Do you have an Airstream dream? See what it takes to take on the restoration of a classic beauty.
When we first began to consider a major lifestyle change and trade our cozy life in Los Angeles for full-time RV living, all we thought about was the adventure. Not yet bound by any practical considerations, we were free to imagine an idyllic way to downsize our lives and hit the road exploring the Pacific Northwest. We would leverage my penchant for carpentry and such, and buy then renovate a vintage Airstream trailer. What could be better than that? Styling down the road with our classic beauty, made perfect for our needs by my own hands.
Dreams rarely start with anything practical, however, and in a process that Bridget explained in her posting, The Rig, we quickly came to the conclusion that an Airstream restoration would not be our best choice. Yet despite all of the logic and reason being clearly in favor of buying a new trailer, the craftsman in me was sorely disappointed to give up on such a dream project.
Fast forward to our second stop on our adventure, and we find ourselves in Grass Valley, California where we intended to stay until fall. Plans shifted and we decided to stay longer when an opportunity to pacify that once disappointed craftsman came along when I was asked to help a friend restore and renovate his newly acquired, 1966 Airstream. I could not have been happier. The craftsman in me was given all he could handle, while the writer was provided with firsthand experience to share with anyone contemplating such a project.
Before You Purchase
There is one vitally important point that must be fully understood before you start shopping for your trailer and filling your Pinterest boards with decorating ideas:
Restoring a vintage trailer makes no economic sense whatsoever!
It has to be a labor of love. It will consume all available hours of work, double any budget you could imagine and cause you to spend as many hours researching, comparing and ordering materials as you do building. That said, it is also one of the most rewarding experiences any craftsman/artist/dreamer could have!
Restore or Renovate
Whether you are planning to restore your rig to original condition – or renovate the interior to a custom layout, a full “shell off” restoration is likely in your future. There is little sense spending thousands of dollars making the interior cozy if the belly skin, frame, and flooring are 40 or more years old. Perhaps even more compelling, regardless of starting condition, is that older models have inadequate or obsolete wastewater systems that must be addressed. Models earlier than 1973 or so do not even have gray water tanks. And the only way to adequately service these areas is to remove all of the interior components, separate the shell from the trailer then strip the trailer down to the frame.
We started our project without the level of planning you might expect, going from “hey, I’m thinking about buying an old Airstream, wanna help fix it up?” to “I’m leaving today to pick it up” in about three days time! We would execute a shell-off restoration, replace everything in the interior, and get it all done for a road trip this winter. And to make it even more interesting, we are going to cover everything in reclaimed old growth cedar and exotic hardwoods that we will mill and plane as needed. Whew!
We managed to get the trailer road-ready in time for departure with all major systems functioning, but it was certainly not finished. In fact, given the level of detail, craft, electronics, lighting and sound systems planned, it may be a project that never ends!
Scroll through the following photo gallery to see what it took to resurrect and renew our old Airstream. It will give anyone considering a vintage trailer remodel a good idea of what I mean by “a labor of love”.