With the 12V wiring and insulation in place, it’s time to fit the new internal aluminium skin to the roof and walls of the Airstream.
We’ve decided to go for an off-white powder-coated aluminium rather than trying to paint bare aluminium, which gives a better, more consistent looking surface which will be easier to keep clean and also stand the test of time better. It obviously isn’t ‘authentic’ in terms of being like the Zolatone finish originally used on vintage Airstreams, but we’re not averse to using more modern techniques where we feel they’re an improvement on the original – and frankly, we believe the smooth surface will work better with the materials and finishes used elsewhere in the trailer.
What we’re not going to tamper with though is the beautiful Olympic rivets used on vintage Airstreams, as they really are part of the whole character of the trailer. And although it is now possible to get these rivets in white, we’ve decided to stick with the original shiny aluminium, in order to create an interesting and stylish look against the off-white of the coated aluminium. You’ll see from the photo that these aren’t yet in place, as the roof sheet is being held in place with clecos while all the rivet holes are being drilled.
While the majority of the internal skin will be new aluminium, we are keeping the original 13-panel end caps, as they are one of the biggest differentiators between the early ’50s Airstreams and those from ’59 onwards and into the early ’60s.
To get them to their current polished state firstly involved stripping-off the old Zolatone paint, which was a heck of a job since it’s very thick stuff. After that, more hard graft with a rotary polisher and Nuvite polish, starting with coarser Grade F9 and then moving on to less abrasive F7. We’ve still got the final stage of polishing with the Cyclo Polisher to do, moving down to a much less abrasive final polish, although the jury is still out as to whether we’ll actually bother, as while there are imperfections visible, it’s a bit akin to the ‘patina’ you observe in old wood, so adds a bit of character we think. Oh yes, and don’t worry about the blue in the picture, that’s just the plastic coating that the aluminium comes with to protect it in transit!