I’ve always been drawn to vintage things. Through high school, college, and now adulthood, I’ve perused the aisles of thrift stores and antique shops in hopes of finding unique treasures. In the same way, I knew when my husband and I were searching for an RV, we wanted to buy a vintage travel trailer – one that looks classic, timeless, and with a story to tell.
We have two campers now and both look vintage, but only one is truly vintage. The other camper is retro-style. They’re so alike yet so different. We call our first camper “the Lil Hotdish,” and it’s a canned ham-style RV made in the 1960s by Monitor. I found it in the online classifieds after endlessly searching for a vintage camper that is also an ice house. Unlike regular RVs, ice houses have drop-down axles and holes on the floor for ice fishing. We ended up renovating most of it while preserving a few original features.
The second camper is a used 2017 Riverside Retro 820R and it has modern amenities but a retro look. It’s curved on one end like the canned ham but flat in the back since it’s a toy hauler. We’ve gone back and forth on the name but most recently agreed to call our newest addition “Peppermint Pattie,” because of its red and white colors. The plan is to convert this to a fish house as well, but that’s still in the works.
Whether you want to buy an old vintage motorhome or a modern retro-style RV, there are plenty of pros and cons that come with each type of camper.
The Advantages of a Vintage RV
Dream RV Come True
With a vintage RV, you have the opportunity to make your RV exactly how you want it. Since true vintage RVs are old RVs, updates are typically necessary. This is a great opportunity to do a complete renovation and make it your own. Camping World offers renovation services so that you can make upgrades to your electrical components, lighting, windows, bathroom, appliances, or whatever your heart desires. I think the best part about a vintage RV is that you can completely gut it guilt-free. I would feel much more guilty about taking apart a nice new camper versus an old one.
We bought the Lil Hotdish for $1500 which is considerably cheaper than new RVs or even new-ish used RVs. If you’re not looking to spend a ton of money, at least initially, then a vintage camper is probably a good option to consider. Even if you factor in additional renovation costs, it’ll likely be much cheaper than a new RV. You can get a free estimate on renovation costs from Camping World.
Easy to Winterize
RVs from the 1960s or even 70s don’t have the amenities that today’s RVs have. Without a bathroom or hot water heater, there’s not much to do come winter. Instead of worrying about plumbing or emptying the blackwater, we use a Luggable Loo which is basically a toilet seat that clips onto a bucket. And when we need hot water, we boil our water on a camp stove. Simple!
I love how classic a vintage RV looks. Everything from the canned ham shape to the pops of color sets this style of camper apart from others. Along with the classic exterior look, there are other unique characteristics you might find in a vintage camper like a wood panel interior or gas-burning lanterns that keep things extra cozy. Vintage campers are a great talking point too. Whenever we’re camping, people like to stop by our campsite and share their memories of when they used to go camping in a similar RV as a child. It takes people on a trip down memory lane or allows them to step back in time. There are even Vintage Camper Trailer Rallies to celebrate these niche RVs.
Vintage RV Cons
As classic as they are, vintage RVs don’t age like fine wine. They’re just old. It can often mean a complete rebuild from the inside out. Our vintage camper came with rotten floors and walls, a barely functional axle, an unreliable propane gas line and heater, and punctures on the exterior tin. We gutted most of it, replaced floors and walls, added a foot pump sink, welded the frame and axle, and made some style upgrades. The cost adds up quickly.
DIY projects are not only a lot of work, but it takes up time. Depending on the condition of the RV, there’s a good chance it’ll take months to renovate. Not to mention, it could take months to find parts. There aren’t many places you can find original parts that fit vintage campers.
It kind of defeats the purpose, but an old vintage RV is not as roadworthy as newer RVs because everything is older and the safety features (if there are any) are antiquated. We’ve had to keep our adventures closer to home in Minnesota and Wisconsin. The farthest we’ve gone camping is Montana and our frame cracked on the way home. It was scary and unexpected, but we were ok! Vintage RVs also don’t have the springs or suspension that comes with newer RVs so bumpy roads and heavy loads are questionable.
Lack of Modern Amenities
Vintage RVs are pretty but they’re also pretty basic. They lack the modern amenities newer RVs might have like a full kitchen, power jacks, power slideouts, electric awnings, a water heater, bathroom, sound system, AC and heater, electric fireplace, and other luxury features. However, many of these features could probably be added later.
New “Retro-Style,” RV Advantages:
Modern retro-style RVs can come with all the features in today’s contemporary RVs. They can be as luxurious or as basic as you want with different floor plans and upgrade options. Even the most basic modern retro-style RV will have upgraded appliances. Our retro-style RV has a kitchen with a microwave, stove, and refrigerator, a bathroom with a shower and toilet, an entertainment system, and higher-end furnishing.
Still Has That Classic Look
For me, it’s all about aesthetics. Retro-style RVs look simple yet eye-catching. It’s nostalgic and takes people back in time with its classic canned ham RV shape. Modern retro-style RVs are designed with vintage flair on the outside and modern amenities on the inside. You can even find retro-style RVs with a more classic interior complete with black and white checkered flooring and colorful dinette cushions reminiscent of a 1950s diner.
Buckle up and get ready for a long road trip to your dream camping destination because these modern retro-style RVs are made for travel. Since all of the RV parts including the axles and suspensions are newer, a retro-style RV can handle road trips safely. Some retro-style RVs like the nuCamp Teardrop Campers have off-road packages to handle some of the roughest terrains.
New “Retro-Style” RV Cons:
Larger Price Tag
Modern retro-style RVs are typically going to cost more than a vintage RV. They’re newer, sometimes bigger, and come with fancier features. There are some completely renovated vintage RVs that may cost more because of the upgrades. But if you’re leaning towards a modern retro-style RV and want to save some money, consider buying a used RV rather than a brand new RV.
With great features come great responsibilities. Having the luxury of running water means you’ll need to drain your water heater and water lines, bypass the water heater, add antifreeze and clean the holding tanks. If that seems too complicated, you can leave it to the pros at Camping World Service Center to do it for you.
Not As Simple
Today’s campers come with more bells and whistles, many of which may seem unnecessary to people who want to truly experience camping for its simplicity. Satellite hookups, big-screen TVs, WiFi rangers, dishwashers, and even some basic components like a toilet or water heater might seem like overkill to some. Look for a retro-style RV with the features that are most important to you.
Interested in buying a vintage camper? Take advantage of Camping World’s full range of renovation options. If you’re selling or trading in your current RV or are purchasing a modern retro-style RV through Camping World, take advantage of the convenient home delivery service and let Camping World bring your RV to you.
I have a 1987 Newell 40-foot Class A motorhome. It’s in great shape (under 200K miles), all kinds of modern conveniences, plush, comfortable…
But this summer I suffered a cracked side window. So far, I’ve been unable to source a replacement; it made come down to having a piece of glass custom-made, somewhere.
The point being that some parts of vintage RVs made be pricey, if not unobtainable.