Pros and Cons of Vintage RVs

There are plenty of pros and cons that come with buying vintage RVs. Here are our tips as you decide if it's worth it. The post Pros and Cons of Vintage RVs appeared first on Camping World Blog.

Pros and Cons of Vintage RVs

Throughout my life, I’ve perused the aisles of thrift stores and antique shops in hopes of finding unique treasures. That’s why vintage RVs were so appealing when my husband and I searched for a travel trailer. We wanted something classic and timeless, with a story to tell. 

What Is a Vintage RV?

We have two campers now. Both look vintage, but only one truly is. The other is technically a retro camper. They’re so alike, yet so different. 

We call our first camper “the Lil Hotdish,” 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 renovated most of it while preserving some original features.

Our second camper is a 2017 Riverside Retro 820R with modern amenities but a retro look. It’s curved in front, like the canned ham, but flat in the back since it’s a toy hauler. We 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, but that’s still in the works. 

Whether you want to buy a truly vintage RV or a modern retro camper, let’s examine the pros and cons of each type based on our experience.

Who Makes Retro Campers?

Riverside RV is one of the most common retro travel trailer manufacturers on nationwide Camping World lots. In addition to the 820R model, they make a compact, rear-entry retro travel trailer—the Retro 135. They also manufacture a lightweight bunkhouse model—the Retro 190BH. But my personal favorite is the slightly larger and more luxurious rear bathroom floorplan—the Retro 245RB.

You can explore all of their floorplans here.

The Advantages of a Vintage RV

Lil Hotdish at fall campsite in Otter Tail County
Photo by Jenny Anderson

Let’s begin with the benefits of a vintage RV:


With a vintage RV, you can make it how you want it. Since true vintage RVs are old, updates are typically necessary. This is a great opportunity to completely renovate and make it your own. 

Camping World offers renovation services to upgrade your electrical components, lighting, windows, bathroom, appliances, or whatever your heart desires. 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 initially, 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 of renovation costs from Camping World. 

Easy Winterization

RVs from the 1960s or even 70s don’t have the amenities that today’s RVs have. There’s not much to do come winter without a bathroom or hot water heater. 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!

That “Classic” Look

I love how classic a vintage RV looks. Everything from the canned ham shape to the pops of color sets this camper style apart. Along with the classic exterior look, you might find other unique characteristics 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 and share their memories of when they used to go camping in a similar RV as children. It takes people 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

Photo by Jenny Anderson

Of course, there are some downsides to buying an older used camper:

RV Age

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.

Renovating an RV is not only a lot of work, but it takes 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 to find original parts that fit vintage campers.

Not as “Roadworthy”

It defeats the purpose, but an old vintage RV is not as roadworthy as newer RVs because everything is older, and the safety features (if any) are antiquated. We’ve had to keep our adventures closer to home in Minnesota and Wisconsin.

Montana is the farthest we’ve gone, 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 come 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, a bathroom, a sound system, heat and air conditioning, an electric fireplace, and other luxury features. However, many of these features could probably be added later.

Retro Camper Advantages

Photo by Jenny Anderson

Now, let’s examine the upsides of buying a new camper that looks vintage:

Updated Features

Modern retro travel trailers can have all the features of contemporary RVs. They can be as luxurious or basic as you want, with different RV trailer layouts and upgrade options. Even the most basic modern retro campers will have upgraded appliances. Our retro RV has a kitchen with a microwave, stove, and refrigerator, a bathroom with a shower and toilet, an entertainment system, and higher-end furnishings. 

Still Has That Classic Look

For me, it’s all about aesthetics. Retro travel trailers look simple yet eye-catching. They’re nostalgic and take people back in time with their classic canned ham RV shape. Modern retro campers are designed with vintage flair on the outside and modern amenities on the inside. You can even find retro campers with a more classic interior, black and white checkered flooring, and colorful dinette cushions reminiscent of a 1950s diner.

It’s Roadworthy

Buckle up and prepare for a long road trip to your dream camping destination because these modern retro campers are for travel. Since all the parts, including the axles and suspension, are newer, a retro travel trailer can handle road trips safely. Some retro trailers like the nuCamp Teardrop Campers have off-road packages to handle some of the roughest terrains.

Cons of Retro Campers

Image: Jenny Anderson

As always, there are disadvantages to new retro travel trailers:

Larger Price Tag

Modern retro campers are typically going to cost more than a vintage RV. They’re newer, sometimes bigger, and come with fancier features. Some completely renovated vintage RVs may cost more because of the upgrades. But if you’re leaning towards a modern retro trailer and want to save some money, consider buying a used RV rather than a brand-new RV.

Winterization Woes

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 a 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, Wi-Fi hotspots, dishwashers, and even some basic components like a toilet or water heater might seem like overkill to some. Look for a retro 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.

Here are a few more noteworthy resources:

What questions do you have about vintage vs retro campers? Let us know in the comments below.

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