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Old 06-12-2014, 02:01 PM   #1
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Just curious - mechanical aptitude

I just finished looking through all 114 pages of the thread where people are posting pictures of their vintage rigs, and it certainly got me to thinking. Although I might have a hard time convincing my wife, a big part of me is drawn to the unique look of the mid-80s Holiday Rambler and Foretravel motorhomes.

Somewhere in the midst of those 114 pages, someone said something about needing mechanical ability before thinking about buying an older rig (or words to that effect). The question to some of you is: how much mechanical "talent" would consider to be the minimum required? When I graduated from high school, I took a series of aptitude and manual dexterity tests, after which I was advised to avoid getting a job working with my hands.

I'm smart enough to know I'm somewhat mechanically inept, at least when it come to vehicles. I can change the oil and the spark plugs and filters and the like (although I admit to being a bit rusty), but transmissions, carburetors, manifolds, and the like are beyond my current level of expertise. On the other hand, I can likely change outlets, I've never injured myself or anyone else with power tools, and I've painted and helped lay down laminate and vinyl tile flooring.

Any thoughts? I'd like to think the main obstacle to a vintage MH will be my wife and not my lack of innate mechanical ability. Thanks.
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Old 06-12-2014, 02:50 PM   #2
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Walt.. I have been renovating a 96 Bounder as I go.... I bought a cheap fixer upper that ran well but had deep convenience repair needs. I say ...if you are a decent DIYer in the home and DIYer in the auto garage and you select a MH for restoration properly (one that was not allowed to leak and rot) ...that you can have a blast at moving thru it and learning how it functions, while improving it and modernizing. Many of us have already performed that service and advice is very good on this site.

Our Bounder has been converted into a cycling lockerroom for all practical purposes. We love to cycle...we wanted a bicycle hauler that we could go rail trail and long haul pedaling and have a base camp in luxury to return to and recover....what finer way to travel than in a home that houses all your cycling needs and is lower maintenance than a standard MH interior.
So ... carpet gone....garage type vinyl flooring installed....dinette gone....bike rack in.....tool and compressor for bikes installed and easy access.... cubbies converted....solar project installed and boondocking type project completed (very little power required from shore power sources). Little by little....research, save, buy and improve...we continue to make the 34 fter into a nicer partner for our use.
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Old 06-12-2014, 02:58 PM   #3
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Hi Walt,

I suspect the bulk of the battle is enjoying the work/modifications. Not many of us are expert cabinet makers or certified electricians (or ???) but you research and experiment. If you don't like the result, do it again - it is almost guaranteed to be better the second time. ;-) There are some folks that do not enjoy having to learn/fix something and some that would be better off never picking up a screwdriver (never mind a power tool). For those, a new-ish MH may be the best option.

I think I would find a vintage RV restoration (or car) to be very enjoyable but it would likely be a ten year project during which time I would not be doing any camping/traveling. At this point in my life, that drops it far enough down my priority list that I'll not be doing it.
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Old 06-12-2014, 02:59 PM   #4
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Thanks. The auto garage is where I come up a bit short. I haven't done much automotive DIY (haven't even changed my own oil for some time, though I have done it before). DIY around the house, I have mnore experience with.
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Old 06-12-2014, 04:41 PM   #5
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Hi Walt,

I suspect the bulk of the battle is enjoying the work/modifications. Not many of us are expert cabinet makers or certified electricians (or ???) but you research and experiment. If you don't like the result, do it again - it is almost guaranteed to be better the second time. ;-) There are some folks that do not enjoy having to learn/fix something and some that would be better off never picking up a screwdriver (never mind a power tool). For those, a new-ish MH may be the best option.

I think I would find a vintage RV restoration (or car) to be very enjoyable but it would likely be a ten year project during which time I would not be doing any camping/traveling. At this point in my life, that drops it far enough down my priority list that I'll not be doing it.
Well, there is that. There is just a part of me that thinks a vintage RV, without all of the electrical additions and the slide mechanisms to worry about, would be simpler in some ways. No doubt it would be more complicated, though, in others. Perhaps my best best is to go with a newer MH and simply admire other people's vintage RVs from afar.
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Old 06-12-2014, 06:36 PM   #6
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Walt ... I'll tell you right now, if your wife is not totally on board with you doing a restoration on a vintage RV ... you have an uphill struggle. You can overcome, with reading and learning about various mechanical "fixes", your status as a non-mechanic ... But you won't be able to do it without a cooperative spouse.

For me, I needed a helper for many of the tasks of restoration, even though I'm a fairly skilled mechanic, plumber, electrician, and all that stuff.

If you have the work space, I hope you can convince your wife to join the fun of restoring a vintage RV.
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Old 06-12-2014, 08:22 PM   #7
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I would caution one thing. That's the fact it's pretty easy to bury yourself into something you don't like when you're done?

I found and fixed up a really solid old 94 HR. Tires, radiator, 2 new exhaust manifolds, AND I repainted the entire lower half of the coach. Lots of time and money making it ready to go anywhere and stay as long as we wanted, but I didn't mind the experience a bit - until - after using it on a couple of longer trips, the lady and I decided it was too small to spend any extended amount of time in. Our mistake was regarding the galley area mostly. There was only room for one of us to be standing at a time. Toss one of our 2 dogs looking for some attention into the equation, and that issue became frustrating.

I felt that if we were going to do something about that (going with a big slide out) I might just as well go with a DP while making the change. So I started over again with the one shown below.

When we bought the second coach, I had 6 weeks to get it ready for an extended trip that had already been planned (for our first one). I made it, focusing only on issues of funtion, and road worthiness. The rest of it, bringing the maintenance up to 100% on the entire coach, took me another year.

So 2 points. First, you can buy something and use it as you fix it up. Priorities will apply, but it's certainly a good way to learn the coach's necessary care and feeding one lesson at a time. It doesn't need to be at 100% for those first few trips. It needs to be functional, and it needs to be road worthy. After that you can just pick at the bunch of issues you'll likely start keeping track of - prioritizing as you go.

Second, the cliche, try to buy the last coach first? If you are able to pull that one off, you'll save yourself a LOT of time and money.

Re: you mechanical ability and owning an RV? Most of us weren't born with the knowledge to do our own work. We leaned by getting our hands dirty, asking questions (yes, LOTS of them!), and learning from our mistakes....

Should also mention, part of what you'll learn is when to throw your hat in and let an expert, or somebody with the right equipment, handle the issue at hand? An example might be something like a flat tire.... Others might revolve around any heavy chassis work. This is the reason I generally suggest you have at least the chassis checked out by a pro (and pro's don't work at RV dealerships).

Best of luck on your decision! Hope a piece of this helps. -Al
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Old 06-13-2014, 05:13 AM   #8
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Walt,

My father gave me advice that I still follow. He said; "Do what you do best and pay someone else to do what they do best." That said, if you buy a rig that has been maintained, you'll not have any problems that you can't overcome. Stick some money in a reserve account and you'll be prepared for things that exceed your skill level. I read enough horror stories about problems with new rigs that I find comfort in one that has been down the road a few times and had the bugs worked out.

I talked to a guy last month that had a 15 y/o Foretravel and it was the nicest looking rig in the campground. in my opinion, it looked better than the new Prevost it was parked next to.
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Old 06-13-2014, 08:30 AM   #9
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Walt,

My father gave me advice that I still follow. He said; "Do what you do best and pay someone else to do what they do best." That said, if you buy a rig that has been maintained, you'll not have any problems that you can't overcome. Stick some money in a reserve account and you'll be prepared for things that exceed your skill level. I read enough horror stories about problems with new rigs that I find comfort in one that has been down the road a few times and had the bugs worked out.

I talked to a guy last month that had a 15 y/o Foretravel and it was the nicest looking rig in the campground. in my opinion, it looked better than the new Prevost it was parked next to.
Some good advice, there. Thanks to everyone else for their words of wisdom. Much appreciated.

I think part of what got me to thinking of an older motorhome - beside the added character they have and the pictures of what some have been able to do with their vintage rigs - is the fact that we haven't found the "perfect" floor plan for us and might end up making changes to whatever rig we end up getting, newer or older. I think the fact that the older rigs seem to me less likely to have some of the types of failures some more "modern" rigs have - electric dump valves (like my current fifth wheel), slide mechanisms , and the like - was another thought in the back of my mind.

Then there is the fact that we like to get slightly off the beaten path and/or go to more rustic campgrounds where slides might make things a bit more difficult. I did see a 1999 Foretravel I thought looked really sharp (meaning nothing much for me to have to do) with no slides - if I can convince my wife.
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Old 06-13-2014, 11:27 AM   #10
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#1 if your wife is not on board, forget about it.
#2 before you buy, have a truck mechanic go over the thing do you at least know what chassis or other mechanical issues you will need to deal with.
#3 if you have basic DIY skills, and sometimes a little help from this and other websites, you can remodel the coach the way you want it.
#4 figure out approximate budget before you start, then double it.
#5 make sure you allot more time than you think you need for each step of your project because working in the relatively cramped spaces of a coach, everything seems to take more time than it should.

I could make a longer list but I'm just giving a few cautions rather than trying to discourage you. In fact if you decide to go for it, I'm looking forward to following your progress.
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Old 06-13-2014, 11:34 AM   #11
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#1 if your wife is not on board, forget about it.
#2 before you buy, have a truck mechanic go over the thing do you at least know what chassis or other mechanical issues you will need to deal with.
#3 if you have basic DIY skills, and sometimes a little help from this and other websites, you can remodel the coach the way you want it.
#4 figure out approximate budget before you start, then double it.
#5 make sure you allot more time than you think you need for each step of your project because working in the relatively cramped spaces of a coach, everything seems to take more time than it should.

I could make a longer list but I'm just giving a few cautions rather than trying to discourage you. In fact if you decide to go for it, I'm looking forward to following your progress.
Totally agree about #1. That will likely be a bigger obstacle than any lack of mechanical skills. Still, a man can dream.
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Old 06-14-2014, 07:04 AM   #12
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Buy an early 90s Foretravel and you probably won't need the mechanical aptitude. Don't get one from the 80s. Needs to be of the Unihome GV class.
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Old 06-15-2014, 01:45 AM   #13
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Buy an early 90s Foretravel and you probably won't need the mechanical aptitude. Don't get one from the 80s. Needs to be of the Unihome GV class.

That is my take on the Foretravel line too. I had a very long conversation with a former Foretravel manager. He further nailed down the very best years and styles.

Here is an excellent history and explanation of the engine/transmissions for the various years.

http://www.beamalarm.com/Documents/f...l_history.html
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Old 06-16-2014, 05:00 PM   #14
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That is my take on the Foretravel line too. I had a very long conversation with a former Foretravel manager. He further nailed down the very best years and styles.

Here is an excellent history and explanation of the engine/transmissions for the various years.

Foretravel History
Thanks for the link, and thanks to Daveinet for the recommendation on Foretravel. I do like their coaches, and older one (early 90s) might be the way to go. One thing I like about FT, at least based on the pictures I've seen, is that a lot of the models (say mid-90s on at least) wouldn't look out of place next to the new coaches rolling out today.
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