This is an excerpt from my book – “Restoring a Dream”. Available on Amazon.
What Should it Cost?
The street price of vintage Airstreams can very greatly for any number of reasons. The price can be different just because of where the trailer is located in the country, like the East coast vs. the West coast. Other reasons may include the era of the trailer, or a perceived value added by the seller.
If a seller has put some work into the trailer they will want to recover their investment, so it may be better to keep looking for one that has not had any work done to it. This will eliminate any perceived added value, and you are in more control of the restoration. I know this sounds backwards, but you don’t know the quality of the work they’ve done, or the parts they’ve used.
Searching websites such as eBay and Craigslist to see what the average selling prices are for the model you’re considering will give you a ballpark idea. Of course, you will still need to do your own inspection.
A website called vintageairstream.com breaks vintage Airstreams into several categories to make it easier to get an idea on what the price should be for trailers in various conditions.
Vintageairstream.com classifies them as the following:
As-Found Condition: This trailer will require the most work. As-Found Condition may have many dents or punctures in the exterior skin, missing or broken vents and windows, bad electrical, and LP gas systems. A rotted subfloor will also be common. This trailer has not seen use in many years. It was likely left to rot in a field somewhere.
Average Condition: Is an older trailer that has very few or no dents and no punctures to the exterior skin. More than likely it is not polished. It should have all the original exterior vents covers, and working windows. Working appliances could be original, or properly replaced with newer models. There should also be a solid subfloor. Basically, the trailer should be in a working condition having seen regular use.
Restored Condition: This trailer will have been restored to original condition. Everything should work and look like it did when it was newer, and necessary updates for safety have been completed. In short, this trailer should be updated to have all systems working as original, but retain the original feeling of the trailer.
Renovated Condition: A renovated trailer is basically the same as the restored trailer where everything works. However, no requirement to keeping the trailer original was in mind. Newer technologies may be incorporated in plain view, which can include flat panel TV’s, computers, and changed layouts. These trailers have been heavily altered to the owners taste and may not be something anyone else would enjoy.
Lets follow a 60’s era Caravel through these steps to give you an idea of the costs involved. A Caravel in an As-Found Condition may be in the range of $2,000-$3,800. This same trailer ready to use in Average Condition would set you back $5,200?$8,900. Finally, the Restored Condition of this Caravel could run you somewhere between $12,900 and $17,800. Keep in mind that these are all examples from vintageairstream.com. Finding a properly restored Airstream available for sale would be a difficult task.
In my experience from producing the last seven years of theVAP, I believe the Restored Condition estimates to be quite low. I think that you should start by doubling their estimates.
When looking for a good restoration project trailer, I recommend looking for something in between the As-Found and Average Condition. The reason I say this is because you want to have a trailer with good aluminum skin, without punctures or large dents. On the flip side, you don’t want to pay more because things are working that you don’t want or need. Maybe the original refrigerator is working now, but you are likely going to need to replace it. The water heater might work for a while, like my Bowen, and then go out, so you’d need a new one. The point here is that you do not want to pay extra for things you won’t need in your restoration.