The Airstream Repaint

An Airstream motorhome which featured in the film "Rush"

In the beginning

A year ago, LAS motorhomes were asked to work on an Airstream motorhome which was featured in the film "Rush". Rush is a Bafta award winning film released in September 2013 which centred on the rivalry between Formula 1 drivers James Hunt and Niki Lauda during the 1976 Formula One motor-racing season. It was written by Peter Morgan, directed by Ron Howard. The Airstream was used in the film as Niki Lauda's motorhome.

And so, it begins

The owner had the Airstream delivered to LAS Motorhomes on Christmas Eve 2014 on the back of a low loader. Upon arrival, I suggested we should inspect the motorhome with a view to getting it an MOT before carrying out any further body or interior work.

Returning to work after the Christmas holidays, the Airstream project began with lots of enthusiasm. As with most projects like these, you never know what you are letting yourself into, and I recall a lot of mechanical work, although the interior appliances didn’t take much coaxing to bring back to life.

After the mechanical work was completed, I drove the vehicle to the MOT station and had it tested. With the MOT certificate in glovebox, I drove the motorhome back to the workshop, where we undersealed the chassis. I then contact the owner and asked him to come and have a look at the work done so far.

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A problem encountered

The owner was delighted with the amount of progress that had been made in such a short space of time. He decided that he wanted to keep the interior as original as possible, keeping everything at 110 volts, and only wanted us to add a step-down transformer.

One of the main problems we had was the generator, an old Kola unit. I managed to get the engine to run but could not get it to produce 110 volts. I thought of replacing it with an old Onan generator, but was unable to track one down, leaving me with no choice but to try and spark some life back into the old Kola.

With a bit of diagnostic work based on 40 years of experience and a bit of common sense, I managed to obtain some parts which I then modified to fit. The engine was fired up and to our surprise, the old Kola generator started producing a stable 110 volts.

I suggested to the owner that we should replace the dented panels and repair the side damage, then paint her blue. He went home happy with lots to think about.

A problem found 1 A problem found 2

The finer detail

The owner contacted me in October to cover the finer details, and we ordered the replacement panels that were available. Upon their arrival, we started to remove the old ones from the vehicle only to find the parts that were sent from America didn’t fit. As it transpired, the parts sent were for an Airstream caravan, not a motorhome.

We then had to wait for the American supplier to investigate what caused the error and send us the correct parts. This took a further three weeks before they realised that the panels had been marked up with the incorrect part numbers.

Upon arrival of the correct parts, the projected continued on. By this point, a lot of the damage had been repaired, the decals removed, and the panels etched. We called the owner, who came and inspected the work so far.

What will become blue and how much will remain polished aluminium?

What will be painted

The owner arrived, accompanied by his daughter, and was pleasantly surprised at the outcome so far. This was music to our ears; however, the next stage of the project would mean some tough decisions on how to proceed and how far to go.

The main concerns I had were on the left-hand side of the vehicle, where the aluminium had been heavily damaged by a hail storm. The right-side was comparatively undamaged. I was concerned that the damage to the left side would distract from the rest of the vehicle, spoiling the effect of the restoration.

My idea was to copy a design we had already done previously on an Airstream 350LE, adding more blue to hide some of the necessary repairs for which we couldn’t get replacement parts. The owner was not initially convinced, but I reassured him it would turn out well, and he left with complete confidence in LAS Motorhomes and the plan.

Preparations began

Preparation work started by removing all the dents on the lower panels whilst leaving the upper panels in their original state. Two days later I was at home reading the daily paper, and I saw a picture of a chrome coloured car. Straight away I realised it had been wrapped in a plastic film. This gave me a wonderful idea!

I started my investigations. I managed to get a sample of chrome wrap so I could see if it would go over the Airstream's rivets and still look good. It worked! I contacted the company we had used to wrap the Monster Energy motorhome a few years back and ask them for an estimate. At this point I was feeling good, only to be told the chrome wrap marks very easily and will only look good for about one year, making this idea a nonstarter.

I asked if I could have a look at their sample book (I was clutching at straws by this point) and came across a brushed aluminium effect wrap. I asked about its specifications expecting negative reviews but I was pleasantly surprised with their reply. My thoughts were to get the left-hand upper panels repainted, then wrap over the repairs with the brushed aluminium effect. I asked them to give me a quote for this work, and it was not at all cheap. I telephoned the customer with my idea and told him the price, half expecting a "No", but to my surprise, I got the thumbs up and a "Yes please!".

Preparations begin 1 Preparations begin 2

Decisions Made

This decision changed the whole feel of the Airstream, now the classic American motorhome will have a fully restored appearance. A lot of filler work is now required to get the body work good enough to be painted and wrapped.

When fitting the wrap, it was apparent the material would have to be put on and then pulled off to get it into the correct position, causing the primer to pull off with it. The answer was to use an epoxy based primer and leave it for a fortnight to dry. Epoxy based primer is harder, more durable and adheres to the aluminium body better than the etch primer.

With all damaged areas repaired, we were ready to give the whole body a coat of primer. Once the primer had been applied we gave the whole vehicle time to dry.

I must admit, the Airstream looked good in primer, without adding any colour. The next step was to flatten down the primer and repair any damage that had been missed, or where the primer had made it more visible.

Once we were satisfied and the primer had fully dried, the grey coat was applied, followed by the top coats of lacquer. As you can see, the Airstream looks good, and as we removed the masking tape, it gave the American motorhome a completely different look.

Following the base colour stage, the vehicle was left for a two-week period to allow the paint to harden. Following this came the wrap process.

As with all the projects that LAS becomes involved in, we always seem to make it difficult for ourselves. The easiest way to wrap a vehicle would be to apply it just like you do with wallpaper, vertical drops, but this effect was not what we were looking for. Wrapping the American RV with horizontal strips would look much better, allowing the aluminium brush affect grain to run horizontally. This stage of the project took two people over forty hours to complete and was not an easy process, but once it was done Airstream looked fantastic!

Decisions made
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metres of plastic film

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hours

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litres of lacquer

Adding the final touches to give it the "WOW" factor

The WOW factor

The Final Leg

The next stage of the restoration was to add the colour. This had previously been agreed with the owner, who showed some uncertainty about it. LAS Motorhomes were confident that it could give it the Airstream the "Wow factor" it deserved.

As mentioned earlier, a decision had been made to semi-duplicate a previous American Airstream that we had renovated. Using a framed picture from the office wall in hand, the vehicle was lined out with tape, and the relevant grey areas completely masked off.

Once the masking and lining were completed, the paint colour was mixed and applied to the vehicle. This is where the transformation either takes place, or you now find out that you have made an enormous error of judgment. As it turned out it was starting to look amazing, although it still had the masking in place so you were unable to see the complete look and feel.

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The Airstream Painted

I personally never remove the masking tape, preferring to delegate this part of the operation, as on a previous occasion I removed some of the paint as well as the tape. After all the masking had been removed, we all knew that all our strategies had been successfully completed. Another ball in the back of the net, it looked amazing!

The next stage was to put all the body trims back on as well as the bumpers, grille, and all the lights. You could see the transformation as each part went back on, especially the effect of putting the lights back on.

It is not until you look back through the previous photographs that you start to realise how far the project had come. I would be the first to agree that this project has taken up a wide time frame, but I was confident the owner would agree that the finished Airstream it was worth waiting for.

The owner was now due to come and view his vehicle, bearing in mind at his last visit the body was not painted and the left-hand side was still covered in dents. Looking at the images below, it will give you some idea of the contrast at each stage of the final processes.

These pictures do not do the finished Airstream justice; however, I hope you will be able to get a good idea of the transformation.

The Airstream painting finished.

The next step of the project will be making sure the running gear is all okay and then to get an MOT on her ready for next year's summer season.

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