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!