Project Vintage Thunder

The latest on Project Vintage Thunder, by Airstream Life magazine. Sponsored by George M Sutton RV, Reese hitch, Dometic USA, PPG Paint, Axis Products, GSM Vehicles, and Zip-Dee. Vintage Thunder is an "honest" RV refurbishment and travelogue. We tell you what really happens ...

Friday, May 13, 2005

Body prep continues

Colin estimates that the labor time on our paint job will be in excess of 50 hours. Most of this is preparation, sanding the body, filling in minor dents, and fixing cosmetic issues on the exterior. Knowing that the entry door hinges were cracked, Brett had found a pair of replacement hinges at a salvage yard last winter. The GSM Vehicles guys removed the door and installed the new hinges today.

Other little projects like that and the rusted outrigger keep slowing down the process. With other jobs in the shop to be done, the GSM staff have begun to work overtime. Colin has hired another couple of part-time guys to cope with the load. It is starting to look a little crazy to have this trailer exterior repaired and painted, two new axles installed, and a new wireless Internet system installed, all by May 26 or so. (But this time, I'm not the guy feeling the pressure.)

The nice thing about working with the GSM guys is that they keep me in the loop. Their shop in Plattsburgh is 50 miles away, and with the ferry ride across Lake Champlain it takes me over 90 minutes to get there. Colin emails me pictures of the progress every day that they work on the trailer, and those are the pictures I'm posting here.

Already I'm beginning to envision the trailer that will come out of the shop. Take a look at this picture and imagine it with a metallic blue paint job and super bright LED clearance lights ... very cool.

Thursday, May 12, 2005

Underside repairs

Finally, the rusted outrigger on the curbside has been repaired! See picture below of the new outrigger. We had bought this outrigger from Airstream, and the guys at GSM Vehicles installed it. While they were at it, they had to expose some more of the frame, so they took the opportunity to do some cleanup, replace more insulation, and undercoat.

At the same time, Colin noticed that the stabilizer jack on the curbside rear corner was broken. We had known it was bent (a prior owner probably left it down when he pulled away from the campsite), but I had not noticed it was also cracked. It's trash. I'll be buying a new jack to replace it this week.

However, I did know about the lousy state of the belly pan. Especially in the back, the belly pan had corroded around the rivets so much that in several places there was no aluminum left to rivet it to the frame! We did the best we could with it during our mad rush to get ready for the Florida State Rally in February, but it needs to be replaced. I will personally get under there and rivet a new sheet of aluminum in place in the next two weeks. I've already replaced a large part of the front belly pan. It will be easier to do the rear section when the axles are off, so hopefully I can time the job to coincide with that.

I have updated the budget on the Vintage Thunder home page ( At this point we have spent over $11,000 in parts alone! Brett put in close to 300 hours on it, and I have about 200 hours into it. If you add in the value of the donated parts, the parts total would be closer to $15,000 -- and we haven't finished the paint job yet. I'm wondering if we might as well go ahead and gold-plate it now ...

Tuesday, May 10, 2005

Painting Prep

The guys at GSM Vehicles are working on the body prep of Vintage Thunder now. As with most paint jobs, the real work is in the preparation. The paint on Vintage Thunder was so old and weak that it can rub off with hard brushing. Sanding the paint is pretty much the same thing as stripping it, in this case. Check out the picture!

You'll also notice that the rear wheel has been removed. This was to allow access to the wheelwell. You might remember that I had mentioned an outrigger that needed replacement here. Tomorrow the new outrigger will be welded in and the surrounding area will be painted and buttoned back up.

Paint prep will continue for a few days, while we wait for the truck to come in with the paint. In addition to sanding, there are a few spots that need body filler and other treatments to get the body looking good again. I'll have more pics as Colin sends them to me!

The Secret Axle Story

Now I can let you in on a little backstory that has been going on for the past week or so.

When we were in Florida, we checked the axles to be sure they were still in good condition. The usual test is to check the angle of the torsion arms which connect the wheel hub to the axle rod. If the arms are pointing downward toward the hub (positive angle), the axles are usually presumed to be good. If the arms are parallel to the ground or pointing upward (negative angle), the trailer is either overloaded or the rubber cords inside the axles are presumed to be worn out.

Vintage Thunder passed that test in February and in March. But after 1500 miles of towing up the east coast -- surprise! -- the torsion arms were now parallel to the ground or even slightly negative. What happened?

Our theory is that the rubber cords in the trailer were basically worn out and stiff when we found the trailer (which had been sitting for seven years). The stiffness kept the torsion arms pointing in the right direction. While we were working on the trailer we removed most of the interior (making the trailer very light) so they stayed that way.

But after loading up for a big trip and towing for a long distance, they loosened up and settled down. When we removed our personal possessions from the trailer, the axles remained in the "loaded" position. Colin discovered this during his inspection last week, and we promptly contacted QDS/Henschen to see if they could help us. Unfortunately, Henschen wasn't able to get us the axles we needed in time. We have to replace the axles before Vintage Thunder back goes on the road May 27, because we'll be driving over 3000 miles this summer to attend rallies.

Fortunately, Axis Products jumped in to help. A pair of axles is being fabricated now, and will be shipped from their facility in Elkhart, IN. We expect to have them in time to get them installed before deadline. And with that, Axis Products has become a proud sponsor of Project Vintage Thunder! Thanks for the help, guys!