Should you buy that “vintage” RV?

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Steve Savage submitted this article to RVtravel.com when he was a Master Certified RV Technician with Mobility RV Service.
We used to just call old RVs “old.” Now we call them “vintage.” What’s changed? Whether perusing Craigslist or eBay, it is hard to miss advertisements for “vintage” RVs. A few have been returned to their original state, while some have been completely redone to the current owner’s taste. A good many have been stripped out inside and offered for sale. But should you buy that “vintage” RV?

The problem in calling something “vintage” is, by definition, that label is supposed to signify something of “high quality.” I would contend, if one were using that term correctly, there are no “vintage” RVs. Unique, fun-to-look-at, interesting perhaps, but vintage – hardly. Truth be known, old RVs are simply old – and rare, simply because most fell apart long ago.

What’s driving up the price of old RVs?

So, if it is not higher quality driving up the price of old RVs, what is it? My thought is the current interest in old RVs is propelled upward by a fond longing in a broad segment of populace for simpler times past. But these are not always knowledgeable buyers. Everything, including RVs, used to seem simpler. What we see is folks buying old, usually smaller and poorly equipped RVs as a response to what is often a lifestyle that seems to spin out of control.

I am reflecting on this issue because I am now routinely receiving requests to rebuild old RVs. Often these requests are for very substantial repairs on wood-framed trailers that were outdated when they were manufactured. Most often the interiors have been stripped, the seller having done the easy part. Now they’re looking for a buyer inexperienced enough to underestimate the amount of time and work that is required for a quality renovation. To paraphrase P.T. Barnum, “There’s an old RV buyer born every minute.”

So, should you buy that “vintage” RV for an investment?

Perhaps you are reading this because you are considering the purchase of an old RV someone is calling “vintage” and trying to decide if it is a good investment. If so, here is my position. The overwhelming majority of old trailers are in no way special. In fact, up until this notion of vintage came along, they were essentially unsalable. Now folks are dragging them out of fields where they have sat for decades and putting a price tag on them.

If you are considering the purchase of one of these “vintage” RVs often advertised in need of “TLC,” approach this buy with extreme caution. In my opinion, you are likely to dramatically underestimate what it takes to bring an old trailer up to usable standards. There are dozens of stripped-out shells now taking up space on Craigslist and eBay. These all started out as the dream for someone else who quickly discovered that stripping out a trailer is a simple task – putting it back together is quite another project. I routinely tell folks if you want me to do the work, it will take several thousand dollars and a great deal of time. And when I am done, you will have put more money into your project than you will ever realize on the resale.

Can you restore it yourself?

So, how about doing the work yourself? Instead of returning it to its former glory, you just focus on making it “cute”? You will find examples of this approach on the Internet, often posted for months, looking for a new home. The problem with this approach is that personal taste is just that, personal, and it varies greatly. So finding a buyer who shares your idea of cute is not always easy. Cute also does not increase value beyond making something simply usable. It has no classic value!

That leaves the truly rare – trailers from decades past that are complete and original; surely they are worth more money. Yes, they are more highly valued and some might at least be considered “antique.” They also cost a good deal more and trade in a much narrower segment of the market. If you just have to have an old trailer, this is where I would suggest you target your search.

Will you get your investment back?

Whenever anything old reaches a point where prices start to escalate, the pool of potential buyers also tends to shrink accordingly. At the same time, selling prices are artificially maintained and subject to rapid fluctuations. At the same time, the number of things similar to the original multiplies as sellers jump on the band wagon.

That being said, if you just have to have a true classic, buy one! If you simply want something that mimics a classic, go for it. But understand putting a great deal of money or time into it with the hopes of making a profit down the road may be an illusion.

Related:
Have you remodeled your RV? These folks have, and it’s gorgeous!
The RV Doctor: Can I paint and paper my RV’s interior?
From Amazon: Camper Rehab: A Guide to Buying, Repairing, and Upgrading Your Travel Trailer
From Amazon: Vintage Camper Trailers

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Michael DuFrene
23 days ago

Haven’t camped for thirty years. We bought an 84 coachmen senator. 48 000 miles, immaculate condition. Except leaking fresh water tank. Bought a state park pass and have had a blast. Can’t wait for spring.

Billy Vitro
23 days ago

I bought a ’93 Bluebird Wanderlodge at the beginning of the year – 40′ diesel pusher. These things are built like tanks, with 3/4″ plywood cabinets, Detroit Diesel motors that will last 500,000 miles (with proper maintenance), and a chassis that will outlast my kids.

That being said, it’s basically a school bus that doesn’t have a maintenance yard to keep it running. Keeping up on the fluids alone takes time every trip. It also needs a makeover on the interior, since basically very little has been done to it in 27+ years. Fortunately, I enjoy doing that kind of work, so it’s been fun so far.

It’s definitely not an investment, though. I don’t expect to get my money out of it, but I do expect it to last long enough that it’ll be worth it for the experiences I’ll get.

Mike Atnip
23 days ago

“In need of TLC” often means … “in need of a truckload of cash!”

Richard Hughes
23 days ago

We had a 1967 GMC pickup and saw a 1967 camp trailer for sale. I inspected it and bought it. I did a little exterior paint and interior touch up and had a real classic combo. We sold the trailer and bought a 67 Airstream. After selling the combo off, at a nice profit, we now have a new, 30 foot RV with a toad. We are too “vintage” to fight with “vintage” any longer.

Tom
23 days ago

As some one who owned 2 vintage GMC Motorhomes, they are to be considered a fun money pit. Great to drive, easy to work on, parts are in your local auto store. But, an Air Force type project, use for an hour and chase fixes for four. After all, they are 40 years old.
Of the 12,600+ made, 9,000 are accounted for, and maybe 6,000 are road worthy. A very loyal owner’s group.
No return on this investment, except pure joy.