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Vintage trailer projects

Since I wrote that I was buying the 1953 Flying Cloud, I’ve received a number of comments from friends about the wisdom of my choice. A few samples:

Tim Shephard of The Vintage Airstream Podcast: Well, you have blown all hope that you were my *level headed* AS buddy.

J. Rick Cipot, contributor to Airstream Life: That is awsome! What a fantastic find. Do you get to keep all the clutter too? It looks like everything is there. This is museum quality stuff. I hate you!

Dicky Riegel, group VP of Thor: Cool trailer, and I always love seeing the California trailers with the vertical front and rear. So different from my trailer, yet still the same lineage.

Fred Coldwell, vintage Airstream historian: …check closely around both wheel wells even if you have to move a bunch of junk to see back there …. and check the frame outriggers at each end of each wheel well for rust and some disintegration. Good luck!

You get the idea. Everyone has a different perspective on it, but in the end we are all Airstream nuts.

Evaluating this trailer’s condition made me think about the classes of vintage trailer projects that we commonly see. Normally, people either look at trailers as “poor, fair, good, very good, excellent,” or they just look at the polish and figure it must be good if it’s shiny. I have come up with the following classification system to better rate vintage projects:

Parts trailer: Less than 30% of the trailer remains in restorable condition. A few random parts are usable. Body is heavily damaged. Appliances, furniture, running gear and accessories mostly damaged beyond economic repair or missing. OR, body severely damaged (as in an accident) and only interior parts remain.

Shell: Like the parts trailer, the parts are gone. But the body is very good. Use it as the basis for a custom trailer project (as in Project Vintage Lightning). Plan on expending serious money, since you’re building a new trailer with this type of project.

Refurbishment trailer: Body is lightly to moderately damaged, but 30-70% of the major components need replacement. Floor rot is present. This is the most common vintage project trailer I see, ideal for the “makeover” type of refurbishment, where the interior modified with modern parts and/or new floorplan.

Restoration trailer: Light damage is acceptable to all components, but less than 30% is destroyed, missing, heavily modified, or in need of replacement. There may be limited floor rot but leaks have not severely damaged the furniture. These trailers are fairly rare, especially in the 1950s and early 60s, since few have managed to last through the decades without major accidents or leaks. These are great candidates to be brought back to original condition.

Survivor: The rarest type of trailer. These need less than 20% of their parts refurbished. Few owner modifications have been done. Nearly all of the components are in good condition and need only light clean-up or maintenance. These are excellent candidates for museum pieces, but usually only can be found when the trailer has been stored out of the weather for many years, or in a dry climate.


The 1953 Flying Cloud I bought falls somewhere in the upper end of the “restoration trailer” category. It’s about 90% original but one piece of furniture is missing and it has known floor rot. All of the appliances are there but all need clean-up and maintenance. The body has several owner modifications which need to be un-done, and there are several body panels which require replacement.

The classification system above refers only to trailers in “as found” condition. Trailers that have been “restored” by a modern owner need their own classification system, because there are a wide range of restorations going on. I’ll talk about those tomorrow.

Today we are heading out to I-95 for what may be a dull day of driving. But we’re in search of warmer weather, and no doubt some small adventures will come our way today!

31 Responses to “Vintage trailer projects”

  1. Terry Says:

    Rich, it was sunny and 85 here today. It is supposed to rain Saturday (maybe), and be slightly cooler and windier Sunday and Monday, and warming up again on Tuesday. We’ll keep some Halloween treats for Emma, in case you should get the mad urge to drive several hundred miles further South than you had planned. 🙂
    30 amp electric (for the air conditioner) and city water are available.