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Old 03-25-2010, 07:03 PM   #1
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GTRV Conversion on a Ford E350 EB

Part 1 - The Search

I'm finally getting around to documenting our van conversion. Hopefully, there is some useful info in here for someone.

After 12 years with an '89 VW Westy, countless trips and memories, over 350k km, one rebuilt motor (followed by a thrown rod and a used replacement), much rust, a 90lb dog, and finally a new addition to the family in September 2007, my wife and I were looking for something larger, more reliable, and a wee bit faster in the mountains.

I had been pining for an SMB for years, ever since a friend saw one at the OR Show in SLC back in '04. I hadn't really considered GTRV, partly because of their sub-par website [EDIT - the website has now been updated] and partly because of my (unfounded) impressions about their customization abilities and build quality. But, as my search continued, I learned a few things: i) it would be difficult (but not impossible) to import an SMB into Canada, ii) GTRV, although they only advertise a 50-style layout, would build custom plans, and iii) accounts I read online and people I talked to indicated GTRV's build quality was excellent. Plus, it was an added bonus that GTRVs are built by Coast Outfitter, in Richmond, BC, only 45 minutes from my home in North Vancouver.

So the focus of my search turned to a used Ford cargo van, and my nights were consumed with drafting different layouts and designs, and writing and re-writing wish lists of what we wanted in our new van. After initially looking just for a diesel, I expanded my search to gassers, and in December 2008 found a used 2008 V10 EB in Portland, OR with only 6700 miles. We went back and forth with the seller (he didn't have clear title), and finally picked up the van in March 2009. Importing into Canada was a breeze, and a week later we had the van home.

Now it was time to finalize the design.

Here is the new-to-us van on my trip home from Portland.


And here is a photo of us and the old Westy on our last (what's the opposite of maiden?) trip, to Deception Pass, WA. We picked up the GTRV the next week.


Brent
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Old 03-25-2010, 07:04 PM   #2
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Re: GTRV Conversion on a Ford E350 EB

Part 2 - The Design

While we were looking at and thinking about Ford conversions, we also briefly considered a newer VW Eurovan conversion (either Westy or Winnebago). In particular, we liked the Weekender version, which has no water or cooking facilities. We had never used the water system in our '89 (too many winter skiing trips), and had evolved to doing most of our cooking outside. Ultimately, the Eurovan wouldn't solve our desire for something larger, so we abandoned that idea, but our design ideas were influenced by the Weekender layout.

The basic design considerations for us boiled down to the following:

50-style layout - We were comfortable with this layout, having traveled in the Westy for years, we liked the open space in the middle, and we wanted forward-facing seating for our son (I won't get into that topic too much, as it has been covered in this forum numerous times). I do like some aspects of a centre-aisle design, but the width of the lower bed (or lack of, see next point) was enough to turn me off a gaucho. Perhaps I was also swayed by Jage's zealous promotion of the 50 as the ONLY layout!

Bigger bed - This was the ONLY thing my wife mentioned when asked for her input! I would have been happy with the SMB/GTRV standard bench width, which from what I could gather is somewhere from 54 to 57" wide (the VW bench is only about 45" wide). We finally settled on a full Queen, 60" x 80".

No propane or water - We wanted things to be relatively simple. We carry a small, portable 5 lb. propane tank for either a stove or grill. We don't boondock for long periods, so water is generally available when we need it (carried in portable containers). A fridge was a must-have, so we went with a 12VDC-only model. Our Westy didn't have a built-in heater; we would use a small electric heater when we could poach a plug-in, but that wasn't such a, uh, reliable plan, especially with a young'un tagging along with us now. Without propane, our main option was an Espar or Webasto. (Unlike Sportsmobile, GTRV was willing to install the gas versions of these heaters.) Another reason for eliminating the water and propane was to minimize penetrations in the van exterior. Yeah, seems like a crazy thing to base our design on, but I wanted to keep the van as clean as possible from an aesthetics perspective, and I wanted to avoid any point where rust could gain a foothold. Our VW had the worst rust at the electical/water/fridge vent ports on the driver's side.

I used SketchUp and a model from charlie56 to design our layout in 3D and get a better sense of what would work in the confines of the van. This also worked great to convey our design to Roy at Coast Outfitter. We settled on a 50-ish sorta layout but with no sink, no stove, and a side-facing seat.



(The drawer storage next to the fridge didn't make it into the final build.)

Brent
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Old 03-25-2010, 07:04 PM   #3
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Re: GTRV Conversion on a Ford E350 EB

Part 3 - The Conversion

We took the van into Coast Outfitter in May 2009, put down a deposit, and waited. Roy had another van in the shop at the time(I think it was AHuey's), but he started layering the fibreglass for our top. (Keep in mind, this is a much smaller shop than any of the SMB locales - one, maybe two, vans in the shop at a time.)

Here are some progress shots.





Brent
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Old 03-25-2010, 07:05 PM   #4
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Re: GTRV Conversion on a Ford E350 EB

Part 4 - The Completed Van, Exterior

We picked up the van in July 2009, and we are very happy with the design choices we made and with the quality of the conversion. Roy and his crew at Coast Outfitter did an outstanding job.



The GTRV top is flush-mounted; a fibreglass fairing is mounted over the cockpit as part of the roof assembly.


A view of the inside of the penthouse top, with the Fantastic Fan integrated into the design.


[EDIT 14Dec11] Additional info about the GTRV penthouse top can be found in these later threads:
Wanting to see or get info on GTRV V/T Top
Other Penthouse Roof Manufacturers??
GTRV problems with the Big Baby

I didn't appreciate how nice the window beside the bench was in the VW Westy, until reading a few posts here indicating that kids really don't like it when they can't see that cool, 50-foot dinosaur on the left side of the road. We have two large windows on the left, and one on the right. It's great when camped, as well, allowing lots of light and views out both sides.


Also, no vents or access doors on this side (the electrical hookup is just below the taillight).


Two porch lights, plus one on the driver's side.


Brent
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Old 03-25-2010, 07:06 PM   #5
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Re: GTRV Conversion on a Ford E350 EB

Part 5 - The Completed Van, Interior







As mentioned, we designed a full Queen bed into the design. And it is awesome, tonnes of room and no more pillow falling off the end onto the floor. The compromise was narrower storage on the driver's side. But my wife is happy.




And a mini-bed for our 2˝-year-old. It's 42" long; when he outgrows it (which won't be long), he'll probably move upstairs.






Tonnes of room on the extra-wide rear bench. We have three floor-mounted tethers, so can put the child seat anywhere. This also fits three adults very comfortably. And there is a seatbelt for the side-facing seat, as well.


The fridge in the VW was tiny. We opted for a 3.5 cu.ft. model, Nova Kool R3800, locally made in Coquitlam, BC, with a Danfoss 12VDC compressor.




Side door cabinet, great for making coffee.


Rear driver's side cabinet with converter underneath.


On passenger side, Espar Airtronic 5 gas heater and vented battery box with two 6VDC deep-cycle golf cart batteries (U.S. Battery model US 2200 XC). Lots of under-bed storage, as well.


Brent
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Old 03-25-2010, 07:07 PM   #6
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Re: GTRV Conversion on a Ford E350 EB

Part 6 - The Future

Lots of things we still want to add or modify, mainly on the outside. In no particular order, here is what I'm currently thinking, as time and funds allow.
  • electronics (stereo, DVD, backup camera, GPS)

    solar panel(s)

    anti-sway bar

    rear spacers/adapters

    improved springs - I know I have saggy butt; I get high-beamed frequently by those who think I have my high beams on. (I will adjust my headlights in the meantime.)

    rear locker

    lift kit - Would love to have 4x4, but really just need good performance in snow and light off-road duty.

    bigger tires + new wheels - I hate those hubcaps!

    side steps

    bumpers - Need more storage.

    under-floor storage - See above.

    winch

We've already added our Yakima box (from the old van) and a good set of studded snow tires.



Brent
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Old 03-25-2010, 07:10 PM   #7
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Re: GTRV Conversion on a Ford E350 EB

Looks like that Porsche has been up on the rack a lllooonnnngggg time.

Floor plan looks like it will work for you. And it looks better than a 50! Maybe not as good as an aisle for me, but it don't matter what I like, as long as it works for you.

Good luck,

Mike
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Old 03-25-2010, 07:15 PM   #8
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Re: GTRV Conversion on a Ford E350 EB

VERY COOL.

BTW, the dog looks like a Chinook. What kind is it?


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Old 03-25-2010, 09:49 PM   #9
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Re: GTRV Conversion on a Ford E350 EB

Awesome write up and nice pics man!!!!
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Old 03-25-2010, 11:39 PM   #10
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Re: GTRV Conversion on a Ford E350 EB

Great to see another (happy) GTRV'er here! It sounds like we had very similar use criteria - no water, no propane, Airtronic. We get out to play in the winter and have been very comfortable sleeping in it at -20c. Gotta love the Canadian winters!
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