Is the restoration of a vintage Airstream on your bucket list? Bringing a neglected American icon back to life can be very rewarding. If you plan to do more than just redecorate a used trailer, what we learned while doing restoration of our 1961 Airstream (One-of-a-kind Golden Caravan model) will make your project go more smoothly. Completing a vintage Airstream restoration and joining the record level of RV owners in the USA is within your grasp!
We have restored and refurbished dozens of vintage trailers. We are not unfamiliar with repairing rotten wood, replacing damaged exterior panels, upgrading plumbing and electrical systems, or dealing with water damage.
Restoring or rebuilding a trailer “from the ground-up” is a different animal. Don’t be fooled by the pretty pictures on the internet. It is dirty, often challenging and frustrating, but very satisfying work.
1. Be Honest
What is the actual scope of the project? I am a visionary dreamer; I can see how the trailer will look finished before I hook it to my truck for the first time.
Our 1961 Airstream project was at first glance, thought to be a moderate sized project. I planned to repair some rotten wood, refinish the cabinetry and re-do the upholstery.
If I would have had a second opinion by a realist, I may have had a better idea of the true scope of the project. A spouse or a professional restorer can be this voice of reason. Our Airstream project ended up being a total gutting of the interior and rebuilding and replacing everything to look as it would have in the 1960s.
2. Ability or Budget
You will need a lot of one or both. A travel trailer has the same components as your home condensed into less than 200 square feet. Some working knowledge of plumbing, electrical, wood and metal work, or the budget to pay a professional will keep your project moving.
Fortunately, you have friends, YouTube and the Vintage Camper Trailers’ Boot Camp to help you when you meet challenges – and you will meet challenges! When creating your budget don’t forget hidden costs like shipping and mistakes that you will make that will have to be re-worked.
3. Have a Plan
Using a storyboard to focus your design elements will help you focus as you pick out paint colors, wood finishes and soft goods. You will be making decision on everything from the level of gloss on the wood to coordinating window coverings with your upholstery choices. You may have a theme, style or period that you are trying to create. Keeping your eye on the goal will help you make those incremental choices along the way.
4. Source Your Parts
Once it is go-time, get going. Accumulate your parts and materials as you find them. Nothing holds up a project like not having the materials you need, when you need them.
We knew which appliances we were going to use months before we needed them. Because of storage space, budget and second guessing my decisions, I didn’t order them until I “needed” them.
Unexpected availability issues and shipping times held up our progress on the cabinetry as we needed to fit the new appliances into the refurbished galley before being able to complete the cabinets. Specialized interior paint that had to be ordered from the Midwest cost more to ship by air in the winter to keep it from freezing.
5. Be Intentional
If you are like me, deadlines will help you focus. Touch your project daily or as often as possible to keep it moving forward. A stalled project is hard to restart. Doing even a little bit daily will reap more results than waiting until you have an entire weekend to dedicate to your end goal.
If all of this sounds like more than you are ready to tackle, new Airstreams are available with styling similar to what has made its silhouette synonymous with trailering since the 1950’s.
Explore the whole lineup on our travel trailer overview page. Or, view models side by side with our Compare Tool.