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Old 03-31-2020, 01:53 PM   #1
New Member
1968 26' Overlander
Raleigh , NC
Join Date: Mar 2020
Posts: 1
Shell Off Vs Shell On Repair of Frame

Hi Everyone, first time posting so give it to me straight

I have read through the forum at length and have come across several key threads that have given me a lot of hope First, I own a '68 Overlander 26 ft trailer. We have already done the demo, removed most of the internal components and dropped the belly pan. We noticed rust and this brought the project to a halt. I have attached some pictures below but want to work through what we are thinking:

-Brought in two welders to give quotes on the frame. One guy said he could probably fabricate the outriggers cheap and gave me an all in price of about $1k but was contingent on sandblasting and seeing exactly what we have. The other welder said it was going to be closer to $3k but didn't really do a whole lot of digging around. The main struts that go the length of the trailer seem in pretty good condition but several of the cross beams need repair. All in all, it seems like it is better condition than most. Opinions?

-Next, we want to see if it would be better to do a full frame off to repair the selected areas or if it is possible to just jack up the frame a couple of feet to let the welders/sandblasters be able to work. If so, we would only replace some parts of the subfloor, but I kind of want to replace the entire subfloor.

-We are looking at moving the bathroom to the middle of the AS. If we do so, I would suspect we would need to do a full frame-off to be able to fabricate a place for the grey water tanks. Does anyone have a frame layout for something like this? What all do we need to think about regarding the frame if we do house everything towards the middle of the frame?

-As you can see below, the main damage came in around the door. I have been reading that this is normal. Any thoughts concerning this so that we can make sure to fix? Also, should we have new steps fabricated and installed to the frame or should they be riveted in between the frame and the subfloor?

-If we go with a compost toilet, do I need to think about anything in regards to the frame? From my research, this was a no, but looking for more advice.

-Want the opinion of using jacks vs gantry to lift the frame? What are the best jacks to use or gantry to build? Any idea on materials/costs needed for each?

-I see some people on Youtube doing a lot of bracing when they lift the shell, how much internal bracing is necessary?

-Also, I saw that the shocks were wet so wanted to replace. Is this something that can be done without taking off the axle?

-What am I missing, I am sure a lot

Any help the team at AS Forums would be greatly appreciated! Looking to get a lot of work done right now to help my local welders and craftsmen right now since a lot of people are on pause.
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Old 03-31-2020, 02:37 PM   #2
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1969 18' Caravel
Greenville , whereEverIroam
Join Date: Dec 2017
Posts: 739
Images: 20
Depends on budget and goals.

A lot of repairs start of modestly, and are later abandoned or expand to full shell-off restorations. What is your target time-frame, budget and end goal?

"Doing it right" sounds great, but will end up costing you a great deal - not as much as a brand new Airstream would cost you, but in the same neighborhood (but you would end up with a trailer that is way better than what comes out of the factory)

If it was me, I would try to do as much as I could, and that would be a shell-off just so I could gain complete access to the frame. When you do that, you can modify it to accept water tanks, or a lithium battery bank, or add reinforcements, add depth to raise the trailer a few inches, and so on - whatever you want. You can then cover it all with POR 15 to protect it for life from corrosion.

Many will advise a replacement of the axle, especially if what you have is original. If you replace the axle, you can go with one that has a steeper angle to gain lift and more ground clearance.

If I was going this route, I would bite the financial bullet and invest in Coosa Board as a subfloor because it's virtually waterproof, bug proof, rot proof, varmint proof and 30% lighter than plywood, and because I never ever want to replace it or even a part of it ever again.

I would also do things like add conduit under the subfloor to run all the AC/DC/AV and other wiring rather than taping it to the interior of the outer shell like the factory did (!) This way I can pull or fish new wire as tech changes or the DW wants to add something somewhere.

But all this takes time and $$$. But I was reared to the old saw "If it's worth doing, it's worth doing right." They never told me how much it was gonna cost. You'll need to decide what your end goal is and how much you're willing to invest in time, labor and cash. It will end up being much more than you imagine, only you can determine if it's worth it.

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Old 03-31-2020, 03:27 PM   #3
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2012 25' FB Eddie Bauer
Vintage Kin Owner
Virginia Beach , Virginia
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Posts: 7,046
Well, you are a lucky guy. PM Re-Pete in Va. Beach, VA and Overlander63 who lives in Winston-Salem. Pete has almost completed a full monte with a coosa board floor and Terry works at an RV dealership near you.

Either can help and advise you, and once the plague abates you might visit both for a first hand view. Pete found the lowest price on coosa board I've seen, which makes sense in the biggest port on the Atlantic ocean.
Today is a gift, that's why they call it the present.
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Old 03-31-2020, 06:16 PM   #4
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1958 26' Overlander
Battle Ground , Washington
Join Date: Jun 2013
Posts: 405
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From my experience I would lean towards a shell off, but I live on a big lot with plenty of space to work. That might be your first decision; long term space and a desire to go to that degree. Unless all work is farmed out ($$$$$$) you are committing to a long term project. Doing most of the work is still expensive, just not quite as bad.

That being said shell off has a lot of advantages:

The welder has an easy time with access and can do the job faster, as can some one that sandblasts the frame.

The gantries/a frames that lift the shell can suspend the frame and allow you to rotate. A big plus for painting and the initial rebuild.

You want to move the bathroom and that can mean moving outriggers/cross members/tanks to new locations possibly. Decisions to be made before the welder goes to work.

Most will tell you this (but not all) plan on replacing all mechanical systems/wiring/plumbing.

I am not trying to dissuade you from reviving the trailer, just suggesting this is a big commitment. There are a lot of us slightly crazy people cheering you on to save another Airstream.
Harold & Rebecca

Our thread:
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Old 03-31-2020, 06:50 PM   #5
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1969 18' Caravel
Greenville , whereEverIroam
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I must vigorously disagree with 57, those of us who restore old airstreams are not at all “slightly crazy.”

Rather we are 100% complete bonkers.
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Old 04-01-2020, 11:39 AM   #6
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1964 26' Overlander
1974 31' Sovereign
Milton , ON
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I repaired and painted our '74 Sovereign's frame with the shell on and had no regrets. Almost all of the outriggers needed repair or replacement. It seems to me that there are two advantages of a shell off restoration -
1. you can turn the frame upside down to work on the belly pan, paint, and welding
2. all of the welding can be done at the same time.
I bought a welder and a brake and the metal and made my own outriggers, so hiring a welder wasn't an issue for me.
By not removing the shell I didn't have to worry about it getting damaged or where I was going to store it. I have a good-size workshop, but not big enough or high enough to put the trailer inside. As an added bonus if you're working outside, leaving the shell attached provides protection from the elements while you're working.
I think you have to balance out the advantages of having the shell off with the work and time to remove and replace it, and the risk that the shell could get damaged.
1974 Sovereign
2005 F-350 SRW 4x4 crew cab long box

1965 Avion C-10 Truck Camper (
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Old 04-01-2020, 12:23 PM   #7
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1972 29' Ambassador
Boynton Beach , Florida
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First off, what's the exterior like? What are your goals with the trailer? Do you want to turn heads at the vintage trailer meets, or just have something to camp in? Are you a handy guy that loves working on projects like these, or is it just a means to an end?

I would say that a person needs to be in love with their very own Airstream to tackle a project like this, and have a fair chunk of change sitting around and the time to devote to the project. You can always put this one back together and get another one...

That being said, I'd do my own survey on the integrity of the frame by drilling 1/8" holes and seeing if you're getting good steel or just corrosion. Also, verify any sag both longitudinally and laterally. This should help with answering questions about repair vs. replace.

Even though I'm the guy that likes to spend way too much time trying to repair something rather than replace it, I like to have all my options in exact dollar quotes before making a decision. It could be that there's some shade-tree welder guy that would make you up a rolling frame for less than you think. If you were in S. Florida, I'd say go around to some of the boat trailer places and places that they fab up tuna towers to look for deals.

I was able to reinforce my frame by designing the rear bed like a box spar, and attaching bulkheads/cabinetry solidly. This has (hopefully) added to the rigidity of the trailer. That Coosa board sounds fantastic, but a good, light marine ply with all the edges soaked in thin epoxy can also be a great upgrade for lots less money.

Don't worry about weight with a composting toilet- they're very light. Be sure that your S.O. is in full agreement, and doesn't think that pooping on peat moss is gross. The pee bottle is no fun to dump! Those toilets are very expensive, but the design isn't complicated at all. I wish that I'd taken the time to look into it before I dropped nearly a grand for the stupid thing! Grumbling aside, I still enjoy my Air Head and am glad that I went with a composter.

Also, if you're moving to a composter, you can re-purpose your black water tank into your gray water tank, so no need for more tanks. I ran a 3/4" ID vinyl hose from my lav drain in the bath to the (gray) tank, very easy. Once you get over trying to imitate a household toilet system, you'll find that you use remarkably little water.

You have a grand project in front of you, keep us all posted on your progress! Remember, there is a place waiting in Paradise for those that revive old Airstreams!
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Old 04-01-2020, 04:30 PM   #8
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Knoxville , TN
Join Date: May 2018
Posts: 148
Welcome to the club. Here is a link to my build where I used the gantry set up. I found that I was able to do almost everything by myself utilizing the gantry setup. Where I needed help was standing up the gantries and setting the shell back on the frame. Think of the gantry set up like a car lift if they didn't make the job easier then shops wouldn't buy them.

As to the cost of the gantries you are looking at 6) 4x4s and 10 or 12) 2x6s plus a couple of chain falls and you will have to build a beam for the inside of the shell. Total cost around $400.

The advantage of the gantries is you can pull the frame out and while it is being worked on you can work on the shell. Along with the ability to flip the frame and work on the belly pan.

One thing you need to look at is the axles. Based on the angle in the photos you need new ones. There is another good reason to have a gantry system because it make changing them out supper easy.

The last thing I will say is the cost of a gantry set up will be a small part of the build. Once I was done with mine I re-purposed the materials and made a cat walk on one side so I could work on the top of the camper removing, replacing and repairing. I have replaced every major component on my Argosy and I am nowhere near the cost of a new Airstream. So that is my 2 cent.
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Old 04-01-2020, 07:18 PM   #9
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1956 22' Safari
1962 28' Ambassador
Williston , Vermont
Join Date: Sep 2017
Posts: 259
I was working through the same decisions as you about two years ago, shell on or shell off?

My Safari came with a new floor, but it had been redone as a shell on and done poorly. After removing the floor, again with the shell on, I discovered the frame was junk. So I ended up going shell off. Made a couple of gantries like Eric_26_Argo and never looked back. When I read about other guy's experiences of hanging axles and tanks or building a belly pan, I shudder. Much easier when you are looking down on your work than trying to drill and rivet up. I did it outside on my gravel driveway and when the shell was off, just staked it down with ropes.

It worked so well, that I am about to repeat the process with a '28 Ambassador. It needs a floor and belly pan, unsure of the frame yet.

The best overall advice I can give you is what someone on this forum said to me when I was deep into it. When you are feeling overwhelmed just remember the saying; "How do you eat an Elephant? One bite at a time." You will get thru it.

We are camping in our first restoration now, but I still say that to myself as I'm working on the Ambassador. Good Luck and have fun - Mark
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Old 04-02-2020, 10:39 AM   #10
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1977 Argosy Minuet 6.0 Metre
1973 21' Globetrotter
1975 26' Argosy 26
Vista , California
Join Date: Sep 2006
Posts: 440
Looking at your pictures, and reflecting on my own experience,( i didn’t do a shell off, ) I would do the shell off. It will be less work and save time, in the long run, and you will have a better result. I will on my next one. Everyone knows that airstreams can be habit forming.
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Old 04-02-2020, 11:19 AM   #11
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1967 17' Caravel
Pocatello , Idaho
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Originally Posted by skyguyscott View Post
I must vigorously disagree with 57, those of us who restore old airstreams are not at all “slightly crazy.”

Rather we are 100% complete bonkers.
I resemble that statement...

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Old 04-02-2020, 05:49 PM   #12
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1973 27' Overlander
1972 29' Ambassador
St. Paul , Minnesota
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umnn - $3k will buy a plasma cutter, MIG/TIG machine, gas bottles and a new 220V outlet plus and a whole stack of mild iron to practice on... plus a couple of $50 advice visits from 'real welders®'!

Off with the shell, skip(!) the jacks and go gantry - rotisserie frame/insulation/plumbing/floor will have you feeling like Henry Ford inventing a production line.

Momentum is key, hassle factor will be high, but dropping & bolting the shell down feels better than making the last payment on the RV or TV loan
The days are short and the night is long and the stars go tumbling by.. . ~Airstream~
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Old 04-02-2020, 07:53 PM   #13
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1986 34' Limited
1975 27' Overlander
Conifer , Colorado
Join Date: Jun 2009
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Read up here in these Forums about removing the body (shell) before you decide to start drilling out rivets. It is a big job just to get easy access to the frame and subfloor.

And read up here on these Forums about folks who have done extensive frame repairs and subfloor repairs with the shell on. It is harder to work on the frame on your back, but it can be done.

I've done extensive repairs to a 66 Trade Wind 24', and a 75 Overlander 27'. I'm now working on a 76 Sovereign 31'. We did not remove the body on any of these projects, and I think the end result is quite satisfactory.

Your frame does look quite rusty, but hard to tell until the insulation is down. Your axles are shot and might be the single largest expense of your project.

A guy has to be completely bonkers to repair a frame and subfloor without removing the body. I tested positive for bonkers.

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Old 04-02-2020, 09:06 PM   #14
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1969 18' Caravel
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Shell off or on, either way it's a ton of work and a pain.

You'll know which one is better after you do your first one.

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