Q: Will newer vintage Airstream skins polish as well as old skins?
A: Yes. The pure aluminum alclading that allows the skin to take a high polish was used up until the middle of the 1982 production run, when the finish was changed to a satin finish.
Q: How do I remove the clear-coat from my trailer exterior?
A: Use a stripper designed for aircraft use on aluminum. One such product is RemovAll 220, manufactured by Napier Environmental Technologies. It is easy to use – you just paint or spray it on and hose it off. It’s classified as non-hazardous. One supplier is Aircraft Spruce. Napier also privately brands this product, and it is marketed by ICI Paints as Hydrostrip 502, and also under the Crown label (SV35/AC. It’s available in 1 and 5 gallon sizes. A little more toxic alternative, and not as effective, but available from auto stores and home centers, is “Aircraft Remover”. The blue & red can has an aircraft on the label.
Q: Why should I polish my trailer?
A: No single thing can add as much appeal and value to a trailer. It is considered the crowning touch to a restoration. The Airstreams, when delivered from the factory many years ago, had the natural polished finish of the aircraft aluminum sheets. The owners then used a metal polish available from Airstream dealers to annually maintain the finish.
Q: When did Airstreams first get clear-coated to protect the finish?
A: Clear-coating was first offered as an option in 1963 for those who did not like the prospect of annually giving their trailers a once-over. It became standard the following year. Clear-coating still requires annual applications of “Walbernize”, available from Airstream dealers.
Q: Is there more than one way to polish a trailer?
A: Yes. There are about four techniques in general use if you count hand polishing, but they all involve many of the same processes – using a compound and mechanical force to move it around. Aluminum oxide, the stuff you want to get rid of, is almost as hard as a diamond, and is chemically inert. It cannot be washed off. It must be abraded away. The bare metal must then be polished to a mirror bright finish ( or nearly so). A final clear-coating to prevent future oxidizing is optional.
Q: Can I polish my own trailer?
A: Yes. Polishing an older Airstream is the single most important thing you can do to increase its value and beauty. The time required is 140 hours and upward depending on the length and condition. The work is physically demanding, so many people may prefer to pay a contractor. See Supplier page for some recommended polishers.
Q: Is there a Wrong way to polish A trailer?
A: Yes, there is. One of the worst things you can do, and something that will make the polishing take 3 times as long, is to attack the trailer with a buffing wheel and any old metal or “truck” polish. The thing you must avoid at all costs is inducing “swirls”, really small scratches into the surface. This may get the oxidation off fast, but it will then take forever with subsequent passes of polishing to get the finished surface down to a smooth, swirless shine – or in some cases, just get the trailer skin back to just short of a garish nightmare.
Q: Can I re-apply the clear coat finish to my trailer?
A: Unfortunately no. The 2 part material is a special application process that is only being commercially done by the factory or:
P&S Trailer Service
4702 W US6 Helena OH 43435
2111 E. Benson Highway Tucson, AZ 85714.
Richard McIntyre in Oregon
ReVitalized Trailers, Inc.
Washington State & the west coast
Q: Can you acid wash the external skin instead of polishing?
A: It can be done, but if you don’t get the acid completely removed, it has the potential to be a perpetual leaker. The acid may get under the rivet heads and may not get rinsed off properly. The acid may reactivate and will continue to eat away at the aluminum underneath the rivet heads. Even so, many commercial and respected restorers use this method. Once etched, you then polish conventionally using coarse to fine polishes. More info on the Perfect Polish website.
Q: Once polished, can I seal the aluminum to keep the polish?
A: There seems to be three camps on this subject. One thought is to use a wax sealer, such as Eagle 1 (“waxes as you dry”). Another is to do a light touch-up polish every couple of years, and the other is use a wipe on/wipe off sealing polish, such as the one available from Rolite. All methods have their supporters.
The one best thing you can do to protect the shine is store your trailer inside a garage, barn or under a carport. Not only does this protect all the seals and gaskets and plastic parts, this one thing will make the shine last almost forever. Trailers from the 1950’s that have been stored under cover since new still have their original patina. This 1958 Bubble is an example.