A featured post from my husband Nick’s blog Steel Cedar Workshop
OUR DIY PROJECT
Last March in 2016, my wife and I decided to look for a vintage Airstream trailer to DIY renovate/restore/rehab… We used our tax refund and some savings to purchase and renovate a 1978 Airstream Sovereign 31′ Land Yacht.
Before purchasing we researched different models, years, floor plans to determine what we needed as a family of four (with plans to use it not only for vacations but we planned to use it as temporary lodging while we house-hunted after moving from one duty station to the next). With that in mind, we needed to have enough space to live comfortably for extended periods and not go mad, having no elbow room.
We measured and taped a few different length options after figuring out that we would need a minimum of a 25 ft. trailer. We tried out the 25 ft. Trade Wind, the 28 ft. Ambassador, and the 31 ft. Sovereign Land Yacht. We had already decided not to look at the longer 34 ft. Excella, 3 axle model for three reasons:
- it was too heavy for our truck to haul safely, make sure you determine the tow capacity of your tow vehicle so you know your limitations
- more major parts = more cost to replace or repair
- they were plagued with rear end separation or sag – which means that there is so much weight behind the axles that the back-end would sag, bend, and require extensive repairs
We stood in our living room and measured 24 ft. (minus about 4-5 ft. to account for tongue and bumper) to get a feel for the space (along with marking out basic layouts that we looked up from Airstream’s floor plans on google). That was really tight for us, so we moved on to the Ambassador which seemed much better – the extra space may not seem like a lot at a quick glance but it is a huge deal when you are dealing with such limited space. We agreed that the Ambassador was going to be part of our search. We also taped off the size of the Sovereign and after making sure our truck could handle towing it, we agreed to add this model to our search.
With our narrowed down specifications on size, we quickly found a number of available models, ranging across the decades, but after researching the pros and cons that vary with over the decades and considering the issues they had, we knew we wanted a late 70’s model.
Here are some amazing resources to guide you in finding your Airstream:
- This article from Airstream Central and this article from Vintage Airstream are the two best resources on the matter of common issues related to decades of vintage Airstream trailers.
- This article from Hofmann Architecture is another great resource on the history of Airstream design since inception and they provide floor plans to give you an idea of what to expect with each model.
- This archive document from Airstream provides the entire fleet of 1978’s specs. You can look up other years from their Main Archive.
- NADA’s Guide on 1970 Airstream Prices, Values and Specs is a helpful tool to give you an idea of what price-points you should have in mind when searching for and for when you make an offer (remember to look up specific models you might buy more thoroughly on seller sites like eBay, Craigslist, etc… to be sure you are getting a average and fair price based on actual condition.)
- Vintage Trailer Supply , Silver Trailer Supply (Airstream Supply) + Inland RV (where we purchased our axles from) are the best sites to verify costs of parts you will need to buy to repair and restore your Airstream.
- You should keep a list of repairs and cost estimates for each trailer you are seriously considering. My wife created some useful free printables on her site, RunsOnBlackCoffee here. This simple task will help you determine your total cost as well as calculate the value of the trailer compared to the seller’s asking price. We used these sites many times along with frequent trips to local hardware stores.
- We purchased from all of these companies as well as Amazon Prime . Our Prime Membership was worth every penny compared to paying shipping costs on many big ticket items at other retailers. They also beat prices on so many things we had to buy from toilets to furnaces to plumbing and a lot more. Basically if it’s not Airstream specific, check with them first.
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