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Old 01-23-2013, 08:03 AM   #1
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1984 34' International
Toronto , Ontario
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Any 'I bought old trailer/zero problems' success stories out there?

First off, please don't think for a second I am not appreciating the advice given by more experienced AS owners.

BUT, reading these forums it sometimes would be easy to come to the conclusion that every used Airstream is a money pit, suffers from tail droop and frame separation and even contemplating purchase is a Really Bad Idea.

Again, please don't think that I wish to walk into the unknown with my eyes closed, but I'd love to hear from people, if indeed there are any, who had great experiences.

To give an example, when I lived in the UK I used to drive old Land Rovers - loved them for their off-road capabilities and general quirkiness.

Everybody who knows anything about Landies will tell you the same things I've been hearing about Airstreams. They are a pain in the behind. They break down, constantly. Electric systems are a joke. They leak oil. Front axles are weak. The list goes on and on and on.

Except, every Land Rover I ever drove was just fine. Sure, they needed some TLC, especially just after purchase. New brakes, maybe a couple of new seals, a clean up of the more dubious parts of the wiring.

I drove these trucks all over Europe, across mountain ranges, along dirt roads in the middle of nowhere where there were no tow-trucks - or even a cell signal - for miles. The only time we ever broke down was when I did something stupid, like not see the drop behind a boulder. This with a vehicle you'd never ever buy if you'd listen to the chatter on the Rover forums.

So, are there any AS owners out there who had zero trouble? Or should I just accept the pain and stock up on a new set of tools?

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Old 01-23-2013, 08:22 AM   #2
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1960 28' Ambassador
Vintage Kin Owner
1998 25' Safari
Avonton , Ontario
Join Date: Sep 2005
Posts: 1,159
Originally Posted by andreasduess View Post
So, are there any AS owners out there who had zero trouble? Or should I just accept the pain and stock up on a new set of tools?
I bought a 1967 Safari in 1999 that was a 1 owner from new. It needed some usual maintenance and new tires but we have used it for many thousands of miles since then with very few problems. Since you are in Toronto, you are welcome to come and see some of mine in Stratford.

Doug & Terry
60 Ambassador Int.
98 Safari
56 Flying Cloud
68 Tradewind
1950 Spartan
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Old 01-23-2013, 08:40 AM   #3
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1966 24' Tradewind
Placerville , California
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Since 1954 all but 2 my vehicles have been 'previously owned'. The new cars were always a problem and having warranties did not help given the attempts for dealer/manufactors to skirt my claims. We bought our '66 Trade Wind totally expecting to be getting 'personal' with it. Kinda like raising our kids.....sometimes frustrating and expensive but more fun than in spite of those experiences. Both make for great campfire stories.

Neil and Lynn Holman
FreshAir #12407

Kirk Creek, Big Sur, Ca. coast.

1966 Trade Wind

1971 Buick Centurion convertible
455 cid

1969 Oldsmobile Ninety Eight
455 cid
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Old 01-23-2013, 09:02 AM   #4
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1973 21' Globetrotter
Houston , Texas
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On the positive side, all the noise you hear about troubles with vintage Airstreams is there to help you manage your expectations. If you picked up an old car that had been sitting in someone's backyard for the last 40 years, you probably wouldn't expect to take it on a road trip the next day.

Another thing to consider is the source of the information. It has been pointed out on this forum that there are people who like to camp in their trailers, and those who like to work on their trailers. I bought my trailer to camp in but have spent the last year rebuilding it--guess I am both.

The conclusion I have come to is that having a vintage Airstream isn't a decision based in practicality. If I was being practical, I would go buy a brand spanking new white box trailer and go camping. Owning a vintage Airstream is like owning a classic car, you have pride of ownership, you get attention, and you belong to a very active community of fellow enthusiasts.

Finally, things break in a moving house, even brand new ones. Repair and maintenance are a part of ownership. I have a friend with a late 90's vintage non-airstream motor home, and he spends as much time repairing his rig as enjoying it. I've another friend with a white-box trailer that is less than 5 years old and has rotten floors and a falling grey tank.

So don't let the talk of repairs discourage you. Just realize that if you want a trailer that is going to be trouble free, you should probably be looking at one that has already had the work done, has been refurbished from the inside out, and has a price tag that reflects the effort. The Forum Classifieds usually have some good examples.

Good luck!
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Old 01-23-2013, 09:33 AM   #5
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2013 30' International
lubbock , Texas
Join Date: Mar 2007
Posts: 252
If you want a trailer that is trouble free, then don't pull it anywhere, don't turn anything on, don't even hook it up.

But like your Landies, if you want to have fun, go camping, and enjoy the great outdoors, then pick a brand of trailer you like and go for it.

We bought a 1982 Excella nearly 8 years ago and have enjoyed every minute with it. At 30 years old now it has issues just like the 30 year old Mercedes I bought last year. But! when you take on something whether it is a trailer, a car, home or whatever it is, expect to do come chores around it.

We just ordered a new 30' International and I fully expect to have some "chores" to do with it in the first few months of ownership ... and they will continue as long as I own it.

So ... get out there and pick one and start enjoying it! I think you could pull it with a Land Rover ...

belated welcome to the forum
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Old 01-23-2013, 09:49 AM   #6
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1973 29' Ambassador
Seattle , Washington
Join Date: Aug 2012
Posts: 90
I've only had ours for about 6 months (73 Ambassador), but so far, I've spent only an hour or two fiddling (put in a pump bypass to help winterize) and put in some LED bulbs and replaced one cigarette lighter that was rusted badly. I also decided to pull the trigger on new axles, as these were shot (I knew this when I bought it). I guess that's a lot of stuff in retrospect, but I anticipate going forward to be more focused on an annual look at the caulking and that's about it for a few years.

Other than that, we just camp.
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Old 01-23-2013, 09:49 AM   #7
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1982 34' Limited
Harrowsmith , Ontario
Join Date: Jun 2012
Posts: 142
Sort of

Here's my story about an old trailer because we did exactly this! I have a classic car too so I know exactly what you mean.

We bought a 76 Sovereign expecting there would be some issues. Got it North of Belleville which is pretty close to you. The PO told us the fridge didn't work, copper pipes leaked, didn't know about the stove, furnace or anything else. Didn't mention that the bathroom floor was rotten but I expected that. He did try to tell me he didn't think it had brakes which was interesting.

As it turns out, the fridge did work so that was a bonus. We took it camping a week after we got it, so every morning before work I was working on replacing the copper with pex - that was really quite simple. New water pump as the original broke when I took it apart. Unfortunately the water heater leaked which wasn't nice.

Last Fall I took the bathroom apart and replaced the floor (the frame was in good condition) and have the bathroom mostly back in with a new water heater. I was able to retrofit the existing stainless water heater door which made me happy.

This goal this year is to: finish the bathroom, reupholster the sofa (the original is gone save the plywood), and install new axles (ordered yesterday from Colin Hyde - quite exciting), and new tires.

I think I got it for a fair price and probably won't have put than $2500 all told with axles, tires, water heater, etc. I really like the 76-mid 80's models and I'd do this again - hopefully on a 34' next time. I wouldn't object to paying more and getting something used from Can-Am because I would trust them more than the average Kijiji seller. But paying more from a random person and then discovering rotten floors would be disheartening.

I'd take my 37 Airstream over almost any SOB any day.
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Old 01-23-2013, 09:54 AM   #8
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2008 16' Safari
Destrehan , Louisiana
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Posts: 395
There is no such thing as a trouble free trailer, new or used. Any vintage (25 years old or older) will come with it's fair share of proplems. I enjoy fixin' um as much as I do campin' in um.
A new decked out Airstream can run as much as $100,000.00. Compare that with a "project" Airstream for $2500.00. Even with a lot of expense it's difficult to spend that much.
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Old 01-23-2013, 10:10 AM   #9
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1975 Argosy 24
1976 Argosy 28
Alamo Heights , Texas
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Considering that there are few "Bought brand new Airstream and everything was perfect" stories, one can expect even fewer with the older trailers.

That said, the post above about setting appropriate expectations is spot-on. Another important idea that's repeated in many threads about selecting/buying a new-to-you older Airstream is that it usually pays to find the best trailer that you can afford to start with and expect that it'll still need some work. The basic idea is that it might cost you $5,000 and lots of work to make a $3,500 trailer into a $7,000 trailer, when you might have been able to find the $7,000 trailer all along.

I found our Argosy in ready-to-camp condition, but it wasn't perfect. It needed new axles and I spent the first year trying to convince myself otherwise, and it needed some plastic-welding work on the fresh water tank, and one of the dump valves leaked slightly. That's the bad, but all the appliances worked more or less (the original furnace is a cranky beast and on my list for replacement for that reason and because of issues with the particular model.)

The PO had upgraded the plumbing to PEX, put in a new water heater, put in new mattresses for the twin beds, new curtains and kool seal or some similar product on the roof. He'd upgraded to a cheap 3-stage converter that lasted me a more than a year (and had lasted him several before he sold me the trailer) and I'm still using the battery that came with it. He had the trailer for 5 years, I've had it almost 2 and I'm pretty sure I've camped in it more than he did. While I have nothing on lots of our fellow AIRForums members, we've slept 33 nights in the trailer since our first trip in late June 2011, and traveled about 6600 miles with it.

It has NOT been free to own since buying, of course, but new ones aren't either. Here's a rough list.

Work already done
New showerhead
Rebuild dump valves
Fix leak at freshwater fill
New converter
New axles
New tires
Find/address actual and potential leaks
Replace various belly pan rivets (see axles above)
Add BAL stabilizers (worth 2x what I paid and 4x the work required)

Work still to be done:
Replace furnace
Upgrade toilet
Repair rear floor under bathroom (eventually)
Upgrade more lights to LED
New Airstream-correct curtains
New floor covering
Repaint exterior

Would I buy it again? In a heartbeat.

Il Carriaggio 1975 Argosy 24 | Il Progetto 1976 Argosy 28 Center Bath | WBCCI# 15566

He has all of the virtues I dislike and none of the vices I admire. Sir Winston Churchill
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Old 01-23-2013, 10:23 AM   #10
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2006 34' Classic S/O
Lakewood , New Jersey
Join Date: Dec 2007
Posts: 178
I bought it knowing there could be issues

When I purchased my 88 Limited I bought it "As is". I did two inspections and the PO fired up the furnace, ac, refrigerator during the second visit. I felt comfortable with the inspections, and purchased the trailer.

I decided to convert the twin bed setup to a queen, and it was then I found the rotted floor on both corners of the bedroom. It wasn't something I expected as I had inspected the trailer for leaks and was convinced there weren't any. That said I replaced the rotted section with marine plywood, and had the trailer tested for more leaks using the Sealtech method, found the leaks, caulked, and built the bed. Other than this and a few bulb replacements my 88 has been a great purchase, and all systems are still working well. All in all for me buying a 20 plus year old airstream was a dream come true.


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Old 01-23-2013, 11:10 AM   #11
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2007 23' Safari SE
Central , Connecticut
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Here's the question that comes to mind: What exactly is the alternative?

You were looking at a well-cared for, but not perfect, late-70s Airstream. Instead of that, you could:

- Not go camping at all. (That would be sad.)

- Buy a new cheap white-box. (You'd wind up with issues because RVs aren't as reliable as Japanese cars. But they'd probably be fewer - I had a nearly trouble-free year with our T@B. Well, except for the furnace. And the water pump.)

- Buy a vintage white-box. (That likely has bigger structural issues than an old Airstream.)

- Buy a vintage Airstream that someone else fixed up, waiting to get the best trailer that you can. (As DKB_SATX suggests with his nice Argosy, let someone else do the heavy lifting and take the biggest hit. If you're lucky, you'll be left with minor debugging - since almost any 30-year-old anything will have intermittent quibbles.)

- Buy a newer used AS for a lot more $. (I did that - and have been fixing bugs/making upgrades since. But it overall has fewer problems than my almost-restored 77 Argosy did.)

- Drag an old AS out of a field. (I don't think you want to do a full restoration - camping time's a'wastin.)

Unlike the Land Rover example, you can't just go out and buy the RV equivalent of a Honda CR-V that is statistically very, very, very likely to be trouble-free. The RV world brings some hassle.

But from your LR stories (fixing deferred maintenance, dealing with some Lucas gremlins, leaky seals), it sounds like you'd be pretty happy if you bought a SOLID, STILL-IN-USE older trailer from a knowledgeable owner who's looking to upgrade/try something else. Look for the classifieds with long lists of replaced things; entries like "axles" are good...

Now: 2007 Safari SE 23' "Anne" towed by 2011 Dodge Durango "Herman"
Before: Argosy Minuet and T@B, towed by various Honda Odysseys
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Old 01-23-2013, 11:19 AM   #12
Restorations done right
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1962 26' Overlander
1961 26' Overlander
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Currently Looking...
Baltimore , Maryland
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The rewards far out weight the negatives. Worth every frustration! I sometimes feel guilty for how much I have gotten for how little it has cost me(figuratively and literally).
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Old 01-23-2013, 11:26 AM   #13
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1988 25' Excella
1987 32' Excella
Knoxville , Tennessee
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I have bought 2 old Airstreams and spent a ton of money and time on each. But now they both work well and we love them.
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Old 01-23-2013, 12:13 PM   #14
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1997 34' Limited
1970 27' Overlander
South of Atlanta , Georgia
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We got our 1997 in 2009. Other than normal maintenance issues, there were no big surprises. The rear end has remained attached, the floor did not rot and fall out from under us, nor did the frame collapse. Have we made changes to the trailer? Of course. Nothing has happened that we didn't cause through our own (mine) stupidity. Oh, I did forget, the A/C wore out after 15 years....but that was not a surprise appliances do wear out.

Craig and Carol
1997 34' Excella 1000
1970 27' Overlander, International
2009 Ford F150 5.4L
ProPride hitch with 1400# bars

AIR 41028
WBCCI 10199
Past President Southeastern Camping Unit (12)
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