Q & A: Buying a vintage camper and where to start?

I’m often asked where to start when considering buying a vintage camper. I’m going to answer this in a way that presents questions for you to consider before buying your first vintage trailer. This isn’t about what to look for in a specific trailer but more about figuring out just what you want before you start searching for one to buy. So here are questions to ask yourself that will help you narrow your search and get you focused on just what you want out of a vintage trailer. Feel free to print this out and answer these for your own use.

1. What size? When deciding what length is best there are a few things to consider; First off can your vehicle safely tow it? For example if your vehicle is rated to tow up to 5,000 lbs, I would highly recommend you stay well under that even though the tow capacity is higher. Towing the maximum size trailer for your tow vehicle can be hard on the vehicle over time. Another question to ask yourself is; Is the camper big enough to sleep the number of people you need it to sleep? Do you prefer tiny and cozy or would you rather have some room to stretch out? Keep in mind that the larger and heavier the trailer, the more costly it will be to tow considering what today’s gas prices are. Also the larger the trailer, the more maintenance it will require. Larger trailers have more roof vents (that can leak if not properly sealed), more surface skin (think of polishing if it’s an Airstream) and they usually have more systems to be maintained such as plumbed bathrooms, holding tanks, etc.,

2. Age? Are you looking for one of a certain era such as the 50′s or 60′s or would you consider one in the 70′s if it fit your needs? Do you want a canned ham shaped one or would you consider other shapes?

3. What brand? Is there a brand that just makes you swoon? Do you have your heart set on a Airstream or Shasta for example? If so, focus your search on the brand that you REALLY want. I see a lot of people get impatient and buy something else, only to find that it’s truly not their hearts desire. I’m guilty of this myself! Check out my Pinterest board for some vintage trailer eye candy and perhaps you’ll see one that makes your heart flutter!

4. Restored, Refurbished or Project? How much work are you willing to put into one? Do you have the skills and/or the means to hire someone to do restoration work on a trailer? Or are you looking for one that is either fully restored or refurbished and camp ready? Keep in mind there is a difference between fully restored and refurbished. Restored means that it’s been completely rebuilt and is in like new condition. Refurbished has a wider spectrum of meaning and could mean things as simply as new paint, new floor and things like new cushions. Knowing the difference is important.

5. Original or Not? Are you looking for a trailer that is all original? Do you want the warm birch interior or would you consider one that has been painted inside? Keep in mind that once a trailer interior has been painted, it would take a lot of work to bring it back to original if that is what you are wanting. If you ever decide to resale the trailer at some point it’s originality (or not) will have an impact on the resale value. However, don’t let exterior paint colors scare you off from buying a specific trailer. Exterior paint can always be changed and many people actually paint them themselves using various methods with pretty good results.

6. Layout? What type of layout do you prefer? ie; front kitchen, rear kitchen, rear bath, rear bed, overhead bunk, bump out with a bed (such as the Shasta Astrodome), mid door entry, rear door entry, full dinette, gaucho with fold out tables? These are just a few of the various layout options out there. Look at a lot of vintage trailer interiors before deciding the layout you like best. A great place to do that is to attend an open house at a vintage trailer rally such as those put on by Tin Can Tourist where you can tour the inside of a good number of trailers.

7. Cost? How much are you willing to spend? Set your budget and try and stick to it. However, be realistic as well. Many of the more sought after brands such as Airstreams, Shasta’s and vintage trailers of the 1950′s era will command higher prices (depending on condition of course). Also smaller vintage trailers seem to be more popular than the larger ones and thus can be more expensive. A fully restored trailer will cost more upfront but likely save you more in the long run. A vintage camper needing restoration can be had for a lot less but will require money and time to get it camp ready. Decide which route is best for you. Another point to keep in mind is that there are likely things you will need to buy for the trailer once you take possession of it (or prior) like tires, awning, fabric for new cushions, curtains, etc., These things can all add up. But I will say there is nothing more fun that decorating your own little piece of happiness on wheels (OK, I had to throw in my catch phase somewhere (:).

8. Title or Bill of Sale?
I bring this question up because it’s important for you to research your state requirements for obtaining a title. In some states the process is fairly easy if you buy a trailer that only has a bill of sale, while in other states it can prove to be very challenging. So find out ahead of time what the requirements are in your state before buying a trailer that is sold with only a bill of sale. Of course if it has a title then you are in much better shape and your experience at your local Secretary of State will be much more pleasant and painless.

9. Got Storage? Do you have a place to store the trailer during the off season? If you live in a subdivision with a HOA, do they allow RV’s and campers to be parked in the driveway? Keep in mind that most trailers, with the exception of a few like teardrops, Shasta LoFlyte’s and a few others, are too tall to fit into a standard garage.

10. Specific Requirements? For some people a self-contained camper is a must. This means they have at minimum; a fully functioning bathroom and sometimes a shower. Can you live with just having a closet that you can use for a porta-potty? Keep in mind that a lot of the smaller trailers did not have bathrooms, so having to have a bathroom will reduce your options if you are looking for something small and cute. What about air conditioning? Do you live in a climate where having A/C is a must?

I hope that these questions will prove helpful to you as you start your search for future vintage camper!

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Comments

  1. I also write a lot about vintage trailers and you tips are right on! I prefer my trailers original and have a 1959 Dalton, a 1973 Perris Pacer and an original teardrop called the “Snooze Box”.

  2. Charlene Miller says:

    I am falling in love with these trailers since seeing them at Round Top,TExas and trying to decide if I would use it enough to buy one. This was so helpful and pratical. Thanks.

  3. I can’t help myself from falling in love with these little trailers and the idea of tootling around America with one having a ball wherever I go. Thank you for sharing this lovely site and your Pinterest page!

  4. ann nelson says:

    I want one. Not picky or knowledgable but would like to really be able to tow it around palces not leave in one spot. Where do I start looking? Are there camp grounds that cater to these and places where a lot of cute ones are parked?

    It would be fun to have it someplace where other people shared the interest.

    Thank you,

    Ann

    • Hi Ann,

      I was in your shoes last summer. Went online, joined some trailer forums, found out where trailer rallies were going to be held and went to two. This site has a page of them here: http://littlevintagetrailer.com/category/events/rallys/

      It was so neat to see the vintage trailers in person. Their owners are the nicest people and were only to happy to encourage attendees to step in side and answer any questions I had. In the end I designed what I wanted and am having it built because I needed something really lightweight because my car is only rated to two 1000 lbs. My trailer is going to be just over 500 lbs before I add my belonging which shouldn’t weight more than 100 lbs. I’ll be driving cross country to pick it up next month :D

  5. Shirley Guenter says:

    Is a 1976 Holiday Rambler considered a “Vintage” Camper? Love Love Love the little Shastas and those like them but worried that they could be just a tad to small for my sister and I with our husbands occasionally in tow!

    We did however find a nice Rambler and was wondering if it qualifies as vintage when tooling around the U.S. and maybe joining in on the fun!

    Thanks
    Shirley

    • Shirley,

      I would consider a 76 Rambler in the vintage category. Also Holiday Ramblers are great trailers!

    • Stephen Moss says:

      I live fulltime in a Vintage 1986 32′ Holiday Rambler Imperial and love it. I’m a member of Vintage Holiday Rambler Owners on Facebook. Year old and over 300 members and growing everyday. I would recommend an older Holiday Rambler to anyone. 87 and older Holiday Ramblers are considered Vintage.

  6. I am just discovering the vintage camping fun. I am looking for one small enough to tow but big enough to include a bathroom. That is a must for health reasons….any good suggestions? I won’t be actually buying for a little while…I want to make sure I have fully researched this. Thanks so much.

    Lola

    • Hi Lola, Most small trailers such as 10-11 footers won’t have a bathroom. There are a few I’ve seen that are small that have bathrooms such as Shasta’s. Generally, when you get into the 15-16 ft range there is a higher chance of more having a bathroom. With that said, many of us with tiny trailers (that are lighter and better on gas mileage) use a luggable loo or port-a-potty. So if you are able to use either of those it’s a good alternative. The luggable loo is basically a 5 gallon bucket with a toilet seat on it. You line it with plastic bags and fill the bottom with a bit of kitty litter. Works great! I always buy the scented Glad bags from the grocery store. Though that’s not necessary. Good luck in your search and I’m sure you’ll find just the right one!

  7. Thanks for sharing the info.. My wife and I just resently picked up a (freebie)15′ 66 Aristocrat Lo-Liner and was a perfect fit for us.. The only downfall is that it does not have a restroom but we manage with a pop-up shower (dressing room)and luggable loo. I will say that the trailer need a little TLC but for the price, I or we can’t complain..
    This is our second vintage trailer that we have owned and we prefer a vintage trailer over an RV anytime.. Less maintaining (cost effective) compared to an RV and we personally like the attention they draw when people see them and approach them.. And the one thing that I like also is the registration fees that we pay for our trailer is once every 5yrs. Got to love that.!!!
    Thanks for the info again..
    Everyone enjoy the open road and happy and safe camping.

    RGM

  8. Cheryl Cavaness says:

    Love the info here! I’m thinking of purchasing a vintage camper to make myself an outside getaway, all girly and such! I love so many styles and want to decorate this myself but need it to be basically sturdy and not falling apart. This won’t be hauled around once I get it to my property. Any ideas where to start looking? I do need to bargain shop.
    Thank you

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  2. [...] decide to purchase a fixer upper, but I like to think we can do it. See a great article/post here about whether or not purchasing a vintage trailer is right for [...]

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