Friday, February 12, 2010

Streamin' on the Cheap - Part 2

Although, to many, it may seem that an Airstream is an expensive purchase, a persistent and vigilant search for the “right one” can turn up a very affordable option. If you can decide on what your comfort level is for a “fixer-upper”, there can be many options. I have heard of old Airstreams costing from FREE (I personally haven’t been fortunate enough to be that lucky) to no limits, but most are in the $1000-$8000 range. If you’ve checked out the RV market, you will know that this really is affordable.

Some advice to new Vintage owners is to not look for the “perfect” vehicle, as they are only on the showroom floor (I’ve heard plenty of horror stories about showroom Airstreams to believe that there really is no perfect one out there.) Look for the size and layout that makes the most sense to you. On our last purchase, the layout didn’t matter as much as finding a 26-28 footer that we could add bunks to sleep 6 people in.

Know that a floor replacement is common, but is not as bad as it seems. (OK – we are a year out of a floor replacement, and it seems I might not have a very good perspective anymore!) Even if you have to pay for some fixing by someone else, the life of the Airstream is so much longer than the life of some other brand. Take a look at our yard – we have a 1953 Clipper that is all original, except the floor and wiring.

More free advice, along the road, you will see those over-the-top, tripped out Airstreams, and think that’s what you need to do to yours. But along with those few fabulous showstoppers are many more that perfectly functional and carry the nostalgia of owning a piece of Americana. Don’t get me wrong, we all dream of the surround sound, flat-screen televisions and state-of-the-art refrigeration, but ultimately, is about the experience. You can always add the extras as you go.

So back to the floor replacement, I’ll try to make the future as bright as possible on this one. We’ve done two, one with the shell off, and one with sneaking the floor under the walls, and highly recommend the shelling route.

 If you do it yourself, you are looking only the cost of plywood, flooring and rivets (and a lot of time.) If doing it yourself is not an option, you could do it for around $10,000, which would include the frame painting and new floor if you gutted it yourself. (Price quote is from Frank Yenson of Frank’s Trailerworks - or click under My Blog Roll on Frank's Trailer Works) This could still be a potentially inexpensive option, especially if you get a good deal on the trailer in the first place. We’ve always believed, that if the first floor lasted 40-50 years, a green-treated floor should last at least that long.

Doing your own renovations is not without it’s frustrations or challenges, but with so many options out there, it is certainly rewarding! One of the most rewarding things that we have found in doing the renovation ourselves the friends we have gained because of it! The Airstream community has some wonderful resources if you just ask around. Trust me, asking may get you more information than you need! We have gotten so much reward, just consulting, encouraging and advising others, not to mention the pride in “showing off” what we’ve done.

All in all, if you’d love to own a Vintage Airstream on the cheap, set your money aside (cash speaks volumes when going to that farmer’s door to ask!), do your research, take lots of pictures, and ask for advice. Let people know what you are looking for, I promise that you will get many more calls that you can consider. Oh, and if you find that free one and you don’t take it yourself – let us know!


  1. Great advice, I'd agree with everything you say. And, speaking as a fellow 13 panel owner (53 Flying Cloud), coming towards the end of a shell-off rebuild, I'd agree, replacing a floor is not rocket-science and there's lots of helpful advice out there (I'd also agree that shell-off is the way to go). You don't need amazing skills but you do need passion, a good eye and more time than you first think but it is well worth it & there's nothing quite like knowing your trailer inside out.

  2. Really enjoyed seeing the pictures of our old Clipper getting the remake. The biggest advancement since we had it is the availablity of information about how to do it. Wish we had that years ago; it'd have been in better shape. BTW, as you know, until the internet, we always thought it was a '54 Flying Cloud, as it said on the bill of sale from the Airstream Dealer. The Vintage Airstream site researched the serial no. and we discovered it was a Clipper, built in November, 1953. (It probably was a '54 model.) Either way, it's proven to be a great investment!
    Uncle Bill and Aunt Mary

  3. The clipper really has been a great investment! I think that Dave did the research a little more and had come to the conclusion that it was the 2nd one off the Ohio plant line and would have been made in 1952, but considered the 1953 model (much like cars). Thanks for the care you did take with the Airstream for so many years. If you hadn't been interested in the rest of the Clipper - it could've been in a lot worse shape.