lot of time searching here, I know I did when I first came.

Welcome to the forum, and I hope you find a nice trailer.


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Old 10-30-2003, 08:43 PM   #3
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Airstream has a very valuable list of trailer weights on their website dating back to the 50's. Sadly, it is not complete, and among the missing is your hypothetical '78 Excella 31'. The Sovereign of that year has an empty weight of 4800 lbs, give or take, so an Excella (which was just an option and trim package) is likely in the neighborhood of 5000 lbs.

The kicker is, that is absolutely empty. No LP, no water, no case of 2 liter bottles of soda, no air compressor, no nothing. Expect to hit the road at something around 6,000 lbs.

The Windstar we can dismiss out of hand. It hasn't got a chance. The question is, can your F150 handle the load? You should have a sticker somewhere with a gross combined weight limit or restriction. Your truck, plus your kids, fuel, dogs, 50 lb. bags of dog food, rick of firewood, lawn chair, and case of AA batteries for the kids toys PLUS the trailer PLUS its contents and fluids must not exceed that weight limit. In fact, it is frequently argued that safety demands you not go over 80% of that limit.

Do you have a tow package for the F150? If not, you are going to need a transmission cooler at the very minimum.

Concerning the '78 Excella. That is still in the period where tail droop and rear end seperation issues must be considered (they are not the same thing - do a search of these forums for more). Both problems are more common in rear bath units, but has been found in side bath coaches as well. Any older coach must be suspect for worn out axles. Replacement is a significant expense. See the "axles" forum for more on this. And with any Airstream, look and look hard for floor rot - around the door, throughout the bathroom, under the windows, well, just everywhere. An Airstream is not prone to rot, but too many owners have ignored plumbing or exterior leaks and the results are not good.

Vista view windows, if present (standard with Excella?) frequently have broken seals, leading to cloudy appearance, or worse, water trapped inside. There is no double pane replacement - only single pane.

Service manuals are available as reprints. Do a search on these forums for the source.

Good luck, that can be a very, very nice coach.

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Old 11-03-2003, 01:20 AM   #4
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1978 31' Excella 500
Palm Bay , Florida
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I sent you an e-mail re: manuals. I will need your address since AOL has a limit on how much can be sent as an attachment.

You indicated that you were getting the Excella on Saturday. Did you? We love our '78.

The F-150 should do it ok, check the towing capacity. I found this information on the web about the 2003 F-150.

The towing capacity is affected by the rearend drive ratio.

The Windstar has a maximum towing capacity of 3500 lbs. That is not enough for a 7000 lb trailer.

As for things to look out for on the '78 Excella. It is strictly a matter of how it has been maintained over the past 25 years.

Axles: It has Henschen axles. Search on Henschen on this site for lots of info on them. There is an easy way to check if they are wearing out.

Tires: Depending on age, they may need to be replaced. Replacements are Goodyear Marathons Load Range D. I think the size is 225/75R15 Again do a search,

Wheels, brakes: The trailer may have the original Vacuum braking system or it may be converted to electric. Have them checked. I had my electric brakes rebuilt just to be safe.

If it has a rear bath, there may be a problem with sagging rear-end. It is not an issue on the rear bedroom.

The rest, appliances, interior furnishing etc... are a matter of maintenance.

Airconditioner: Probably has the original Armstrong. If it goes bad, I am told it cannot be fixed since there are no replacement parts. The replacement is the Dometic Penguin 13,500btu. That needs an adapter from the Airstream factory to mate the Dometic to the curved roof of the trailer.

When I got mine, everything worked and the only appliance I have had to replace is the A/C. Unless you are planning to come south, you may not need and A/C anyway.

There is a lot more to think about but by checking this website and searching for stuff or just asking questions, you will get tons of help.

Welcome to our world. You will find that Airstreamers are a breed apart, and that the Airstream is not just another trailer. The '78 qualifies as "Vintage" so check out the Vintage Airstream Club. carries parts for the Airstream. It's owner is a regular contributor to the forum. You can trust his opinion without reservation. He has been in the Airstream business for a long time.

That is enough for now. Don't want you drinking from a firehose.

Good luck
Vic Smith
Director Florida State Rally
WBCCI Florida Unit 027 Trustee
WBCCI #6782
31' 78 Airstream Excella 500
2001 Ford Excursion V-10
Reese hitch and dual cam sway control
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Old 11-03-2003, 08:39 AM   #5
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"Tow capacity" really isn't a rating. It's a marketing tool found by subtracting the weight of a stripped no-option vehicle, with an empty fuel tank, and a 150 lb driver, from the Gross Combined Vehicle Rating (GWCR) of the vehicle. The weight of any options, fuel, people in excess of the 150 lbs, and any cargo must be subtracted from the so-called, "tow capacity." So a Windstar with the tow package, fueled and with a family of four on board, really only has less than 3,000 lbs of "tow capacity." That's not enough except for the smallest pop-ups. Many weigh more than this empty. A Windstar without the tow package, and a so-called 2000 lb "tow capacity" with the same family probably comes in at less than 1500 lbs left.

"Tow capacity" also totally ignores what the tongue weight may do to the vehicle weight with respect to its Gross Vehicle Weight Rating (GVWR), and Gross Axle Weight Ratings (GAWR).

Fuel your vehicles up, load them with the people (and dogs) and cargo that will be in them when towing, and take them to a certified scale, such as a CAT scale to find the ACTUAL weight.

Subtract that from the GCWR, and that's how much WET AND LOADED total trailer weight you can PULL.

Subtract that from the GVWR, and that's how much WET AND LOADED trailer tongue weight you can CARRY. Tongue weight must be at least 10% of the wet and loaded total trailer weight, so you may find that you are more limited on total trailer weight by the amount of tongue weight you can CARRY.

Make sure that tongue weight won't put the rear axle over it's GAWR.
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