What is the very first step in rehabbing a vintage Airstream? Finding the right camper! How do you do that? You will find that locating the “perfect” vintage camper is somewhat of a unicorn. You can picture the magical camper. It's in great shape, needs minimal work, no exterior damage, shiny skin, super cool retro interior and was taken care of pristinely by a very loving family. But the reality is that you are more likely to find a camper out in a field that has been sitting for decades and is currently serving as a home for a family of destructive rodents.
Vintage campers are, well, old. That’s precisely why they are cool. But that is also why they have to be rehabbed or renovated. Because along with that cool vintage vibe, comes lots of problems and issues that will have to be rebuilt or modernized. I have read several times that you will NOT find a camper 40+ years old that will not need lots (and LOTS and LOTS) of work. Even campers in great shape will need some work. Embrace this. But if you are anything like us, that process of making it "new" again is what excites you. And the whole reason you are even taking on this project is so that you can rehab it and make it your own, right?
Here are some ideas and resources you can use to help you find a camper that will work for you!
Craigslist.org is how I found our Airstream (within 30 miles of our home) after searching for YEARS. (You can read about that here.) This method is pretty much the best way to search around the United States. You can click on different regions close to you and search Airstream (or camper). You can also use apps like CraigslistPro. In this app, you can set up saved searches and get an alert when something new matches your search query.
TIP: If you are looking for an Airstream, try phrases like air stream, silver camper, silver stream, silver streak and other phrases people might use to describe an Airstream. I have seen it happen several times where people are selling an Airstream and don’t even have the brand name listed or spelled correctly. You can view the listings under RVs to double check you aren’t overlooking a great camper that isn’t labeled correctly.
I love Airstreamclassifieds.com. I am still signed up to receive their daily emails that show a list of newly listed Airstreams on their site. I like to look and window shop and look for inspiration for our project. They are also a great resource to get familiar with the different types, models, lengths, price ranges, etc. You can use their advanced search to search in specific regions or with particular lengths or price ranges to see what is available.
TIP: Sign up for their daily email! All the newest Airstreams listed come straight to your email inbox!
RVTrader.com is a great way to search for campers of any kind, anywhere. Much like Airstreamclassifieds.com but with any make/model of a camper. If you aren’t looking for an Airstream, this would be the way to go. The majority of the campers on this site are newer but they do have some older campers if you search.
As always, BUYER BEWARE. If it sounds too good to be true, it probably is.
Check your local Airstream dealer’s website for trade-ins.
Many times with Airstreams, people trade up (either newer or larger). So sometimes your local dealer might have trade-ins. You can take some comfort in buying from the dealership because they will be able to service and check things out for you before you drive home. You may also speak with them in person and let them know what you are interested in purchasing!
Tell your friends and family you are looking!
EVERYONE around me knows that I am an Airstream enthusiast. Almost weekly I get a text/call/email telling me about an Airstream they saw or something they read or a cute home decor item they found. It’s like having my own little Airstream army.
**This is also how my brother, Nick, found his Airstream. A friend of mine had one to sell, so it worked out perfectly!
Watch for one everywhere you go!
The more you get serious, the more likely it is that you will see “field finds” just driving around your area. You may stumble across ones that are for sale, or you might just see something you like and stop and ask if it’s for sale. I think many people dream of fixing up a camper, but only a few have the time or dedication to see the job through leaving lots of campers sitting in people’s backyards.
Finding your vintage Airstream is a lot of hard work that will make you feel like a detective sleuthing the interwebs for a magical camper. You don’t have the advantage of just picking what you want on a lot. It’s more of a “take what you can get” approach but it can be fun too. Try to be patient and know that if you are anything like me, the right Airstream will eventually find YOU!