In Outside Interests 18, Rich Luhr—author of Airstream Life’s (Nearly) Complete Guide To Airstream Maintenance—helped readers with a sticky subject: polyurethane sealants. Cam M. dropped us a line.
“Excellent article about sealants,” Cam wrote. “One hurdle I have, not covered in your article, is whether the old sealant has to be removed, or in areas where looks don’t usually matter (such as the roof). Can you simply seal the cracks in the existing sealant?”
Glad you liked the article Cam! And sorry, but the short answer is that there are no shortcuts. Yes, you must remove all old sealant first—otherwise your new sealant may not provide a watertight bond, and the old stuff beneath can deteriorate the grip of the new. You’ll find yourself doing the job much more frequently if you don’t get down to metal first.
Shannon O. has a question on an entirely different topic.
“We want to buy an older Airstream that we can make the inside over to our own,” she wrote. “Is there a better year Airstream to look for over other years? Is there a good place to start looking? Thank you for your time and help.”
Happy to provide an answer, Shannon! All years of Airstreams are good for restoration, but there are certain considerations that might make one era better for your purposes.
For example, 1940s era Airstreams are rare, small, and utilize a “pipe frame” that can be difficult to restore. They didn’t come with amenities we take for granted today, such as waste water holding tanks, and many other elements must be modified or updated.
1950s and 1960s
In the 1950s larger and somewhat more sophisticated trailers were available, but good restorable examples can be hard to find—and they still didn’t have holding tanks. The windows from this decade are famously difficult to restore, too. In the late 1950s and 1960s black water tanks began to appear, and trailers from this era are considered very desirable, so prices can be high.
1970s Airstreams are often more cost-effective, and after 1974 they started to get gray water holding tanks (albeit small ones). In this era there were very few short trailers made, so mostly you’ll find 26-footers and longer.
The 1980s era is not considered very “vintage” by some people but you should take a look anyway, because they are at their price nadir right now and bargains can be found. 1990s and later trailers are commonplace, and you can get anything from a 16-footer to a 34-footer. Their relatively uninteresting interiors are generally ripe for a major facelift too, so you won’t have any guilt over transforming an “original” interior.
Far more important than the model year, however, is the condition of the trailer. Watch out for money pits. An Airstream shell that has no interior, no windows, dents, and a rotten wood floor is not a good candidate for restoration, it’s scrap metal.
Buy something that is at least intact, meaning with no major body damage, still sealed against the elements, and complete with all the doors and windows. If you don’t care about the interior because you’re going to strip it out and replace it anyway, make sure the structure underneath is still viable. Don’t trust the seller on this—check it out yourself or find someone to check it out for you.
You can find Airstreams in many places. Craigslist, online forums, RV “trader” websites, and through word of mouth (especially through the Airstream club WBCCI). Be wary of scams: never put down money on a trailer you haven’t personally touched and inspected. Anyone who asks you to pay through an online escrow service or via money order is trying to rip you off.
If you want to go camping in the next year, or you have a tighter budget, or you are clueless about anything mechanical—buy a nice used Airstream that someone has recently camped in. There are plenty of good ones on the market, and Airstream keeps making more of them.
Finally, keep in mind that Airstreams are not rare, no matter what sellers will claim. Look around, learn to inspect, and be prepared to travel a little to find the right base for your project. If you are patient and pay attention, the ideal Airstream will find you eventually.
Got a tough question about Airstreaming and need a reliable answer? Drop a line to firstname.lastname@example.org and let us know what you’d like us to cover in future editions of Outside Interests. Your RV news for the Airstream community and photos are always welcome, too.