25 Jul 2018
Our 1984 triple axle Avion 34V
From a folding camping trailer to large fifth wheels, Brent and I have owned our share of RVs. After four years of full-time RVing, our family finally settled down and decided we needed a smaller RV for weekend camping and summer road trips. We looked at all sorts of RVs, visiting RV shows and dealerships, but finally settled on a vintage Avion, Airstream’s second cousin. We spent the summer exploring Route 66 and couldn’t have felt cooler. Literally, because the air conditioner wouldn’t stop dripping on me while I slept. Ha! Regardless, of the quirks we loved that trailer. A year later, we came across a great deal on a rare front kitchen Airstream. We had dreamed of owning an Airstream for years, so we sold the Avion and finally became part of the Airstream club. Having owned new, used (newer used RVs), and now a vintage trailer we’ve learned a few things. Many of the same things that apply to buying a late model trailer, like towing capacity of your tow vehicle, also apply to buying a vintage trailer with a few more things to consider.
1998 Airstream Excella 34’ FK
Things to Consider Before Buying a Vintage Trailer
Usage – How do you plan to use the vintage trailer? Weekend trips? Full-time RVing? Airbnb or guest house? Winter RVing? Most vintage RVs (Not all, our Avion was great in cold weather.) aren’t going to be suited for winter camping without significantly upgrading the insulation, a BIG job! If having more space is a priority, as it often is when full-time RVing or camping with large families, you won’t find many, if any, vintage trailers with slide outs.
The Princess is a fully renovated 1969 Streamline Princess Photo courtesy of Marmalade Vintage Trailers
Handyman Skills – Are you handy and do you enjoy learning that sort of work? Vintage trailers will often need more work than their newer counterparts. It really helps if you have some handyman skills or else maintenance and repair expenses can add up very quickly. Just as
important as having the skills is actually enjoying the work. Just because you can do it doesn’t mean you want to! I’ve found most vintage trailer owners, including myself and my husband Brent, really enjoy the process of renovating. Of course, it’s always possible to buy a fully renovated vintage trailer.
Photo courtesy of Marmalade Vintage Trailers
Campgrounds – It might come as a surprise, but not all campgrounds are vintage RV friendly. There are campgrounds that place age restrictions on the type of RV they will allow. Others place restrictions on length limits and many vintage trailers are on the shorter side. We once stayed at a campground and our friends came to camp with us in their adorable little vintage trailer. Unbeknownst to us, the campground had a length rule and our friends weren’t allowed to camp there! (It worked out because we were camping in a huge fifth wheel at the time, so they just stayed with us. It was cozy but great fun!) If you visit specific campgrounds regularly, you will want to make sure they don’t have any of these types of restrictions in place before purchasing a vintage trailer.
Before and After of a 1963 Shasta Compact Photo Courtesy of Guy Bratton
Scope of Work – It’s really important to carefully and fully consider the scope of the work before buying a vintage trailer. Vintage trailer renovations run the gamut from shell off renovations
(where the camper is stripped of everything and the shell, the walls and roof, is lifted to work on the chassis) to simpler repairs like replacing worn awnings. You’ll want to take a full inventory of what might need work. Some things to consider are: leaks, water damage, electrical system, water lines, water pumps, heaters, toilets, showers, sinks, air conditioners, axles, floors and subfloors, tires, body condition, the frame, tires, windows (vintage windows can be hard to find), appliances, propane line, awnings, and a clear title. We called about many vintage trailers that were inexpensive and looked good in pictures only to find out the title was salvaged or it didn’t have a title at all!
Be Prepared to Walk Away – It’s really easy to get emotionally attached to the idea of a vintage trailer (Trust me, I know!) without full consideration of the amount of work involved. Take an inspection checklist and take your time going over the trailer from top to bottom and front to back. Be sure to ask the owner lots of questions and if the answers don’t add up then be prepared to walk away.
1957 Airstream Bubble Photo courtesy of Guy Bratton
Be Patient – Along the lines of being prepared to walk away, it’s important to be patient. Finding a vintage trailer is more difficult and time consuming than going to your nearest RV dealer. It will take searching at multiple sources like RV Trader, Facebook Marketplace, Craigslist, etc. You may have to look at many trailers before you find the right one. Personally, we prefer to buy vintage trailers that have had fewer owners. We bought our Airstream from the original owners who had retired and were no longer RVing. They took the time to explain all the quirks of the
trailer and pointed out all the things that they knew needed repairs. This is an ideal situation but not always possible. Don’t give up! If something doesn’t feel right, don’t worry there will always be another one!
Be Prepared for Surprises – So you’ve found your perfect trailer, inspected it thoroughly, and you pulled it home to start working on it. Don’t be surprised if you pull up the carpet only to find a section of soft or rotting subfloor or you realize you forget to check the stove and it doesn’t work. It happens. There is a good chance you will miss something when checking the trailer out. It’s okay, almost everything is repairable. Just prepare yourself for surprise repairs ahead of time and you can roll with it.
Photo courtesy of Guy Bratton
Budget – Once you find a prospective vintage trailer make a list of all the things that are important to you in order of importance. Start with the non-negotiable components like axels and wheels and work your way to down to the cosmetics like curtains. It’s likely you won’t need to do everything on the list but it’s a good starting point to have. Visit sites like Ebay and Vintage Trailer Supply to get an idea what these renovations or repairs will cost and make a budget.
Photo courtesy of Guy Bratton
Community – One of the best parts of owning a vintage RV, other than enjoying the charm and history, is the instant community. There are many clubs, meet ups, and rallies for vintage trailer owners. There are even dedicated groups and clubs for specific makes of vintage trailers. These groups tend to be really welcoming and enthusiastic. It’s definitely a perk to owning a vintage trailer. (Note: There are meet-ups and clubs for nearly all major brands of late model RVs as well!)
Photo courtesy of Riverside RV
After some contemplation, you may have decided a true vintage trailer and the potential work that comes with it is not for you. Perhaps you really just want the peace of mind that comes with a warranty? If it’s the vintage charm you are after and not the possible surprises then you might want consider one of the new trailers that look vintage like the Retro from Riverside RV. It’s got charm and modern convenience.
What about you! Have you ever bought or considered buying a vintage trailer? Any advice to share?