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 20, 2005

The Unveiling

"It changes color!" Colin told me as I downloaded the latest pictures. "In very bright light it can even look sort of green!"

Yep, the new paint job is done and wow, does it look great. The metallic color varies according to the ambient light, from a deep dark blue to a bright blue, with overtones of green. It seems to pick up the color of the sky and whatever is in the vicinity.

Before we unveil it, here's a "before" shot (which actually makes the original paint look sort of OK). The paint was chalky and weak, with many blemishes. We had already removed the "ARGOSY" emblem at the top and the middle beltline rub rail when this photo was taken last November. Note also the faded clearance lights and rusty tongue.

And in this "after" shot you can get the full effect. New paint, new LED clearance lights, cleaned-up tongue, new entry step, and more. (We still need to install the black beltline insert near the bottom.)

We also painted the A/C cover (although that's not shown in these photos) and other vent covers on the roof, to minimize the "rooftop junkyard" look. Only the Fantastic Vents and antennas were masked off.

Here's another photo, showing the rear. Imagine seeing this on the highway! (Of course, you'll need to envision the big AIRSTREAM LIFE logo above the clearance lights.) I'll have more photos on the pbase gallery by the end of the weekend.

I've said it before, but I'll say it again: THANKS to the guys at GSM Vehicles for their very hard work. They went way above and beyond the minimum requirements to make sure this job turned out right. We are extremely happy to have them as official sponsors of Project Vintage Thunder!

The axles arrived today too -- FedEx freight. The guys at Axis really came through for us. The axles are powdercoated and ready to go. I'll have pictures of the installation coming soon.

Thursday, May 19, 2005


I talked to Colin this morning and he said, "Nope, doesn't look like we'll paint it today. Still more prep to do."

Then at 7 pm he called back and said, "Hey, it's BLUE!" And sure enough, the pictures started arriving.

Here's a shot of it ready to go into the spray booth. The lower rub rail is taped off here because they had (earlier) sprayed a sort of stoneguard paint on the lower sections. This tape was removed before the primer went on because we want it to be body colored.

It went into the paint booth next, but the trailer was too long to fit. So they built a tent around the part that didn't go into the spray booth. The primer, as you can see, is gray. Since we are using a wet-on-wet paint, it only needed to set for about 90 minutes before the color coat went on.

Next was the color coat -- the long-awaited Mistral Blue Metallic. This shot in the spray booth doesn't really do it justice. We'll get more photos tomorrow in the sunlight, with the tape off, and I'll be over there on Saturday to take a few more glamour shots.

A final spray with clearcoat was applied, and with that, the job is basically done. Of course, there's more work to do, including removing a TON of masking tape both inside and out, and putting everything back together. We need to reinstall the clearance lights, the rub rail insert (black), clean up any errors or do misc buffing, etc. We also want to spray the A/C cover the body color so it will match and be less noticeable.

You can see a lot more photos at the Vintage Thunder gallery. See

There's more to say but that's all the time I have tonight. More posts are coming tomorrow and over the weekend! The axles are expected to arrive tomorrow (Friday) and they will be installed soon.

Tuesday, May 17, 2005

Corrosion on the Roof!

Remember in April, back in St Augustine, when I said I thought the last of the leaks had been nailed? Well, I was wrong.

Turns out we still had one small leak ... somewhere. It only showed up in heavy rain, but while sitting here in Vermont and in New York at GSM, we'd see a bit of water. One day, when the trailer was parked slightly off-center, the water appeared in the bedroom closet near the wheelwell (where we've since replaced a piece of floor). Another day, the water dripped from the rear Fantastic Vent. Another day, while towing to Plattsburgh, rain dripped in through the front Fantastic Vent.

It was always somewhere different. So we knew it was getting in somewhere up high, and traveling through the roof until it found an exit point. The exit point changed depending on which way the trailer was tilted.

So Colin went up last weekend to take a look. First off, he found that we may have had a bad batch of Vulkem. In certain places, the Vulkem shrank and gapped open, which it normally doesn't do. This left potential leak points around the Fantastic Vents and the air conditioner. But we weren't convinced that these little gaps were the cause.

Then today Colin went up again, this time eyeing where the old Skyliner antenna used to mount on the center of the roof, just forward of the air conditioner. Here's what he saw:

Note the generally scuzzy condition of the roof metal. The paint has completely failed as a result of years in the Florida sun, and there's oxidization and other "stuff" up there as well. A circular remainder of caulk seems to cover something, but what?

The finger in the picture is indicating a pair of former rivet holes which were undoubtedly part of what held on the old antenna. Those need to be caulked and riveted shut.

But that's not the end of the story. Colin decided the metal looked a bit suspicious and took an air-powered wire brush to it, in an attempt to clean up the oxidization, remove the caulk, and get a better look. Here's what he found:

Lo and behold, there's an entire pattern of rivet holes! But they were mostly covered with caulk, so they weren't the problem either.

But that's still not the end of the story. Colin noticed the metal was actually pitted. What caused that? Apparently, dissimilar metal corrosion between the base of the antenna and the aluminum roof. Without a gasket to separate the two, in the salt air environment near Cape Coral, Florida, the pot metal of the antenna was eating the roof!

See the deep pitting? A bit more wire-brushing on that weakened aluminum, revealed a startling thing: not only deep pits, but complete holes! This aluminum had the integrity of rice paper.

And here is what he ended up with:

Obviously a big patch is going on the spot where the old antenna used to sit. So here's a lesson for you, if you've got an old Skyliner antenna on your vintage trailer. Dissimilar metal corrosion can be a problem. If you've got a mystery leak, check it out!

Monday, May 16, 2005

Body Filler

While Colin nips and tucks at bits of rust on the underside, and potential leak points on the roof, Pat has gotten to serious work on the body. We picked up a shallow scratch along the streetside rear corner somewhere. I'm not sure how, but it might have been at the Red Coconut in Ft Myers -- those darned sites were too small! Here you can see Pat applying a bit of body filler to smooth it out.

There's still quite a bit of work to be done to prep the body. At this point we are hoping to have the paint go on by Friday ... but the truck with the supplies has not yet arrived and we need to get a bit farther along in the process to be sure when Vintage Thunder will roll into the spray booth.

And of course, when it's all done, I'll have to face the trauma of the inevitable "first scratch". I'd better ask Colin for a small bottle of touch-up paint to take with us this summer.

We had optimistically pre-registered for a Unit rally in Grand Isle this coming weekend. Looks like we won't be making it. More likely I'll be up at GSM this weekend, pitching in wherever I can.

Sunday, May 15, 2005

Mistral Blue

I mentioned this before, but a few people have missed it. Vintage Thunder is going to be painted in a color from the Jaguar S-Type sedan, called "Mistral Blue Metallic." It's a complex blue that changes appearance in different lighting. It is considered by some to be the most beautiful color Jaguar ever offered.

The idea behind the color was to pay homage to the gleam of Airstreams without being too derivative. Originally we had considered a metallic champagne color, to acknowledge the cream "twinky" color of the Argosy that it used to be, but when I saw the color chip for Mistral Blue at the Cherry Blossom Rally, I had to have it.

I believe that this will be the world's only metallic blue Argosy (or Airstream). It certainly will be interesting to see amidst other trailers at the next rally! People have speculated that surrounding trailers will reflect the color and take a bit of it on themselves.

I wish they'd get it painted already ... the suspense is killing me ...