RENOVATION TURNED RESTORATION!

Her gutted interior

When we initially decided to purchase an Airstream it was with the intention of doing a ‘renovation,’ not a ‘restoration.’

Just FYI: Renovation means giving a part of your ‘home’ a new or updated look. Restoration means making a structure look as good as new again.

-the internet
Caroline’s colorful wiring harness. We are going to keep the original wires.

After many, many hours of research and scouring the internet for a vintage Airstream that wasn’t a total pile of rubbish… we realized that there was really no way around doing a ‘shell off’ restoration if we planned to live in it full-time. Most of the 1960’s-1970’s Airstreams would absolutely need to be stripped down to the frame and built back up again.

Once we realized that and came to terms with it, it made searching much easier. The only stipulation we had was to find one that could be towed any distance so we could get her back to Elephant Butte, New Mexico (things are cheap there AND the weather is pretty dang perfect in the winter).

All the double pane windows bubble over time – all the smaller windows were taken out and cleaned. The big ones are next!

As it turned out, luck was on our side! Caroline had already been 95% ‘gutted.’ The furniture had already been removed, interior skins dissembled, insulation pulled out (mostly) AND the black tank disposed of (THANK GOD)! They took out all the small windows and cleaned them (but left me the big ones). He also took off some of the exterior and belly pans. Her wires were still intact and dangling – it was like a spider web of wires! AND to our amusement, the rear tail lights and blinkers still worked, 46 years later! Pretty incredible. The previous owner kept the interior skins so we could use them as templets for the new aluminum (again, THANK GOD!!!). He really did an awesome job taking her apart. We were really surprised he decided to sell – he had done all the dirty (and itchy) work! He even replaced the tires and repacked the bearings which made towing her 700+ miles a breeze! Overall, I think we got a great deal on my Sweet Caroline, even with her dings, dents and scuffs.

Apparently someone had tried to break in at some point. Not entirely sure what they were hoping to find…

My advice for anyone considering an older Airstream:

Plan from the beginning to do a compete restoration – frame & all. Have that in your head rather than a renovation if you’re considering full-time travel. If you want to park it and leave it, then maybe a shell-off restoration won’t be needed. Knowing from the beginning what this whole project entailed made the budget and timeline realistic. There still will be surprises, I’m sure. But we pretty much know we are going to spend thousands of dollars on this restoration and we are OK with that. Our expectations are where they need to be with something like this.

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