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Bauxter 03-01-2011 09:24 AM

1973 Sovereign: 'Bauxter's Big Adventure'
Like many new air-forum freshmen, I have lurked about, reading and absorbing as much as I can. I originally thought that buying an airstream was just another crazy project to keep me busy and off the streets. I read that this activity was addictive, but I never would have believed it until now??!!

My Airstream plan: I work remotely as an analyst for a drug company. My plan is to rebuild and update the AS so I can take the show on the road, and work from wherever I want to, within limits set by Mrs. Bauxter. I need function, comfort, reliability, and most importantly, connectivity. My background in these kind of crazy remodel activities are centered around a string of poorly rebuilt English roadsters and the never-ending renovation of an 80 year old home, that I fondly refer to as “Hotel California”. Pardon the pop culture reference.

I bought the AS last May/2010, and have decided to completely gut and restore a 1973 Sovereign 31’ rear-bath. I had a slight mishap when moving the beast to a storage facility, as noted in my first thread: “Street-Side Dent”:
I have bookmarked and read the following threads as reference material. They are very informational.

The full Monte
The Fun Begins
Sovereign Redux
Little Girl Refurb

This is the kick-off entry to this thread, and will be a continuation of Street-Side Dent, as repairing the outside panel, and then figuring out a high-level project/design plan, will be the next steps.

Tentatively, I am thinking the best sequence is as follows:
1. Repair street-side panel (using buck rivets, as I just bought the tools)
2. Weather proof the shell. (Already working on that)
3. Install supporting wood interior structure to facilitate lifting the shell off of the frame.
4. Lift shell off of frame, support the shell from below.
5. Pull frame out and remove the floor, tanks, and axles.
7. Adjust cross members to accommodate fresh water, new gray tank, and black tank configuration. I am moving the bath and battery to a more central location. (Haven’t totally figured this out, and have seen a few negative threads on the central bath subject.
8. Grind/wire brush/ chemically treat/ weld in any new outriggers/ and apply POR15 to sections of the frame (as much linear footage as can be handled in one good weather day). I am taking this approach because I will be storing the frame under plastic sheeting and don’t want to expose bare metal for any length of time.
9. Final coat of POR15 on good weather day to entire frame.
10. Install new axles. (Axle source undetermined at this time)
11. Install old or new tanks per design plan.
12. Install new floor, (not sure of materials at this point, but will not spend $100 per sheet…”not gonna do it”
13. Re-install shell on frame, using new C-channel if needed.
14. Remove any remaining interior skin.
15. Run new 12v, thermostat low voltage, speaker wire, Coax, cat5, and new 120v wiring and outlet boxes per design plan.
16. Install new plumbing vents, as needed.
17. Rough-in all plumbing
18. Test electrical circuits and plumbing for leaks/shorts/polarity
19. Insulate per design plan…(Prodex??)
20. Re-install interior skin
21. Install new bath fixtures.
22. Install charging, heating, water heating, and cooking devices.
23. Build/Install interior dividers as well as kitchen, bath and overhead cabinets and counter tops per design plan.
24. Install flooring.
25. Install plumbing and lighting fixtures and finish any electrical work.

Obviously there are a lot of details omitted in this post, and the plan will be expanded as I think through this, with the help of all of my new Air-Forum friends.

driftless 03-01-2011 10:47 AM

Sounds like a good plan, Bauxter.

I checked my '73 Service manual and the plumbing drawings are pretty sketchy for the 31' trailer. Plus there isn't any gray water tank shown in either the center or rear bath.

My '73 Excella 500 31' isn't in the '73 service manual but our '73 does have the center bath and both gray and black water tanks. I'd suggest you locate a '74 service manual that includes the 31' Excella 500 which is pretty much the same as the '73. You could review the plumbing and electrical plans to see what revisions would have to be made to move the bath to the center location. Both tanks are behind the axles with a combined outlet streetside.

Good luck. Post pictures and ask questions.

Minno 03-01-2011 10:49 AM

Another great thread is "It's a Girl:"

We got a great deal of our inspiration from Shari's work.

We also looked at moving the bath from the rear to a center bath. It wasn't the framing changes or the tank issues that stopped us - it was the storage hatches on the sides and to a lesser degree, the windows. We just couldn't come up with a workable floor plan that we liked that didn't require moving or eliminating or simply not using the side storage hatches.


wasagachris 03-01-2011 11:00 AM

Bauxter very ambitious plan. Youv'e certainly got your work cut out for you now.
IMO I would wait to repair the side panel until after the shell is back on. Otherwise you are drill ing out and replacing rivets that you will drill out again to pull the shell. That's exactly what I did to replace the same entire section on mine. I had a similar crease just farther back. Are you planning to replace the entire lower side?
The same for sealing the shell after the shell off you may have to reseal it again due to twisting of shell and stresses put on it during the lift. Also if you are planning on a polished shell leave the sealing until after the polish is done. I didn't and now have to remove it all first before polishing and then seal it all again.
Moving the bath to center bath from rear bath is a very large task. Not only do you have to move waste tanks and their plumbing but vent pipes up through the roof need to be moved and patch the holes in the old locations. Then there are the issues of window locations can you make the existing windows fit into your plan for moving the bath? IIRC the rear bath models have only the rear window and no side windows like the rear bedroom models have. The bedroom windows in the rear bath models are amidships and may conflict with your design plan. I think also that the rear end cap is different and make not work for a rear bedroom model.
Now about moving the battery. Are you planning to relocate the existing battery compartment or making a new one? More patches again. I don't want to rain on your parade but this kind of alteration is very extensive. it can be done but how far are you willing to go and how much money and time are you willing to spend? Several others have considered it and decided against the change.
For your frame repairs, don't be worried about exposed metal. POR-15 paint stands for paint over rust and it actually works better on rusty metal. New metal or freshly sanded or ground metal must be etched first before applying the POR. The frame MUST be dry before applying the POR so your plan for good weather is spot on. Leave the POR until all the frame is ready.
Everything else sounds in the right order. Some tweaking of course will be done as you get farther into it, like wiring after insulation etc.
Good luck my friend and have fun during the voyage. we'll be watching and coaching along the way.

Bauxter 03-01-2011 02:35 PM

Chris, I have pulled all the rivets from the entire length of the street-side lower panel, 21'. I am assuming that this has considerably reduced the structural integrity of the body. If I could lift the body without worrying about buckling other panels on the trailer, I would do the frame first. If there is a method for that, I am all ears.


wasagachris 03-01-2011 04:18 PM

Mike you are right that has reduced the strength of that side so do it now. make sure you follow Andy's tip about blocking the frame level and straight before reattaching the sheet to the shell.

Bauxter 03-02-2011 07:14 AM

I purchased some rv aluminum screw jacks and placed 2 just forward of the rear tank frame, and 2 about 2 feet forward of the axles. The front is supported by jack stands. The trailer is also supported by the tires/wheels. I used a 4ft level, and the trailer is level in both directions. I fortunately did not need to raise the trailer with the jacks, as the driveway is level, where it is sitting.
As I already mentioned, the rivets are already removed from the street side lower panel, which runs 21 feet. There is an inner and outer panel, as the inner panel was previously repaired with the outer, which is also now damaged. At least one rib is bent. I will pull both panels off, straighten the rib, and install new panel.

1. Is there a better way to check the AS for being level and straight?
2. Once I remove the panels, I am planning to use Andy's method of cutting a v in the rib and sistering some aluminum on the sides of the damaged rib, which will allow me to straighten and strengthen. What type and thickness should I use. Andy has indicated that my excess 2024T3 is unacceptable, as it will split when I put a 90 in it. Are 1/8 aluminum pop rivets ok for this application? (Inside the wall).

wasagachris 03-02-2011 08:31 AM

BauxterThat's exactly the same thing I did to reattach the shell to the frame/floor, used screw jacks at several points (6) on each side evenly spaced out and a 4ft level front to back and side to side. My driveway was fine back to back but slightly off side to side. Once the frame/floor was level, most of the original rivet holes lined right up.
I bow to Andy's expertise on the rib repair as I have never done that and have no point of reference on that. I did find several spots on mine that were shimmed at the factory so exact fit is not neccessary just close and then shim to fit.

pgr32e 03-02-2011 09:01 AM

If you want to learn everything about structure repair and a whole lot more than you'll ever need, Google FAA circular AC 43.13 (just put AC 43.13 in the search pane.) and you'll find a pdf file on several sites that you can download and peruse at your leisure. Repair of aluminum structure is covered in 43.13-1B section 4-50 onward. It's all to aircraft standards, but it has lots of good stuff. Airstream is an airplane without wings anyway, No? I said peruse at your leisure, with your agenda it doesn't look like you'll have much of that. Cheers.............Phil.

Bauxter 03-05-2011 04:05 PM

Bent Street-Side Rib
2 Attachment(s)
I removed the inner skin on the street-side to gain access to the bent rib. I attached a couple pictures of the damaged rib, one of which looks like the rib is horizontal, and of course in reality, is just bad photography.
My plan was to cut a "V" in it, but after looking at how bent up it is, I may try to find a replacement. Does anyone have any leads on where to get a rib? I was thinking TGIF Friday's, but that is a different kind of rib.

Minno 03-05-2011 07:54 PM

Inland RV or Out of Doors Mart I believe has the meatless silver ribs you need. What I don't see in the pictures is exactly where the rib is bent. Can you show us that damage? You may get suggestions on how to repair it without replacing the entire rib.


Colin H 03-05-2011 09:04 PM

I have done numerous body off restorations & have found the best & easiest way is to lift the body off the chassis from above, just like the factory originally built them. I own a pair of portable gantry's & I lift through the front & rear vents. This method works very well because it doesn't put any stress on the walls until the body is set down on the ground, but then its evenly distributed so its fine. I'm sure you could rent a pair of gantry's at a tool rental shop or possibly make them out of plywood & 2 X 4's along with perhaps a couple of 2 X 6's sistered together for the top beam.
As far as locating a replacement rib, try . Ryan buys up wrecked Airstream's & parts them out, so if you're lucky, he'll have something for you.
Good luck,

Bauxter 03-06-2011 07:43 AM

Lifting the body off of the frame.
Colin, Thanks, I like the idea. The lifting platform could also be a scaffolding platform for working on the roof of the AS. Do you attach wood bracing in the interior as a support frame, when lifting from above?

Do you know what the shell of a 1973 31 footer weighs without the inner skins and AC? I could remove the AC before pulling the shell off?


Bauxter 03-06-2011 01:15 PM


Originally Posted by Minno (Post 960044)
Inland RV or Out of Doors Mart I believe has the meatless silver ribs you need. What I don't see in the pictures is exactly where the rib is bent. Can you show us that damage? You may get suggestions on how to repair it without replacing the entire rib.


Chris, There isn't a single spot on the rib that you would say is the bent spot. It's almost like the whole middle part of the rib is stretched/ twisted, and bent away from the shell. There is a gap at one spot, that is about 3/4 of an inch away from the shell. I will need to seem in a new one in the middle of the ceiling curve. Additionally, the horizontal stringers, that cross under the rib, are bent, as well. I am not sure if the terminology is correct. The pieces that I call stringers are somewhat flat, and look as if they are used as support where the panels are riveted together.

Colin H 03-06-2011 01:36 PM


Originally Posted by Bauxter (Post 960126)
Colin, Thanks, I like the idea. The lifting platform could also be a scaffolding platform for working on the roof of the AS. Do you attach wood bracing in the interior as a support frame, when lifting from above?

Do you know what the shell of a 1973 31 footer weighs without the inner skins and AC? I could remove the AC before pulling the shell off?


I wouldn't worry too much about requiring a scaffold to work on the roof. I've been walking around on Airstream roofs for years without incident, however I try to position my feet on the ribs. The lifting chain block is attached to an eye bolt in a carpeted 2 X 6 that extends enough to catch at least one rib on either end of the board. Before I had the rotisserie, I used to cross brace the whole body , then lift from below. There is no crossbracing necessary now. I don't know what the body weighs on a 31'er but I'm sure it would help if you removed the AC first, plus you could do it with the gantry & not worry about hefting it off the side onto a step ladder or scaffold.

Bauxter 03-18-2011 03:00 PM

OK team, I have been practicing my buck riveting skills on scrap aluminum, and am going to try a couple on the shell. When I put the rivet in the hole, should I apply a small amount of Vulcem underneath it?

wasagachris 03-18-2011 03:09 PM

Mike that's exactly what shacksman and I did when replacing panels on my 73 and when putting the shell back on. Vulkem inder the seams, vulkem in the rivet holes, vulkem behind the beltline, etc etc etc.

Bauxter 05-19-2011 09:09 AM

Can anyone expand on how the belly pan comes out from under the axle? Do I need to cut it, pull it, drop the axle, etc....thanks

wasagachris 05-19-2011 09:33 AM

Mike the belly pan is wedged between the main frame rails and the axle flange. If you want to reuse it then dropping the axles is the only way to get it out easily. If you are going to replace it then just cut around the axle flange and all the way to the forward edge of the pan and it will come free.

Bauxter 05-19-2011 09:47 AM

I was afraid that you were gonna say that! :zorro:

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