Is It Worth Restoring a Vintage Camper Trailer?

Whether you’re a hardcore, lifelong RVer or thinking about diving headfirst into the lifestyle, restoring a vintage camper trailer is an idea that’s certain to pop up occasionally.

A completed restoration project is undoubtedly a pinnacle in pride and perfection. However, it’s not the easy project that YouTube videos suggest. A project on this scale turns into the forgotten camper sitting in the backyard if you’re not proficient in a number of crafts.

It’s also pricier than you might think, with the full renovation costs rivaling—and sometimes exceeding— brand-new, modern-day campers. Whether or not it’s worth it, well, it’s best to get a full breakdown before you begin. It’s also a good idea to know your own limitations.

What is a Vintage Camper Trailer?

What is a Vintage Camper Trailer?

‘Vintage’ is an ill-defined term within the industry, but most people who make such pronouncements accept 20 to 25 years as the qualifying factor. As weird as it sounds, a camper from the 1990s qualifies. Time flies whether you’re standing still or not.

For the undiscerning observer, vintage is more like the above, 1955 Silver Dome 19-footer or a 1940s Spartan. Though teardrops are all the rage these days, they’re certainly not new. A 1948 Tourrette looks disturbingly like a modern-day teardrop in every way.

Pierce Arrow, General Motors, Dodge, Winnebago, and Airstream are just some of the modern brands that go way back. In fact, Pierce Arrow goes all the way back to 1910 with the Touring Landau, which was basically a really big car.

In other words, when it comes to vintage, things go from way back in the pre-WWI era to as recently as the 1990s.

Is It Hard to Find Vintage Campers?

The more years that pass, the harder they are to find. After all, we’re not slinging Sherman Covered Wagons off the assembly lines these days. The good news is, they’re easier to find if you know where to look.

Sites like eBay are rife with vintage-era towables. There are also websites dedicated to selling vintage travel trailers, though the price for something which requires a lot of renovation may turn some away. sells vintage campers, mostly shells with wheels. Then there’s Vintage Campers, a good site to reference when shopping for some old-school RVs.

It may sound goofy but Facebook Marketplace is also a great place to look for vintage campers. Someone always seems to be looking to get an old, dilapidated camper off their lawn.

While they can be difficult to find, there is an underlying wing of the RV industry that features a sizeable marketplace for vintage campers and the accessories or tools that come with them.

How Much Does a Vintage Camper Trailer Cost?

How Much Does a Vintage Camper Trailer Cost?

Well, it’s a seller’s market. The thing is, it really depends on where you look. As a whole, the market for vintage campers demands a high price. However, with the addition of things like Facebook Marketplace (and even eBay to a certain degree), you can find some incredible deals.

The only drawback to looking at private sellers on Facebook Marketplace and similar platforms is the level of trust goes way down. Before making purchases from private sellers on those platforms, it’s imperative that you conduct an inspection with a fine-toothed comb.

Most of the vintage campers you find on established, reputable websites will demand a mid to high sum but you will find some that are essentially shells. These shells will sell for as low as a thousand bucks or even lower. Just remember, in most cases, you get what you pay for.

The lower the upfront cost, the higher the long-term, as far as repair and refurbishment costs are concerned. Most of the time, the costs vary wildly. For instance, a 1940s Curtis Wright may run somewhere between $40k and $70k, while a 1940s Spartan may run between $5k and $15k.

It’s also a matter of mood and culture. It’s funny, but you’ll discover that 1980s and 1990s models, even in good condition, are often a lot cheaper than something from the 60s or prior. This is often true if the much older trailers are ruined shells of their former selves.

All that means is the market for vintage campers is often as much about the vibe as it is about anything else. Sellers are well aware that the slick, 1951 Airstream shell will look a whole lot cooler than a remodeled 1988 Vacationeer.

How Much Does It Cost to Restore a Vintage Camper Trailer?

There are so many calculations to list here that it gets insane pretty quickly. For starters, there are a number of things you need to look at before taking the plunge. It’s important to be realistic and not just buy out of emotion.

Asking yourself the following 10 questions will give you a good idea of how much work, time, and money you’re getting into.

  1. How long did the trailer sit in one place?
  2. Has it been recently used?
  3. What’s the maintenance history?
  4. Is there water damage, cracks, leaks, ripples in the paneling?
  5. What do the pipes look like and what’s the status of the plumbing?
  6. Is it just a shell or is there furniture, upholstery, carpet, and appliances within?
  7. Is the frame rusty or cracked?
  8. What is the size of the tires and the status of the axle(s)?
  9. Is the electrical infrastructure in order and what’s its current status?
  10. What’s the status of minor things like lights, smoke detectors, decor, hoses, tanks, toilets, faucets?

Sound like a lot? Honestly, that’s only half of it.

Cost Breakdown

Answering the above questions will help you conduct a cost breakdown. If any or all of the above items need addressing, your next step is to look into the prices of the needed parts. Some things won’t be easy. Modern plumbing in an antique setup may not be the open-and-shut case you think it is.

The initial price is the most obvious cost and it’s the foundation from which everything else springs. Purchasing a vintage camper trailer can be expensive but if it’s a make-or-break kind of decision, the restoration price becomes much more of a factor.

Fortunately, there are available avenues for pricing the cost of individual items you’ll need for a full restoration project. Vintage Trailer Supply is an excellent online source. They have a lot of tools and replacement parts that will do more than help you get the ball rolling.

While they do have a section for ‘rescued’ vintage parts, it’s all Airstream, so you’ll have to look elsewhere for refurbished or solid original parts made for other brands.

Level of Restoration

Level of Restoration for a vintage trailer

You can look at this from two different angles. The first is how much you already have in place (in terms of the original parts) that are salvageable or fully functional. The second is how far you want to go from scratch. The degree of detail and restoration effort is entirely up to you.

After all, you can reach a certain point in the restoration process where the camper is livable and stop there. Or, you can go until you get the modernized or retro look you want.

Of course, all of this comes after restoring the major components. At the end of the day, your time has value as well and is worth considering as part of the total cost.

Your Skill Level

Carpentry, welding, plumbing, painting, and electrical are all involved in a major restoration process. You can either do them or you can’t. What you can’t do will have to be parceled out to professionals in that field. Of course, that costs money.

How much you can do and how much will require a professional will make a huge difference in the ultimate cost of restoring a vintage camper trailer.


One of the problems that’s almost guaranteed to pop up, assuming you purchase from a private seller, is paperwork. The odds are good that vintage travel campers won’t come with a title or any other requisite paperwork.

Getting these things in order is often time-consuming and, depending on the severity of it, costly. Making a purchase from reputable dealers in the vintage RV department will alleviate this to a large degree, though the upfront cost may be significantly higher.

Transportation Costs

It may be that you can hook up your newly purchased vintage trailer and head to the house. But, the odds are good you’ll need to transport it home via unconventional means.

The costs of transporting your new project may be next to nothing if it’s close but it could also be quite extensive, depending on the condition of the camper and its location.

Is it Worth Restoring a Vintage Camper Trailer?

It depends on what you want and what your capabilities are. In some cases, it’s what most would call a labor of love. In some cases, it’s the RV version of flipping houses. Either way, if it’s what you want out of the deal, then it’s more than worth the restoration effort.

If you’re entering the deal half-hearted, it will probably end up being just one more unfinished project rusting in the backyard. If you’re looking to flip and sell, there’s money to make in a bustling RV market.

It can easily turn into a family heirloom type of project as well. In many ways, these are the absolute best. A used, vintage RV is often too dilapidated to become anything but a brand-new and shining example of your skill and creativity.

There’s more than one reason to approach restoring a vintage camper trailer. If that reason is what you want, then the destination is more than worth the journey.

New Retro Style Camper Trailers

Maybe a retro camper is a better choice than restoring a vintage camper

If you just love the vintage travel camper look, you’re allowed to cheat a little. Honestly, it won’t hurt anything to simply shop for something that puts off a completely classic vibe.

Also, just because they have a retro look doesn’t mean they run on retro technology. Retro-style camper trailers are just that, ‘style.’ There are plenty of mainstream RV dealers out there that feature a subcategory of vintage-style RVs for sale.

If it’s just the style you’re looking for, then you get the best of both worlds. Gulfstream has a Vintage Camper Cruiser and there’s also T@B Teardrops, Scamp, Happier Camper, Riverside RV, Dub Box USA, and Airstream Bambi.

Sure, the offerings are nowhere near the level of modern RV styles. But, the demand for stylish, retro aesthetics is a growing trend and the markets tend to adjust for such things.

You’ll also be surprised at the price. It doesn’t cost these manufacturers anymore to go with a retro style throughout the construction process. Besides, many of these travel trailers are on the smaller side of the RV spectrum.

Final Thoughts: Is it Worth Restoring a Vintage Camper?

It’s more than worth restoring a vintage camper trailer if it’s what you want to do, you have the tools and skills available, and you’re willing to do the work in terms of research.

Though you may have to lean on some professional, outside help throughout the process, you can always find many of the tools and accessories using the aforementioned Vintage Trailer Supply site. Mostly because they have a ton of must-have products.

Ultimately, the ‘worth’ of such a project is entirely up to you. It can be a lucrative new trade or a labor of love. If either is true for you, then it’s worth the time and effort.

Related Reading:

Are Fiberglass Campers Better Than Aluminum?
9 RVs That Look Like Tiny Houses
Do Airstreams Have Slide Outs?
8 Travel Trailers With The Best Resale Value
Best RV Backsplash Ideas Using Peel and Stick Tile

About the Author:

Thomas Godwin is a full-time freelance writer with a BFA in Creative Writing, a U.S. Marine, and an avid outdoorsman.

When he’s not writing, he’s raising chickens and Appleyard ducks. Thomas also constructs teardrop campers (attempting to anyway) and kayaks the Blackwater River with his wife, two daughters, and his Dobermans.