The four steps of restoring a vintage RV are: “Choosing, Inspecting, Recovering, Restoring,” according to Tim Shephard, author of the how-to/memoir “Restoring a Dream: My Journey Restoring a Vintage Airstream” and creator of the highly-rated The Vintage Airstream Podcast.
– Choosing covers how to avoid the “Polished Turd,” searching by era, where to find an Airstream, and what it should it cost. “Airstream has been in business for nearly 80 years, there are many trailers out there from which to choose, so narrow your search by era,” advises Shephard. “The early 60’s called to me. It included real wood interiors, minimum custom parts and a strong monocoque exterior.”
– Inspecting goes over evaluating skin condition, assessing appliances, and learning about axles. “It is important to understand exactly the extent to which you are getting involved,” says Shephard.
With his 1960 Ambassador, he knew that he would be doing a full restoration. “In my case, it was all about attitude,” he says. “Knowing from the start that I was going to be doing whatever is needed saved a lot of heartache.”
– Recovering talks about prepping for the pick up and getting it roadworthy. “Bringing the trailer home safely is the biggest first step on your restoration journey,” says Shephard. His 1960 Airstream was 2,400 miles from home when he found it on eBay, therefore he went prepared with four new tires. Once there, he had the brakes and lights checked. “It’s important to have all the safety components working.”
– Restoration deals with such topics as planning, common problems, frame issues, weatherproofing, wiring and woodwork, plumbing and tanks, replacing appliances, and how to polish. “With the Airstream design, a solid frame, subfloor and shell means you will have a strong foundation for years to come,” says Shephard.
Once structural repairs are complete, “it is time to start with the fun stuff.” He installed new marmoleum flooring, appliances and soft goods. Lighting fixtures were restored and holding tanks were upgraded and replaced. The trailer is in better shape now than when it rolled off the assembly line 53 years ago.
“When people see our highly polished 1960 Airstream,” says Shephard, “they can’t help but smile. It may bring out a childhood memory or a sense of freedom the trailer symbolizes. Whatever it is, we always get friendly honks and thumbs up while driving the highways of America.”
Photos: (Top) Tim Shepard’s restored 1960 Ambassador Airstream includes original twin bed design with custom pillows to match the curtains. To achieve the family’s required sleeping for five, they designed and built a bunk bed based on an option that was available in 1960.
(Middle) Close-up of twin-bed light and shelf in the 1960 Ambassador Airstream. Each light fixture in the trailer has two power sources, 12v and 120v, as part of the International trim package of 1960.
(Bottom) The kitchen with all new appliances, marmoleum flooring throughout, and custom curtains. Shepard’s wife, Debra, chose quality sunbrella fabric for the curtains to match the color of the highly durable natural flooring. (Photos courtesy of Tim Shephard)