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Old 02-18-2019, 09:03 PM   #1
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Dreaming of fixing up an Airstream

My name is John, I live in Houston TX and I am thinking about acquiring and fixing up an old Airstream. I am better equipped for this project than some because I have a lot of experience fixing and building things. The only things besides travel trailers that I have not worked on are cranes and airplanes. I have a lot of mechanical skills and I can weld.

I want an Airstream large enough for my wife and I and perhaps a dog or two that I can easily haul with my Ram 1500 Hemi.

I am wondering what years are the best, light weight high quality with nice windows. (no Jalousie windows for me ) I am also wondering if it is practical to have a mid trailer bath in a 26 foot trailer to have the bedroom in the back. I only need 1 bed, we wont be traveling with kids or guest.

Thanks

-John
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Old 02-19-2019, 07:57 AM   #2
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John,

Welcome to the Airstream community! Finding and fixing up a vintage AS is a fun and rewarding challenge. There is a group of vintage Airstream enthusiasts and a wealth of knowledge and shared experience freely available here an elsewhere on the web.

Folks who have purchased a used AS have done everything from relatively minor fixes and clean up to full "shell-off" re-builds, many of which have been extensively documented on this site, often with fascinating and helpful pictures. Use the search function here and be prepared to get lost in hours of interesting reading!

The lightest trailers AS produced and that are still widely available would usually be of 1970s vintage, those produced during the oil embargo when AS focused on increasing gas milage for the tow vehicle. AS accomplished this in two ways: 1) using ingenious light weight interior materials, such as cardboard honey-comb core wood doors, lighter weight and thinner woods, etc. and 2) cutting "lightening holes" in the frame.

AS no longer does this because there where some long-term failures of the weekend frame (the holes they cut were not carefully calculated and engineered based on a study of load forces, but rather just cut along at regular intervals) and because the market seems to like heavy solid oak cabinetry and heavy countertops, and because the oil embargo ended and trucks became more powerful.

Many have successfully restored these 70s vintage trailers. I have had no frame problems with my 1969, (the first model year of the 70s era trailers) and the light-weight hollow core cabinet doors have lasted for 50 years now!

If you can find one of these trailers with a shell that is in good shape (low # dents, scraps, etc.) everything else can be relatively easily addressed, given you know how to weld already, in case you need to beef up the frame here and there.

Also, if you are already aware of the importance of keeping the trailer lightweight, you are ahead of the game as many folks who try to fix up an old airstream end up adding heavy residential-grade components which are usually too heavy for the frame/axels/tires.

There is much you can do to add lightness. For instance, if the original floor needs replaced, there are alternatives available like Coosa Board, a composite that not only is 30-40% lighter than plywood, but water and critter proof as well! You can end up with a trailer that is better than new from the factory if you make sound choices of materials, one that will outlast you. Good luck and have fun!
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Old 02-19-2019, 08:39 AM   #3
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The older they are, the lighter they are. There's a list of airstream years and weights out there somewhere. You'll be able to pull almost all of the older ones with your 1500. My Jeep Grand Cherokee pulled our '57 easily until we created additional weight with a dinette and custom bathroom build.
I say all that to say that depending on what you get and how you remodel it, just be careful of your weight!
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Old 02-20-2019, 07:19 AM   #4
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What is the difference in quality between the 70s and 80s construction?
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Old 02-20-2019, 07:41 AM   #5
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What is the difference in quality between the 70s and 80s construction?
They were both well constructed IMO. I owned a 75 for many years and it was a very well built trailer. Finding a trailer in the 25-27 foot range in the 70s with a mid bath will be almost impossible. There were some models with rear bedrooms, but they were mostly 31 and 29 foot models and they sell very quickly.

In the 80s Airstream changed many of the floor plans and the mid bath was more popular. Airstream has documents will all the years and the floorplans here: https://www.airstream.com/owners/document-archive/
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Old 02-20-2019, 07:46 AM   #6
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60s trailers are lighter

I will put in a pitch for 60's models. Still plenty out there and the curved corning windows are pretty unique. I think the 90's trailers have a lot of particle board and OSB in them. Heavier and lower quality. 60's trailers have hardwood cabinets and components. My 1967 Overlander 26 ft weighs about 4300 lbs. It is for sale (in Houston) but the renovation is complete so probably not a good candidate for your project.
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Old 02-20-2019, 09:29 AM   #7
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Airstream

I have the perfect trailer for you. 1997 Airstream Safari. 25 foot Sleeps 4 adults. Only one owner. Don't know how to fix the hot water heater. It could be simple or need to be replaced. The under carriage needs welding and new metal and rivets. Besides this ,everything is in good running order. Electrical system, water system, no leaks. New tires, battery, water pump, microwave. Has fridge and washer and dryer. Totally self contained. Very clean and taken care of. Asking $23,000.00 It is worth $27,500.00. Airstreams don't depreciate much in value.

Only problem may be the fact that I live near Philadelphia, pa. You would need to take it to Texas.

Would love it to go to a good home. Had many great trips in it.

Call 215-234-8043 if interested.
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Old 02-20-2019, 12:21 PM   #8
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What is the difference in quality between the 70s and 80s construction?
I have a '76 Excella, their "top of the line" and it was designed to be light weight. With the 3 empty belly tanks and one full 40 lb. propane the empty weight is 6036 lbs.
Its made with PVC plastic on all the upper cabinets but the floor cabinets are decent material. The doors and walls are decent materials too.
At that age the plastic is running out of lifespan. It's cracking here and there at mounting screws or rivets and cracks easily if you aren't careful so i think the material is actually breaking down.
The trailer had been stored under cover when not in use for the last 25 years of it's life. Not sure before that how much heat exposure it had. It was a Midwest state trailer most of its life, Indiana and Iowa based on the receipts and records that came with it.
If I had to buy again I'd select a year with the wood cabinetry.
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Old 02-20-2019, 12:53 PM   #9
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John,
Best to get one that has 2 axles for obvious reasons.
We got ours with some light hail damage....treated it just like redoing a hotrod. Scuff it up with some 80 grit, skim with bondo, block sand, painted silver and it looks new (there are over 300 silver colors so you can match the "new" aluminum look very closely. 95% of the people don't know its painted until told).
You know how to do the rest...inside, electrical, plumbing, welding. It took me 2 years so take your time (full gut, pressure wash, all new inside). Like I mentioned above....save $, get one that has whatever reasonable damage that others don't want, replace the panels as needed for heavy damage.
Have fun.
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Old 02-20-2019, 12:59 PM   #10
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From a fellow vintage refurb newbie

Iím a pretty handy guy as well and decided to take on an Ď88 Excella in August of Ď17. I knew much less than I thought about Airstreams. There are several things to look for in buying a trailer. Condition of axles and condition of subfloor are just as or more important than the condition of the gaucho. You can see the gaucho. You canít see the subfloor. You need to learn a bit about axles. They are easy to see and easy to evaluate once you know what youíre looking for.

I recommend that you check out the Vintage Airstream Podcast. 300 episodes of tips and tricks. Mostly chatter, but there is a lot of good info and you can post your own questions. TheVAP.com.

Good luck. We never planned to be trailer folks and now weíre out camping once a month. It really is fun.
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Old 02-20-2019, 10:39 PM   #11
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General Characteristics of AS trailers by vintage...

I'm not really an expert, but here are some general characteristics/reputations by vintage. If I am wrong, or omit something important, the gang here will quickly correct me.

40s and earlier: real vintage trailers, if you can find one for sale, it has either been lovingly restored and is a head turning show stopper, or it's a major restoration project of literally historic proportions. No one is interested in bringing these "up-to-date" other than what is legally required for towing, but in restoring to original.

50s: the "whale tales" so-called because of their rear end shape are considered by some to be the classic vintage AS. The Aluminum skin on these is highly regarded for it's durability, thickness and ability to easily polish and hold a shine. Most today are restored to their original look, more or less, because, hey, 1950! Ones for sale are either restored or in need of serious restoration. The market for these trailers is fairly specialized to old folks who actually remember the 1950s, or younger folk who like the 1950s, or rich folk who want to impress people who like the 1950s.

60s: This was the last decade of trailers made while Wally, AS's founder, was still alive. AS was arguably at it's most glamorous in the public eye due to the world-wide caravans capturing the public's imagination and Hollywood types using AS trailers while on location filming movies. There are a number of these trailers out in the wild, ranging from restored cream puffs to still-working originals, to completely remodeled or highly customized trailers, to rotting shells behind a barn somewhere.

70s: The Beatrice years. Ok, so after Wally died, this food company (I know!) brought AS. AS aficionados rue this era, but there were some interesting developments along with decisions that many regret (as was true for many of us that lived through this decade ourselves.) In 1969, AS changed body styles, the whale tale was out, the more rounded tail was in. Also, the windows ditched the square corners and got rounded ones, which improved their water-tightness. These were and are considered improvements in the design. The aluminum used was changed to a (cheaper? lighter?) alloy and the purists hate it, but most are ok with it. The overall trailer underwent a weight loss program. Some innovations were cleaver, like the hollow core cabinet doors (which some despise, others appreciate) Some, like the frame lightening led, in some models, to premature failure due to metal fatigue. Also, in an effort to keep the tongue weight low on the tow vehicle, (which might be a station wagon, after all) the bathroom and other heavy stuff was moved farther aft of the axels, but often resulted in "frame separation," a subject covered extensively in this forum. The interior colors where, shall we say, very 70s shaggadellic, and I just leave it at that. Tambour doors were introduced, and while very light weight and cleaver, did not hold up well. Plastic cabinet latches, plastic switches, plastic sinks, plastic grew everywhere, because the folks at Beatrice watched "The Graduate"

I should also mention that in the 70s, AS launched Argosy trailers as an attempt to make and market a cheaper Airstream trailer that "was just as good as an AS, only cheaper" AS purists hated it and for many years would not allow Argosy owners into the AS club (they eventually relented, in part because Argosy didn't last, and AS used Argosy to experiment with elements that later became standard on AS models, like the wrap-around corner windows.) Argosy trailers use even more plastic, are even more 70s shaggadelic, and are painted (!) because the upper end caps are made of one-piece stamped steel, instead of segmented Aluminum. I should note here that the number of segments in the end caps is indicative of the era; the earlier the AS, the more segments of aluminum in the end cap.

80s: The end of Beatrice, the beginning of Thor era. So, AS basically limped along in the 80s, Beatrice was looking to sell or dump AS and other than update the interiors to 80s style, not much was done to the trailers except incorporate some the design cues from Argosy and find ways to lower costs. (I think this is also the decade where AS put out a new model that was (derisively at first) called the "Squarestream," a model that (I think) included a 5th wheel, that was more boxy shaped. AS purists also didn't allow these owners into the club at first. AS would have gone under if not for a couple of guys that stepped in and started THOR specifically to continue making AS trailers. There was a relatively minor body style update in the mid 80s. Someone here might have more details on that. Things to look out for: some say you have to watch per trailer as the build quality varied greatly. This is also the era where the Classic Motorhome is introduced. It is mostly well regarded, except maybe for the engine. These will stay in production through the 90s and into the early 2000s, with one major body design change in the 90s.

90s: Thor takes charge. I believe either late this decade or early in the next one, the body style changed once more: the door is more square in the corners and the roof line isn't as curved. The frame is beefed back up, and lots of heavy oak cabinetry is installed. AS gets away with this because all trailers are doing it, because trucks are more powerful and gas is cheap. The interiors all look like grandma's house, or the set from Golden Girls. They go through a phase of segmented windows.

2000s: This brings us to essentially the current era. Notably, AS does some research into why younger buyers aren't interested and finds, in part, they don't care for the styling, which leads to a partnership with Chris Deam, an architect who brought clean modern styling to the International line of trailers and revitalized the brand in certain markets. Some of the early 2000s suffered from quality issues, which are said to be better today.

Hope this helps, there is lots more info available online if you look. Some here may want to fill in more details here and there.
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Old 02-21-2019, 10:48 AM   #12
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Congratulations on considering a renovation rebuild of an airstream. Make sure you take lots of photos before and after and share on the air form. And be assured of all the experts that are willing to share on this website. Great wealth of talent. You have the skills needed to do such a rebuild. Should you find one that you’re going to purchase in Southern California let us know we have a new 2018 burner & confection microwave combination for sale. All reasonable offers considered. We tow our 2018 25 FT FBT International serenity with a 2014 Dodge Durango Citadel Hemi which is able to pull up to 7300 pounds. We’re getting 14 miles .There are several places you can look I’m sure to buy the kind of Airstream renovation project. In our area craigslist is a good place to check. Also offer up occasionally has Airstream projects for sale . Also have seen them on eBay. Can hardly wait to see what you end up with and the progress of your project to completion. Welcome to the Airstream family Community.
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Old 02-21-2019, 12:50 PM   #13
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In your search, don't neglect to consider the "Painted Airstreams" or the Argosy models. They had many innovations that were first introduced there before being incorporated into the "regular" Airstream designs. We have both a modern Airstream "Flying Cloud" 25 and a little 6meter Argosy "Minuet" that I'm currently restoring for a special purpose use. Agree that a tandem axle of either marque would be the best candidate for your efforts.
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Old 02-21-2019, 03:14 PM   #14
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A mid-60s Overlander would fit you nicely. Plenty of room and they since they produced more in that size, it might be easier to find one at a reasonable price. Don't underestimate the time and money involved in really doing one right. My rule of thumb (from my experience) and it has been echoed by others over the years here on the forum is 3-4 times the amount of time you think it will take and 2-3 (or more) times the money. Trust me.
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Old 02-21-2019, 04:00 PM   #15
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I am exactly like you, just 2 steps further down the road.....

I too am very capable, very experienced, and able to do almost 100% of the repairs and refurbishing needed......I am currently doing it.

You are being very smart by asking questions now. I did not, but I got lucky....

There is a lot of information to take in, as things Airstream are unique to Airstream, in many aspects.....

I would encourage you to establish a budget. (so you can laugh at it later)

Also, think about how much time you have to spend on the renovation/ refurbishing, and how soon you intend to be able to go "glamping"....

Also, what level of "finished condition" you want to achieve.....

Decide for yourself, if it is ok to invest $20,000 in an Airstream, and 3 or 4 months of serious hard work, aching back, sore knees, cut fingers, knots on your head, and gunk in your eyes, and possibly have an Airstream that may only bring $15 -20,000 when you decide to sell it, which means you get nothing for your labor, but had the pleasure of using the Airstream .....

I found a 1968 Airstream Overlander International, in very good condition.
It was "technically" fully functional.....but you absolutely cannot depend on 50 yr. old appliances/equipment....you will be disappointed every time you go camping.
So, in spite of the "good condition" of my Airstream, I have had to replace everything that has gas or electricity running through it.
The furnace, the water heater, the Fridge, microwave, power converter, countless little things like light fixtures, plumbing fixtures, etc.
My oven is still not working properly, but I am getting there....

Fortunately I am a cabinet builder, so I was able to build new seating/bed for the front of my Airstream, because the original gaucho/dinette was just not right for us....

Previous owner of my Airstream had totally replaced all the plumbing supply lines with pex, and did a good job, or otherwise I would have had to do that in all likelihood.

Previous owner has replaced the Air Conditioner at one point..I have not really put it to the test though, and will not be surprised if I end up needing to replace it.

I am going to have $20,000 cash and approx. 250 hrs in my airstream by the time I get it to "very nice", but not near total restoration condition....

.I love the retro feel and look of the Airstream, but I want the finishes shiny, the paint smooth, and every single thing working very well. My Airstream has the original vinyl shower partition thing (i love it), the original accordion door between the kitchen and the center bedroom (double love it), and all of the original wood cabinetry, except for the front gaucho thing that had to go....And I am probably going to tear out the center gaucho bed and build a "cafe" style seating/twin bed setup there, just to make better use of the space. My gf and I are both small business owners, so even when we are on the road, we will need to tend to business matters, so a little designated business nook will be handy...


My Airstream is 26', and I personally do not want one any smaller....Remember, in an Airstream, there are no slide outs, no vaulted ceilings, etc.....so, the length is where you get space, and you want to be comfy....and the rear bath on my Airstream is great, and my gf can actually take a bath in the tub, but it consumes a lot of space in the camper.

I hope you find this information helpful...., it is real, and you should find your own situation similar. Very nice folks here, many of whom have done exactly what you are considering, as I have.

Welcome aboard.
Mike
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Old 02-22-2019, 11:07 PM   #16
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I would love to see some airstream restoration in progress or some finished trailers. I live right next to the Westlake RV Resort just west of Houston near Katy. I don't know anything about airstreams but I have owned boat, horse, equipment and motorcycle trailers so I might know something useful.
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Old 02-23-2019, 06:17 AM   #17
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Originally Posted by John_Dennis View Post
I would love to see some airstream restoration in progress or some finished trailers. I live right next to the Westlake RV Resort just west of Houston near Katy. I don't know anything about airstreams but I have owned boat, horse, equipment and motorcycle trailers so I might know something useful.
John, there are plenty of people currently involved in AS renovations. To view one being renovated will answer a lot of questions. I think thereís an Airstream rally coming up in Mineola on May 2nd. I went to it a couple of years ago in Belleville and they had a couple of seminars. Those are good to spend a day during open house to view/discuss with owners. If youíre ever in Fredericksburg let me know. I can let you know about what it costs, the labor involved and the effort it takes to find one you want to wrap your life around. Good luck.
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Old 02-23-2019, 07:10 AM   #18
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Originally Posted by John_Dennis View Post
I would love to see some airstream restoration in progress or some finished trailers. I live right next to the Westlake RV Resort just west of Houston near Katy. I don't know anything about airstreams but I have owned boat, horse, equipment and motorcycle trailers so I might know something useful.
Check your private messages.
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Old 02-23-2019, 09:09 AM   #19
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We have a '72 that we bought 11 years ago, and gut renovated. It is very doable for someone with your skills (similar to ours), but time consuming for working folk living in the north woods. We weighed her when we were close to finished with the reno, and she weighs in at about 6400lb with basic supplies and propane (no water). We tow with a Ram 1500 with hemi truck. Tows like a dream.
Many have done this, or are doing it now, and document on the Airforums. Our reno is "Little Girl Refurb" in the '70's section. There are many others of ours and the other eras to look at. I would do some quality reading before and after you purchase so you can benefit from the experience and expertise of others. We did that, and are grateful to others who showed us the way.
Good luck!

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Old 02-27-2019, 10:32 AM   #20
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We restores a 30' 1968 Sovereign

We had a 1968 sovereign international (30') until last year, we pretty much fully restored it, renovating what could be fixed and replacing what couldn't. Despite the fact it had had a bigger fridge freezer put in at some point which weighted about the same as a piano, it towed fine behind our half ton Chevy.

As others have said generally the older ones are lighter, in the '68 all the wood was either real walnut faced plywood or in the case of the solid wood, mahogany (the real good stuff, not the stuff they tell you is mahogany these days) that for some bizarre reason they had lacquered brown to match the walnut ply. Needless to say I scraped all the peeling lacquer off everything and oiled it all.

I'd count on axles in the process whatever, because there's no point fixing it then shaking it to pieces.

The only real weak spot with the '68 was the windows - they do look lovely, but have a tendency to leak in driving rain. This can be stopped or at least minimized, but it does take some perseverance.

We ended up trading for a newer, smaller one because the 30' '68 came with a lot of storage space we didn't use as there are only two of us and we usually go for shorter ~1week trips.

Going down in size to the 20' Flying Cloud (a 2015) we have noticed no real issue with space, so a shorter one (vintage or not) may well work if there are only two of you. We certainly find it reduces stress levels in parking lots, gas stations, and tight campgrounds. For 10' less trailer though it isn't much lighter.

I've not heard of an Airstream with a centre bath, though I haven't looked for one either! I suspect that if you want that, you're looking for one that's been gutted or needs to be, and then build what you want inside - just watch the weight!

Not wishing to be a downer, but the other thing to consider with a renovation is that once you've restored it it's not the end. Be prepared for a higher level of ongoing maintenance to keep everything in its restored condition. Re polishing is a case in point, it looks awesome and we only had to do it every other year, and a re polish isn't as much work as the first one, but it does take time. This was also a factor in our move to a newer model since I always have nine projects on the go, but if you have the time/enjoy tinkering then this may well not be an issue for you.

Hope that helps,
(I could go further into the new/old economics if anyone is interested, but that seems a little off the original topic)

Robin.
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