Is Restoring A Vintage Camper Worth the Effort? The Good, The Bad and The Ugly

  • RV Hub
  • 8 min read

Almost nobody is impervious to the vintage charm of old camper models.

The simple but quaint design inherent in many of these travel trailers crosses generational appeal.

Far from antiques, restored camper models, like cars, should be used and enjoyed.

But is restoring a vintage camper worth the cost, instead of just buying a new RV?

The answer is a hard maybe, and it depends on a variety of factors. 

Namely, the type of camper you are buying, how old it is, and what its current state of repair is. 

RV restoration is hard work, and can potentially cost a lot more than initially planned – especially if you are interested in a DIY-way of doing it.

It is essentially a home remodel and a car repair rolled into one, so it’s easy to see how it could get out of hand.

If you still have your heart set on restoring a camper trailer, here is some advice for reducing cost.

Potential Issues To Look For When Buying An Old Camper

Caulk Smoothing

If you do not set a strict budget, restoring the camper will quickly become a cash vacuum. Always plan on spending more than you initially thought — unexpected expenses are bound to reveal themselves once you get to work.

The best way to minimize costs from the very start is to buy a solid vehicle.

Unfortunately, these are not always readily available.

Due to age and use, many vintage campers for sale are in disrepair.

To reduce future problems before buying, check the following issues:

  • Floor — Check for soft spots throughout, there may be a sign of rot or water damage.
  • Axel — Rust on an axel from poor storage can be extremely expensive to replace. If the vehicle has been left outside for years, its axel probably needs replacing.
  • Windows — Are there any cracks or broken glass? Do they open and close properly? Is light entering?
  • Electrical system — Test all the electrical systems before purchasing, including the tail lights. If the electronics do not work, it can be a pain to replace them. You will have to remove the wall to access the wiring, which can add up significantly.
  • Tires — Tires are not too expensive to replace, but the costs do pile on when other issues arise.
  • Plumbing — Do the toilets and showers operate correctly? What is the condition of the tank?
  • Appliances and propane — Check inside fridges and cupboards for potential mice or insects. Make sure the propane on the stove works appropriately.
  • Water Damage and bad smells — Both of these problems can be a sign of mildew, or worse, infestation.

The more the areas in need of repair, the more expensive the project will be. Be very cautious when buying an old vehicle with many of these problems. It will take a lot of money to get it functioning again.

TIPS FOR A SIMPLE FUNCTIONAL RESTORATION

Renovation or Makeover

While everyone looking to restore their trailer has an idea of the kind of style and design they want, these concerns can sometimes be placed on the backburner when structural and electrical issues arise.

At some point in the process, you will have to ask yourself the question: will this be a purely practical project, or is appearance just as important?

If the appearance is just as important to you, after you’re done with the essential RV repairs, like fixing the leaky roofing or the power issues, there are a couple of basic yet effective improvements you might consider:

  • Giving the outside a new coat of paint — A new color can add life to the shell of your vehicle. It works exceptionally well on slightly rusted metal that will not go away with any other method. And if you haven’t yet decided on the color, a soft white or blue almost always looks good.
  • Another popular and budget-friendly design trend among restorers is rustic and homey-looking on the outside, while the interior is modern and up-to-date. This saves restoration costs on the outside and allows you to focus money on repairing, remodeling, and decorating the RV interior.

You can handle these improvements all by yourself, or you might ask your friends to come help you. Either way, they will save you a lot of money, and will effectively change the outlook of your vehicle.

TIPS FOR A COMPLETE MAKEOVER

While a simple functional restoration is something you can easily do by yourself, for a complete makeover, you might need to consult with an RV service. 

That’s especially the case if you want to upgrade your vehicle with some modern-day amenities since they are usually trickier to install and need a practiced hand.

These can be: 

  • Modern kitchen and bathroom — Due to their outdatedness, old sinks and taps might create further problems. In addition to upgrading them, you might also consider remodeling the fiberglass in the bathroom and the countertops in the kitchen to give the interior a more modern look.
  • Storage space — If you’re worried about space, restoring and even replacing the cabinets, desks, and bunk beds may prove well worth the effort. Murphy beds, for example, are a great storage solution for those who are looking to optimize space.
  • Power awning — Nowadays, most of the awning systems are not manual – they are controlled by power. You can also connect them to your phone, so you can easily control them even from a distance. If you are aiming for a tech-friendly restoration project, a power awning system is a great upgrade.

There are many ways you can improve the condition of your camper or your motorhome, or whatever other vehicle you might have. Of course, some of these improvements might be on the pricier side, but as long as you identify your priorities in the project, you will be able to budget accordingly. 

To sum things up, it’s important to know in advance a) whether you want a basic upgrade or a complete makeover, b) what are the areas in most need of repair and restoration, and c) how much you are ready to spend.

How To Decorate The Camper

The decoration process is where your vehicle gets personalized.

This stage is the most creative part of the restoration, so it’s essential to take some inspiration from other vintage trailers.

Brainstorm a few ideas before committing yourself to a style of decoration.

You can go online and look at pictures or even tour an old RV show for inspiration.

These shows can also be a great place to meet fellow enthusiasts who can give you advice and help.

If you are a traditionalist regarding style, you will probably prefer to keep your vehicle somewhat rustic in feel, whether it be through wood paneling, or old cotton blankets and old fishing pools. This aesthetic captures the nostalgic feel of the camper during its heyday in the 1960s.

Interior Remodel

This style is usually the cheapest too because it puts barebones pragmatism front and center.

If you want to spice it up, there are endless avenues to apply to your design scheme. How about a Mediterranean style? Or maybe a 1950s California beach theme?

There are infinite possibilities of combining contemporary styles with the nostalgic designs of the past.

Many restorations these days focus on recreating modern home schemes within the vehicle. While these styles do look beautiful and comfortable, they take a little bit of the spark out of the unit.

Before you embark on a restoration journey, try and think it over thoroughly.

They can be a significant investment, especially for a novice. If you do not have experience in home and car repair, restoring such a vehicle will surely be a painful endeavor.

It might be better for these individuals to buy a new or used RV instead. But, if you persist and restore a vintage, know it will be a labor of love.

Hopefully, the final product is everything that you want.

nv-author-image

Mike Napier

I’m an avid outdoor enthusiast who has gone on several excursions along the coasts and has visited 31 of the 50 United States. One of the most important things to me personally is making the most of each day. I'm firmly entrenched in the middle-class and don't mind at all. My freedom and ability to travel and spend time outdoors are more important to me than working at a desk and putting more money in the CEO’s pockets. If camping and active living is your priority, too, you’ve come to the right place.

4 thoughts on “Is Restoring A Vintage Camper Worth the Effort? The Good, The Bad and The Ugly”

  1. I have a 2000 leisure van that I would like to do some updates on replacing the bathroom removing one of the seats and giving it an update look painting the the cab ,the body i is fiberglass. It would need a good buffing Wheeling it out. I would like to know approximately what the cost would be to do this or if your local that I can bring in my motorhome which is a small motorhome and you can give me a price thank you

  2. Restoring a 1983 Apollo 3300 DB. Got it for a great price. Body is solid, motor and transmission is solid as well as the onan gen. Water damage from the skylight/vents. It will take time, money, and sweat. In the end I will enjoy it and keep it or take an offer I cannot refuse. I love the body style though! Lots of work but worth it in the end either way.

  3. GOING TO BE GIVEN A FREE 1986 FORD COACHMAN LEPRECHAUN. WILL NEED SOME RESOTRATION BUT STILL RUNS AND DRIVES FINE. GOING TO DO NEW TIRES, BELTS, AND HOSES. THEN I CAN MAKE THE OTHER REPAIRS.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *