By: Lisa Renee Sherman
After hours on the retail lot, the very last trailer your eye captures is the one that stills your heart. Walking past all the other newly designed, top of the line trailers that any person in their right mind would want….you spot HER. The salesman tries to gently pull your attention away, with bribes of newly clad leather, and impeccable design. As his voice drones on and on…there is only one thought in your mind… “I can do that”. Another newcomer has joined the Airstream family, and the task of “Airstream Trailer Restoration” has unfolded.
People have different reasons for opting to chose a vintage Airstream restoration project. Some completely enjoy the task of restoration and take much pride in the hours of work it takes to restore one to its original glory. Others are appealed to the financial aspect and are striving to safe a few dollars. Either way, restoration can become very time consuming and costly.
There are professionals that specialize in the restoration of vintage trailers if you are not looking at doing it yourself. Most of these individuals are just a Google away. Another good way for tracking down sound professionals would be to contact your area Airstream dealer, or local Airstream Club for suggested names. This is a unique community and typically individuals can offer a wealth of information.
If you are going to tackle your own restoration, the first major issue to address is what is needing done. When assessing the exterior the following things should be on your check list. The first is the exterior finish. It is a painted finish or an aluminum clad? The next major area of concern is that of plasti coating. This was a lacquer “glass wax” that was applied to the earlier models of Airstreams. If there hasn’t been much polishing care in the past then chances are it is peeling and “blistering”.
There are basically three types of abrasions to the exterior. Large dents, shallow dents and little areas affected from hail damage. Most retailers disregard hail damage. These are removed based off the personal preference of the owner. If you are planning to resale the trailer, perhaps taking time to remove them would up the final price amount. If you are strictly keeping the trailer for your personal enjoyment then the hail marks could add to the overall character of the vintage trailer.
Keep in mind that most Airstream dealers are used to ordering new panel sections for restoration purposes. If you are going to try to tackle the project first, a useful tool is a basic suction cup from a local body shop. A majority of shallow dents can be popped back out with this tool. When addressing major dents it is typical to have to take the exterior panel off and correct it from the inside out.
Most likely, the trailer has been neglected for some time and oxidation has formed. Aluminum reacts differently to oxygen than that of rust. Rust tends to “eat” the material. Aluminum actually has a build up of oxidation on it that can create that “blistering” look. Most polishing techniques address the issue of oxidation and provide numerous insight on how to best treat this issue.
Other areas of concern with the exterior is the main door, windows, service portals, and any exterior utility components. All damaged items should be dealt with prior to the final polishing process. The polishing process is extensive and very time consuming. Any work that could leave abrasions on the finished exterior should be done prior.
Moving to the interior, it is not uncommon that the sub-flooring needs to be replaced. After removing all the furnishings and floor coverings you should be able to see any spots of concern with the flooring. Typically weak spots come from water leakage. At this time is when most restoration specialists also take out the inner panels to expose the insulation and wiring. Due to the fact that the only way to replace any wiring or insulation is by removing the inside panel, it is easiest to do it while all the furnishing are removed.
The sub-floor typically can be cut into sections and removed. They make a great templates, so don’t disregard. Be sure to take careful notice of the flooring frame unit. Restoration Specialists typically use an angle grinder on the metal frame to remove any rust or dirt. It would be a good idea to add a coat of primer for prevention of rust when finished.
With the sub-flooring accomplished, there are some questions you need to address. A trailer that has been “restored” is considered to have been completed with time “period” furnishings, appliances, and fixtures. A “renovated” trailer is one that is finished out however the current owner wishes with no regard to accuracy original style.
Once you understand what the final look and feel of the trailer should be, then you can finish the rest of the restoration based upon the desired style. Always keep in mind if you are wishing to re-sell the trailer or if it is for your personal enjoyment. Most vintage trailer purchasers are looking for that “classic” Airstream design and style.
If you want to check out a really cool site with great pictures of restored Airstreams then go here Vintage Trailering. He restores and sells Airstream trailers and also he can do appraisals for you.
All content on UsedAirstream.com is copyrighted and enforced! © 2009