Now with two 1969 Airstream trailers and a 1/2 researched & carefully thought-out, 1/2 naive & boldly off-the-cuff plan to gut one of them for parts to use in restoring the other, I decided that it was time to call Colin Hyde Trailer Restorations in Plattsburgh, NY to figure out a scope of work, rough time frame & cost estimate. I’ve spoken to Colin a couple of times since I first bought the Safari in late 2011, and from those conversations I have learned quite a few of the initial steps in renovating a vintage Airstream. In the first of these, I’d gotten the wince-inducing news that based on the condition of the Safari, it was a candidate for an expensive shell-off renovation that could cost $15,000 – $25,000 at bare minimum. Yikes.
So it was with much more confidence that I called him today about replacing the axles & (“oh, by the way,”) inspecting the water seals & frame of the new-to-me Trade Wind that I bought last weekend. Colin called me back within a short time and we started putting together a list of parts, labor and costs, subject to change based on what we might find when we do an inspection of the trailer. I wasn’t concerned.
When we got to talking about the frame, however, he started describing the various processes & costs related to shell-off renovations. Eager to change the subject, I replied that I remembered much of this from an earlier discussion I’d had with him, but that I was hoping to avoid the significant price tag associated with this type of restoration by having purchased a trailer with a frame in much better condition. Colin’s tone quickly dipped a shade more serious, and I sensed trouble. He straightforwardly informed me that the 1969 models (considered part of the 70’s-era Airstreams), are part of a group known to have had a design flaw causing rust in the rear frame of the trailer. Which I also already knew… but somehow felt sure when I went and inspected this trailer it wouldn’t be the case here. Would it?
So the challenge now is that it wouldn’t really make sense to install axles (a necessary but reasonably priced improvement) until I’m aware of the condition of the frame. Because why install something you’ll just later take off and put back on again? And if the frame is indeed in need of a significant restoration, then I have to spend the $20,000 or so to restore it anyway (or do it myself somehow, or find someone who can do it with comparable skill for less money), and sooner rather than later, in order to start working on the sustainable aspects of the renovation. Because again, why install solar panels on top of a trailer if you’re going to remove the shell anytime soon? Or maybe I’ll have good fortune and the frame will be in excellent condition, needing some work, but nothing I can’t handle. We’ll have to see.
In the end, Colin & I agreed that I’ll be bringing the trailer up to him for an inspection in a couple of weeks, and we’ll go from there. Although he generously described a couple of ways I could check the condition of the trailer on my own, 1) the Trade Wind is still on the seller’s property, so no-can-do, and 2) it seems like a more economical use of time in this case to bring it straight to the expert, get a full inspection and learn something in the process while I get immediate feedback on the condition.
So here’s the $25,000 question: Would it have been better if I had simply spent the money on a down payment to replace the frame on the Safari I have? Or is it better in the long run – even if I do have to do work on the frame of the Trade Wind – that I’ve bought a second trailer in better condition and have all the parts I need for my “perfect” vintage Airstream?