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Old 11-23-2015, 11:13 PM   #1
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WTB: Garageable converted van with poptop

We have a two-car garage, with an SUV already taking up a good amount of space. Add to that our packrat collection of belongings and we really don't have much room left over. Thus I'm afraid that a Ford E-250 Sportsmobile would be too large for us to store. We'd prefer a smaller size van such as a Chevy Astro or GMC Safari for the smaller footprint and the additional maneuverability.

A Vanagon or Eurovan camper would suit our needs, but I'm leery of the notorious repair bills that would be required to maintain these old vehicles. Thus I'm looking for Westy-style poptop sportsmobiles made from popular American or Japanese vans.

Does anyone have any suggestions or pointers---or mini-sized sportsmobiles to sells?
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Old 11-24-2015, 04:07 PM   #2
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Re: WTB: Garageable converted van with poptop

As far as I know, GTRV is the only company still doing Astro/Safari vans, as well as some generations of Toyota Sienna and Chrysler vans, I think.

http://gtrv.com

Previously, Safari Condo (Quebec) also did Astro/Safari vans: http://www.safaricondo.com/en/

However, I believe they are no longer doing them.

All of that said, you'll want to get some measurements and take careful inventory of what you want out of a van vs. where you want to park it.

I have a 2003 Astro with a GTRV pop-top, and that would barely have fit in my late-70's SoCal suburban garage. Now that I have a 4" lift to clear the 30" tires I run, it's definitely not going to fit, even without roof rails, solar, and a basket.

Another trade is that my Astro is just barely big enough for our family of 3. There are a lot of things I would like to be able to do with my interior that just aren't going to fit. Even though the over-all length of an Astro is slightly longer than a Vanagon or Eurovan, we have as much as 16" less interior length due to the engine doghouse, etc. It's a squeeze to get a bed and a narrow cabinet into that length. No galley, etc. for me.

The weird thing, though, is that the GTRV Astro/Safari pop top actually adds more height than the GTRV top for an E-Series van, because of how the top is molded and how the lift mechanism is fitted. The Pleasure Way Traverse has a similar low-profile E-Series top.

So given that, I recommend an honest evaluation of what features you need. It might be better to pick an E-Series that will fit in your garage (and store less stuff), because the extra body length could be really nice. Or park it outside and get whatever you like.

I don't want to drive people away from the GTRV Astro/Safari - I love mine and it's been a great solution, but its a compromise solution, and everyone should be aware.
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Old 11-24-2015, 04:20 PM   #3
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Re: WTB: Garageable converted van with poptop

Forgot to add:

I don't think the Eurovans or Vanagons are really that much more prone to failures or more expensive to fix, aside from the few "biggie" issues like head gaskets on the waterboxers. Both are well supported by the aftermarket and most parts are readily available.

The bigger problem with the VW hardware is that they are so damned beloved. Check out the prices, your jaw will drop.


A stock-motor 30-year-old Syncro Vanagon will sell for some Sportsmobiles literally half as old. A similar Syncro with a Subaru or Diesel engine swap (to replace the one weak spot) will be deep into Sportsmobile money. Heck, even a moderately clean 2WD Westfalia with an early aircooled engine can get up near $20k.

Eurovans are a similar story, except that Syncros are basically unicorns in North America. I know of like 3, and two are owned by the same guy.

Given those prices and the relative scarcity of Syncro models, you'll now understand why I built my Astro instead!

However, if you don't need 4WD, and would prefer a smaller, more nimble platform, I would advocate that you not rule out the VWs without more research.
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Old 11-24-2015, 04:29 PM   #4
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Re: WTB: Garageable converted van with poptop

Unless you have a really tall garage door, a Ford Sportsmobile will not fit. I believe only the Dodge's fit a standard garage door height.

Some questions before making suggestions would be:
Whats your budget?
How many people do you need to sleep?
Where do you live/plan on camping? (cold, hot, need extra insulation?)
What appliances do you need? (heater, sink, stove, fridge, etc)
Do you need 4x4/AWD?
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Old 11-24-2015, 06:41 PM   #5
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Re: WTB: Garageable converted van with poptop

Quote:
Originally Posted by mikracer
Unless you have a really tall garage door, a Ford Sportsmobile will not fit. I believe only the Dodge's fit a standard garage door height.

Some questions before making suggestions would be:
Whats your budget?
How many people do you need to sleep?
Where do you live/plan on camping? (cold, hot, need extra insulation?)
What appliances do you need? (heater, sink, stove, fridge, etc)
Do you need 4x4/AWD?
Yep, what he said ^^^
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Old 11-24-2015, 06:47 PM   #6
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Re: WTB: Garageable converted van with poptop

Check out these guys..
https://www.new-west.com/our-new-west-excursion.html
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Old 11-24-2015, 07:34 PM   #7
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Re: WTB: Garageable converted van with poptop

Cry havoc and let slip the dogs of war.....

If you are in the USA, we live in what must be the world's most heavily restricted 'free-market'. There is very little choice in cars/van's/trucks and importing into the States is to all intents and purposes impossible. So ruling out VW's and full-size vans pretty much rules out all the commonly available options.

The Vanagon is a design dating back to 1979 and while there is not necessarily anything wrong with that, it does mean that no matter how much you spend, it's not going to drive, brake, crash or behave like a newer van and will require regular and routine maintenance. Spares are pretty freely available so I wouldn't let that worry you too much. It can work for 2 adults and 2 kids but it takes some work, particularly as they get bigger. It's nicely set-up as a camper but as mentioned, prices are getting silly. Syncro's and spares for Syncro's are getting hard to find and are really, really, really, like really, stupidly expensive.

The Eurovan is not a bad van IMHO, the 5 cylinder has plenty of power and it's highway manners are pretty good. As a definite plus over the Vanagon it has actual AC and heat. The Fwd set-up gives a huge amount of space inside and provides surprisingly good traction. The one I had was awful to drive on dirt roads, even good one's and it was clearly not designed for that. I have heard that from other owners as well. They were only imported for a limited time, in limited numbers and it's aging fast. I'd be more concerned about spares and mechanics for those than the Vanagon. They do crash fairly well but are still not as good as more modern vehicles. I believe that the Europeans are now three full model iterations past the Eurovan's we got.

Astro's that are still around now might have beaten the odds but as I remember it, when I was looking for an alternative to the last Syncro I owned, maybe around mid-2000, the reliability of a new Astro AWD was down around the level of the first Hyundai's. Piss-poah in other words. And despite the overall size, they have less room inside them than either Vanagon's or Eurovan's. Some folks here have them and might be able to comment on the more recent model's reliability.

What else is there? You might be lucky enough to find a Toyota conversion imported from Canada somehow but basically that's it. Unless you will consider a small trailer camper, probably the cheapest way to go is to build a bigger garage and just get a new Ford or a Fiat (Dodge). Seriously.

Having said that I remember that I have bumped into a few folks on the road in brightly colored rented camper vans of various kinds. Someone must be doing those conversions so you should be able to find them by looking up renting a camper van on them internets. The one's I have seen are more intended for young traveling couples than families but there might be others out there. Good luck in the quest.
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Old 11-24-2015, 07:49 PM   #8
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Re: WTB: Garageable converted van with poptop

Check out Colorado Camper Vans. Derek can install a pop top on pretty much anything. He's done all the major full size vans, Honda Elements, Transit Connects, Dodge Tradesman or whatever the rebadged Fiat minivan thing is called, and others.
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Old 11-24-2015, 09:04 PM   #9
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Re: WTB: Garageable converted van with poptop

Since Rallypanam mentioned the Honda Element, check out Ursa Minor Vehicles (http://www.ursaminorvehicles.com/). They make pop up tops for the Honda Element and the 4 door Jeeps. Both are smaller than full size vans but you also are only getting a sleeping surface and no built in appliances.
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Old 11-24-2015, 11:01 PM   #10
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Re: WTB: Garageable converted van with poptop

The Astro is probably the worst driving modern vehicle I've been in. And as mentioned above, leaves a LOT to be desired in the reliability department.

What about a low-roof, short wheelbase Transit? It's a bit smaller than an RB E-series. Actually looks close to an Astro, but of course wider. I have no idea what SMB is offering for tops on those though. They did have a garage-top for the E150, so maybe they'll offer something similar for the T-series.

As for the Eurovan.... big issue hitting them right now is failing PCMs. I think its just a simple age problem. Same thing with 90's Chrysler BCMs. Probably a casualty of the switch to non-lead solder back then. But there doesn't appear to be a good source for replacement EuroVan PCMs, and used working units can be hard to come by...
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