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Old 06-21-2021, 07:31 PM   #1
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1979 31' Excella 500
Mojave , California
Join Date: Apr 2021
Posts: 28
79 Excella 500 31ft - Full rebuild

Hi everyone,


I am starting this thread to share the progress on my project to completely rebuild a 79 Excella 500 31ft to convert it into a full-time tiny home for myself.



Long story short, I found this Airstream 30 miles away from home, the outside in good shape but the inside a complete garbage. It was lien sale from a storage place, the trailer's owner did not pay its storage for a while so the storage place did all the paperwork and sold all of his belongings. They were planing to put the trailer on display and renovate it for advertising but never go to do it. So after 5 years they decided to sell it.
Because of that I was not able to know much about the history of this trailer, only what I could figure out while seeing it.



The inside was full of trash, no furniture or anything left, I could see that the subfloor was rotted and gone in some location or stained with oil... There were strong signs of an electrical fire as there was soot on the inner skin and the skin itself was completely wrapped. That seemed to have started near the electrical box. Pretty much every piece of plastic inside was melted.... Also two windows were missing the glass and a third one is cracked. Finally signs of forcible entry on the main door, and I could not check the axles with everything below



All and all a really piece of art ahahahah But all I saw was potential!


Here are some pictures and video of the outside and inside when I bought it.

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Old 06-21-2021, 07:38 PM   #2
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1979 31' Excella 500
Mojave , California
Join Date: Apr 2021
Posts: 28
The first step was to get rid of all the trash that was inside to get a complete picture of the damages and really evaluate the work.

Not pretty but it could be worse!
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Old 06-22-2021, 12:09 AM   #3
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1979 31' Excella 500
Mojave , California
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Now that the interior was cleaner I was able to work an entire weekend to remove the inner walls and that nasty and dirty fiber glass.
The inner wall were to distorded that I am not planning on reusing them, in addition I am planning on changing the layout and electrical system so I would have had patches everywhere...
Some of the fiberglass could have been reused but half of it was either burn or damaged with water or rodents So I decided to replace the entire thing
The whole process took about 18 hours.


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Old 06-22-2021, 12:39 AM   #4
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1979 31' Excella 500
Mojave , California
Join Date: Apr 2021
Posts: 28
The next decision was which of the subfloor or the belly pan would be removed next. The subfloor being in poor shape I was able to habe a look bellow and decided to remove it first to be able to remove the fiber glass from the top and not taking in my face when removing the belly pan.



As I am doing everything alone and would not be able to access the equipment that I needed I decided to do a shell on rebuild. I removed most of the subfloor in about 10 hours using a method that I discovered online: cutting around the floor bolts. That save me so much trouble as I had no luck removing the old rusty and stripped bolts.


Needless to say that removing the subfloor first was the good choice. The insulation was the nastiest thing I had seen in a while! Loads of rat droppings, dried dead rats, black widows etc...


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Old 06-22-2021, 01:10 AM   #5
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1979 31' Excella 500
Mojave , California
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Dropping the three water tanks, getting rid of the fiber glass, cleaning all the rat droppings and removing the central part of the belly pan took me two more days.

Somehow I found I had more success with a ratchet wrench to remove the bolts rather than using power tools.

The tanks are so gross that I bet nobody would reuse them for anything, then pans that hold them however are in good condition. As for the belly pan itself, th back end part was missing the other one had a massive hole in it. the font end part could be reused but the holes for the rivets became larger so I am not going to.




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Old 06-22-2021, 12:00 PM   #6
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1964 26' Overlander
Morganton , Georgia
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Wow! Nicely documented attack on some old stinky warpy yuck. I admire your energy. Best of luck in this rebuild.
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Old 06-22-2021, 04:18 PM   #7
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1986 25' Sovereign
Huntsville , Alabama
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Good job you have started. She'll looks real good. Good luck.
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Old 06-22-2021, 06:04 PM   #8
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1986 34' Limited
1975 27' Overlander
Conifer , Colorado
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I've walked the trail you are currently on. Your trailer, with the fire and all, is in rough shape and more of a challenge than we had. However, you can get it done and be quite happy with it, especially since you designed and built it yourself.

Galvanic corrosion between steel and aluminum caused the belly pan rivets to become disengaged. Your subfloor plywood is only 1/2" thick or there abouts I think. Seems like the 76 through 1980 trailers were built that way. You may be able to increase that to 3/4" plywood. There are some considerations when doing that, especially at the entry door.

You may have the record with all the nasties you found in the belly pan. Black widows. Egad.

David
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Old 06-22-2021, 11:56 PM   #9
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1979 31' Excella 500
Mojave , California
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Thanks for the feedbacks!

It looks way better now that I am almost done cleaning the chassis (details will come soon).


I was wondering about the subfloor thickness and was unable to find a clear answer. I measured the subfloor to 1/2inch, however it seems the C-channel can accomodate a 5/8 thickness. Which one is right?
Also the C-channel is damaged in some locations, I was considering replacing it but the ones that I can find form Woodland or HighSky for example are slightly different. I was wondering if that would work anyway?


After doing a lot of researches I am going to replace the subfloor with Coosa board.
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Old 06-23-2021, 12:19 AM   #10
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1979 31' Excella 500
Mojave , California
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I have removed the sides of the belly pan. Somehow, the curb side had two layers of aluminum but not the road side (see video). Is this standard or would that have been a repair at sole point during the life of the trailer? I could not find an answer to that.
I also removed the front battery compartments, I am not sure if I'll reuse these for something or not yet. I am thinking about installing the electric over hydraulic brake piston in one and the battery that would power the brake-away switch and the front jack in the other. But this is not decided yet.
The electrical systems is gone. It was old, damaged by the fire and will be completely different. I have plan in which no part of the electrical system is between the two walls so that it can be access if it ever needs repair or upgrades. All the copper and the aluminum will be brought to the local recycle center, and converted to cash. One felt like being in the jungle with all the wires coming down the walls.

Finally, the left overs of the floor were removed. The bolts linking the chassis to the frame were cut as they were completely rusted, then replaced by temporary stainless steel bolts.


That work was spread on three days, about 19 hours.





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Old 06-23-2021, 12:27 AM   #11
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1979 31' Excella 500
Mojave , California
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It looks already much cleaner!
The chassis is now fully accessible to be cleaned up. Yes it is rusted, showing that either the trailer spent quite some time outside the southwest or there was a serious water problem. But luckily, only two locations in the back were the belly pan was missing will actually need repairs with new steel. Otherwise it is in relatively good condition for a 40 years old chassis taht was mistreated.
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Old 06-23-2021, 12:45 AM   #12
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1979 31' Excella 500
Mojave , California
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Before starting working on the chassis I wanted to do a few more things: Remove the old AC, maybe it works, maybe it does not. I did not try it, it was hideous looking once the cover removed and I figure that newer ones are most likely way more efficient. At this time I am not planning on replacing it. If the desire comes I am set on an under-bunk AC for now.
Taking it off the roof alone, wasn't easy as expected...


Second thing I wanted to remove was the old front jack that I am not even going to try to get to work because of all the rust.


The process to me 8 hours.



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Old 06-23-2021, 12:57 AM   #13
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1979 31' Excella 500
Mojave , California
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Now I feel like that was a major step as 95% of the things to remove were gone and the rebuilding process was able to begin.

I did not touch the trailer pretty much the entire winter to take time to do more research, plan on how I was going to proceed. I got really bus at work and was trying to save some money to get a professional sandblaster to come for the chassis.

I found a mobile dustless sandblasting service nearby, they quoted me $400/h for the first two hours then $300/h. That was my plan originally, but they were unable to give me a rough estimate how long it would take them (therefore of the total cost), even with pictures and dimensions and then they stopped answering. So I decided to do it myself even if that would be a long and boring job. More on that later.



So the trailer sat there waiting a couple of months through a particularly cold winter.
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Old 06-23-2021, 01:11 AM   #14
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1979 31' Excella 500
Mojave , California
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My first step in the rebuilding process that was just starting was to have the trailer stand on its own. That meant installing a new front jack to replace the temporary jack stand.

While I was at it I would also replace the coupler and clean the entire front section. The coupler was so rusted that I did not trust it anymore, in addition it got stuck when we first brought the trailer to location. I was impossible to detach the coupler from the hitch ball on the car. With a colleague we ended up unbolting the hitch ball from the car and after about an hour of fighting we finally got the ball out of the coupler.



Anyway, everything on the front section was removed as everything will be replaced. A trip to Harbor Freight later, a new jack and a new coupler were installed!
the trailer was now standing on its own and was (almost) able to be towed.



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Old 06-23-2021, 07:14 PM   #15
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1986 34' Limited
1975 27' Overlander
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Hello from Colorado: I want to follow along on this major rebuild. Maybe your trailer will need everything. But all of it has been done before.

I've changed out a roof top air conditioner myself. It is quite heavy. I built a work platform up there and used my little scaffolding as an intermediate platform for lifting from ground to roof. Gotta be careful on an Airstream roof as the metal won't support the weight of a human.

Well, you got the A frame hitch and tongue jack all repaired. Did you do the welding on the coupler? That is an important weld like most of the frame is. Maybe you have a plasma cutter to cut the old one off.

David
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Old 06-23-2021, 09:48 PM   #16
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1979 31' Excella 500
Mojave , California
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I did weld the coupler myself. I borrowed the MIG welder from work. I could have borrowed the plasma cutter too but the compressor was way to big, so I've cut everything with a cutting wheel. It takes some time but it is doable.
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Old 07-24-2021, 10:25 PM   #17
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1979 31' Excella 500
Mojave , California
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So it took a while, about 8 full days (only two at a time on weekends) for a total of about 60 hours but I finally got the chassis cleaned of rust and repaired where it was needed. Except one part that will come in the next video.

The chassis was in relatively good shape except the very back of the two main beams that needed repairs. Rust had eaten through in some location that can be seen in the video. With traces of spray foam I guess there was water ingress, maybe rear-end separation at some point. The very ends of the beams that is outside holding the bumper were also eaten but not through. Instead of cutting the whole ends off and replacing it I cleaned everything and welded 1/4" thick steel plates as reinforcement.
I also two new 1/8" thick steel beams across to bolt the new stabilizer jacks. Those in front were originally bolted to the cross member, but the larger screws that I am going to use would leave barely any metal. I did not like it, and found that flimsy anyway. The jacks in the back were bolted to a beam across but it got bent at some point so needed to be replaced.
Finally, because the chassis was down to bare metal I applied right away a first coat of paint/rust encapsulator



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Old 07-24-2021, 10:31 PM   #18
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1979 31' Excella 500
Mojave , California
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Before and after photos.

I am now adding one more coat of paint/rust encapsulator and one coat of chassis black paint. In the mean time I received four new BAL stabilizer jacks. Unfortunately the big footpad that I wanted are out of stock everywhere, so I designed and got custom ones laser cut and bent out of stainless steel. (Next video)


Note: Is there a way to upload pictures in portrait mode instead of default landscape? I can't find any way to do so.
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Old 07-25-2021, 05:36 PM   #19
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Hi: You are making good progress. Having welding skills is very handy on these old rusty trailer frames. I have to farm out welding.

I think phone photos don't agree with AirForums software in some cases. Folks have figure out how to downsize, or crop the photos so they post portrait. I use a "point and shoot" camera and don't have this problem. I downsize the photos to 800 by 600.

David
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Old Yesterday, 03:48 PM   #20
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1979 31' Excella 500
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These are definitively not the most beautiful looking welds but never had one failing on me. However, I never had welds as critical as the coupler, at least that I can remember...
Having access to a decent professional MIG welding machine from work is really nice.
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