This Is That “Before” Post: I Bought a Vintage Airstream to Renovate

This Is That “Before” Post: I Bought a Vintage Airstream to Renovate

I’ll fully admit I have a (borderline unhealthy?) addiction to rescuing both animals and cool old things that need some love.

My rescued animals are my children. For a short time, I had 5 dogs at once. 😬I just have a hard time saying no to helping one in need.

I also spent about two years renovating my badly-outdated condo, followed shortly thereafter by an overhaul of most of the systems and finishes in my 1920’s Craftsman-style home. As a kid, my parents were almost always DIY-ing something or other around the house, and I was usually right there helping. I suppose it’s just in my soul at this point.

But why an RV?

Wanderlust, coupled with craving a method for easier travel with dogs, made an RV appear to be the “logical” next challenge in my home renovation adventures.

There is, however, the tiny fact that I’m a first-time RV owner. I’ve never even slept in one, unless you count a travel trailer mounted on blocks that I rented for a weekend with friends one time, at an amusement park’s campground.

A well-timed—and possibly slightly-inebriated—Craigslist search for “travel trailer” one night led to purchasing a truck, then a travel trailer purchase shortly thereafter, based on love at first sight. Thus began my plunge into first-time money pit RV renovation and ownership!

What many might call a “disaster” I dubbed a “fixer-upper”, and the ultimate blank slate to build the right trailer for my travel needs. I’m either a glutton for punishment or an ambitious dreamer—or both, depending on the day.

Behold, the 1965 26-foot Airstream Overlander International:

The original floor plan of our 1965 Airstream Overlander International
The original floor plan of my 1965 Airstream Overlander International, from the Airstream sales brochure
The original exterior model number plaque. It was said they were so lightweight you could pull them with a bicycle!

The sellers were a camping enthusiast couple who’d bought it three years prior to restore themselves, but just had too many other projects going on. Despite having already disassembled most of the interior, they decided to pass it on to someone with more time. I couldn’t have been more thankful to be that lucky recipient!

Partially gutted already, but the cabinet wood was disassembled carefully for reuse ♥

I lovingly “adopted” it for a very reasonable price and was given not only the original 1965 paperwork for the trailer (title, owner’s manual, warranty certificate, appliances’ manuals, and handwritten notes and “tips” from past owners), but thankfully all the cabinets and other parts that had already been removed too.

If it’s not obvious from the photos yet, it’s in need of a total stripping down and interior rebuild. The trailer seems to have been smoked in—the inner walls are stained with a sticky brown residue, so one can only assume that’s what it is—and it has extensive water damage from various leaks and being left open to the elements, but the frame and body condition seem pretty decent.

It should also be possible to reuse much of the solid mahogany wood cabinetry after a good cleaning. You certainly don’t see that quality in many RVs anymore!

These gorgeous original solid mahogany cabinets will be repurposed as much as possible!

The bad news is that the floor is rotted all the way through just inside the entry door, likely from the leaky door gasket that looks like it hasn’t been replaced since ’65. The rear bathroom’s water damage is even worse, leaving a lot of the floor totally rotted away from leaks in the plumbing and rear access/storage hatch.

Watch your step (and maybe get your tetanus booster while you’re at it)!

Very little was ever modified in this trailer, though, which is rare in a vintage Airstream. No new paint, flooring, or appliances, from the looks of it. Demolition should be easier because of that, and most of the original fixtures are still in place for possible re-use.

The heavy old oven stays up front to keep the tongue from lifting off the ground, now that everything in the front has been removed! I also put a heavy punching bag on the tongue. 😆
A time capsule of 1960’s RV bathroom plumbing – a cigarette lighter next to the toilet, an actual bath tub, and a sink that drains directly into the tub! That’s the behemoth of a water heater there to the right.

There’s a few big dents to the front end corners that can hopefully be smoothed out after the inner walls are taken out, some missing exterior lights and covers (that I plan to replace with LEDs), a broken window (all the glass needs replaced anyway), many scratches, a rusted tongue, step, and bumper, and a badly peeling clear-coat that will need to be stripped off. The plan is to polish the outside to a nearly mirror finish.

I wouldn’t advise putting your weight on that step if you value your life.
Just a little crinkly around the edges – where’s the rolling pin?
Have these tires ever been replaced?? 😱It’s amazing we got the trailer home in one piece driving on these.
Two different Wally Byam Caravan Club International numbers – 14982 and another I couldn’t quite be sure of, but looks like 13338

So what’s the next step now that this giant tin can is in my backyard getting weird looks from all the neighbors? 😄 Well, scouring the web obsessively trying to fill in any gaps in my DIY knowledge when it comes to the differences between renovating houses and travel trailers. And I can’t wait to get started doing some demo – removing the rest of the interior fixtures, ripping up flooring, and removing the inside aluminum wall skins.

I’ll try to post renovation pictures and accompanying narrative as I go, but since this is a hobby when I’m not already working full-time, they may be a bit intermittent. I fully anticipate begging for help from family and friends now and then, and here’s hoping it will be as hugely rewarding an experience as my home renovations have been. Hopefully even more so, because it represents the freedom to travel more with many of the comforts of home!

And so the adventure begins..


1 Comment

  1. May 22, 2019 / 11:58 am

    I like that you mentioned that you had such a good experience renovating your own home and decided to take on the next project of renovating your airstream. I would imagine that seeing your camper get a whole new transformation would be rewarding and am interested in renovating one myself. I will have to look into used airstreams that would be perfect for remodeling into my dream camper!

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