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Restoring a Vintage Travel Trailer

Updated on October 2, 2016

Buying & Restoring a Vintage Shasta Travel Trailer

We've spent the last five years obsessed with finding, buying, updating, decorating and enjoying our "fleet" of vintage travel trailers; a 1963 Shasta Compact, a 1958 Shasta 16ft Travel Trailer, and a 1994 Ford Econoline Van and we want to share our tips and tricks.

As we became regular web camper research experts, we thought the best thing to do with all the great RV resources and advice we've received is share it here for future fanatics to refer to... and of course, for our own benefit when we start all over again with our next larger model (see below)!

Yes, its an addiction... and a fun one. Hop aboard for the Road Less Traveled...

A 1959 Shasta Airflyte Comes Home - Our Second Canned Ham Beauty (and third camper!)

1959 Shasta Airflyte comes home.
1959 Shasta Airflyte comes home.

Did I say that vintage campers can become an obsession? Not only did I say it; I've lived it. Here is vintage camper #3 in my fleet... a 1959 Shasta Airflyte renovated by some dear friends of ours... and pulled home by our "vintage" 1992 Econoline Conversion van "Elvis". Can't wait to start decorating! This one will be South of the Border "Boho."

Vintage Shasta Photos to Swoon over - Delightful Vintage Canned Ham Photo Links

I'm a sucker for a Shasta. To me they are the peak of vintage kitsch and charm. Beautiful wood interiors and a cute little logo-marked magazine rack. These are photos of my first Shasta, a 1964 14" Compact... watch out, they're collectible!

Click thumbnail to view full-size

Glamping - Inspiration for Your Upcoming Renovation - After Getting Down & Dirty you'll get to Glam it Up

This book has inspired many a foray into vintage camper renovation. It will help keep you going, longing for the days you'll be ready to brighten up the road with your newly glamped out camper. Inspiring and empowering... for every aspiring "Queen of the Road!"

Glamping with MaryJane: Glamour + Camping
Glamping with MaryJane: Glamour + Camping

The go-to guide for every aspiring Glamping Girl!


Other Web Sources for Vintage Travel Trailers - "Best of the web" for Campers

Ebay's not the only place to look of course. We found ours on in their Tin Can Classifieds (see below). We liked the lower-pressure option of classifieds vs. auction... keeps the competitive spirit in check! Happy Searching!

Vintage RVs for Sale
Vintage RVs for Sale

Questions to Ask when Buying a Vintage Camper

What to look for and avoid

If your timeline doesn't allow it, then here's a short list of what to look for when buying a vintage camper from an ad. When it comes to things that will need fixing, RV & Trailer shops may be of some help to you in repairing systems, but don't expect them to have an appreciation for vintage restoration. Their hourly rates are high and they only stock modern parts. If you want to keep things retro, find a retro shop or a craftsman who appreciates the historic integrity of your camper. Unless you have the skills yourself, its best to buy from a vintage fan who has spent hours as a labor of love.

Water damage: Water damage is a vintage camper's worst enemy. Normally coming in around vents and windows it can seep through the camper's 1.5" framing and do a lot of structural damage not apparent without removing the camper's skin. Obviously, the less damage the better. Ask; what was done to fix it? Ask if there are soft spots on the floor (these are harder to fix as they require removal of built in seating or cabinets).

Camper Tires: How old and weathered are they. If you have a long way to go its best to get new tires and get the bearings cleaned and repacked.

RV Titles: Is there a clear title or will it be a bill of sale only? Each state's DMV has different rules, make sure to check yours or you could use up a camping season getting a license plate.

Camper Towing & Hitch Weights: Can your vehicle pull it or do you also need to buy a new tow vehicle? Better check your manual first! Many of the smaller vintage campers can be pulled by SUVs with a towing package and a V6... but better safe than sorry.

Musty Smells: Smokers, pet odors, mold, mildew etc. Ask first.

RV Systems: What does it have and do they work? Were they tested? Are they original?

Camper Undercarriage: There is a lot to learn from the pavement view. Getting under the camper will let you see the condition of the frame, the rust, the axles, any brake systems and flooring issues. Ask for the photos if you can't get under yourself. If the camper was stored in a mud puddle beside the shed its likely to have had its effect.

Have Wings. Will Travel.

Fly away in your Funky Little Shasta.

Wings. You either love them or hate them. If you hate them, you probably don't own a Shasta (unless you're one of those fine fellows who know how much your camper mate loves them... bless you all!).

Have Shasta Wings?

A whole range of cute custom camper gifts for the glamper.
A whole range of cute custom camper gifts for the glamper. | Source

Read about Great Camper Renovation Ideas - Photos of Retro Camper Interiors

My Cool Caravan: An Inspirational Guide to Retro-Style Caravans
My Cool Caravan: An Inspirational Guide to Retro-Style Caravans

A great idea guide to styling a funky and fun retro interior for your vintage travel trailer. Its often hard to find inspirations photos of camper interiors. This book delivers. Combining exterior and plenty of interior detail shots you'll get ideas on themes, styles and the little extras that make vintage campers so fun to design for. Enjoy!


Vintage Camper Restoration Poll - DIY or Hire it out?

Some people have all the skills, some of us just like to decorate. Where do you fit on the Handyman scale?
Some people have all the skills, some of us just like to decorate. Where do you fit on the Handyman scale?

Who will do your renovations

See results

Vintage Camper Decorating Links - Vintage fabrics, supplies & resources

I love a good project and decorating a vintage camper certainly fits that bill. It may be a large part of my obsession with campers to begin with... always dangerous when a designer has too much free time! If you're not as keen as I am on scouring the web for retro fabric and other vintage camping resources, this list below will get you up and decorating in no time!

Design Resources for your Vintage Camper - Fabric, fixings & finishes

Vintage Camper Design Inspirations for my first Shasta renovation.
Vintage Camper Design Inspirations for my first Shasta renovation.

Decorating your own Vintage Canned Ham

After all the sweat, the labor, the cleaning, stripping, painting, polishing... comes decorating... the fun part! There's no end to the fun retro resources out there... in fact it can be overwhelming. Choose a theme, base it on the name of your camper perhaps (yes, we name them!) or the period of your camper, or a favorite era or style - western, tiki, Adirondak... there's so much room to set the stage for a stylish camping adventure.

For our "Holiday Hideaway", I wanted a color palette that would work with the warm honey toned wood paneling and the original yellow formica. Something that was light yet warm with a sense of humor. The vintage sign I was decorating around was a 1940's-1950's style advertisment for a Dance Hall in Red & Black.

The biggest struggle was the cushion fabric. I wanted something with a vintage look, and because of the small space, I wanted some texture but not too much print. I ended up with a great green fabric, white piping and a tweedy texture. I paired that with the black retro wishbone fabric for the curtains that brought in the green yellow and red and added in some throw pillows in a red leopard and yellow zebra prints. Its light and fun. I'll list my favorite resources in the link list below!

Painting your Vintage Camper
Painting your Vintage Camper

Painting your Vintage Camper - Yourself

AKA the DIY "Fifty Dollar Paint Job"

Professional or DIY Paint Job? After scouring around for professional estimates at body shops like Maaco, from a carpenter with a spray shop, and mining input from vintage camper groups on Yahoo, I figured out that a $2,000 paint job was not in my budget or my camper's future. This would have to be a DIY job. Luckily I had a barn to do the project in which made me a little less nervous about wind, weather and blowing debris and gave me a place to leave my camper with its light holes exposed without worrying about rain.

I came across many links to DIY paint jobs both on car and camper sites, I went with this Rustoleum Roller "$50 Paint Job" (bottom of page). I was nervous. Our camper was pretty dowdy with chalky white paint and many spots where the bare metal was showing through. I wasn't sure if I was up to the job. To help me commit, I went out and got my supplies.

Choosing the Paint:The first thing I realized is that oil-based paint is pretty hard to find in Ohio & Indiana now that they've banned it in home stores. My only option was Tractor enamel. This limited my artists palette to a range of colors made for tractors. And they were BRIGHT! This would test my art training to arrive at a livable color. The final goal was a two-toned white and light yellow finish with the metal "Z-Stripe" down the middle. I went for Bright Gloss White and John Deere yellow. the JD yellow was blinding so I decided to tone it down by mixing it 50:50 with the white. It worked. Phew...

Supplies: The second thing I learned: A $50 paint job is no longer $50. The tractor paint is over $20/gallon. I needed two gallons of white and a quart of yellow. Then I needed the Frog tape to mask off the stripe (its worth spending more for the green frog tape), 4 cans of spray primer (which only came in grey), "weenie" sponge roller brushes, paint buckets, rollers & trays. I'd say the $50 paint job is now about a $100 paint job.

The Prep Work: The most important part is the prep work... and the most time-consuming. The prep work took me about 2 days of 4 hour stints. I started by removing all badges, lights & wings. If you plan on taking out and recaulking windows, do this before painting.

1) Polish: I polished the silver Z-stripe & window/door trims with Mothers Polish to get all the oxidation off (definitely do this before as it can stain the paint around it).

2) Replace Screws: Then I replaced all the rusty exterior screws that I could get out with slightly larger width stainless ones.

3) Caulk: My hubby caulked everything with clear paintable silicone.

4) Sand: Then I got to sanding with a fine grit and hand sander. Afterwards, a good cleaning.

5) Mask the Metal: Finally I was ready to tape off the z-stripe & metal trim

6)Prime: I sprayed a light coat of the spray primer over the edges of the Z-Stripe tape to seal them off. Then I sprayed over all the areas of exposed metal - most of which were on the roof and the front of the camper above the window. It looked awful. Like a grey & white leopard print. I was afraid it would show through. Luckily it didn't.

Painting the Camper: We started with the white on the roof and the largest of the sponge rollers (9") and a small regular sponge brush for trim edging & nail holes. We worked slowly down towards the Z-Stripe checking for drips. The bubbles worked themselves out nicely. The paint went on well. and we went just over the edge of the white Z-Stripe. Then we started on the lower section with the Yellow. Both colors required two coats; one coat per day for two days. And it took another day to get all the pieces and parts back onto the camper.

Total time five 4-6 hour days.

It was a lot of work but we are thrilled with the results and would do it again.

Paint Supplies for the $50 DIY Camper Paint Job - Its all about having the right tools.

Yes, I know, the reason I'm doing the $50 paint job myself is because I'm cheap. That said, there are a few things I do think its worth spending the extra bucks for... that's why my $50 paint job cost more around $100. Still, it looks professional without paying the professional price tag... here are the things not to skimp on.

Mothers 05101 Mag & Aluminum Polish - 10 oz.
Mothers 05101 Mag & Aluminum Polish - 10 oz.

Polish your aluminum wings, drip rails and z-stripe with this great product. Do it before your paint because its messy the streaks of grey tarnish drip down as you work.


DIY Trailer Paint Job Photos - Before and After

Click thumbnail to view full-size
Before: The Z-stripe needed a lot of Mothers Polish and elbow grease to get back the shine and remove some red paint.Before: Dull, dented and drab.After: Bright Gloss White on top helps keep the cool, while 50:50 Gloss White and John Deere Yellow kick the bottom into high gear.
Before: The Z-stripe needed a lot of Mothers Polish and elbow grease to get back the shine and remove some red paint.
Before: The Z-stripe needed a lot of Mothers Polish and elbow grease to get back the shine and remove some red paint.
Before: Dull, dented and drab.
Before: Dull, dented and drab.
After: Bright Gloss White on top helps keep the cool, while 50:50 Gloss White and John Deere Yellow kick the bottom into high gear.
After: Bright Gloss White on top helps keep the cool, while 50:50 Gloss White and John Deere Yellow kick the bottom into high gear.

$40 Spray Paint Job Video - Rustoleum Rattle Cans

Here's a down to earth explanation of a Rustoleum Spray paint job by a DIY'er from the Vintage Shasta Trailer Forum.

My Top 5 Vintage Camper Groups Give Great Advice

There are far more experienced vintage camper enthusiasts out there than you could ever imagine. All over the web you can find yahoo groups, advice forums for everything from Vintage Camper Rallies to brand specific groups who are happy to share their learning and wisdom from their own experience.

Get the Lowdown from the Camper Pros

  1. Vintage Shasta Club on Yahoo: A great Shasta-specific resource to get advice on anything Shasta related.
  2. Vintage Trailer Rally Group on Yahoo: A great way to meet vintage trailer fans is to attend a vintage trailer rally. Get up close and personal advice and see how others have tackled their camper projects
  3. Vintage Trailer & Camp Network: A blog that lets you connect to a national network of 1,650 other enthusiasts or find your own state's local network.
  4. Red Dirt Shasta Blog: Red Dirt's Blog is a great resource for Shasta renovations. He has great photos, great step by step advice. Really informative!
  5. Vintage Shasta Trailer Forum: A good place to connect with info and other Shasta owners for advice

Video of an all-out Shasta Camper Restoration - An Idea of what you're in for...

Getting an idea of what's inside the walls, attaching the windows, making the frame, under the seats etc is the best way to get a sense for which projects you can handle on your own and which you'll need help with. I like this guy's slide show of photos from his restoration. I'm not that handy so I paid more for a camper with a mainly cosmetic needs... know thyself as they say. Its been a good starting point and has given me some confidence to tackle a little more on the next one. This is just a start, you can find great blogs and videos on many specific vintage trailer projects for every different kind of camper with a quick search. Good luck.


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