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Old 03-01-2020, 05:46 PM   #1
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68 Ambassador Renovation

Hey all,

My SO and I are renovating a 1968 ambassador we bought early January 2020. We are super excited about the project. We know we have a lot ahead of us, but nothing worth doing is easy.

When purchasing the PO told us very little other than "it doesn't leak" (yeah right) and that he had taken it out hunting a few times, which is also doubtful, the smell was unbearable, and I couldn't imagine it being habitable. We talked him down a few grand because of a few issues I'll get to in a bit.

We plan to make it a somewhat permanent living situation. Insulate for all seasons and make it boondocking capable. I guess that would involve the following:
  • Solar set up
  • Large Batteries
  • Generator
  • Large freshwater and grey water tanks
  • Water filtration system
  • Composting toilet
  • Wif hotspot antenna thingy?
  • One of those gas/electric fridges?
  • Gas stove? (or electric? what's better?)

Here are some images of the trailer when we bought it. Airstream made two versions of this trailer, and this is the one with two twin beds. Its condition was ok-ish. One of the curved windows was missing. The decor looked more like it was from the 70's - maybe a previous renovation? It had an obvious mold smell, and we knew that water damage was underneath things. There was apparent rear end separation. The frame looked alright from what I could see, not even much surface rust. The shore power worked, trailer brakes seemed to work, the brake and signal lights were good, and they had recently put on new tires. I haven't bothered to try the 12v battery system.

Not sure about the condition of axels and wheel bearings, but when towing from the place of purchase, it seemed fine. The rims of the tires sit a few inches below the wheel wells, so I think there's still some give in the torsion axels.

There were some bad repairs done to patch what seemed to be a big scratch or a gash on the mid curbside. One was covered with a foot-long diamond steel plate with rubber in between the steel and aluminum, and this is mirrored on the other side of the trailer - not sure why they would do this instead of a regular aluminum patch. There's a big patch on the mid curbside cut awkwardly and installed with pop rivets, and some even seem to appear to be steel rivets. They also tried to cover the fridge vent but did a horrible looking job.

All in all, this was a mixed bag. I was eager to pull stuff up and see what was lying underneath. Unfortunately, we had to wait until we found a place to do the renovation. We don't have a backyard or driveway, and the trailer was sitting in storage.

We found a place where they rent space to people working on van conversions and tiny homes. We are fortunate to have found that space. It's very cool and inspiring to be working around people doing similar projects! Lots of cool input from the van builder and tiny homers!

Now a month into the renovation, we are looking at bare walls! More pictures soon!
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Old 03-01-2020, 06:19 PM   #2
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Sounds like you're off to a good start. Can't wait to see your progress and more photos.

My one caution is thinking you can insulate for all seasons (at least all seasons where freezing is a possibility). You have less than 2" thickness in the walls and the outer skin is directly connected to the inner skin through the aluminum ribs.

Adding to that is keeping any water tanks (fresh, gray, or black) in the belly pan from freezing/damage. These issues can be lessened to some extent, with changes (i.e. heating pads on the tanks/dry camping and reducing conductivity between the inner skin and the ribs).

Not to dissuade you, just want to make sure you understand the design features you have to alter. Keep us posted.
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Old 03-02-2020, 11:56 AM   #3
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Thanks for the advice!

I didnít think about the tanks freezing, and I want the grey tanks to sit in the frame, it would save on interior space. The freshwater tank Iíll probably hide inside under the gaucho or couch; it was initially set up like that.

A heating pad seems like a simple enough solution. Maybe I could switch the heating pad on only when I need it as a precautionary measure.

Anyhow it doesnít seem like a totally insurmountable problem. Iím not trying to take it to the mountains in the winter or anything. I am just trying to make it as livable as possible. And I do not doubt that Iíll be using the heater in the winter, but at least it's not a huge space to warm.

I am going to post some pictures soon to bring you all up to date or the projectís current state.
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Old 03-02-2020, 12:17 PM   #4
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We welcome you to the madness and addiction as you see most of us have it also. We will joyfully follow along and champion your progress

With research you will find some additional threads here about making a four season trailer when ideally Airstream is more of a three season trailer. Some people have had reasonable success.

Colder weather just brings some extra challenges. Freezing tanks, freezing pipes, interior condensation, insulation and the cost of propane being the major ones.

Various different types of heating and stoves can help with the condensation.

Good luck on your renovation.
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Old 03-02-2020, 01:29 PM   #5
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Welcome to the forums! Iím restoring a Ď68 as well. They are a great year. Iíve taken my time with the renovation and have enjoyed it as much as I enjoy traveling and camping. Sounds like you are off to the right start by finding a place to work on it. In my humble opinion, Iíd highly suggest getting the frame repaired, axles replaced, and subfloor fixed or replaced to start. Itís rare to find one that doesnít need the above. After that, youíll be investing worthwhile time on the rest of the renovation. Good luck and donít hesitate to ask questions. There are several experienced renovators active on this forum.
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Old 03-02-2020, 02:22 PM   #6
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Z-S, youíve got a good list of items you want. Iíve found that as time goes by after the renovation, thatís when I say ĎI wish I wouldíveí. You may want to think WAY ahead and at the very least prep for future items. Run some extra wiring (or conduit) and terminate where you may need it someday. While the interior skins are out, add bracing around the roof vent openings in the event you want a coupe of air conditioners/heaters someday. Use the most reliable plumbing material and add isolation valves if you get a leak. I could go on and on, but Iíll give you a break. Good luck.
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Old 03-03-2020, 11:25 PM   #7
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Thanks, everyone! I will consider all this as I move forward. I've read before about problems with condensation, and I will be looking into ways to mitigate it.

Right now, I'm going to attempt to fill in the timeline from these purchase photos to the place we are currently, this might be a few separate posts.

In January, we purchased the trailer. We didn't have a backyard or driveway because we live close to the downtown area. After purchase, it had to stay at the PO's property for a couple of weeks while we figured how to tow it (still shopping for tow vehicle), insure it, do the DMV business, and find a place we could legally do the build.

PO was getting starting to get irritated. For lack of another place to put it,
we took it to a self-storage that had a secured parking lot. We had to pull it with one of those F150s from UHAUL. I'm sure those F150s are not meant to tow a trailer of this weight, but people do it. I'm happy that the storage facility was only a couple of miles away. One of the tires on the truck went flat when I was transporting the trailer, not fun for your first time hitching up.

Never maneuvered a trailer of this length or wight before, so getting it through the narrow maze of self-storage units to the secured parking lot way in the back of the facility was very difficult. I took q wrong turn and got stuck at a narrow corner I couldn't clear. I had to back it out the entire way and do it over. Brutal. I learned so much on that day alone. Mainly how nieve I am. Still, we survived, and I did a great job of backing it into our narrow space between two box trucks.

It sat there for a couple of miserable weeks. We couldn't work on it at the storage facility but visited it to make measurements for use in making our initial floor plans. There we other trailers and Rv's back there. There always seemed to be someone else back there messing around. Not sure what they were doing, but they were always there! I almost got the feeling that people were living in an RV back there, and they weren't supposed to be doing that. They would always watch us when we were doing our thing, and the whole thing gave me this sketchy feeling. To make matters worse, PO hadn't installed a new lock on our broken door handle, and you could walk right in.

The whole thing was extremely sketchy, and more than once, we arrived to find the door completely open. We didn't have anything of value in there, but I was always afraid I'd open it to find some guy sleeping in there.

Finally, the desperate search for a site to build came to an end. We were accepted to Green Anchors, a community that rents space and provides building resources to businesses, artists, tiny home builders, and van builders. I think it used to be an old shipyard. The building site is located in an industrial area next to the Columbia River. Because of its zoned heavy industry, we can work into the night on the airstream, which is a huge plus. And people are working on all sorts of inspiring things out there, one guy doing giant metal sculptures, another guy is working on an old steam tugboat, someone else tends a large greenhouse and beehives. It's a beautiful energy to be around. (some pictures below)

So we got the airstream out of the sketchy storage facility and had it parked at our new build site by mid-February. We set up a massive 10'*17' driveway tent that is now my ad-hoc workshop and dry storage (also pictures). We love the setup. And an added plus is that we can see the beautiful St. Johns bridge right above our build site!
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Old 03-04-2020, 12:50 PM   #8
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At the new space, I was able to get a new keyed door handle for the trailer installed, and of course, this all still didn't matter tho because of the missing window. We also upgraded our hitch lock to one of the proven industries ones.

The mattresses were old and smelly, and the gaucho futon was moldy. We also found a can of bug spray that looked that it was meant for bedbugs - nope. Ended up taking that fabric stuff and carpet to the dump. I think that was the first bit of work I got to do. It was great because the dump was only a 10-minute drive from the place.

We stared at the interior. We were cautious, slowly removing pieces and parts from the cabinets in the kitchen, working our way to the back, and trying to save what we could. At first, it was hard to find how it all came apart, but eventually, we started making progress.

We found our first bit of hidden water damage underneath the kitchen sink. Then later, we found some more behind the fridge. We removed the two beds. Then we removed the two closets situated behind the wheel wheels; this is where we started seeing more water damage. Now exposed, I could see the floor of the curbside closet had plywood covering a big 2*2 patch of the rotten subfloor. The other closet wasn't as bad, but some water damage was coming from the access panel next to it, causing some minor floor rot.

The rear bath seemed intimidating, but I was able to get all that stuff out in an evening on my own. While doing this, I was thinking about how it all comes out in layers, like an onion. One thing gets installed on top of another thing. Install has to happen in the reverse order.

I found lots more water damage in the rear bathroom. Mostly around the water heater on the curbside and at the very end of the trailer. The rotten 2*2 subfloor patch now extended from behind the curbside wheel well to the back all along the C channel. PO had left the airstream all winter with the back access panel open, and water had been getting in. Only a tiny bit of subfloor existed in the c channel underneath by where the bathtub was. Subfloor underneath the tub seemed solid, but everything else was mushy.

We saved the bathtub and the sink. The bathroom cabinetry was severely damaged when I removed it. (I won't be using the sink portion (mid bath plan), and it's in good condition if anybody needs one let me know)

Lots of stuff that came out had a white and black mold growing. I removed the rest, including the wall that contains the pocket door. This was the worst moldy spot in the trailer. The inside of the bulkhead was coated in a 1" thick fluffy white mold. It smelled like cheese. I wish I had taken a picture, but I'd rather forget what I had seen, there a picture with some wood with a little growing on it below.

We saved one piece of wooden bulkhead that wasn't rotten, the overhead storage, other parts that weren't broken, moldy, water damaged, and kept anything that could be used as a template.

So I think this sums up the first 3 or 4 days. Many more posts soon to bring us to the present.
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Old 03-04-2020, 01:26 PM   #9
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Z-S, I think what helped us the most was memory and pictures. The pictures jogged our memory. Youíll be amazed at how the seemingly difficult tasks go back simpler with pictures. Looks like youíre making good progress.
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Old 03-04-2020, 01:54 PM   #10
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A few of these images are screenshots from the SO's Instagram stories, and there is text over some photos. Sorry if that's annoying.

Here are pictures of the water damage that was apparent at this stage of the demo. Was able to clear away the rot in the back and could see down to the outriggers. I was expecting the ones by the wheel wells to be nonexistent and rusted away. When I looked, some were rusty, but none rusted through, this was good news.

I could see the ground through the curbside hole and could see that the belly pan behind the back tire was not attached and was letting water in. Good to know where the water was intruding.

The other intrusion was happening up front behind the fridge, and the vent was the definitive culprit. Water damage under the sink seemed to be caused by the sink overflowing more than once, this was judging by where the water stains were. The stains started from the countertop down, not the from window, which would also be suspect. The sink area was also the side with the gash covered by a small diamond steel plate, so maybe water intrudes there as well (pictured in the next post).
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Old 03-04-2020, 02:07 PM   #11
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Heres the image of the steel plate covering a gash.

Also, I found this sticker with "Maritime Provinces Caravan NO. 59" during the demo. A clue to the life this AS has lived? Anybody know how/where I can research this further?
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Old 03-04-2020, 10:19 PM   #12
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Looks like that was a caravan in 1968.

Copied from another thread on Airforums:
#59 - Maritime Province-Eastern Canada Summer 1968

That might be something to keep for trailer provenance.
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Old 03-04-2020, 10:59 PM   #13
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Originally Posted by zen_stream View Post
Heres the image of the steel plate covering a gash.

Also, I found this sticker with "Maritime Provinces Caravan NO. 59" during the demo. A clue to the life this AS has lived? Anybody know how/where I can research this further?
The big red numbers 20977 on the front and rear were assigned to members of the Wally Byam Caravan Club International (WBCCI), a.k.a.the Airstream club. These numbers were first assigned in 1968 to Paul and Wilma Tillman of Bradenton, FL.

According to the 1969 WBCCI Membership Directory, the Tillmans were credited with participating on Caravan 59 - Maritime Province - Eastern Canada Summer 1968.

It looks like the Tillmans bought your 1968 Airstream and immediately joined the club and went on that caravan.
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Old 03-05-2020, 09:33 AM   #14
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Wow! Far out! Thank you 66Overlander for looking up the original owners for me. Mystery solved!

Eastern Provinces in the summer, seems like a nice trip. Also interesting to know that our trailer sat down in FL for some amount of time.
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Old 03-06-2020, 03:08 PM   #15
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Back to the business at hand: I'm Fast-forwarding the timeline to the end of the first week of deconstruction. At this point, we had all the interior bulkheads, beds, sinks, tub, oven, gas range, fridge, and all cabinetry pulled out. We went on to remove the furnace, water heater, fresh water tank and pump under the gaucho, and also tried out removing our first few panels of the interior skins.

I found lots of water damage under the fresh tank. Also, there doesn't seem to be any support for the tank on the frame, so it just sits with all its weight supported by the subfloor. I think this explains why I've seen people weld new supports here once they get down to framework. I think ill be doing that as well.

Water damage under the tank probably caused by overfill, leaking tank, bad connections on tubing going to pump - let me know if there's another potential culprit not listed here.

The whole floor up there was soggy and rotten. I cleaned up the wet mess. I guess 1968 was one of the years they did spray insulation between the belly and the subfloor, and I now realize this was fortunate because that fiberglass insulation smells terrible when wet.

Looking back on it now, out of all the insulation I pulled out, the spray foam was the least gross and most straightforward to remove and smelled the least. For the reasons above, I'm thinking of possibly doing spray foam again between the subfloor and belly and the Reflex/Rockwool combo for the walls. I will need to look into it...

You can see all the water damage from the pictures. Not sure if it's clear enough to see but the frame had some surface rust around where the tank sat. Still, I couldn't find any places where It had rusted through, there is plenty of structure there, another good sign.
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Old 03-06-2020, 04:23 PM   #16
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...trying to figure out how to make my images upload in the right orientation...

Now back to the story. By the middle of the following week, we had the rest of the interior skins out. We still had the endcaps in at this point.

The skins went pretty quickly with the SO and I working on it together. The upper two portions were installed on top of most of the other surfaces, and they had to come out first. AC was in the way. I'm sure I destroyed the AC unit while I was removing it (still admonishing myself for the incident). Either way, we were probably going to get a new one eventually.

These upper panels were giant and unruly. I was afraid I'd accidentally crease the metal when taking it out, but we managed. We plan to reuse the panels, but one of the two had some damage to it, a small crack running up it 2" long, probably a job for a patch.

The sides were also two large panels that ran the length of the AS. These were also difficult. The rest came out with a bit more ease. There was a lot of gross insulation. Once it was gone, you could see shiny airstream underneath. You could also see the curbside gash from the inside, and this is the one covered by the diamond steel plate mentioned in previous posts. Found a few places where you could see daylight, areas where a buck rivet was missing. There were no bad ribs as far as I could tell, some were missing rivets and have come somewhat loose.
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Old 03-06-2020, 08:14 PM   #17
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Originally Posted by zen_stream View Post
Back to the business at hand: I'm Fast-forwarding the timeline to the end of the first week of deconstruction. At this point, we had all the interior bulkheads, beds, sinks, tub, oven, gas range, fridge, and all cabinetry pulled out. We went on to remove the furnace, water heater, fresh water tank and pump under the gaucho, and also tried out removing our first few panels of the interior skins.

I found lots of water damage under the fresh tank. Also, there doesn't seem to be any support for the tank on the frame, so it just sits with all its weight supported by the subfloor. I think this explains why I've seen people weld new supports here once they get down to framework. I think ill be doing that as well.

Water damage under the tank probably caused by overfill, leaking tank, bad connections on tubing going to pump - let me know if there's another potential culprit not listed here.

The whole floor up there was soggy and rotten. I cleaned up the wet mess. I guess 1968 was one of the years they did spray insulation between the belly and the subfloor, and I now realize this was fortunate because that fiberglass insulation smells terrible when wet.

Looking back on it now, out of all the insulation I pulled out, the spray foam was the least gross and most straightforward to remove and smelled the least. For the reasons above, I'm thinking of possibly doing spray foam again between the subfloor and belly and the Reflex/Rockwool combo for the walls. I will need to look into it...

You can see all the water damage from the pictures. Not sure if it's clear enough to see but the frame had some surface rust around where the tank sat. Still, I couldn't find any places where It had rusted through, there is plenty of structure there, another good sign.
I see signs of water tracking on the inside surface of the outside skins at the front, so you likely had seams or rivet heads leaking that helped rot out the front floor. That alone could explain the damage you saw. I am not saying that the water tank didn't leak, but a leaking water tank is not a requirement to see the floor damage you found. You will want to reseal the seams and maybe even rivet heads from the inside or outside during your rebuild process.
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Old 03-06-2020, 09:04 PM   #18
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I see signs of water tracking on the inside surface of the outside skins at the front, so you likely had seams or rivet heads leaking that helped rot out the front floor. That alone could explain the damage you saw. I am not saying that the water tank didn't leak, but a leaking water tank is not a requirement to see the floor damage you found. You will want to reseal the seams and maybe even rivet heads from the inside or outside during your rebuild process.


You're absolutely right. I will be re-sealing everything that's suspect. Or is it better to reseal the whole thing entirely? Should I go through and redo every seam and every rivet? Seems like a monumental task. Not everything is leaking and most of the factory seals still seem to be good and I've identified the source of most of the leaks. What's standard procedure here?

Thanks! Appreciate the feedback!
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Old 03-07-2020, 06:41 AM   #19
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Seal it all. Putting the trailer back on the road will apply stresses that can start new leaks. I learned the hard way after we started putting the interior back in and took it out for the weekend to aluminum tent camp. Had to take the little bit of interior back out and reseal.

An automotive seam sealer (can not a tube) can be brushed on easily.
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Old 03-07-2020, 08:50 AM   #20
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Again, welcome to the forums. I'm about 9 months into our '68 Overlander and well into the reconstruction phase, you will get there too! Echoing previous posts - Deconstruct, evaluate, plan. Frame repair, modify, prep and paint. Subfloor repair, if more than 2 sections have major issues consider a full floor replace. I did a "floating" replacement of all sections by sliding the sheets back and forth, it was actually pretty easy once I got going, '68's are a great candidate for this. Lots of fun to come....
Enjoy, Mark D
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