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Ian F
Ian F MegaDork
10/26/17 7:16 a.m.

Back in 1998 I bought a conversion van. A typical 1990 Ford E-150, raised roof van with a standard 5.0 truck engine and the AOD transmission. It was a good van for a number of years and worked well for hauling my bikes to mtn bike races and general hauling duties.  But after buying it, I longed for a few things - more room, mainly.  I soon started looking at conversion vans built on the heavier Ford chassis and with the extended length. Sometimes these even had diesel engines.  These were rare and usually commanded high prices, regardless of condition.

Then in 2002, I started dating a woman who hated that van, regardless of how useful it was. "You need a truck. A Cummins like my brother has... and it has to be a Club Cab and have a manual transmission."  Fine... and in 2007 I bought one... which proved to be a giant PITA from the moment I bought it.  After pouring more money into it than I want to remember, I finally cut my loses and sold it back in 2013 and replaced it with a used 2008 Dodge Grand Caravan, which I hoped would serve my needs as an occasional DD, bike hauler and camper.  The first two tasks it accomplished with aplomb. The camper part, however, notsomuch.  Simply isn't big enough. So I longed for another full-size conversion van. Of course what I really longed for was an aforementioned extended, diesel version. But those are unicorns. Expensive unicorns. 

Then over the past weekend I was browsing Craigslist and found one. 1992. E-350. Raised roof, extended length, diesel. 205K miles. $3500. surprise

So I sent a message to the seller, not really expecting it to still be available (ad was about a month old). Much to my shock, he emailed me back to give him a call.  So I did and on Sunday I went to look at it and test drive it.  OMG, this thing has hardly a spec of rust on it.  I said I'd take it and would be back ASAP with cash.  On Tuesday, I made the deal.

It's a non-turbo 7.3L diesel, so acceleration is not the best, but it'll get up to highway speeds reasonably well.  The drive home included some rather twisty back roads (at night) and it handles better than I expected.  It's more quiet inside than I was expecting.

The plan is to gut the interior and build a "toy-hauler" camper .  Unlike my previous van, this one has more interior height and I can actually stand up inside.  Basic RV goals: Bed/seating. Full bath w/ shower. Small cooking area. Room for 2 or 3 bicycles and/or one motorcycle. 

 

ultraclyde
ultraclyde PowerDork
10/26/17 7:35 a.m.

Nice find. I know a couple of my MTB buddies locally that would threaten bodily injury to have a van like that.

Ransom
Ransom PowerDork
10/26/17 7:56 a.m.

That's fantastic. After another bout of DPO syndrome on my ex-Airborne Express Dodge, I was lamenting the apparent truth that cargo vans are generally fleet vehicles that only hit the used market when they get too used up to be good value. While I'd rather not have the windows for security, a heavy-chassis conversion totally addresses the desire to find one that's seen relatively light use. And the extra height is cool, too. Congrats!

Ian F
Ian F MegaDork
10/26/17 8:16 a.m.

Thanks.  I've been dreaming of getting a van like this for almost 20 years.

The previous owner had it for about 15 years and used it mostly to tow a boat from his house in PA (just north of Reading) down to Delaware.  It doesn't seem to have gotten much winter use (he has two other vans plus other cars), which likely accounts for the decent condition.  The underside is literally spotless/black. I have casually looked at similar handicapped vans (like the Moto-van build), but around here they tend to have more miles than this one, look to be in worse condition and have much higher asking prices.  I was shocked this one didn't sell faster.  Especially with the whole "van life" thing getting popular. This would be the perfect base for one of those.

Regardless, the rarity of the body style means that I have quite a bit of "budget" left for repairs if needed.  The first thing I want to look at is the brakes. While I would expect something like this to stop on dime, there were a couple of situations where the braking scared me a bit.  Otherwise, the suspension and steering felt good for such a big vehicle.

¯\_(ツ)_/¯
¯\_(ツ)_/¯ UltraDork
11/8/17 5:56 a.m.

I am bumping this thread for two reasons:  

  1. I want to see the inside, and
  2. You need this as a mural on the side, because that's not a unicorn, it's a white whale:  

Ian F
Ian F MegaDork
11/8/17 7:12 a.m.

In reply to ¯\_(ツ)_/¯ :

You've been talking to my old bass player, haven't you?

Vigo
Vigo UltimaDork
11/8/17 10:01 p.m.

What an exceptional find! 

I kind of wish dodge had some old diesel lame enough to be cheap that i could put in my b250. Sadly, none of them are lame enough to be cheap. sad

Ian F
Ian F MegaDork
11/9/17 4:46 a.m.
Vigo said:

What an exceptional find! 

I kind of wish dodge had some old diesel lame enough to be cheap that i could put in my b250. Sadly, none of them are lame enough to be cheap. sad

I think the closest that would reasonably fit would be a 4BT bolted to a standard Dodge transmission from a Cummins truck. I understand those engines will take standard 6BT upgrades and make good power, but aren't known for being the smoothest engines in the world.

Ian F
Ian F MegaDork
12/1/17 5:51 a.m.

Not much an update. I haven't really driven my new van much yet.  Partly because I haven't had room to park it at home until recently. Partly because since I can't have it home, I haven't bothered to insure it yet. And partly because it seems there is some sort of drain on the batteries and after sitting for a couple of weeks they are dead as door-nails.  Both of them (being a diesel it has two). The previous owner appears to have installed an alarm of some sort and something is effed up with the stupid stereo he installed. Both will need to go.

I do want to get it home so I can start poking around and see if my plans and ideas for the van are feasible.  I have to admit, when I loaded a few of my bikes into the back to get them out of the way while I rework my bike storage at home, I found the bikes take up a lot more room inside the van than I was hoping they would.

mazdeuce - Seth
mazdeuce - Seth MegaDork
12/1/17 6:52 a.m.

Yup, looking at the original motovan thread it's pretty easy to see that once a bike is inside (much less a motorcycle) there isn't a whole lot of space to build around. Considering how many people use vans to haul bikes, someone must have figured this out by now. 

Ian F
Ian F MegaDork
12/1/17 9:18 a.m.

One thing I've seen done is a "stepped" garage area with a full height area in the back for the handle bars and the bed above the seats.  However, I've only seen this in Sprinter vans with much higher roofs than I have, so I'll have to do some measuring to see if that leaves enough room for a bed to be practical.

I've got a real bad feeling about this... frown

Ian F
Ian F MegaDork
12/3/17 8:02 p.m.

It looks like I need new batteries. After which I'll probably have to make sure to keep the van on a trickle charger until I can remove the extraneous electrical crap that has been added to the van as something is draining the batteries badly - to the point where I couldn't even jump it when I tried to start it today.  It wouldn't even turn over. Why people install aftermarket alarm systems I'll never understand. angry

BoxheadCougarTim
BoxheadCougarTim MegaDork
12/3/17 8:19 p.m.

In reply to Ian F :

Other than the vehicle being uninsurable without an alarm (had that a few times with a couple of cars in the UK), I would not consider an aftermarket alarm. They all seem to be more trouble than they are worth.

Ian F
Ian F MegaDork
12/10/17 9:30 p.m.

Well, I needed to retrieve a bike from the van today, so I spent some time really looking at how much space I'll have to work with.  It does not look good.  Even if I take the front wheel off, the bikes don't leave much room (a modern DH race bike is a long SOB). I thought maybe building the bed over the rear part of the bikes might work, but it would barely leave enough room between the mattress and the ceiling to simply roll over. While I'm not prone to claustrophobia, that's a bit tight even for me. 

Bear in mind, each of these bikes cost more than I paid for the van - by a lot, so some sort of outside rack is a non-starter.  If they can't live inside, then the entire project dies.

Vigo
Vigo UltimaDork
12/11/17 1:25 a.m.

Well, it's a long wheel base high roof so if they can't fit inside, the whole idea of ANY full size van dies. Might need to step up to a sprinter or some old step van or box truck! Plenty of room for your generator idea under a box truck. cheeky

Ian F
Ian F MegaDork
12/11/17 7:20 a.m.

I still have one more layout idea, so all hope is not entirely lost, but it'll be a couple of weeks until I can try it.

I've wanted one for years, but Sprinters scare the hell out of me - I've owned too many German cars.  Hopefully the Transit will prove more reliable, less rust-prone and cheaper to service.  ...but unfortunately, after a bit of specifications digging - it looks like a long Transit is maybe a foot longer inside than an extended E-series - 13'-6".  By comparison, the longest Sprinter option is about 16' from the front seats to the back doors.  It appears the Sprinter is a few inches wider too. 

But yeah... a box truck is probably a better option. Nice, straight lines and right angles should be much easier to build inside.

RedGT
RedGT Dork
12/12/17 9:56 a.m.

Is there a reason a setup like this will not work?  I know it's pictured in a sprinter but the whole thing is barely taller than the rear wheel diameter.  Seems like there would be room for a bed above it even with your reduced space.

 

Ian F
Ian F MegaDork
12/12/17 12:11 p.m.

In reply to RedGT :

It's still a possible option, but the difficulty is the seat height - the bikes shown are trail bikes with dropper posts.  DH bikes have fixed posts and are typically higher and are just generally bigger overall - the fork and bar height are substantially higher.  Removing the post wouldn't be the end of the world, but there's nothing I can do about the front axle-to-grip distance.  I was really hoping to avoid removing the front wheel (it's a bit of a PITA on the inverted fork my bike has), but if the alternative is spending $$$$$ on a newer or larger van, I may have to live with it.

(damnit... I STILL can't figure out how to get a picture from Flickr to link correctly; edit - it appears to have something to do with the copy/paste editing restrictions on my browser here at work)
 

Ian F
Ian F MegaDork
12/17/17 11:11 p.m.

I did some fiddling with the van today and things don't look good. The interior is just not big enough. I was hoping the bikes would fit across width-wise with the front wheel off. Nope.

So as much as it bums me, it looks like the next stage will be to replace the batteries, figure out what is draining the batteries and get it up for sale. I might try BaT.

therealpinto
therealpinto New Reader
12/18/17 3:06 a.m.

Sometimes selling and getting something else is the good, easy option.

There's just one thing I have to ask - is the roof extension fibre glass? If so, would it not be relatively easy to add the height needed to fit stuff in the van?

Permanently, or a pop-up thingy;

Gustaf

ultraclyde
ultraclyde PowerDork
12/18/17 6:00 a.m.

I ran quick release seat collars on my mtbs for years so I could pull the saddle and post and put them in an Explorer. Is that an option?

 

And why don't DH bikes run droppers? They're not cheap, but the dropper on my Fuel EX8 is great on trail and its the only reason it fits inside my jeep...

pinchvalve
pinchvalve MegaDork
12/18/17 8:10 a.m.

I didn't know diesels came without turbos. Weird.  

Ian F
Ian F MegaDork
12/18/17 11:12 a.m.

In reply to ultraclyde :

Generally because you don't need a dropper on a DH bike.  Rarely is there that much pedaling on a DH course (and if there is, the course designer will get an ear full of complaining).  DH with pedaling is Enduro... DH racers can be incredible weight-weenies as well, getting pro-level race bikes well in the low 30 lb range. My own M16 is in the mid-30's.  I've joked about putting a dropper on mine (since I have an extra Thomson dropper with external routing I'm not using) and more climb-friendly gearing (vs. the 11-27 Ultegra cassette on it now), but in reality I have other bikes for trail riding.

While the "dropped" seat height on my trail bike is actually lower than the M16, the much higher static BB height (the M16 sags a lot more when I sit on it) means the bike is still rather tall.  And the 200mm travel fork (for a 27.5 wheel) is also pretty tall although actually a smidge lower than my 29er trail bike. 

The problem is also the length.  The M16 has a wheelbase of about 47" plus have the the rear wheel diameter (~14") and the fork (another inch or so) and even without the front wheel the bike is well over 5' long.  

In reply to therealpinto :

Yes, the roof is a fiberglass cap made by Turtle Top (going by the badge on the side, they may have done the entire conversion).  While I suppose it would be possible to make it taller, doing it so it doesn't look hacked would require more time and skill than I have, not to mention a large amount of dry space in which to work.  Adding a pop-top is a non-starter. I hate that idea with a passion. Why anyone would want one of those is beyond me.

Lastly, the regional racing promoter is changing the classing for 2018 in such a way that has severely reduced my enthusiasm for racing next year. Since much of the reason for this project was for going to races, the wind of enthusiasm behind this project died along with it.

Dead_Sled
Dead_Sled New Reader
12/18/17 11:37 a.m.

Make sure to let us know if/when this goes on BAT.  While I'm generally a GM guy, this thing makes me a bit tingly.

¯\_(ツ)_/¯
¯\_(ツ)_/¯ UltraDork
12/19/17 6:04 a.m.

I've been thinking about this- the DH bikes are tall, and long, but how wide are the bars?  Would it be possible to build a solution where you sleep next to the bikes rather than above them?  Then you could have drawers or other storage under the bed, and your bike compartment could go all the way to the roof- maybe at an angle depending on dimensions.  This thread needs dimensional drawings! 

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