How To Renovate An Airstream Argosy

Bringing back a 40 year old Airstream Argosy is not an easy task. There are some things we wish we would have known before we dove into the deep.  Let’s start with a little history on a Airstream Argosy

History: Argosy trailers were made by Airstream Company starting 1971 in Versailles, OH. near Jackson Center, and are usually recognized as “Painted Airstreams”. Many features were first tried out on the Argosy models, and then incorporated into the more traditional Airstreams if they were a success. A good example is the large front wrap windows. These painted trailers were able to utilize steel end caps and aluminum panels that were damaged or blemished. Argosy created a series of diminutive trailers in the ’70’s called the “Minuet”. There was the 6.0 Metre (20?), the 6.7 Metre (22?), and a 7.4 Metre (24?) Minuet.

Beginning in 1974 Airstream began manufacturing a Class A motorhome, badged “Argosy”. These began as painted aluminum 20- and 24-foot models, and were followed in 1979 by the first of their Classic model motorhomes, with an unpainted aluminum body, much like the trailers they are known for. In actuality, these were modified trailers, mounted on a step van chassis also modified for the motorhome.

The first Argosy trailer was put on the market April 1971. (1972 Model)

The first Argosy motorhome introduced December 1973.

The Rehab Project:  What do you do first? It can be overwhelming. More than likely, you have pulled your Argosy to a location where the renovation will take place. You probably did an initial inspection and did due diligence to pull it. Or maybe you had it lifted and towed to your designated area. Either way, you are dealing with a 40+ year old frame.

Step 1 the frame:  Inspect the Frame! Crucial to the future of your travel experience. Your frame is going to have rust and perhaps some corrosion. The faster you deal with the frame, the more you can renovate. There are 3 crucial areas of the frame. 1. Axle  2. Outriggers (the camper sits on these) 3. the under frame.  These have to be looked at and or fixed. renovating an airstream argosy frame

How do you fix or repair a frame? That’s a good question. It’s either going to be repairable, or you are buying a new frame. If the frame has corrosion which means there are holes in it, it has cancer. That cancer is spreading and will break down  your frame to where it’s unusable.  If your frame has rust and little corrosion, you can save it and even repair it. We sanded, scraped, and removed ALL the rust on the frame, and then used POR-15 to paint the entire frame to rust proof it.

Step 2 the tear down: You have to ask yourself one question: How far are you willing to go? Renovating a 40 year old Airstream Argosy is going to take on a long journey. Buckle up!!!  It’s one thing to remove all the old interior. It’s another to gut it. I mean floor, walls, insulation, wiring. How far do you want to go? If your answer is: “I just want a remodel”. Then you are probably only going to live it in and have it parked. If your answer is; “I want to travel the country”. Gut it, and go to Step 3

Step 3 rivets, lots of rivets: Learn how to remove bucket rivets. Hint, automatic spring hole punch and a 5/32 drill bit is the key. We also bought a Air Pop Rivet Gun for cheap at Tractor Supply.  When re riveting the Belly Pan, we used Large Flange Rivets – 5/32″ Diameter to help secure the belly pan to the frame. We did not need a  new Belly Pan.

Step 4 panels: Or inner walls are long. 2 of the side panels will be at least 22 feet long. It will take two people to remove them from the Argosy. This is where you will get a feeling of…Oh crap! The top ceiling panel is in between two grooved moldings. The moldings are also riveted in. You will notice that most renovated Argosy’s that you see don’t have the center ceiling panel. There’s a reason why. It’s not easy to come off. Once you bend it, it’s over.

Step 5 the banana wraps: You probably noticed we haven’t said the sub-floor yet. There is a reason. The banana wraps are the key to successfully taking off and putting back in the sub-floorhow to remove a sub-floor in an Argosy

Step 6 the sub-floor: This is where the rubber meets the road in your rehab project. This is also where you will probably find dead things, mice, snakes, etc. that have nested in the insulation under the sub-floor. Our sub-floor was rotted mainly in the front, back, and by the door. The rest of the subfloor wasn’t that bad. But we took out the entire floor nonetheless. Read, How to Remove a Airstream Subfloor.

Tip: The entire camper sits on the sub-floor. You are NOT taking the sub-floor out without removing the bolts that are holding the camper on the frame. Everything in an Airstream Argosy is inter connected with each other. This is  how your Argosy has lasted 40 years. They are built well. 

Step 7  Remove the Pink Stuff:Removing the pink insulation is a good idea. Why? It get’s wet and will keep everything moist. Ants, bugs, and creatures (especially mice) love this stuff to nest in. Please wear gloves and a mask to remove all the insulation. We removed ours from underneath the sub-floor and did NOT replace it. However we did replace the inner skin insulation, this is how we did it.

After all of this, then you are finally able to start planning your design and plot how you will re-build.

2 thoughts on “How To Renovate An Airstream Argosy

  1. Hi folks. I am about to start a similar epic renovation on our newly purchased 28’ airstream argosy (rear bathroom model). The subfloor is rotted in the same spots so it looks like I may need to do the intimidating shell off subfloor replacement….very scary. I was hoping to draw inspiration and guidance from your experience, but none of the links off this site seem to be working or me. In particular I was hoping to read / see how one actually removes the argosy elevator bolts / shell….like what rivets need to be drilled out on the outside of the argosy to get access to the elevator bolts. I understand at least the lower inside panels need to come out to install the new bolts, but not clear on whether the entire lower under trailer panels need to be fully removed, or just the curved banana skin upper belt area rivets. Some folks also talk about how one can just remove the upper banana skin and slide new subfloor sheets in from the front and back of the camper, but they don’t describe exactly how this is done, and it’s not looking very intuitive to me at present. Based on your other awesomely clear renovation details, I am hoping if I can get your links to the subfloor removal page working, I could progress from head scratching stage to floor removal / replacement

  2. John,

    So sorry we missed your comment. It ended up in our spam folder. Removing the Argosy elevator bolts is a pain as you probably know by now. First step. You have to remove the rub rail that goes around the bottom half of the Argosy. This ties the banana wraps and the belly pan together. The rubrail has it’s own set of rivets to remove. Then the belly pan and banana wraps do. The belly pan will expose the bolts that tie into the outriggers and the frame.

    The rear bathroom is tricky because of the carriage bolts in the back that also go through the subfloor. You will have to take the inner skins off the bottom rear to get to the carriage bolts. Usually you can feel them from the inside of the bumper storage area (if you have one) Usually the back belly pan HAS to be detached also along with the bananna wraps in the back corner.

    Hope that helped. What links didn’t work by the way?

    Scott

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