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Old 02-08-2006, 07:55 PM   #1
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Twin Cities , Minnesota
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Advice on a first Airstream?

I need some purchasing advice from you sage Overlander owners!

I have been staring longingly at this 58 Overlander on vintage campers.

I keep thinking I should email the guy and make him an offer (He has it listed at $2,500), but I'm a bit scared that I might be getting WAY over my head for a first Airstream.

Here's a little background info on myself. I'm a 26 year old graphic designer graduate student pursuing an MFA in interactive design. I have always wanted to get and renovate an Airstream, and then full-time in it (parked mostly, depending on what life throws my way). Recently, I developed this grandiose plan for my thesis to actually renovate one, then make a series of books and interactive websites documenting the process of renovation and the experiences of being an airstreamer.

So, this brings me to my problem with the 58 overlander. It has some problems, like a soft floor, needing to be replumbed, probable issues with the electrical system....My largest concern is the condition of the frame as there's rust through on the bumper and quite a bit of rust on the hitch.

I do have some assets as far as help is concerned: My grandfather builds all sorts of boats and is an engineer. My mom's boyfriend is in metal fabrication. But myself, I only have some woodworking experience, though I'll use any tool (well) with glee. Part of me thinks I should get something newer and just change the interior to better suit my tastes. The other part of me thinks that is horribly boring and not nearly as rewarding.

Any advice, thoughts or dire warnings are appreciated!

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Old 02-08-2006, 08:32 PM   #2
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1951 21' Flying Cloud
Western , Kentucky
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This looks to me like a great project trailer. It will take a LOT of hard work and even more money. I love the older units and this has great possibilities, but you need to realistically consider your abilities and available time.
Greg Jones
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Old 02-08-2006, 08:58 PM   #3
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Crestview , Florida
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If you haven't seen this thread already, check this out...

If this isn't inspiring, I don't know what is!

Best of luck, it sounds like a grand plan!!
Minya and the kids

2005 22' Safari-
...lost her in the divorce-
Would like another (Airstream), please!

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Old 02-08-2006, 09:02 PM   #4
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1964 24' Tradewind
Big Bear Lake , California
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Posts: 183
Go for It!

The pictures always look good. And the price to me is fine for that year. The most important thing you got going is DIRECTION. You know what you want to do. So what if it takes you 2-5-8 years to get it done. In a couple of hours you can research this forum for any repair and get an understanding of what it's gonna take. The whole picture you've envisioned is 90% of your success. The work, time and effort is the balance. And it seems that most folks think the 26' models are the most desirable. Mine's 24' and if I'd a known more than I did, I'd like to have that extra 2 foot!
Does the year of the trailer hold any significance for you? Is there some inherent design determinate that is working for you on this? Otherwise maybe a less complex (newer) trailer to start with might accomplish the same thing. Have you got the 1958 car to go with it? That is truly gonna be a full re-do project trailer, but hey, you know what you want to do and where your gonna take it. I say money's not the object here, fullfilling your designs (dreams, objectives, goals) is. We'll all support you with whatever you do.
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Old 02-08-2006, 09:15 PM   #5
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Virginia Beach , Virginia
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Not a restorer myself, but...

You'll have to make your own decision on this, but here are the factors that pop into my mind:
  1. Your age - you are young and healthy - your high energy is a plus
  2. Your relatives - their skills are great to have, but make sure way ahead of time that they have a good idea of the scope of this project, that they are really on-board, and that you know and respect their limits. (Use the "search" tool and show them what "the full monte" involves.) Get a very clear idea of how much they will really be able to help you - remembering that they have jobs, lives and financial commitments of their own. If you all live together, have a huge barn and think that working on a project like this is a perfect way to spend several months, go for it.
  3. Your own commitment level. Are you already over-committed? Can you clear your calendar enough to see this all the way through? Read the "for sale" ads in this forum, on ebay,, etc. The world is full of gutted and half done Airstreams where the owners gave up and are now selling at a loss - just to get that "thing" off the lawn and recoup some money.
  4. Money - use the search tool yourself and ask yourself "can I really afford this project?" - On a unit THAT old I'd expect to spend $10K - $15K just to get the unit structurally sound and the basic systems working safely... and that's with volunteer labor. DO NOT go cheap on anything involving propane or water. Repairing old furnaces or water heaters is a great way to die of carbon monoxide poisoning or have a fire. And plumbing leaks? Er... more like Niagra Falls.
  5. Time - you mentioned that you are a 26 year old grad student. How long do you have to complete your project and get your degree?
  6. Biological Clock - Yikes, you are saying, I don't have to think about that! Wrong. Sorry. Talk to your doctor. Women DO get pregnant in their late 30's and even through their 40's, but fertility after 30 is MUCH lower than most women realize. (I'm 58, no kids. That was my choice, but many of my contemporaries spent $100K and 6-7 years of their lives taking dangerous amounts of hormones trying to GET pregnant. Did you know that 85% of women who go to fertility clinics end up never carrying a pregnancy to term?)
  7. And after it's done? What then? Well, it's never really done, but... there are ongoing expenses just to keep one, and if you don't really love it and enjoy using it, it's actually a damn expensive hobby. If you aren't full timing, you won't save any money owning any RV. And many full timers don't save all that much. Free and inexpensive RV parking isn't all that common any more.
  8. Can I "turn this house" and make a profit? Almost every unique design is very personal, and hence has a narrow profile of people who will love it and pay ridiculous money for it. You can make a "paper profit" but if you count the hours of labor, I'll bet you'll be working for less than minimum wages refurbishing an Airstream.
Send a PM to "happycampers" or some of the other folks who've done a complete remodel. They can help you get a realistic timeline and cost.

Tin Lizzie
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Old 02-09-2006, 05:33 AM   #6
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There is a thread somewhere about fulltiming in the up north in the winter.
Bottom's not practical ( frozen pipes going in and out of the unit,
and condensation inside the trailer )
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Old 02-09-2006, 06:25 AM   #7
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1994 30' Excella
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Welcome to the forums. I say go for it. You had the good sense to ask for direction before jumping into the project and have gotten some good advice. I have posted a link to the VAC or Vintage Airstream Club. There are active members in your area and they will be happy to lend their knowledge. You will always have the help of this forum and this is an incredible wealth of knowledge. Good luck to you and I hope to see you at a vintage rally.
Chaplain Kent
Forest River Forester 2501TS
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Old 02-09-2006, 06:29 AM   #8
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1975 31' Sovereign
1980 31' Excella II
Sprung Leak , North Carolina
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I am going to throw my two cents worth in here. With that unit and vintage I would expect to do a complete frame off restoration if you plan on doing it right. Run a board search for "Full Monty" and see what you are in for. It can be done, and IMHO is fun to do as long as you aren't on a dead line to get it done.

__________________ many little time...
Why are we in this basket...and where are we going
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Old 02-09-2006, 06:33 AM   #9
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1959 24' Tradewind
Phoenix , Arizona
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Location: I currently do not own a 2nd Airstream
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Having taken a vintage Airstream from almost the same year and almost the same length and almost in similar shape, I can say it is truely a labor of love. Reworking the electric, waste water, fresh water and propane systems is not rocket science but does take some logistical planning. Refinishing the wood is time consuming but again not very tough. If you have the passion and desire, a place to keep it at home while you're working on it, a source or sources to gather the advise of those with experience (right here), local assistance in areas over your head and a knowledge of some basic tools, you will enjoy bringing a classic back to life to provide years of service. If you refurbish a unit without personalizing it and keep the floorplan close to original, it will hold its value. I can't tell you how many times I've been asked if it was for sale because some passerby, motorist or camper wanted to buy it. I say go for it. The price is considerably less than what I started with and that will give you just that much more to refurbish. Enjoy!!

4CU 2699 / AIR 10 / TAC AZ-1

I'm haunted by aluminum.
Charter Member of the 4 Corners Unit.
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Old 02-09-2006, 07:04 AM   #10
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1977 31' Sovereign
1963 26' Overlander
1989 34' Excella
Johnsburg , Illinois
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Shop till you drop.

This unit looks like it would better be left to someone with alot of experience and just craze to spend his time and values his time at $0.00 per hour. This is going to cost you four times the original money to get it back into shape and then it is not going to be worth that amount of money on the open market. The first Airstream should be something you could use obtained from somebody who just wants to get rid of it becuase they have a medical problem or just got too old to trailer anymore. There are lots of people out there that are in that situation. Figure out how much you can afford to spend and shop and inspect units until you find the best one to meet your needs. Full timing in Minesota is not a good idea for Airstreams. Airstreams were principally designed for travel. They are a poor compromise for permanent living up north. I would not consider it.
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Old 02-09-2006, 08:26 AM   #11
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Start with the basics...

If you plan to purchase anything to work on, start with the basics....
Do you have enclosed and heated storage to work on this?
Do you have it for the length of time needed to complete this project?
Can you do do the work yourself? Boyfriends come and go. Your grandfather (depending on his age), may not be able to complete your project.
At 26, your whole life is largely undecided......
My advice is.......
"Shells" are plentiful and always readily available.
Find something completely original and in very good condition with no rotted floors......
Take on what you can do.....
Stick to stripping paint and refinishing wood, polishing aluminum, making new curtains and buying new cushions and covers, cleaning appliances, etc...
Spend more and it will cost you less, both in money and time.
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Old 02-09-2006, 05:33 PM   #12
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Twin Cities , Minnesota
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Thanks everyone.

Thanks everyone taking the time to give me your words of encouragement AND warning. I tell my students all the time that as a graphic designer there are two things that should never be overlooked: doing comprehensive research and soliciting and accepting constructive feedback and criticism from others. I asked because the last thing I'd want to do is waste time and money and sell another gutted trailer because I didn't really know what I was getting into. I prefer NOT to dive head first into empty swimming pools if I can help it.

Though you all gave me a lot to think about that's for sure. Though in response to some of your questions observations:

I have absolutely no intentions of living in an airstream full-time in Minnesota. I've read those threads, and I don't understand how they make it through the snow and the cold. The second grad school is over, I'm packing off for somewhere with a more temperate climate

Why the 58? The year has no special meaning for me, I just liked the open layout, the subtle but sleek shape of the trailer (the way the end just barely tapers out), and the wood cabinets. I liked the fact that the shower, toilet and sink are separate units. I can't really stand those large wrap around fiberglass monstrosities of the later trailers. I like the notion of knowing the 'house' I'd be living in from skin to belly. I'd like to know what's behind the walls and under the floor and be proud of the fact that it was there because I willed it to be. But I do understand that notions are quite different than practical experience.

But, I have read dozens of full monty threads and have some sort of notion of all that might be involved... As far as family and friend resources, I have to start making some calls and compile a list of who might be able to help me out, and with what. Though I'd make it perfectly clear that they are not committed to the entire project. People come and go in and out of our lives for all sorts of reasons.

So, no decisions yet. I'm forcing myself to take some time with this. The 58 will most likely be there in a month, and if not, such is life, and other trailers will come along.

I have two and a half years until I graduate, and even then the trailer would not have to be finished before then, given the fact that it would only be the subject for my thesis and not my thesis itself.

Ill keep you all updated though. Thanks again, your advice is appreciated.

- Nicole
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Old 02-09-2006, 06:18 PM   #13
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wake up girl!!! and old trailer? not yet.....

first figure out where you are gonna live for a few years....lets say near that spot where frankie wright used to hang in the new mexico.....gotta have a job....yadda, is big there....perhaps you can teach or get a job in art......
or work i a coffee shop...
anyway....some place dry/mild with work....

figure out where you will plant the trailer....
a lot....someones ranch...whatever.

then buy a newer (70s) airstream that has everything WORKING...water, electric, heat....and so on....a place you can live....have it towed to your patch of ground.......spend a little time getting to know the trailer.....the space/shape, systems, the limits and freedom that come from a smaller living space....that's mobile! sure 70s isn't your ultimate style...but you will need some first hand personal experience with the trailer living experience before designing your 50s retro silver tube.......

take a, and live the trailer life....

then locate an older trailer. bring it to the property and get to work....

the only thing good about the link in your post is that the listings have a pretty complete LIST of systems....and each will need something....lots of old trailers out there, so no need to rush for a rehaber....

plus you can't live in it while working on it....not a major rehab....

and don't buy something that needs towing....till ya figure out where you are gonna take it....otherwise it really becomes a big YACHT......outta water....

ok, there is your report back by spring break!

ok so this is gonna be a school project........hmmmmmmmm.....
need a warehouse to put the tube in....
once you start taking it apart.....
it will look like one of those airplane crash reconstruction sites........

now this thread isn't just to get us lookin' at that guys used listings is it?

you are on your honor here.......

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Old 02-09-2006, 07:33 PM   #14
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1975 31' Sovereign
Oxford , Mississippi
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As stated above.

We also are newbies. When we started looking at vintage we loved the 50's so cool so retro. But after talking with folks here we found out real quick for our budget we needed to stick with a 70's model first. We were lucky after 3 months looking found a 75 model here under the classifieds. While you are looking make a list of things to ask, do searches here to help with your list.
My main question was how is the floor to me that is the main concern sure you can fix some small parts with patches but having to redo a whole floor can be a job. I will tell you I have loved re-doing the inside, cushions, curtains and such.
The only thing I wish I had in our 75 that the 50's have are the real wood cabinets.
Oh yea besides the floor if you buy a 70's model be sure if it has a rear bath it does not have rear end sag.
Good luck on your search and a word of advice research everything, start a journal and read everything you can and ask many many questions and then some more.

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