Vintage Food Trucks

Some things just never go out of style

Vintage food trucks are classics for a reason – some oldtimers’ design is timelessly attractive and is an added value to your food truck brand with a big plus on your ability to attract and convert customers, from their first impression boosting CTR on Instagram or Facebook right through to seeing your vintage food truck out in the wild at a festival or working your concession and deciding to walk over and order. 

Karpatia restores retro food trucks to a premium finish 100% guaranteed to pass inspection by the DOT (or MOT, RDW or TüV for European customers) and your local health- and fire department or money back

All aspects of a conversion can be handled by Karpatia – from sourcing the best fit, to restoration of the vehicle, making the designs and building it out to a food truck including the installation of the kitchen equipment. 

Our Process

Understand

Who are you? What is your business and what are its goals? 

Vintage model in our minds, we make the first designs, sketches and renderings. 

Concept

Search

We pride ourselves on finding the perfect vehicle to restore for you and will search for it far and wide.

Close monitoring during production ensures quality confirming to your (local) standards.

Restore

Operate

Permits, licenses, insurance, maintenance – you are going to need a lot of things for your food truck. 

We’ll be there to help at every step. 

Popular Vintage Food Trucks

Some of the most popular vintage food trucks are great classic icons such as Airstream trailers, Citroen H vans, VW bus conversions and Piaggio Ape’s. Each has their own signature look and is better suited to one thing or other. 

Airstream Concession Trailer

Citroen H Van Food truck

Piaggio Ape Food Truck

VW Bus Food Truck Conversion

As great as these classics are – don’t be afraid to go original though – a Studebaker or 1920’s Ford Truck, Spijkstaal “SRV” wagon or even a schoolbus, KAZ, Barkas or Kamaz Truck can give a really unique flavor to your brand. Just about every type of vehicle can be and has been converted to vintage trailer or food truck at one point. We love to work with unique vehicles and the visionary operators that want to convert them! 

How we restore and build Vintage Food Trucks

A complete restoration includes revision or replacement of all necessary mechanical, motorized and electrical parts. Everything is dismantled, revised or replaced. Bodywork is sanded and recoated before painting and reassembly.  

That is an extensive and not always entirely necessary approach. Vintage food truck units pre-conversion come in all quality levels and there will be instances where one part or the other, be it the body work, engine or brakes or mostly all of it only needs a brief inspection to be able to reassure you and us it is still a well functioning part that will last a food truck quality build and pass inspection for the forseeable future. 

Staggering a conversion is an important way to save on both your budget – more remaining for your marketing and food related equipment – but also on the time we need to pull off the conversion. We make this decision together in advance – to do a staggered restoration and check in concerning every step over a specified discretionary amount or if you give us carte blanche to revise and replace where needed with a fixed budget cap. 

As we work together on your project we will consult you on every important step of the process as restoring a classic food truck is a journey of discovery. We try our very hardest to spot all issues during the initial search or inspection of the vintage truck but are not infallible. For example problems with the transmission might be easily spotted, but during the revision we discover an issue with the clutch. We will then call and ask if you want to keep the original part or go for replacement/revision and inform you of the cost – just like a regular garage. 

One important caveat is that we can not and will not guarantee the parts of a vintage unit that we did not revise or replace except for regular customers with a multi-unit plan. 

Understanding Your Concept

What is important to you in a build and why? Your product range, how your source ingredients and how much prep you do outside the truck and how much cooking you do ON the truck greatly influence all further decisions 

From floorplan to signage all aspects of the build pass the review. Our process starts with identifying your desired specifications, functionalities and product and positioning based on which we make conceptual sketches. 

Once agreed on the sketches, we review the concept and dive deeper in to the operational efficiency and the necessary layout and equipment for a given amount of volume or capacity, regarding both output production and the corresponding energy, water and airflow required. 

As boxes are checked off for materials and equipment, implementation starts to take form and sketches become floorplans, inventory lists and detailed 3D renders we can test in VR or as a cardboard setup. 

 

There's a lot more to taco trucks than meets the eye

Search & Procurement

Our accountant likes to remind us, if you are building inventory you might just be building the cemetary of your business. Meaning Karpatia for financial reasons does not stock a lot of vintage vehicles. Any supplier that does is very probably ruining their P&L and if not, overcharging you to compensate. 

At any given point there are a few hundred Airstreams for sale in the US and hundreds of Citroen HY’s in Europe. Our costs for logistics of getting the unit from wherever to our workshop and travel expenses to do on-site inspections pale to keeping inventory. 

With our multilingual crew, own transport service, forwarding and mechanics we reference an insane amount of (inter)national listings sites, local Facebook groups and more to find and present a great selection to you. 

Based on those we pick some potential candidates for on-site inspections where we travel together or send you the video’s. Initial inspections for the first line of selection are on us. 

Found something you like? We confirm our offer to you and secure a deposit, procure the unit and get to work. 

 

Restore and Build

Full revision

Our most commonly picked option is the Full Revision of a classic food truck – everything from the paint to the wiring is subject to scrutiny and expertly restored or done as a quality replacement leaving no part of the truck untouched. 

The engine is lifted from the truck and all systems – brakes, steering, etc. – are disconnected and separately inspected, cleaned, restored or replaced. Engines are revised or in many cases replaced with more modern and economical units. Power steering is added for vintage units that did not have it before. 

Every non mechanical part – doors, windows, wiring – is detached and given similar treatment while the bodywork is sandblasted clean and recoated, with replacement parts welded into the body where necessary. 

Once done everything is reassambled and professionally sprayed in your desired color or an unoffensive base color and protective coat if you opted for a full vinyl wrap. 

For Airstreams and other trailers the process is much the same, although less intense as it concerns mostly body work and there are fewer mechanical parts. 

vintage airstream trailer restoration
brakes are one of the most important parts to revise in a vintage food truck - always, even with partial revisions

Partial revision

Not every retro food truck requires a full revision – working through our experience based checklist we work out what is needed and what can be left as is with a good amount of certainty of not causing any issues further down the road. 

On the interior checklist are lights, electrical wiring, brakes, ignition, starter, fuel lines and tank, engine, gear box, cooling, steering and the drive shaft. 

Exterior includes checking the underside for the necessity of tectylation (coating) and body work inspection for scratches, dents, rust and more to see how deep it runs and if parts have to be replaced with a new plate welded in.

Building the Kitchen

Leading in the layout of a food truck kitchen is the  “flow” – the first variable the build is optimized for is your ability to push product out with as little friction as possible. That means among other things that staff does not have to move criss-cross through the truck  ever and inventory is kept close to where it will next be used and is cooked and served as soon as possible.

Next we optimize for regulation – insulation, flooring and the necessary ventilation and water systems are put in place to insure everything is up to code. Not unimportantly, the last item we optimize for is the price to value ratio to ensure you get the biggest bang for your buck. 

Some US states require specific items such as the ANSUL system to be installed by a state licensed installer (MA, CA) and some merely recommend it (NE, WY). If there is such a requirement for your locale we contract that service installer together to ensure you get a fair price.  

 

efficient layout vw kombi example - Stroopwaffles, what else?

What to keep in mind when buying vintage trailers or food trucks

All classic car salesmen are – in their very essence – usually a subspecies of car salesmen. Some commonly used tricks are talking up the specific year or factory of the build, such as a 1973 model being better than a 1971 model or implying a German-built VW Kombi is better than a Brazilian one. 

This might all very well have been true once upon a time back in 1973. Especially Citroen improved quite a lot on their Citroen Type h vans over the years and the ’50’s models are much lower quality than the 70’s models. So it can be true! But what you need to keep in mind is we are revising the whole thing together with you more than 40 years later so it does not matter all that much. You are getting new brakes, powersteering, transmission, fuel lines – whatever was or is now faulty is 100% revised or replaced. 

That goes hand in hand with another frequently used tactic: implying the rarity of your vintage find. Use common sense and Google before buying and/or enquire with us. And just because something is rare where you live – e.g. Airstreams in Europe or Citroen H vans in the US – does not mean the logistics of getting it to you or local code-necessary adaptations are insurmountable and justify our competitors’ pricing. 

One added benefit is that the veracity of information given by a seller on the rarity of a find often corresponds to their claims about the pristine condition the previous owner(s) are supposed to have kept it in. If someone just told you early ’70’s Airstreams are rare (false) and this one is in great condition, we can likely spare the both of us the trouble of going over to inspect it. 

Bargains and great deals exist – in our experience these are mostly a result of luck, being willing to travel that bit further out to nowhere and geo-arbitrage, be it exporting & importing from France to the US or efficiently hauling from the middle of nowhere in the Midwest to a big east coast metro area. You bring the luck, we get the sourcing and transport done. 

Replicas and New Vintage

Asian Replicas

If a vintage food truck is above your budget or an authentic vintage restoration takes too long we can provide the option of a replica. Karpatia replicas come in three varieties: Asian, European and New Vintage. 

Our most price conscious option is an Asian replica starting at $22k. Asian replicas are available for all the popular vintage trailer models: Airstream, VW, Citroen and step van. 

We are aware our $22k starting ticket for such a replica may look steep compared to others offering that, but there is a reason. 

Karpatia only imports the top level bodywork and fits a custom trailer to US or EU standards, as well as doing all the electrics, gas- and water lines to spec. This means we can 100% no-fault issue a certified CE unit with a truly compliant ceritificate of conformity for your state or country that is actually valid. 

Don’t take our word for it – ask the over 100 people that buy a trailer from us every year! Pick a trusted Karpatia brand trailer that was upgraded locally to have that safety of mind you got a great value deal and not a cat in the bag. 

PS. Did you already buy a replica, not from us and NOT upgrade it? Contact us today! We almost always have a fixer service near you. 

 

European Replicas

Not a budget option, but a true quality alternative to a vintage restoration is the European made replica trailer. Slick stainless steel, fiberglass or aluminium trailers that resemble the classics Airstream retro food trailer but have a touch of their own design. 

The bodywork, painting and allround level of finishing simply can not be compared to the Asian models and if you are in the market for a trailer these are the best option out there. Not just in terms of value – period. 

Not only is their quality superb, production and delivery are also several weeks shorter than Asian replicas plus getting them licensed and road approved is usually instantaneous and not a drawn out process. 

Prices start from $25k for a 14 ft model. 

New with a Vintage food truck look

For a supremely reliable motorized food truck that still has the charm of a vintage unit,  there are options too. 

Citroen offers cosmetic corrugated panelling and a new nose hood on a Citroen Jumper. Jumpers start at around $25k, with the added cost of the panelling and converting it to a food truck a new vintage look will run around $85k. 

Airstream also builds and can be converted new – with their popular flying cloud model starting at $78k pre-conversion you’re looking at $120-150k or more depending on equipment for a brand new Airstream trailer in the 23-30 ft range. 

Classic American step vans are around $65-80k new (2018 or later new model) and unconverted (18 ft Freightliner P1000) and will end up around $120-150k or more depending on equipment. 

For the very patient even a new VW Kombi with a vintage look is possible – Volkswagen is releasing their e-Kombi in Australia available from 2022 if it all goes to plan. Prices are not known at this time. 

 

Volkswagen e kombi 2022

Why a vintage food truck?

Advantages of a Vintage Food Truck

Familiar recognition and brand building with a style that makes an impression before they know you, is the biggest advantage that an Airstream has over a regular box trailer and a Vintage Citroen H Van over a new Mercedes or Step Van. It really does start converting customers for you right from your Facebook and Instagram down to the split second decision made in a food truck park or as they walk past your concession. 

You will secure more work – especially event gigs – with a vintage unit. 

Quality restorations are also optionally cheaper – barring the Airstream – than many newer units and many locales have tax advantaged regulations for oldtimers. 

 

Downsides of a Vintage Food Truck

There are drawbacks to older models – the most obvious ones are their increased maintenance and operating costs which increase even more with intense use. To reduce the burden we recommend operating a vintage model with a car transport trailer or second vehicle to do many of the resupply trips and long-haul gigs. 

Less immediate but very real is that older models also tend to be smaller. And if you’re not buying it cash, it is harder to get a good financing rate on a vintage model meaning it might end up costing you compartively more than a new unit unless buying cash. 

Insurance is also a grab bag – many classic car and oldtimer insurance policies are cheap and great deals but fly out the window when you put the classic to commercial use and drive it for thousands of miles a year. 

 

lOGISTICS

Do you deliver to the UK and Canada?

Yes, we do! 

Google has correctly picked up on our site being very US targeted – and we are. With the world’s largest food truck market this focus was a given and we have not been able to devote much time to UK or CA marketing (yet..). 

But as many of our vintage conversions of Citroen type h vans are originally French or Belgian and VW Kombi’s are usually sourced from Germany, we can offer UK customers very competitive pricing and certainly much faster shipping times than our US customers. 

Canadians are happily serviced too – but as you know from experience shipping will be extra both in time and CAD. 

Horsebox kitchen trailer / concession trailer

Why Karpatia?

Our Karpatia core value and satisfaction is hitting that nail of quality to value on the head. 

What me mean by that is anyone can make a great food truck for more than $120k; we are more proud to deliver something exceptionally good given a budget of $60k. 

If you do have that > $120k budget to spend we are of course more than happy to take your order and will get your return on that investment to the moon, offering unparalleled quality engineering, design, equipment, service, support and materials for your build. 

Karpatia - trucks, trailers, containers & concession stands

Is a Vintage food truck right for your business?

Frequently Asked Questions

Not universally and not without effort, but after a full revision we fully expect to pass every road authority’s test.

Note that there are countries in South America and Southern Europe where the test is effectively passed but there is still always some “issue” that amounts to forking over a small incentive to the authorities’ representative. To make it explicit, our guarantee does not cover this specific type of issue with road admittance in countries like Spain or Brazil. 

Yes, of course. We will happily restore it for you. If you had bad luck and bought something that requires inordinate amounts of maintenance vs a “normal” vintage food truck, we will let you know and advise to buy a different used model. 

Absolutely. Our specialty is sourcing the best vintage units for conversion. And we do the onsite inspections ourselves too. 

Not for free and unlimited – 10’s of hours of driving, flying, and manhours aren’t free but serious buyers get the first inspections and trips on us. 

Depending on how fast a quality starter is sourced, production is from 12 weeks and up. 

Replica units take 20 days to manufacture and New Vintage units are 30 days of production.

Shipping for local conversions – e.g. Airstreams converted in the USA or Citroen type h vans converted in Holland – is 3 days after completion. 

International shipping varies greatly – contact us for an estimate.

Cash or bank transfer with a 50% deposit up front. 

No. We source the vehicle together with you and arrange viewings and logistics together so we are all well aware of the original purchase price of the vintage unit and you’re not taken for a ride. 

In this process, the initial consults are free. Of course, if you want us to go look at 5+ Airstream listings spread out over several states then we would charge you for that and doing it yourself instead saves money. 

Yes, of course. That is if it’s all in good working shape and permit-compatible. 

If not – be our guest – but you are signing a phonebook sized waiver and disclaimer clearing us of any fines and explosions  that are your own equipment’s direct result. 

Of course! Just please make an appointment before you do.

Not at the moment, but we are working on an Amazon Prime FBA powered store to get any and all food truck, trailer and concession necessities and parts delivered as fast and affordably as possible. Stay tuned!

That differs per model and type. Please contact us for a custom quote. 

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Quotes are 100% free no strings attached

You'll have a perfect floor plan, artist sketches of your truck or trailer, accurate 3D render and full inventory list at zero cost and nothing signed.