How much does it cost to renovate a vintage Airstream?

October 2, 2016 — 4 Comments

It costs more than you think… that’s usually the answer I’ll give to anyone who asks how much it costs to renovate a vintage Airstream. Just like any home renovation, there are lots of surprises and challenges you’ll face along the way.

The value of a vintage Airstream is a little counter-intuitive as the older and smaller they are, the more expensive they can be to purchase. I spent a few months searching around on Craigslist, eBay and Airstream Classifieds and found it to be true. The 1950’s and 1960’s trailers in the 18-22ft range are usually right in the sweet spot and that’s why I got excited when I found a 1966 Airstream Globetrotter 20ft trailer for $7,000.

We drove two hours to Palestine, Texas to take a look at it, but we already had the cash in hand as I was pretty confident it was a good deal (and I’m impulsive). The sellers had owned it for over 25 years, and while not at all updated and not too clean, the bones were still in pretty good shape.

I had no idea what I was doing besides what I researched to look for when buying an old Airstream – obvious issues like soft sub-floors, rotted interior, etc – but it didn’t stop us from a $6,000 cash offer which they happily accepted. That’s when “Penny Lane” became our trailer.


Time to renovate

My original estimate on our Airstream renovation was around $6,000, which would double our purchase price and leave us with $12,000 total invested. I was wrong.

I knew we’d have to replace all of the mechanicals, but didn’t realize how much everything would cost. The only things we really kept were the oven and the original cabinets, but we spent a lot of time painting and redoing the cabinets. You can find all of the pictures and the full renovation story here.

Our total Airstream renovation costs are $12,057, which more than doubled our original purchase price and gets us to $18,057 invested in Penny Lane. The cost overruns came from a combination of big things costing more than I expected ($1,100 to install the AC) and many, many small purchases I didn’t think about. The tile for our bathroom remodel alone was over $900 when including the silicone caulk and grout.

There were too many trips to Home Depot and visits from the Amazon ferry to keep up with, but I guess that’s what happens when you’re remodeling a tiny house.

Here’s an overview of our costs by category:

Here's an overview of our total renovation costs

The biggest costs were the new appliances and new plumbing systems (all new tanks), but the surprising large category was “Interior” which became a catch all for things like new lights, countertops, supplies and many other things. We did all of the work ourselves except install the axle and air conditioner, so it would have been much higher if this was totally outsourced… I’m thinking in the range of $15k-$25k total. Just remember, I worked on it full time for nearly three months and still didn’t have it fully ready.

The last big thing we have left is to polish the exterior. I’ve spent approximately 20hrs so far, but total I’ll probably spent over 200 hrs. From what I’ve researched, estimates for professional polishing can easily top $10,000.

In the end, I’m excited about our end product and very proud of our work. We took a year off work and traveled around North America – 40,000 miles total with only minor issues to fix here and there! I’m not sure if I’d ever do it again or recommend anyone else to do it unless they’re a little bit crazy, but it was worth it!


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4 responses to How much does it cost to renovate a vintage Airstream?

  1. Doug, your normal friend October 4, 2016 at 11:07 am

    You guys are effying nuts!!!

    You’re like the married version of Chris McCandless.

    I’m going to refer to you only as the Oklahoma Supertramps.

    P.S. Good luck and don’t get killed by a Bear.

  2. Wow sounds like a ton of work and loads of money. But it’s that way with any remodel/renovation. ..takes 2or3 times longer than anticipated to do and costs that much more too. Im sure it looks spectacular and you’ll get lots of looks driving down the road. 🙂

  3. Buying it already done would have probably cost you double. As a person that is looking for a travel trailer now, I can say that having a custom, vintage 20′ trailer that is exactly as you want it for around 20 grand is still a good deal. And you have a great story to tell at the campground now instead of how well or poorly you did in negotiating your financing at Campers R Us. Enjoy!

    • Great point, Chris. We toured the Airstream factory and I nearly cried when I thought about what we went through the last three months when rebuilding this thing!!

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