My wife Julie and I (Mike) have been bitten by the airstream bug. For several years we were lurkers on this forum and have marveled over the cream puff transformations by the likes of architect Matt Hoffman and adventurous hobbyists like those on this forum. There are two major motivators for us to embark on this “journey”. Both of us are into remodeling, Julie is mainly into design and styling and I love to tinker and fix things. The second major motivator has to do with our family of 12. Julie and I, daughter Olivia (13), son Simon (10), five dogs (mainly rescues and mutts) and three parrots. When we want to go on even a short vacation, it becomes a major logistical challenge. There is a real shortage of zoo keeper that we could hire to take care of the menagerie during our absence.
That has unfortunately resulted in us not traveling much at all. An airstream, we figure, would make it possible to travel in spite of the animal care problem. Look out world, here comes the Colorado Traveling Zoo! And so the story begins …
The jet stream has been way off this year. We are getting above average rains in this semi-arid part of Colorado and our hunt for an airstream to adopt and nurture back to glory had turned for the worst. We had looked at an argosy four weekends ago that sounded and looked good on craigslist. Then again, all trailers look good in small pictures. When we arrived at the small scale ranch/junkyard (I could not tell which it was) the trailer sat out in the open with several pallets arranged in front of the door to allow for easy entry (broken stair !). It was in a sad stage of decomposition. Windows were cracked, the axles had bottomed out and the inside smelled like a combination of mouse condo and compost pile. Ah, the sweet smell of organic detritus and rotting wood. As I inspected the skin, I noticed several pin holes about 4 feet up on the front left corner panel. When I pushed on the panel with my thumb, a jet of water squirted out about a foot. The whole panel was water logged ! We did not buy this trailer.
Nor did we buy the other trailers we had looked at on ebay, craigslist or in person. Some were just overpriced given the condition and others were so far gone that a “Full Monty” restoration would have been in order like the one we looked at last fall in the nearby foothills. The owner praised his diamond in the rough. “These never leak, you know ….it is very strong and sound …etc.” Well, it had rear end separation and sag. The frame was very rusty, the appliances non functional, the floor rotted in places, several windows were cracked and one of the front wing windows was busted. “It won’t take much to get her going”, the owner said, and mentioned his asking price … $7,000. We walked away without counter offering.
And then we found her … A 1971 Airstream Sovereign
31’ advertised on Craigslist. I am having trouble copying the craigslist ad here and have to peace it together:
1971 Airstream Exella II 31 ft - $8500 (XXXXXX)
Overhauled in 2003 with new fridge, heater, couch, electric converter, and toilet. Pergo flooring put in at that time. The AC unit was new in 2002. Over $14,000 spent for camper and remodel. The camper has been stationary for the last decade under a roof and used as a summer getaway. The outside has a few dings but is in good condition overall. The inside is excellent and ready to go.
Email for more pictures or call XXX-XXX-XXXX
Well, we wanted to look at it and when we arrived at the Ranch where the owners live, it had been moved from the mountain location where it sat the last 10 years (see picture above). It was now parked in a very large corrugated metal building.
It was in great shape given its age. Minor dings and a few pin holes in the skin. No sag or separation, minor surface rust on the frame from what I could tell. I still have to check under some of the banana wraps and bottom skin were rust might be hiding. Julie and I were all over the inside of the trailer and could not find a single real problem. Oh, sure there was evidence that Mickey Mouse and his friends had had more than one party, there was just a hint of old trailer smell and several opportunities to use household cleaners. It was in great shape and bone dry !
All appliances were working and it was clear that the trailer had been very well maintained. The new refrigerator is larger than the original and very clean. Ok, there were some issues, I will get to them below but we really wanted the trailer, just not at the asking price. We pointed some of the deficiencies out to the owners and left for the day with the promise to look up what it would cost for the repairs.
Later that day we called the owners and made an offer that was considerably less than the asking price … and they accepted ! I think it was a fair deal.
Now I had to ask my friend and neighbor Brad to borrow his truck for the “retrieval”. Yes, we still need to find a tow vehicle.
The 35 mile tow to our home went really smooth. The trailer tows really smooth and easy inspite of the axles (see below). Here is our arrival shot in front of the garage were it will sit while we work on it over the next several months. This way we have storage and power for the remodel. Yes, we are lucky to live in a subdivision with lax or non-existing codes and no home owners association. We had been annoyed at first by the boats, trailers and other toys that our neighbors had parked in front, next to or behind the houses. We had moved here from a very strictly regulated neighborhood, so it took some getting used to. Now we have joined the neighbors. Here we are in front of the garage.
Here are some shots of the interior of the trailer. The 1971 model year did not have real wood cabinets. They are made with aluminum frames and fake wood panels. Not really what we like, though I realize that there are folks who consider this style and material collectible. That is not the route we want to take. Julie summarizes the overall look we want to aim for very well :”Clean – Calm –Relaxing”. So we will have to make some changes. Chief among them are the addition of a wrap around dinette and a complete overhaul of the Galley.
Goucho in front
The dreaded shower stall with useless cabinet in the shower. Leaks, mildew are on the way. Plus I can't fit in there.
Here is our immediate work schedule:
1) Strip clear coat. I know that sounds weird, why start with that. Well, we do know that we want to polish the trailer, so it will have to have the clear coat removes at some point. Many seams need to be resealed and most gaskets have to be replaced though I do not want to have to redo this after the stripper destroys those seals.
2) The trailer has to have some resealing and re-gasketing done. We don’t want to get water damage at this point.
3) We will work up a restore remodel replacement schedule for the interior. We already know that we will remove the Goucho , the credenza and the Magic Chef Oven. If anyone on this forum needs any of these parts, here is your chance.
4) I really do not like the bath room setup. This model year Airstream integrated a cabinet into the shower stall and that makes it a really cramped and tight space. I posted some pictures of this above. I am thinking of doing a full rework of the bathroom but I am worried about the interior skin. The endcap in this model is all one piece and includes the impractical shower stall/cabinet. I have looked all over the internet for an example of how to redo this design but have not found anything. I don’t think I have the skill to custom make the top, curved part of the end cap out of some other material. I could do the rest, but this has me stumped. I would be grateful for any hints or suggestions.
5) There are two plastic covers over the point where the a-frame comes out of the shell and they are both busted. There is a seller on Ebay who has them for sale but he wants $140 for a pair. That just seems excessive so I will have to work out an alternative. Any thoughts ?
Here is a picture of the less damaged cover. The other one is shredded.
6) We need to replace the axles at some point, the current ones are shot. I used this as a bargaining argument to get the price down. To be honest, I have not seen many old trailers that did not have worn out axles. I will do this myself but we are not in a hurry.
7) It looks like the black water tank was re-plumbed in a non-obvious way. I need to take the belly pan off and fix what is messed up. I am seriously thinking about adding a grey water tank because this model year did not have one. I know there are pros and cons to this and I am truly on the fence. Any thoughts or suggestions are welcome.
8) Should we worry about rewiring ? We will have some of the cabinets out during the remodel and this might be a good time. Then again it adds to the length of time we need to finish. The same goes for re-plumbing. I would love to put pex in (worked with it before). Any thoughts are welcome.
Julie and/or I will update this thread on a semi-regular basis but will also post separately as new challenges arise.
We look forward to becoming new airstreamers and to get involved in the forum community.
Please let us know your thoughts.