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Old 10-02-2018, 07:33 PM   #1
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What should I look for? Buying an older airstream

Wow there is so much information on here. My wife and I are going to purchase an older mid 70s airstream. Are there any certain things I need to look for when I go look at these?
I've seen alot of axle, frame, water leak issues on this forum.
I used to be a mechanic and I am now contractor so obvious things should stick out fairly good. Anything specific to look for so I dont get it home and kick my self?

Thanks!
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Old 10-02-2018, 07:55 PM   #2
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Leaks, leaks and damage from leaks. Rusty frame. Poke it where the A frame enters the trailer. Looks in the storage areas at the subfloor. Any evidence of leaks from the gray and back water tanks. Does it have a gray water tank? You might want to check the axles for sag or just plan on replacing them. Smell test. If it smells bad something is leaking. Did I mention look for damage from leaks?

If I was going to pull it and camp in it I would want a model with a gray tank. Do not know if they were in mid seventies trailers or not. If parked and hooked rto sewer that does not matter.

Look at the frame sections near the axles. I have heard of the frame breaking on some models. Hopefuly some one that knows will address this. My experience is with mid 80’s trailers and yes I had to replace an A frame that was rusted under the paint from a battery leak probably
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Old 10-02-2018, 09:59 PM   #3
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How much work are you looking to put into it? If the answer is zero/very little/not multiple years' worth, I'd suggest looking for a recently refurbished one with photo documentation of the progress, and an end result you're happy with. Most 70s rigs you find are going to require some major work if someone else hasn't done it for you already.

If you are looking to do major refurbishing work yourself, I'd just look for something that has a good body, a complete intact interior and exterior, and no obvious frame issues, and expect to be updating most of the systems.
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Old 10-03-2018, 05:47 AM   #4
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Thanks for the response guys. We plan on gutting it completely and starting over. New insulation new walls everything done to the way my wife wants it. How crazy are we?
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Old 10-03-2018, 06:11 AM   #5
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Thanks for the response guys. We plan on gutting it completely and starting over. New insulation new walls everything done to the way my wife wants it. How crazy are we?
I will just say this.....for every vintage Airstream that is gutted, renovated and taken to completion, fifty are not. Seriously, this is why you see gutted Airstreams for sale everywhere. They are very easy to take apart and incredibly difficult to reassemble, taking much more money and time than people expect.

Expect your budget to be blown and your labour hours to triple is what I tell people that are considering this adventure.

BYW Gutting and renovating an Airstream is more science than design. You have to know what weight the trailer is now; empty weight, tonque weight and axle weight. Now you divide the trailer into sections and weigh everything that comes out of each section. Then decide if it needs new axles, (it will, and I just blew some of your budget); fix frame and POR-15, replace subfloor with Coosa board $2,000; custom make cabinets with no floors, backs, or even gables to reduce weight, (you'll find it takes longer to build something lighter), and then weigh everything that goes back into the sections of the trailer and pray you get it right.

If you don't, look up trailer sway Utube videos for inspiration.

Cheers
Sidekick Tony

PS Do yourself a favour, keep your wife to just choosing colours and upholstery; keep her far away from the design or you'll regret the day you ever bought the trailer.
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Old 10-03-2018, 08:56 AM   #6
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What would you guys say is a realistic budget. Keep in mind all of the work will be done by me. I'm a contractor and can build cabinets doo flooring plumbing, literally everything will be dont by me. We wont be getting crazy with material. We are not doing best of the best. We will be going mid grade everything.
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Old 10-03-2018, 09:13 AM   #7
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What would you guys say is a realistic budget. Keep in mind all of the work will be done by me. I'm a contractor and can build cabinets doo flooring plumbing, literally everything will be dont by me. We wont be getting crazy with material. We are not doing best of the best. We will be going mid grade everything.
That is really impossible to answer without a detailed list of what work will be done. You could spend between $5,000 to $30,000+. Look at prices of trailers already in the condition and level of quality you desire and you can probably draw conclusions on what they invested.
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Old 10-03-2018, 09:33 AM   #8
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What would you guys say is a realistic budget. Keep in mind all of the work will be done by me. I'm a contractor and can build cabinets doo flooring plumbing, literally everything will be dont by me. We wont be getting crazy with material. We are not doing best of the best. We will be going mid grade everything.
I'm a skilled tradesman, a cabinetmake to be precise. Even with my boss, being the very generous person he was, taking the hit for the materials I bought for the renovation through his company, I still spent well over $10,000 on my renovation.....and mine's a motorhome; and I still have A/C's to buy.

Start looking at what you need.....
New A/C unit, say $700 for mid grade, add another $700 for two.
New fans 2@ $300.00 each (up to $600 each for Maxxair's)
Axles 2@ 500 each (being conservative here I think)
Plywood and supplies for sub floor $1000
I spent $2,000 just to re-vinyl my interior walls
Plumbing: sinks, faucets, hot water heater, PEX-A and fittings $2,500 easy.
Electrical: wire, LED lights, fuse box, converter, batteries, shoreline, generator etc, etc $2,500 easy.
Interior cabinets: materials for cabinets, countertops, drawer slides, knobs/handles, $2,500 easy.
New flooring $750
New propane tanks $150

I'm at $13,700, not including polishing the outside, wheels and tires, replacement of windows, tracks, felt and seals, possible frame re-welding, any reupholstery that needs to be done, mattresses for the beds, curtains, new awnings, new Kwik-kee step. I could add another $5,000 easy to that $13,700

The list could go on......it's surprising how fast it adds up.

Cheers
Sidekick Tony
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Old 10-03-2018, 09:51 AM   #9
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Don't forget to add a new fridge ($2000), new furnace($500), power converter ($250), new stove and vent ($5-600), and the list keeps on growing!! What you plan on spending, double it!!
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Old 10-03-2018, 10:20 AM   #10
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Originally Posted by Gilson84 View Post
Wow there is so much information on here. My wife and I are going to purchase an older mid 70s airstream. Are there any certain things I need to look for when I go look at these?
I've seen alot of axle, frame, water leak issues on this forum.
I used to be a mechanic and I am now contractor so obvious things should stick out fairly good. Anything specific to look for so I dont get it home and kick my self?

Thanks!
Due to frame issues I would not consider anything older than 1985 models. I am not sure when they beefed the frame up but I can assure you that my '86 Sovereign has a taller, beefier frame than my '77 Excella 500 had (it had the dreaded rear end droop).
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Old 10-03-2018, 10:46 AM   #11
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If I were going to do it again, I would find a trailer that has already been gutted and the frame and sub-floor replaced. I would look for one that was completed to the point where you start installing the interior. It takes for ever if you start from scratch. And the learning curve is huge regardless of what background you have.

Good Luck
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Old 10-03-2018, 11:07 AM   #12
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One thing that has not been mentioned is the year model. If I had to do it over I would have purchased a 1974 or newer. Only reason is for the factory grey water tank. While a grey tank can always be added it is expensive and labor intensive to do so. At some point my rear subfloor will have to be replaced again and I will probably add a tank at that point. Dealing with the blue boy for grey water gets old quick......
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Old 10-03-2018, 11:21 AM   #13
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One thing that has not been mentioned is the year model. If I had to do it over I would have purchased a 1974 or newer. Only reason is for the factory grey water tank. While a grey tank can always be added it is expensive and labor intensive to do so. At some point my rear subfloor will have to be replaced again and I will probably add a tank at that point. Dealing with the blue boy for grey water gets old quick......
That's a good point, though the condition of the tanks is not necessarily guaranteed, and you may end up looking for replacements anyway. I was fortunate that my factory gray tank was in good shape, but the black tank was busted and would have needed to be replaced if I didn't go with a composting toilet.

The factory gray tank is also pretty small. So depending on your needs, you end up adding additional tanks anyway.
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Old 10-03-2018, 02:32 PM   #14
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Keep it light, and then add lightness

Your airstream is not a house. Let me repeat that, itís not a house. I say that twice, because you will be tempted to put in things like solid wood cabinets, heavy countertops, lots of heavy, thick, solid wood.

If you get an airstream that is still mostly original, take some time to examine how it was put together. The 70s had honeycomb sandwich closet doors, plastic latches, 1/4Ē plywood walls - Everything was engineered to be strong, but lightweight.

Tony is correct to mention the importance not only of weight but balance.

If your background as a contractor is in building homes, you will not find very much there that could be put into an RV without increasing itís weight to the point where it gets too heavy for the frame, axles, tires, and tow vehicle.

But the good news is there are a lot of materials, expertise, and wisdom available on this forum to guide you in your quest to create your airstream. And the good news is that you could spend tens of thousands of dollars on the renovation, and still be tens of thousands of dollars less than what a new airstream would cost you, and you would end up with a better trailer then what is coming out of Jackson Center, in all likelihood
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Old 10-03-2018, 03:44 PM   #15
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Your airstream is not a house. Let me repeat that, it’s not a house. I say that twice, because you will be tempted to put in things like solid wood cabinets, heavy countertops, lots of heavy, thick, solid wood.

If you get an airstream that is still mostly original, take some time to examine how it was put together. The 70s had honeycomb sandwich closet doors, plastic latches, 1/4” plywood walls - Everything was engineered to be strong, but lightweight.
Yes you can do solid wood cabinets.....I did, but they are just Domino'd solid pine face frames with as little an interior gable to support drawer slides; no bottoms except under the sink and the top of my cabinets are the actual countertops. As light as I could make them.

Remember, for every 100 lbs you add to your trailer weight, you'll need an additional 10hp in your tow vehicle to compensate for the weight.

Cheers
Sidekick Tony

PS I forgot about fridge, oven, cook top, convection microwave........jeez that list does get long fast. Don't forget rivets; making sure they are aluminum with an aluminum stick.
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Old 10-03-2018, 03:58 PM   #16
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Remember that there was gas shortage in the 70's and everything was going to lightweight including Airstreams. They were made with lighter frames and thinner cabinets. 80's came and everything was better, heavier frames, solid cabinets but the floors were particle board, so better to use 80's trailer and replace the floor. Also could get the wrap around front window for better light in the 80's.
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Old 10-03-2018, 04:10 PM   #17
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Thumbs up Considering Airstream for Renovation

Greetings Gilson84!

Welcome to the Forums and the world of Airstreams!

Quote:
Originally Posted by Gilson84 View Post
Wow there is so much information on here. My wife and I are going to purchase an older mid 70s airstream. Are there any certain things I need to look for when I go look at these?
I've seen alot of axle, frame, water leak issues on this forum.
I used to be a mechanic and I am now contractor so obvious things should stick out fairly good. Anything specific to look for so I dont get it home and kick my self?

Thanks!
As has been referenced earlier in this thread, there was a period of time in the 1970s when Airstream trailers experienced a few problems that a potential renovator needs to be cognizant of their existence. These problems typically are attributed to two things that were happening during this time period -- Beatrice Foods purchased Airstream in 1967 and owned the corporation through 1980 (often referred to as the Beatrice Years), and there was the energy crisis during the middle-to-end of this time frame. Both of these issues placed pressures on Airstream to produce trailers that were as light as possible to save fuel (and we need to remember that in that time period the full-size family car was the tow vehicle of choice). It was during this time frame that Airstreams had a higher incidence of two problems -- the first being frame cracks in the area of the tandem axles on longer coaches -- the second being rear end separation on nearly any coach (but more prevalent on longer coaches). Speculation abounds, but a general consensus seems to be that Beatrice, as a food company, didn't have the expertise in manufacturing RVs which may have resulted in decisions to make greater cuts frame strength than would have been ideal.

My intent isn't to dissuade you from considering a coach from this era as there are many excellent coaches still on the road from this era. I would be more inclined to consider one that has been faithfully maintained and used throughout its lifetime rather than one that has been sitting unused for many years as often use keeps a number of potential problems at bay -- and some of the problems may have been dealt with by the original owner while the coach was subject to its warranty. The biggest issue here is, you would be paying for interior componentry that you may not reuse.

Something else to consider. Several posters have mentioned holding tanks and other issues. As you look at candidates for your project consider the current floorplan and how your plans will work into that framework. It is VERY difficult to reposition windows, and bathroom location can be rather difficult to change (window position and sometimes frame considerations). One thing that you will encounter with a rather high percentage of coaches from this era is the rear bathroom -- a very high percentage of all Airstreams of this era had rear bathrooms. Where side/mid-bathrooms were available, it was typically in 28-foot to 31-foot coaches.

Good luck with your investigation!

Kevin
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Old 10-03-2018, 04:23 PM   #18
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One thing that you will encounter with a rather high percentage of coaches from this era is the rear bathroom -- a very high percentage of all Airstreams of this era had rear bathrooms. Where side/mid-bathrooms were available, it was typically in 28-foot to 31-foot coaches.
Hey, no need to knock the rear bathrooms. I can back into a beautiful lake front campground and have an amazing view of the water while using the toilet. It's the best seat in the house!

/s
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Old 10-03-2018, 04:29 PM   #19
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Smile Considering Coach for Reonovation

Greetings TheGreatleys!

Quote:
Originally Posted by TheGreatleys View Post
Hey, no need to knock the rear bathrooms. I can back into a beautiful lake front campground and have an amazing view of the water while using the toilet. It's the best seat in the house!

/s

I am not knocking the rear bathroom floorplans, in fact that is why I own two vintage Airstreams. When I purchased my Airstream in 1995, one condition was that it had to have a rear bathroom and none of the 1995 models in the under 25-foot sizes had rear bathrooms. The main reasons that I mentioned the rear bathroom is that it seems that persons new to Airstreams are often dreaming of a rear bedroom with side-bath arrangement something that was exceedingly uncommon during the 1970s.


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Old 10-07-2018, 05:01 PM   #20
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Come see ours and I'll show you what it will take if you want.
2 1/2 years, cost 3,500 and put another 15,000. Gutted it, replaced both axles, rear 2' of frame and floor, front 5' same. All elec., plumbing, insulation, aluminum walls, flooring, cabinets myself, Michelin 16" on aluminum rims....and wow do we like it.....well worth the work.
Takes welding, carpentry, common sense.
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