Follow Mike and others as they share some RV experiences, tips and advice targeted towards baby boomers.

The Silver Hornet (our vintage Airstream Motorhome)

- Friday, March 26, 2010

Sometimes a small dream gets bigger than you can manage.  Recently, I had a small dream to refurbish and restore a vintage motor coach, so I went with my gut feeling and put down the purchase price on a 1984  AirStream 310 Limited motorhome.  The previous owner assured me that  "everything works".  So I drove this 31 foot Aluminum motorhome from Amarillo to Lubbock to begin the restoration process.  After checking prices with the local dealers I found that shop labor goes at about $100 per hour.  At that rate, the restoration is definitely going to be a "do it yourself" operation.  After all, I am handy with tools, and have done more than my share of home repairs, and it couldn't be more difficult than home repair could it? Now there is a question that deserves an answer.  Answers are sometimes slow in coming, it seems.

As I embarked on the project, I began to be overwhelmed by the number of items needing attention.  After 24 hours of trying to revive it, I  decided the refrigerator was not going to function as intended.  Strike one. Another 3 or 4 hours of testing proved the 25 year old furnace was dead also.  Strike Two.  Another hour or two of testing convinced me that the water heater needed serious attention.  Strike  Three.  The previous owner wasn't just exactly truthful about these appliances.  After a telephone call to the previous owner, I was informed that  these appliances were working when they used it last.  That was 3 years ago.  Somehow, that was not in the explanation "everything works".

Purchase price is the dues you pay to get into Vintage Restoration.  They don't tell you that, but that is the truth of the matter.  To be active in Vintage Restoration, it takes a considerable amount of  money for parts and repairs you are not equipped to perform, as well  as money for repairs you can do yourself.  Spending $1000 a day seems to be the norm in vintage restoration.  As I dug deeper into my aluminum skinned repair bill, I decided I was looking to make up for 20 years of neglect by the previous owner.

TLC is cheap if you do it on a daily basis, but to make up for 20 years of neglect in a few weeks gets quite expensive.  Remember the refrigerator and furnace?  Purchase price for these two items alone was well over $3000.  This did not count labor to install the appliances.  After some consideration, I knew there had to be a better way.

This is the information age.  Where was the information to help me?  In visiting with another AirStream owner, he mentioned that I might  check out the AirStream Forum.  Sure enough, I got on the forum and obtained info on a discount RV parts supply.  Suddenly, $3000 turned to $1800 for the furnace and refrigerator from the new source.  Yes these were brand new appliances just like the dealer offered.  I had to wait for them to come by truck, but I was not in that big of a hurry, considering price.  Needless to say, the forum  was my new best friend.  I have received very valuable information from members of the forum, and info I could not get anywhere else.

Back to the Vintage project.  By now, I decided it needed a name.  In  view of how things have been going I think I will call it "The Silver Hornet".  Remember Inspector Clouseau's car in the Pink Panther movie.  Slam the door, the hood fell off.  Slam the hood, the door fell in the street.  That seems to be the case here.  Fix one thing, another breaks.  For several weeks that's how it's been going.  For instance, I found evidence of a water leak which I repaired.  Then I looked at the back side of the carpet and found mildew and mold. Out  with the bad carpet, now to lay a new tile floor.  While laying the tile floor, I find defects in original manufacture where sealing was not applied, so all openings around were checked for proper sealing.  While checking the sealing, I found that there was a lot of weatherstrip  that needed replacing too.  And the beat goes on.

I  was checking weatherstrip around the door and found I had a tailpipe with holes in it.  Carbon monoxide and motorhomes don't go together so I took the Silver Hornet to the muffler shop to replace the bad  tailpipe.  Four hours and $700 later, I left the muffler shop with 2  new mufflers, 2 new tailpipes and an exhaust pipe repair.  So much for the leaking tailpipe.  After 4 weeks of this kind of fun, I think  I am about ready to take the Silver Hornet on a 300 mile Shake Down Run.  Not So!  Suddenly, an engine oil leak at the flex cooler line appears and this takes another $200 and three hours delay on the  Shake Down Cruise.  I tried for 3 hours to remove the lines and  decided to let a good reputable shop do this.  The cooler lines are not available from Chevrolet, so we have to have the lines made up at a hose shop.  I suppose if it was easy everyone would be doing restorations.

We take off on the shake down cruise and suddenly we are bucking a 30 MPH head wind.  Well, there goes the fuel mileage.  No oil leaks.  No overheating. No big problems of any nature.  The only real problem is wheel balance on the right side.  There is light at the end of the tunnel!!!  Maybe Vintage Restoration is a possibility. Take a look at some of our Silver Hornet photos here.

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