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Old 04-18-2008, 03:33 PM   #1
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1976 31' Sovereign
Eugene , Oregon
Join Date: Apr 2008
Posts: 11
Unhappy Talk me off the ledge, please

Hi, I'm a newbie. A couple of months ago I purchased a '76 Sovereign. I bought it to restore, but it's in much worse shape than I at first realized. Now every time I look at it I see that something else is missing or broken. I was getting cold feet about the whole thing, but I started reading the repair forums and I do feel a bit better. So, two questions: Is it a lost cause to try to restore a '76 back to original equipment? And what IS that smell? It was very damp, but after I got it dried out the odor changed from a moldy smell to something like rotten plastic. My husband thinks it's toilet chemicals, but I don't think so. I appreciate any help you offer.
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Old 04-18-2008, 03:49 PM   #2
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Not Sure

LS..Welcome to the forum. Mine had a musty smell that went away as soon as we pulled up the shag (Man I miss the 70's) carpet. Now I have what I would classify as an acrid smell, that I describe as a cross between old varnish and sun-baked plastic, and maybe dash of burnt electric wire insulation.

When we first open her up it's a little funky, then clears out almost immediately. But no matter, I'm happy to be back in my un-restored, 70's decor, leaky AS, with a bad hotwater heater, rotten floor and shot axles (Yes Andy I'll be calling you soon). But hey it's: Mine, Paid For, and Unique in the sense that no matter where we camp someone always stop and asks me something about it. Plus no one is ever surpised that we wear funny tropical shirts and have those neat plastic flamingos.
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Old 04-18-2008, 03:50 PM   #3
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1969 29' Ambassador
orange Park , Florida
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I wouldn't think it a lost cause, I have a newly aquired 69 that I'm working on. There are a few things that may have to be rethought as the parts may no longer available, but yours is new enough that many parts are still available. Inland RV has been very helpful as to tell me what is still available and what might be a good replacement. As far as the smell, it is possible that now that it is getting warmer and your A/S is drying out the Little varmit presents that have been left in the trailer might be putting off a smell. I found many little presents in mine, also found a couple of deceased varmits in the process of taking things apart. The smell wasn't real bad through the winter, but as it started to get warm it started to overtake the trailer(time to search, seek and destroy the causes). If you suspect the tanks, try to drain and flush them a few times.
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Old 04-18-2008, 03:57 PM   #4
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1960 22' Safari
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Howdy Lickety and welcome in.

Is it a lost cause?

Is it too hard or impossible?


Just do a piece at a time and you'll look up and be done and when you are you'll have a really wonderfull baby.
I'd rather be boon docking in the desert.

AIR# 13896
CA 4

Yes, we have courtesy parking for you. About an hour North of Los Angeles.
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Old 04-18-2008, 04:02 PM   #5
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1972 25' Tradewind
Madison , Wisconsin
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Steady, one thing at a time

Go into this with a slow but steady concept. Restoring to original configuations will take a bit more shopping for parts. Some parts you may want to go new. Make a list of the obvious and of anything that you want to upgrade. You may want to upgrade the battery charger. Have the heat furnace checked out, it is an old piece of vital equipment. How is the water heater? Are the axels in good shape, how are the tires? List things like that. Look into the cost of that specific area & go about the repair, replacement upgrade or whatever.

If you can get someone in your area that has done some trailer restoration (even if the person is not a pro) it will save a lot of unexpected discovery...though you may still have some minor discoveries! A professional RV tech will do an even more complete and better job (as a rule) assuming the tech has dealt with restorations.

I have been working on my 72 for several years. When I am done I will have an upgraded trailer that will be almost as good as a new one and one with new plumbing, furnace water heater and many other items. Most have better features that the originals. If you want the retro look or not the principle is the same....slow and steady. The end product will be so worth while and so much cheaper than a new AS. If done right the trailer will go for another 22 years without major work (hopefully)!

When taken as a summary of everything needed, the work may seem awsome. When taken as just a list to do one at a time, it is not so bad.

You will get there, and you will know the trailer mechanics inside out. This is not rocket science but it may take awhile to get everything done. It's like buying a fix up house that need siding, paint, plumbing and wiring...except the trailer is a lot cheaper to fix up. Just try to sort of organize your projects and go for it.
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Old 04-18-2008, 04:57 PM   #6
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Smile Carefully back through the window. . .

Originally Posted by licketysplit
Hi, I'm a newbie. A couple of months ago I purchased a '76 Sovereign. I bought it to restore, but it's in much worse shape than I at first realized. Now every time I look at it I see that something else is missing or broken. . .

Is it a lost cause to try to restore a '76 back to original equipment?
Hi, Lickety,

Several have offered good advice, but last I heard you're still out on that ledge, so. . .

First, carefully back off of the ledge into the window (hey, it's only a one story house, right?).

Then go to the kitchen and mix up a pitcher of margaritas. (This works for my sweetie and me. . . your mileage may vary.)

Through the rosy glow of a few margaritas, realize that in undertaking this course of action you have joined a noble cause of perpetuating an American legend, the vintage Airstream. Taking on the problems you have voluntarily undertaken, you will build a bond with thousands of like-minded individuals you will meet here on these forums and (I hope!) at Vintage Airstream Club rallies.

I will never forget showing up at our first rally with several things on the trailer held together with duct tape and the plumbing completely inoperative. I commented to someone that we must have been crazy to take it on the road like that. The lady to whom I said that smiled and said, "No, not crazy. . . just a Vintage Airstreamer."

Welcome to the ranks of Vintage Airstreamers!

See you down the road,
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Old 04-18-2008, 05:22 PM   #7
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1976 31' Sovereign
Eugene , Oregon
Join Date: Apr 2008
Posts: 11
Smile Thanks for the encouragement!

Wow, you guys are awesome! I feel better already. After reading through the repair forums, I see that a lot of people just go ahead and gut the trailer and build it back up. That's probably the right course of action for this one, cause it's been ridden hard and put away wet! Luckily, my better half is really skilled at fixing just about anything. Now I'm excited about getting started. Where's that drill?!
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Old 04-18-2008, 05:33 PM   #8
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Dewey , Arizona
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My 75 is very original thanks to the work that the PO (previous owner) did. If I was faced with a major rebuild, I would go the custom route. To be honest, the 70's interior was rather dull and mostly plastic. There are some great threads on this forum of people who have really put magic into their trailer. A good example is this thread (very long, but worth the read).


Wally Byam Airstream Club 7513
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Old 04-18-2008, 05:57 PM   #9
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1976 31' Sovereign
Eugene , Oregon
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Original vs. custom

You know, I was thinking that, too. It would be great to do a 60s-ish interior or maybe a theme like western or tropical, or something like that. Plus, without the added stress of trying to find original parts, it could be a lot more fun. Seems like newer parts would be easier to find, especially things like toilets, heat/ac, and appliances. The two scariest things to me are wiring and plumbing. Thank you!
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Old 04-18-2008, 06:39 PM   #10
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Southwestern , Ohio
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To gut, or not to gut--that is the question. . .


It takes time to restore an Airstream, and IMHO it is best to take some time to see what you've got before you decide to gut it or restore what you have.

Take everything out of the trailer that it's not too hard to take out and have a good look around. If the floor is rotten then it may be best do do a full shell-off re$toration. If it's just got a few soft spots (or none at all) you can probably get by with some penetrating epoxy in the soft spots.

One factor will be the condition of the original interior. If it is really shot, or has been butchered by a previous owner, that favors gutting it and re-doing. If it is good enough to be reupholstered and refinished, there is a lot to be said, both cost and work wise, for keeping as much original as you can. When you start doing cabinetry in an Airstream you will quickly discover that all the curves take a lot of time to fit. Also, particularly in the older Airstreams, great care was taken to reduce weight. New interior work should emulate that so as not to go overweight.

When we got into vintage Airstreaming (more than 5 vears and many thousands of miles ago) we were given good advice--the earlier you can take it on the road, the better. A little experience traveling in your trailer will probably alter your opinions of how you want to do things.

Just my two cents worth--it's your trailer. Best of luck with whatever you choose to do!

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Old 04-18-2008, 07:48 PM   #11
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1976 31' Sovereign
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Chandler , Oklahoma
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We got out 76 Sovereign last October. They are great trailers. I have to agree with the suggestion of making it what you want it to be and maybe more modern. We thought about our frig replacement for a long time and then went with what would suit us best, a built in, stainless home frig.. You have the chance to make this "your" trailer, go for it. It's an awsome task but fun. I'd also agree with taking out the carpet, using a little 5 to 1 bleach water toweled on the floors and used to clean out both holding tanks. Then Fabreeze all those places you can't reach with a towel. Not too much moisture on the floors, but the bleach will kill a lot of odors. Put a fan in when you do this and open the windows and doors. Send us pictures of your "before".
Judy At Home in Oklahoma
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Old 04-19-2008, 09:09 AM   #12
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1974 29' Ambassador
1966 20' Globetrotter
Southern , Illinois
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renovate or restore

There is lots of good advice on the previous posts, and you will find several threads with lots of good information and pictures of amazing work.

After working on renovating our '74 for about a year (and with much yet to do) , I would like to offer a few observations:

It takes much, much longer to put things back in than it does to take them out.

Scope creep happens, the more stuff you take out, the more stuff you find to do. This is not necessarily bad if you intend to keep the trailer for awhile, fix it right the first time.

There will be times when it seems that there is too much stuff to fix than you can handle. This seems to be normal, many others have experienced this before, patience and perseverance will see you through.

Best of luck, hang in there. I would second Nuvite-F's suggestion that you take the trailer out and use it before you make final decisions so you can make it work for you as best you can.

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Old 04-19-2008, 10:18 AM   #13
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1975 31' Sovereign
1980 31' Excella II
Sprung Leak , North Carolina
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Well I am one of those unfortunate ones...I have TWO trailers to rehab My '75 was in okay shape when I first bought it and we used it for a bit, then some "issues" started cropping up. It has turned into a complete guttting, repairing/replacing/upgrading. It will get put back together pretty much stock appearing (except for the orange/yellow shag ) The 80 is going full custom, it was given to me with most of the interior pretty well gutted. One very nice thing about Airstreams is that they can be completely gutted and redone. In most cases it isn't doable with an SOB (square old box)

Make sure to take plenty of pictures of the progress and share them.

__________________ many little time...
Why are we in this basket...and where are we going
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Old 04-21-2008, 10:32 AM   #14
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1976 31' Sovereign
Eugene , Oregon
Join Date: Apr 2008
Posts: 11
Smile Pictures to come

OK, I'll post some pictures, but you'll be shocked at the condition it's in.
I have to buy a new camera first to replace my other one that broke. Thanks for all your help, folks.
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Old 04-21-2008, 10:41 AM   #15
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1962 22' Safari
1973 25' Tradewind
1968 30' Sovereign
Salt Lake City , Utah
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I doubt it!

I doubt we'll be too shocked.

I love my 70's Airstream. Fix it up!
Jim Breitinger, Salt Lake City
Former full-timer (2007-2009) Airstream tribute blog.
Brief revival in 2017, the year of my '62 Safari
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Old 04-21-2008, 10:43 AM   #16
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The matter of cost has been hinted at here, and is something that you may or may not be concerned with.
From all I hear from those who have gone through the rehab process, it is MUCH cheaper to buy a trailer that someone else has already done the work on. (And spent the money)

If you have the money, the time and the inclination - then by all means move forward. It can be a challenging and rewarding project.
AIR #15800

"Wimpy" 1/2 ton 2002 GMC Sierra 4X4 Z-71 Gasser
2000 Safari SS 25'
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Old 04-21-2008, 11:07 AM   #17
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First of all, Welcome to the forums and the Airstream family!

My wife and I are just starting our re-hab of our 76 Argosy. We look at it as a labor of love for our future enjoyment. With every little thing we do, we know we're closer to having a great time with the many future friends we hope to meet. So, with that in mind, take your time and make your coach your own and then get out and enjoy it!!

Dan and Sherry W.
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Old 04-21-2008, 06:18 PM   #18
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1976 31' Sovereign
Eugene , Oregon
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Posts: 11
Reasons to fix it ourselves

The good news: We already have the trailer. We don't have a schedule to meet, and we don't mind the work.

The bad news: Parts are expensive; there's so much to learn.

Good news wins! (At least for now)
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Old 04-21-2008, 06:40 PM   #19
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Irmo , South Carolina
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You'll find tons of good information here. I pretty much grew up in an Airstream, and still learn something new about them on a regular basis. You can pretty much bet that whatever problem you come across, someone else has come across the same thing and was generous enough to post a fix for it on the forum. Vintage Airstreaming is an adventure like no other. You'll find that most people willing to nurse a 30+ year-old travel trailer back to health are a different breed, willing to think outside the box a bit in order to solve problems unique to their big silver toys. And none of us would have it any other way! Whenever the work seems a little overwhelming, just step outside for a minute, take a deep breath, look at your baby and take a little comfort in the fact that you aren't alone. There are hundreds of us just like you that have dealt with all of the same problems, and we're here to help. Welcome to the family!
AIR #8891
Unrestored 1969 25' Tradewind
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Old 04-22-2008, 10:05 AM   #20
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1976 31' Sovereign
Eugene , Oregon
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That's the Best News of All

I forgot to mention the best news: All the wonderful people who take the time to document and post their Airstream experiences so others can benefit from them. How cool is that!
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