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Author Topic: Noob about to pull the trigger on an 89 Chieftain  (Read 12128 times)

Offline fasteddie313

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  • Chassis: Chevy
  • Engine: 454
Noob about to pull the trigger on an 89 Chieftain
« on: August 30, 2015, 10:19 PM »
Long story short me and my GF are looking to get out of this small town and find somewhere better and we have an opportunity to buy an 89 winnebago chieftain that we can afford at what I believe is a bargain.

I believe it is a "31" model, it has the couch right when you come in the door and table to the left,  the seperate shower-toilet area, and a queen size bed. The engine and driveline are supposed to be in excellent condition with a fresh tune up. It has 74k miles iirc and seems to be in pretty good condition though there are some faults.


From what I know of so far it needs a front right tire (weather checked), hot water heater, and something about the "bladder" that separates the grey water tank from the septic water tank is torn so both mix.

Everything is very nice bordering on immaculate almost but there are a few problems. In a couple places there are some failed rivets in the exterior panels but nothing big, a hinge on an exterior storage compartment needs some TLC, the left rear closet in the back bedroom shows signs of a previous leak but the roof is sealed up now very well, some cracking in the headboard above the windshield and a visor needs put back on, the roof stairs need to be refastened to the rear bumper. Little stuff..

I really don't know much about RV's but I am quite mechanically inclined, I do engines, mechanics, and I'm 24 by the way and in northern Michigan.

I would love some input from some of you experienced folk, is this a good model? What to look for? What to expect?
And what is it worth?

The seller is family and has offered it to us for $3500 and it is pretty much perfect for our plans, fix it up a bit and head to say North Carolina or something depending on job offers.

What do you guys think?

Offline Rickf1985

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Re: Noob about to pull the trigger on an 89 Chieftain
« Reply #1 on: August 31, 2015, 07:32 AM »
The couch and table layout sounds more like a 33" or maybe larger. I have a 31 and my couch is across from the door and the table is to the right when you come in. There should be two tanks, Grey and Black. Never heard of a bladder between tanks. Watch for roof leaks, on mine I found that the seam between the roof and the body side leaked all the way down both sides. Even though that is sealed I am still chasing a large leak somewhere. What kind of rear suspension does it have? If it is the Jet-Ride air suspension that is a great, smooth riding system as long as it is in good working order. And if you have one bad tire then the rest are probably bad also. 6 years old is max on RV tires, they go bad from lack of use.

Offline fasteddie313

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  • Year: 1981
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  • Model: Imperial 33
  • Chassis: Chevy
  • Engine: 454
Re: Noob about to pull the trigger on an 89 Chieftain
« Reply #2 on: August 31, 2015, 12:43 PM »
"The couch and table layout sounds more like a 33" or maybe larger. I have a 31 and my couch is across from the door and the table is to the right when you come in."


When you come in the side door immediately on the right of the door side is a reclining chair on a post, to the left of the door is a table with bench seats "dinette" I guess, then the shower on that side.


The other side directly across from the door is the "magic bed" couch, then to the left is the sink, stove, fridge, and toilet room in that order IIRC.

I really need to find out more, look at it again. It was just so much to take in all at once..


"There should be two tanks, Grey and Black. Never heard of a bladder between tanks."

I have never heard of such a bladder either, as far as I know the problem is that the black and grey tanks do not stay separated from one another. In reality who knows what's going on but supposedly nothing leaks.


"Watch for roof leaks, on mine I found that the seam between the roof and the body side leaked all the way down both sides. Even though that is sealed I am still chasing a large leak somewhere."

The roof is sealed all along it's sides and back and around any roof things with what looks to be some sort of high quality white latex like seam sealer, It looks like a very good job was done. It just rained and all was dry even the place that looked like it got wet before.. The rest of the roof is bare aluminum.


"What kind of rear suspension does it have? If it is the Jet-Ride air suspension that is a great, smooth riding system as long as it is in good working order."

I believe I saw some massive leaf springs in the rear but I didn't really look that hard, I was looking for rust. Other than that it has great tires on the rear dualies, great chrome hubcaps with remote mount tire air valves.


"And if you have one bad tire then the rest are probably bad also. 6 years old is max on RV tires, they go bad from lack of use."

I guess the "spare" is on the front right wheel and it is massively weather checked dangerous looking. All of the other tires on the rig are totally different and look very good..


The rig also has an ONAN generator in the left rear corner, 2 cylinder, and had a 35 amp breaker I believe. There are 2 big batteries in an under cubby just behind the front left tire.. 2 ACs on the roof. Electric EVERYTHING which is a bit scary. Carbureted 454.. Black refrigerator that does not look original that the GF says is "digital", installed professional looking.


It has a binder folder "operators manual" that appears to be what I know as a "factory service manual". It's a good 3.5" thick with all sorts of owner paperwork in it also.
3" of manual and .5" of randoms..  I should have took it with me to study, maybe I'll go back for it.


It is very negotiable, trades, payments likely all available. We are likely going to trade our 3rd car into it and work out a tax time sort of deal. Family, and we have very good credit with them I guess you could say, well the GF does.. The owner won't be back for about 2 weeks so I haven't really been shown around and had things explained to me, I just have the keys.


If I go back and take a bunch of pictures and possibly hijack that manual do you think you guys could help me get an idea of what it's going to take to fix this thing up as far as work and cost? I can do a lot of work and have many tools, it's what I do, but not a lot of $$..
And an idea of what I should pay for it?


For example it needs a hot water heater any idea on what a replacement would cost?
Where can you get parts for these things? Specific junkyards? Are parts generally available? How expencive?


What can one of these things realistically tow, and how much actual weight can those under cubbie storage compartments hold?

I have a lot of mechanics tools that would have to come with for my work either on a trailer (with a car) or on the rig itself somewhere, tools are my livelihood, and they are seriously heavy, easily a half ton..




Offline fasteddie313

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  • Chassis: Chevy
  • Engine: 454
Re: Noob about to pull the trigger on an 89 Chieftain
« Reply #3 on: August 31, 2015, 05:52 PM »
https://www.flickr.com/gp/134130593@N04/222C89

That should be a whole lot of pictures, mostly highlighting the problem areas. If it doesn't work for you please let me know, and if it does work let me know if you see anything too awfully terrible.

Well experts what should I do with this thing? Is it a good candidate or no?

Offline WyzrdX

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Re: Noob about to pull the trigger on an 89 Chieftain
« Reply #4 on: August 31, 2015, 06:52 PM »
If I go back and take a bunch of pictures and possibly hijack that manual do you think you guys could help me get an idea of what it's going to take to fix this thing up as far as work and cost? I can do a lot of work and have many tools, it's what I do, but not a lot of $$..
And an idea of what I should pay for it?

Well looking at the pictures from what I could see is there are a few places you will need body work done. Also looks like some of the windows will need to be resealed.

There appears to be some damage in areas that may have gotten wet so I would be leery of whether the fixed leaks were done quickly or correctly. A quick fix will leak again and could go unnoticed until it becomes major.

For example it needs a hot water heater any idea on what a replacement would cost?
Where can you get parts for these things? Specific junkyards? Are parts generally available? How expencive?

A new Tankless Water Heater will run you between 500 and 700 and they use less fuel than a tank. Replacing with a similar one with a tank might be $400. There are RV Salvage yards all over. Look at this thread. http://www.classicwinnebagos.com/forum/index.php/topic,5072.msg17287.html#msg17287
"The only source of knowledge is experience" - Albert Einstein

A Crowded Camper is better than an Empty Mansion.... Says Who?????

Offline Rickf1985

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Re: Noob about to pull the trigger on an 89 Chieftain
« Reply #5 on: August 31, 2015, 07:08 PM »
Everything was good until you threw out the "easily a half ton of tools" thing! These things are pretty much maxed out as they sit, the basement compartments are for light items like toys and tents and camping gear. As far as the trailer goes, another problem. The hitch on this coach was designed to pull a toad, a small car on a two bar or a dolly. Max tongue load is 250 lbs. and max trailer weight is 3500 lbs. . If you look up under there you will see the frame has been extended about 6 feet and the welds are really poor on the drivers side and on the passenger side the main frame ends at the last compartment and gets split into sections, one of which is at 90 degrees to the rest of the frame. Needless to say that is not conducive to a heavy pull. If you put too much weight on the hitch you could actually pull the whole rear end down and open the top right up at the rear cap. You will not be able to make a rolling workshop out of it, that is for sure.
I pull my Jeep on a trailer but look at the pic and notice how far back over the axles the Jeep is. I have exactly 200 lbs. tongue weight. I am quite a bit over on the max trailer weight at 5200 lbs. but I did a lot of frame reinforcing. I am still real careful and avoid rough roads if at all possible.

Offline TripleJ

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Re: Noob about to pull the trigger on an 89 Chieftain
« Reply #6 on: August 31, 2015, 07:31 PM »
You will get a lot of input, heres mine... Im no expert and theres too much to write about when it comes to finding the best old R/V (DONT FORGET THE R?V BUYERS CHECKLIST TO THE RIGHT====>>>>)

IMO the GM p30 is the best chassis to have. Easiest to work on, easiest to find parts for. So that's a plus 1

Wrinkly fiberglass skin makes me very uncomfortable (so I chose a model that doesn't have that problem).  Remember if you can see evidence of a leak on the outside it means its worse than you will want to see on the inside (underneath the skin).  Repairs can go from just laying a new bead of sealer around the window, to going absolutely crazy disassembling things and replacing structural parts.

I see a lot of that old style grey water pipe.  Before you buy it, pressurize the water system and find the leaks. 

The model # on the VIN tag says its a 31, so there...

That brush on sealer on the roof is not a proper repair, unless there was some work done underneath the brush on sealer.  A better Band-Aid would have been self leveling sealer, then eternabond tape, THEN maybe the brush on. Just FYI, you may be spending time on the roof =)

As for tires, the really bad tire is probably the spare, and it is probably the original spare (I found mine under the spare cover, from 1985. It was awful looking) which means under the spare tire cover is probably a bad tire that came off the front.  Expect to shell out $500 immediately for two new fronts, then put the best remaining tire back under the spare tire cover.  Cheapo's like us are getting either Samson or DoubleCoin tires for around $220 each mounted and balanced.

My background is mechanics also, years ago, but it has helped me with keeping my '85 on the road.  Theres nothing mysterious about the P30 chassis, its just bigger than your old pickup truck  :D :D
'85 Holiday Rambler Presidential '28

Offline fasteddie313

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Re: Noob about to pull the trigger on an 89 Chieftain
« Reply #7 on: August 31, 2015, 08:15 PM »
Max tongue load is 250 lbs. and max trailer weight is 3500 lbs. . If you look up under there you will see the frame has been extended about 6 feet and the welds are really poor on the drivers side and on the passenger side the main frame ends at the last compartment and gets split into sections, one of which is at 90 degrees to the rest of the frame. Needless to say that is not conducive to a heavy pull.

Ok this makes sense..
Lets say I was to forgo the last storage compartment on the right, the super deep one. I could do some welding on the original frame extensions to beef them up and then do some of my own frame extensions all the way to the hitch and a lot of reinforcement everywhere behind the rear axles.

Would this be a logical way to solve much of this problem? I have a big arc welder and access to a lot of metal.. And a lot of time on my hands..

[
You will get a lot of input


I hope so :)

Wrinkly fiberglass skin makes me very uncomfortable (so I chose a model that doesn't have that problem).  Remember if you can see evidence of a leak on the outside it means it's worse than you will want to see on the inside (underneath the skin).  Repairs can go from just laying a new bead of sealer around the window, to going absolutely crazy disassembling things and replacing structural parts.

Ok so what is behind this fiberglass skin?

I read something along the lines of the foam insulation behind the fiberglass skin gets wet and swells causing symptoms such as this, I think.

Is this a structural concern?
Assuming the leaks are stopped, or I stop them, what can be done about this wavy area in the exterior fiberglass? Can I fix this with a bunch of elbow grease and some materials or what?

By the way this wavy area is right behind the shower, that could have something to do with it..

Offline fasteddie313

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Re: Noob about to pull the trigger on an 89 Chieftain
« Reply #8 on: August 31, 2015, 08:35 PM »
Here is the scary spot..




If this isn't a deal breaker, if I can fix it, then I think it's game on but I have no experience with this type of repair.


 

Offline JessEm

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Re: Noob about to pull the trigger on an 89 Chieftain
« Reply #9 on: August 31, 2015, 09:44 PM »
Not much you can do except fix 'er up as best as possible and make sure all possible entrances are sealed so it doesn't happen again. You might be onto something with the shower, but then again, it seems excessive for a shower, given the minimal use they typically get. A couple things I would look at are, 1) Is there water lines in that wall? 2) Is the drain sealed where it attaches to the tub? 3) Any noticeable cracks or gaps in the area water could escape through?

Offline TripleJ

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Re: Noob about to pull the trigger on an 89 Chieftain
« Reply #10 on: August 31, 2015, 09:56 PM »
Here is the scary spot..
X
X
If this isn't a deal breaker, if I can fix it, then I think it's game on but I have no experience with this type of repair.

Like you, I have no experience with this type of repair.  If I were to get a good enough deal on this unit, I would do like JessEm said and try hard to find and fix the leak.  Then go around with screws bolts and rivets and glue and etc etc to make it as solid and decent looking as possible and drive that RV till the wheels fall off.


Owning a vintage R/V isn't a hobby, its a lifestyle.
'85 Holiday Rambler Presidential '28

Offline lemortede

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Re: Noob about to pull the trigger on an 89 Chieftain
« Reply #11 on: August 31, 2015, 09:57 PM »
Ill toss out my two cents.
I just finished a mechanical restore of an 1988 Chieftain.
I am in the middle of the comedic stuff, but its usable.
1) Check the water system. Have some one near the valve so when you start screaming they can turn it off. The old...I think its a form of ABS?....cracks easily. Its possible to repair it with modern connectors but in some places you will have to be creative or totally re-plumb it.
If you don't see any obvious leaks make sure you check under the sinks, toilets and the shower while the water is running and when the valves are holding pressure. I would also suggest pulling up the panel that is hiding the pump and looking in that space for any leaks.
Usually its in a closet where you can pull up the floor panel.
Check all your drains while you are running the water.
2) How long has it been sitting If its been sitting for a bit you may have some significant brake work that needs to be done. The good news is that they are fairly simple to work on and the parts are readily available and cheap. Brakes are not somewhere you want to have any doubts on these beasts. I have some videos I have put together. They are not ready for final release but I could send you links to the Raws if it would help.
3) Check your air bladders. I am betting your front ones are blown. Not a deal breaker They are fairly inexpensive as well. I couldn't tell the status of the back ones.
4) Does it run. If yes how well?
5) Does the generator run?
Everything I listed above is pretty minor stuff in reality and alot of it like the brakes are things I personally would have done either way.
The inside looks really nice.

I will say...when I started out on this project I looked at that manual and was intimidated as well...once you have torn the thing apart...figured out the wiring and had your hand in everything you will know more than that manual and it will all make sense. If you do embark on this journey its worth every penny to become a full member, and you might as well become a life member...its not much more. This boars has been incredibly helpful. The manuals more than make it worth it.
That actually brings me to one thing I need to mention. The 88 and 89 years used a "Smart stick" for the cruse/wipers/brights. Its a PITA if it breaks and can not be replaced. They dont make them any more. I had to rewire everything to other aftermarket switches.
The major concern is the structural damage and I cant tell how significant that is. How much are they asking? Based on what you have shown us that would be my deciding factor to decide if the unknown is worth the risk.

Offline fasteddie313

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Re: Noob about to pull the trigger on an 89 Chieftain
« Reply #12 on: August 31, 2015, 10:47 PM »
Everything other than what I've mentioned is supposed to work but who knows. I don't want to go around flipping switches and pushing buttons, I'll wait until the owner is back to get a full tour of all the operations of the components and whatnot else. He says he also has 8 more tires or something like that, so the GF says..
It hasn't been sitting long, it's in a different spot than it was a month ago but likely hasnt gone far in a year +.

The owner said $3500 but that number can only go down, we have dibs on the rig and likely all the time in the world to test it out and thoroughly examine it before committing to the purchase. We can probably have it/take it for a couple weeks or so to decide.

The plan for the rig is to get us to a better location where we can get jobs and find a place which would mean "full timing" in it for 6 months or so, maybe longer if we don't mind it, maybe forever if we really like it, who knows, play it by ear. Maybe leave in the middle of next summer or something like that, definitely after our tax returns.

Who knows what we'll really do, but we have an itch to go do something and we just may..


Offline Rickf1985

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Re: Noob about to pull the trigger on an 89 Chieftain
« Reply #13 on: September 01, 2015, 06:03 AM »
The skin on these is a fiberglass over masonite bonded to the foam and aluminum frame of the coach. Repeat for the inside but paneling instead of fiberglass. What happens on the outside is that the masonite, which is wood, gets wet and swells and you see the end result. I have found it is permanent. If you bang on the wall with your hand the old dried out wood will fall out the bottom but the glass will not go back. Not a whole lot you can do short of replacement.

And yes, if you wanted to drop the gas tank and fishplate the frame at the extension joint and rework the frame where the last cabinet is then you will add a lot of strength to the frame BUT! You are still going to be way over the gross weight if you want to carry what you are saying. Plus you would have to rework the side compartments to hold the tools and they are only thin sheet metal on thin angle.

To do what you are wanting to do you are going to have to look at something like a bus conversion that has a much higher gross weight and is set up to carry more weight down below.

Offline Rickf1985

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Re: Noob about to pull the trigger on an 89 Chieftain
« Reply #14 on: September 01, 2015, 06:16 AM »
Looked through the pictures and it is pretty much exactly the same as mine except I have a wine closet and coat closet where your dinete is and my dinete is to the right as you come in. Other than that it is identical, right down to the leaks.

Offline fasteddie313

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Re: Noob about to pull the trigger on an 89 Chieftain
« Reply #15 on: September 01, 2015, 11:46 AM »
BUT! You are still going to be way over the gross weight if you want to carry what you are saying. Plus you would have to rework the side compartments to hold the tools and they are only thin sheet metal on thin angle.

Ok lets forget the basement storage and concentrate on a trailer.. You say you're pulling 5200lbs with somewhat light frame reinforcement correct?

Our car is pretty light, 01 Impreza RS @ 2,800 lbs so that helps..
The tools can go on a diet, all my machine tooling can stay as the lathe won't be going so that eliminates some very heavy stuff such as the boring bars setup etc.
Most of the pneumatic stuff can also stay so that probably eliminates another 100 lbs, maybe bring a small compressor and my portable 110 MIG..
I can probably get the tools down to around 600-700 lbs at minimum..

That puts it around 3,500 lbs plus the actual trailer weight..

I think I could build something of this nature..


Likely not that pretty, well definitely not that pretty but you get the idea..
With the front enclosed section about the size of a pickup topper sideways, likely actually use a pickup topper sideways for the roof and build the walls with wide doors on the sides of the trailer/ends of the topper..

You think I could get away with something like that? Possibly upgrade the rear air bags or add a couple leafs to the rear springs or something?

BTW this forum is always trying to insert crazy HTML crap in my posts in stupid places making my text tiny and all sorts of nonsense like changing my url's and stuff.. What is up with that?

Offline Rickf1985

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Re: Noob about to pull the trigger on an 89 Chieftain
« Reply #16 on: September 01, 2015, 07:23 PM »
Well, like I said, you will be overweight. the RV alone is close to maxed out so if you get scaled you will be in a world of hurt. I know RV's don't get run over scales very often but I have seen it and I have seen them parked due to overweight. Again, if you look at my load it is way back over the axles of the trailer. You are talking about building a storage container that will hold 600 lbs. plus of tools and then you have the car. Some of that car will be ahead of the axles plus the weight of the trailer. You are probably looking at close to 1,000 lbs. tongue weight for that type of setup. It is your butt in the seat, you will not get me to say that idea is safe.

Offline fasteddie313

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Re: Noob about to pull the trigger on an 89 Chieftain
« Reply #17 on: September 01, 2015, 08:09 PM »
Well that really puts a damper on the plans, I don't know how I could go and make money on the road without a healthy set of tools, they are often required to get a job and such and are a very big investment in my way of life. I'll have to figure something out..

What are these max weight laws about? How do they work? Would it be a problem even if I could get them on deck/inside floor in between the axles?

It's crazy to think this big rig with a big block 454 can't pull a trailer, or be made to pull, comparable to an average 1/2 ton pickup truck.

Sorry, I don't know much about big trucks in specific..

Offline ClydesdaleKevin

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Re: Noob about to pull the trigger on an 89 Chieftain
« Reply #18 on: September 02, 2015, 08:19 AM »
You could always do what we do:  Tow a big enough van or truck behind you, 4 wheels down, that is big enough to hold your tools.  That way all the weight is on the tow vehicles own wheels, not on the tongue of your RV.  Then all you have to worry about is pull weight capacity.  We have been doing it for years and year, from full size vans, to Jeeps, and now an 85 K5 Blazer.  You will need a good tow bar, tow bar brackets, safety chains and cables, a braking system like a Brake Buddy, and tow lights.  It was the perfect solution for us.




Kev
Kev and Patti, the furry kids, our 98 Cherokee lifted beastie tow vehicle, and our 1995 Itasca Suncruiser Diesel Pusher.

Offline ClydesdaleKevin

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Re: Noob about to pull the trigger on an 89 Chieftain
« Reply #19 on: September 02, 2015, 08:20 AM »
Just do yourself a favor and make sure its a 4x4 or at least a manual transmission...so you don't have to keep crawling under it to disconnect the drive shaft, or buy an expensive Remco setup.

Kev
Kev and Patti, the furry kids, our 98 Cherokee lifted beastie tow vehicle, and our 1995 Itasca Suncruiser Diesel Pusher.

Offline ClydesdaleKevin

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Re: Noob about to pull the trigger on an 89 Chieftain
« Reply #20 on: September 02, 2015, 08:24 AM »
There is also a system called a "Toad" or Trailer Toad that has its own wheels, and takes the tongue weight off your RV and onto itself.  Its very expensive though, but works.  Colleagues of ours use one, and have for years, to pull a HUGE car hauler trailer, extremely heavy, behind their 77 Winnebago.



Kev
Kev and Patti, the furry kids, our 98 Cherokee lifted beastie tow vehicle, and our 1995 Itasca Suncruiser Diesel Pusher.

Offline fasteddie313

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  • Posts: 149
  • Member since: 2015
  • I own: a Motor Home
  • Year: 1981
  • Make: Holiday Rambler
  • Model: Imperial 33
  • Chassis: Chevy
  • Engine: 454
Re: Noob about to pull the trigger on an 89 Chieftain
« Reply #21 on: September 02, 2015, 09:22 PM »
Do you use any brakes in your tow vehicle, the K5?

Offline ClydesdaleKevin

  • 11 year member
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  • Member since: 2005
  • I own: a Motor Home
  • Year: 1995
  • Make: Itasca
  • Model: Suncruiser 32RQ
  • Chassis: Oshkosh
  • Engine: Cummings Turbo Diesel
Re: Noob about to pull the trigger on an 89 Chieftain
« Reply #22 on: September 03, 2015, 08:18 AM »
We have yet to replace the Brake Buddy we used to have, but its on our list to get another one ASAP...mostly to make it "legal" to tow behind us, since most states require an auxiliary braking system with an emergency break away system to tow any vehicle over 2000 lbs behind you.  Laws vary from state to state, but a Brake Buddy with its integral break away system covers the legality in all states.  We haven't been overly concerned, even though the K5 weighs in at pretty much exactly 5000 lbs on a scale...because our RV has a third axle with its own set of brakes...but for extra safety, and because we don't want to get a ticket or fine, we will be buying another Brake Buddy setup shortly.

Kev
Kev and Patti, the furry kids, our 98 Cherokee lifted beastie tow vehicle, and our 1995 Itasca Suncruiser Diesel Pusher.

Offline fasteddie313

  • *
  • Posts: 149
  • Member since: 2015
  • I own: a Motor Home
  • Year: 1981
  • Make: Holiday Rambler
  • Model: Imperial 33
  • Chassis: Chevy
  • Engine: 454
Re: Noob about to pull the trigger on an 89 Chieftain
« Reply #23 on: August 09, 2016, 04:50 PM »
That very same 89 winnebago chieftain sold for $5k cash the other day..

Offline Rickf1985

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  • Posts: 5491
  • Member since: 2013
  • I own: a Motor Home
  • Year: 1989
  • Make: Winnebago
  • Model: Chieftain
  • Chassis: Chevy
  • Engine: 454
Re: Noob about to pull the trigger on an 89 Chieftain
« Reply #24 on: August 09, 2016, 06:47 PM »
The one you posted here about a year ago?

 

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