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Old 07-07-2014, 05:05 PM   #1
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78 Ford 4x4 First Time Build For Pan American Trip

Found the right girl and then potentially made a questionable choice on the van but we are going with it anyways. Wanted to bring you all along and hopefully lean on you some for advice as we do this rebuild on the beast we call the "Van Of Life"



She is a 1978 E350 351 Windsor with a Pathfinder 4x4 conversion. No sure on milage but it must be up there as she has at least one engine rebuild in the past. Runs strong...for now and hoping she won't be more of a mechanical project than I bargained for. Excited for the project and for the build.

We started by demoing the old camper buildout only to find a whole lot more rust and funk than we had bargained for. At this stage we are at a continual cycle between total stoke on the purchase and utter discouragement wondering what the hell we got ourselves into. The good news is the plan is for a cheap/functional build that will just get us through the trip as we are planning on selling the rig and flying home at the end.



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Old 07-11-2014, 06:15 AM   #2
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Re: 78 Ford 4x4 First Time Build For Pan American Trip

Sweet! We're doing something similar with a 2001 7.3 except we'll drive it back or ship it to Florida if we make it all the way. We both love the looks of those older vans and considered a couple ourselves before buying our 2001. Ours wasn't converted yet so getting to the walls and floor was, we're sure, easier than what you are going through. We used a wire brush attachment on a drill (3 actually) to knock every thing down before coating it with POR-15. We have never done this before so using POR-15 was something we learned from this forum. That stuff is great but pricey. Wear gloves. If it dries on your skin you wear it until it wears off, I had a mishap last night and now have a half mechanic and half zombie looking right hand. Not awesome.

Are you guys heading South first or North and running it proper like? We haven't decided yet as when we leave town will determine what we end up doing. What's the height of your van? We're almost 8 feet with the Quigley and pop top and we plan on container shipping across the Darien Gap so we can't get much taller. We don't know much about the Pam Am but we follow a few overlander blogs and have learned a ton through their trial and error.

We say don't stress about the van too much. Follow your gut. If you want something different change now before you're in too deep, if you're sure this is the vehicle for you than do the best you can to get it in the best shape before you leave. It seems many people break down during the trek, it'll be part of "the experience" for sure.

The greatest achievement you could ever attain is finding the right girl (woman). The rest of your life should be dedicated to not screwing it up, everything else...

-John
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Old 07-14-2014, 08:55 PM   #3
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Re: 78 Ford 4x4 First Time Build For Pan American Trip

Thanks for the reply John and awesome about the Pan Am plans! We are planning on doing the Southern section from San Diego down and we will see how far we can get in 6 months. Might store the rig and try to pick up the trip again after replenishing the bank accounts a bit.

Great point on the van height, not sure on our current ride height but will research that ahead of time. Worst case scenery we could probably get some cheap smaller tires to throw on for shipping or figure something else out. What are your thoughts on the POR-15 doe you notice a difference in noise reduction? I have a friend that does urethane foam roofing and i'm looking at having him do the walls of the van as a quick, easy, and cheap way to do some insulation and sound dampening. Might look at throwing down that POR-15 if you think it is worth the price.

Agreed on breakdowns being part of the "experience", I just have my fingers crossed it will be minor issues and nothing that will break the bank but either way it's going to be an adventure.
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Old 07-14-2014, 09:01 PM   #4
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Re: 78 Ford 4x4 First Time Build For Pan American Trip

some more pictures of the demo...not sure how many different time this rig has been converted but there was 3 different floors (plywood, then plywood with linoleum, and then just wood floor on top of all that) and a ton of rotted pink insulation and particle board.



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Old 07-14-2014, 09:12 PM   #5
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Re: 78 Ford 4x4 First Time Build For Pan American Trip

Got the beast up to a mechanic friend today to see if this project is worth moving forward on and we got the green light! So the Van Of Life lives and is getting a fresh build out asap!

Here is half the list of things he found that are issues but he didn't think anything on there would keep me from heading south so we are a go! Time to start the buildout as soon as I get a few free days. Best part of the checkup was he didm't charge me for labor, he had his guys replace my ignition switch and he threw in some lightly used tires. So thankful for good friends with generous hearts!

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Old 07-15-2014, 08:54 AM   #6
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Re: 78 Ford 4x4 First Time Build For Pan American Trip

What a project! The POR-15 is to stop the rust so I'm not sure if it helps in sound deadening. We're going to Fatmat our floor and doghouse but only put some on the walls. We'll probably then use reflectix and traditional insulation for the walls. We're planning on keeping the van so if you can get a good cheap solution then that may be the better way to go. Ours is a diesel so with everything stripped out of it she's loud, the reason for the Fatmat.

If you don't have one, budget for a fan. We wanted to put one in our penthouse top but that seems to be open to much debate so we bought an endless breeze. We're using it during the build and it's great. We've been rigging it in all sorts of places depending on the need and that has been awesome. Something I didn't consider about a permanently installed one. If space and weight are ok, yeah right, we may buy a second one.

Airing down may be enough to squeeze in a container. You may just need a way to air back up or plan to ship when another overlander does who has a compressor. A portable Viar is handy and another thing you may want anyway for airing up after having to air down. I've owned some good el cheapos too but once I got my first truck with E load rated tires I had to step up to a quality (expensive) compressor. Our van came with an onboard system but I love my portable so much I might swap the compressors or take it as an extra. You live in a great place for awesome finds on Craigslist.

We have family that recently moved to San Diego so we'll probably make a stop there before entering Baja. I'm sure we'll get together when we have the chance.
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Old 09-22-2014, 09:44 AM   #7
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Re: 78 Ford 4x4 First Time Build For Pan American Trip

Made a ton of progress on the build over the last few weeks!

As I worked on it more, I found more and more issues, largest of all that the pop top is way to large for the van and was getto rigged in and thus caused all kinds of rust and other issues.


Huge gap between body and pop top after the foam/wood/fabric was removed!
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Old 09-22-2014, 09:50 AM   #8
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Re: 78 Ford 4x4 First Time Build For Pan American Trip

More in the process to fix the rear door frame cross member.

After some cutting...

To fix and re-secure the crossmember so the doors would seal and close properly and to reinforce the entire body and pop top, I decided the create an internal frame using 1inch square tubing, sheet metal and plenty of fiberglass.
The frame runs along the back and up both sides of the van almost to the front seats.
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Old 09-22-2014, 09:58 AM   #9
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Re: 78 Ford 4x4 First Time Build For Pan American Trip

Welded corner of frame...

Sheet metal work to recreate the curve in the door frame. I'm no metal worker but it got the job done!

Tack welded and then fiberglassed to reinforce the whole thing.

Was super relived to have the door close snuggly and properly at the end of all the work!
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Old 09-22-2014, 10:01 AM   #10
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Re: 78 Ford 4x4 First Time Build For Pan American Trip

Some more photos of the frame and door rework.


The photo makes the lines look off but it's all mostly square and works perfect.

Left the back as is for a bit while I change it up a bit and worked on the window reinstall and some other body work.
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