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Old 02-14-2014, 10:31 AM   #1
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Which Airstream to buy: Vintage or Pre-2000?

Hi there. Pretty new here but have been reading & looking for awhile now (ok, maybe 2 months isn't long enough, lol). Been pondering on whether to look at a Vintage AS, or a Pre-2000 AS. Anything beyond that is out of my price range.

Having said that a turn-key restoration would be nice, or a well-kept pre-2000 AS.

My questions are: If you know now what you know about AS travel trailers, would you opt for a Vintage AS or a Pre-2000 AS?
What models?
What models to be careful of/features?
What late-model features are in a newbie's best interest? (I don't tinker much)


A friend purchased a vintage AS that she's slowly fixing up, which captured my curiosity about TTs several months ago. After going to local RV dealers & seeing what's out there, I really like how the AS lasts against the elements.

Camping intentions- mostly weekend trips, possibly week-long trips
Distances- up to 500 miles
Boondocking or hook-ups- mostly hook-ups but would like to boondock for shorter trips
Handy- not so much (computer person who lives in a glass jar, lol)

Thanks, everyone.
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Old 02-14-2014, 10:34 AM   #2
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Oops. Somehow came out as a 2nd thread.

Please use THIS one since I added what kind of "camping" I'm mostly looking into.

Thanks everyone!
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Old 02-14-2014, 10:59 AM   #3
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I removed the duplicate thread.

Personally, I like the style of vintage trailers better. And I'm a computer person who loves to tinker, so I don't worry if there's some minor projects waiting for me every spring before we can start the season. If you're not into that, I'd say the newer you can get the better.

Be aware of the weight difference between vintage and new. New trailers have more features and are considerably heavier. You'll need to match your tow vehicle and trailer for safe towing. If you already have a tow vehicle, it's capacity might limit your airstream choices. I think it's best to get the trailer then get an adequate tow vehicle. You'll probably have the trailer a lot longer than the TV if you choose wisely
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Old 02-14-2014, 11:05 AM   #4
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If you don't tinker much, you probably would be best with the newest, best condition least used Airstream you can find, and maybe one on a dealers lot. A trade in, with some assurance that it is a solid rig. Then about the only thing I would do is to change the converter/charger out to a more modern one (or make that a condition of the sale if from a dealer) and enjoy camping. All other systems should be guaranteed to work if purchased from a dealer, and if from a private party, they need to be shown to work prior to purchase (furnace, refrigerator, water systems, toilet, holding tanks, water heater, air conditioner, electric jack, brakes and running lights). Unless the tires are shown by date code to be less than 5 years old, figure on replacement, no matter what the tread looks like.

If you can find a unit that the PO's did not "improve" I think you would be better off. Some modifications, poorly done, can be annoying to live with or difficult to fix or repair, as no one knows what the PO had in mind to begin with.

It does not sound to me like vintage is the way for you to go, unless you find a fully restored unit which has had all the systems re done, in a professional way. There are a lot of "lipstick on a pig" unit out there with cosmetic repair/restorations which are truly bad units, and generally way over priced for what you get.
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Old 02-14-2014, 07:10 PM   #5
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Thanks for your direction peeps. It's like a science trying to figure WHERE to start as a new solo streamer. I'm looking to get a TV first (gasser) that will pull around 8000-10k lbs (Titan or Tundra) then an AS.

Sounds like it's better for me to look at a '80s-90s model then because I do like semi-modern but can't afford much newer than that. Focusing on 31' trailers.


There's so many models out just within those years. Is there a 1-pager that easily describes the different models between the '80-90s? Hardly expect that possibility but thought I would ask. Would love to be camping by mid-Spring.


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Old 02-17-2014, 12:54 AM   #6
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Be aware of the weight difference between vintage and new. New trailers have more features and are considerably heavier. You'll need to match your tow vehicle and trailer for safe towing. If you already have a tow vehicle, it's capacity might limit your airstream choices. I think it's best to get the trailer then get an adequate tow vehicle. You'll probably have the trailer a lot longer than the TV if you choose wisely

You know, I've been doing more research and realized just how spot on you were about getting the AS first if possible. I started looking at smaller TVs but then ran into the hitch weight issue. Didn't think this was a problem as long as the TV pulls the RV. Now wrong I was.

Plus, I realized that most of the AS versions out there are based on sizes and layout more than good/bad/worse options. Decided to buy a few books on AS to learn and educate myself before sinking in cash on a larger TV along with a huge AS too.
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Old 02-17-2014, 01:02 AM   #7
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If you can find a unit that the PO's did not "improve" I think you would be better off. Some modifications, poorly done, can be annoying to live with or difficult to fix or repair, as no one knows what the PO had in mind to begin with.

It does not sound to me like vintage is the way for you to go, unless you find a fully restored unit which has had all the systems re done, in a professional way. There are a lot of "lipstick on a pig" unit out there with cosmetic repair/restorations which are truly bad units, and generally way over priced for what you get.

I'm kinda liking a fully restored vintage unit, or one that doesn't need too much done to it but really need to educate myself first to even know what the basics of an AS are. I might get lucky picking up ANY unit but odds are against me doing this which will be a painful lesson. No guarantees, but I think Ill opt to learn this properly before making uneducated decisions.
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Old 02-17-2014, 01:07 AM   #8
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More reading is a great place to start.

Consider a trailer shorter than 31' as well. Shorter ones are easier to get around corners and, unless you're living in it full time or are camping with a big family, you probably need less space than you think.

Shorter trailers also have less overhang in the back, which can be an issue with sag and rear end separation in older trailers.

I started looking at 31' trailers, partly because they seem to be cheaper and more plentiful. But the 25' is perfect for us, and fits in the driveway, which makes weekend prep really easy.
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Old 02-17-2014, 01:09 AM   #9
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To help you get as grasp of what the issues might be, here's a link to the trailer inspection checklist (snagged from the right side of the Portal page).
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Old 02-17-2014, 02:46 AM   #10
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Stop reading - go LOOKING!

Time to put your tush in quite a few Airstreams. Some ways to move forward?

Find a dealer with a big inventory of Airstreams and look at the new models. (don't care if you can't afford them. Dealers with Airstreams also take them in on trade fairly regularly... get your name on the saleman's "call me when" list.)

You're not THAT far from the factory - Jackson Center Ohio. Visit and take a factory tour. Sit in the lounge and gab with other owners. Get an invite to tour their units on the terra pad.

Look under "Rallies" and find a forums rally or WBCCI rally where visitors are welcome. Normally there's an open house at most rallies, where people will let you tour their units. (Wear clogs and kick them off at the door so as not to track stuff in.)

SEEING real world in use Airstreams is 1000 times more useful than reading about them. Listening to owners talk about the plusses and minuses of their layout is also VERY enlightening. Something they may hate you might love... but there are other things you've probably never thought about. You won't want to feel stuck with something that irritates you every time you use the trailer.

NOW ON my 3rd Airstream (wrecked #2) and I live in it full time. My take on new vs. vintage, vs. newer used is as follows:
  • right now new financing is at an historic low - payments are rarely good - but... maybe. Also you could get good rates on a 2010 or later trade in if you let the dealer front the financing.
  • vintage - there are a few highly reputable restorers we are lucky enough to have as members. I'd never buy a vintage unit that handn't been inspected by one of these guys. I'd pay $1000 for one of them to travel with me to inspect one if I was a vintage type.
  • 10-15 year old unit. IF you find one that has been lovingly maintained by owners who have had to give up traveling due to health or age concerns... then maybe. However as a general rule, everything on a pre-2000 unit that hasn't been replaced it about ready to crap out and cost you big bucks - air conditiner, water heater, furnace, etc. Even the refrigerators aren't built the way the real old ones were. Even a 5 year old unit on it's first set of tires is getting ready to need new rubber, so... buyer beware

Gently used (2 - 5 years old) tends to be the sweet spot, almost new with the major stuff in good repair. Keep your eyes and your mind open. And if you don't have a ROBUST 1/2 ton tow vehicle or even a 3/4 ton, you don't want a 30 footer. You are on the great eastern plains state so you can get by with less of a tow vehicle than someone living in the Rockies. IMHO the 27's and 25's are a perfect size for those who want a bigger trailer.

However I've even imagined getting a second "strictly weekender" RV - maybe a Casita that can be parked in any shopping center lot... (but then my sister would make sad eyes and I'd give it to her).

BTW, If you aren't aware of "scrambled eggs" - they're small Airstream shaped fiberglass trailers. Several brands, Casita, Scamp and about a dozen more. Not exactly an Airstream, but the next best thing.

Paula
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Old 02-17-2014, 05:16 AM   #11
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Ours is a 1984 model that we purchased from a dealer. Everything that needed fixing had been fixed, everything that needed replacing had been replaced, there was a three months nose to tail warrantee on everything.

While I am quite handy, I also have a young family and run my own business, so time is at a premium. We also live in a very urban seeing and it is a 45 minute drive to the storage place. Not ideal conditions to tinker, so I wanted a trailer that was ready to go camping in.

We paid the dealer to install new flooring and refresh the entire upholstery. This spring, we will add some more upgrades, a dishwasher and a composing toilet, also taken care of by the dealer. When the kids are a bit older, the entire interior will be refreshed, and at some point I'll get the clearcoat redone.

Even with all of these modifications, the final price should be about 50% of what we would have paid for a brand new equivalent. An additional benefit is that the trailer is considerably lighter than a modern model, making it possible for us to toe it with a minivan.
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Old 03-02-2014, 03:37 PM   #12
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Blind Pig Found a Truffle

Well, I'm was a complete newbie a year or so ago, knew I wanted an Airstream, had a pretty good idea of what I wanted to do with it, and started researching (much of it here). I've ended up very pleased with my purchase and thought that my analysis might be helpful to you.

I eventually established the following functional criteria:

o Weight
I wanted the ability to tow with a SUV that I already owned, a Mercedes ML500. It's rated for 5,000# in the U.S. and 7,000# in Europe, so I set a limit of 5-6,000#.

o Length
I wanted to get into as many state and national parks as possible which indicated a limit of 25' or so.

o Cost
I was pretty sure I would love the AS experience but I wasn't so sure about the DW. So I thought it prudent to buy something that would have minimal depreciation and set a budget of $20,000 or so.

o Amenities
I wanted a central bath and rear bedroom with twin beds. I was hopeful that my budget would allow me to buy something that was ready to go camping in. A little love needed was fine as I have restored a number of vintage Porsches over the years and enjoy that kind of thing.

I looked at dozens, maybe hundreds of trailers: years, models, varying condition levels, etc. I ended up buying a '90 25' Excella sight unseen from a forum member who lived 600 miles from me, a standup great guy. I may have gotten lucky, but I couldn't be happier.

The trailer has had 2-3 previous owners, has spent all of its life in the Southwest, was stored under cover and not heavily used. It's in beautiful condition. The clearcoat is still intact, the exterior and interior are pristine, and everything works as it should. My wife and I are presently staying in it in Arizona and - and this is the big one - she loves it!

I'd recommend building a criteria list that includes form and function that suit *you* as precisely as possible. Then start looking for your trailer. One of the best ways to find a great trailer is to find a great owner. My experience in buying vintage Porsches was good background for this hunt as when you're dealing long distance you're heavily reliant on the seller.

Good luck!

Poppy
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Old 03-02-2014, 04:53 PM   #13
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Hi, I am not handy and use it about 160 nights a year mostly for work. I needed a camping ready AS that I could easily travel with. I went with 2006 bambi, 19' something that looks huge to me in the driveway and behind my car, but is really just right for my use. I do pay for upkeep work, and trust my RV guy, it costs me, but worth it to know my roof seams are maintained, bearings packed and it is properly winterized. I purchase new tires every three years, and pack bearings once a year. I travel about 20k a Season.
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Old 03-02-2014, 06:57 PM   #14
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I'm kinda liking a fully restored vintage unit, or one that doesn't need too much done to it
This is the quest for the holy grail many of us are on.... I love the restored vintage look too.... BUT... in my opinion, the vintage either 1. Already has been restored or renovated OR 2. NEEDs to be restored or renovated.

Although the cool factor is definitely there, they are all inherently flawed, in that they ALL leak. That means the floor, insulation and frame HAVE been wet and probably caused damage over time. The question is... how much?

There is a HUGE difference between "old and dirty" and "major problem". Old & dirty can be spruced up with elbow grease. BUT what I've found is that the water damage hits the core of these Airstreams... Structural problems. Floors rot, which are attached to the frame and shell. Frame rust causes outriggers to sag, and rear ends and tongues to fall apart. These things are a semi- monocoque design, which means all are important to the integrity. When one fails, the others do too.

The good news is that it can be fixed. The bad is that it gets expensive and time consuming.

If you could find an "old & dirty" one that's lived under a roof its whole life, that would be great. You can clean it up as you use it. This is what I "thought" I was buying. I'd bet TONS of people did the same thing. Many may or may not even know. For that ignorance can be bliss.

I, on the other hand, jumped in with an impulse buy (that I NEVER do), thinking I would "clean it up", and ended up with ALOT of structural issues. That was 17 months ago and I have never even used my trailer yet. My Airstream has been sitting completely torn apart in my driveway. I'm JUST now back to the point where my structure is solid, and I can start cleaning... but heck, while I'm at it, I might as well redo the.... (enter any of the endless things to buy/fix/replace/upgrade)

Luckily we have this forum. I have totally learned, and halfway "built" my Airstream from the ground up. The end result will be very gratifying, but I could have spent half as much on something not as nice, and been camping this whole time.

Dont do what I did and rush into it. 90% of the vintage ones I see have the stereotypical MAJOR problems hidden under that belly pan. Someone is going to buy it for $2,000-$10,000- just like I did and then they will find out later. The funny thing is, that an "old & dirty" one with a solid structure is worth the same range. Just make sure you know the flaws and what you're buying.

You have the right idea.... study, look, listen and THEN figure out what works for you... Keep spending hours and hours on this sight reading, go to rallies, and find someone close to you to help inspect a prospective buy.

Have fun!
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