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Old 03-21-2014, 02:55 PM   #1
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Another New Guy

I have been lurking for a few months. This is my intro post.

About 3 years ago I was tent camping with my wife on the North Rim of the Grand Canyon. A red 4x4 Sportsmobile pulled into a site across the way and our jaws dropped. The owner must have seen our astonishment as he came over and introduced himself. He was the typical SMB evangelist that I have now come across about a dozen times.

We love off-roading because it takes us to beautiful places. I am a cinematographer by profession and a landscape photographer the rest of the time. Why not have a vehicle that allows us to get there and stay overnight with some comfort.

So... Now we are getting serious. We may purchase something "finished," or start with a 2WD passenger model E350 and work from there. I practice woodworking as a hobby (when there is time) and am not afraid of cabinetry, but I would like to stand on the shoulders of those that have gone before me and not reinvent the wheel. I am convinced that most of the good designing has probably been done, with obvious personal tweeks remaining.

It has been fun to read all of your experiences and soon I hope to engage as an owner.
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Old 03-21-2014, 06:12 PM   #2
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Re: Another New Guy

Welcome! Here's what I would do, and what I did. I have a Sportsmobile, but it's van number 3. The first was to see if we liked van camping, a cheap old passenger van. We established we love van camping. The second was a bigger, nicer passenger van which I eventually added a top to and built out the interior. I love woodworking to but don't profess to be any good at it. You'll find tons and tons of info here on building your own, and you can get in the door much cheaper and figure out what works for you. I strongly recommend this. These vans aren't rocket science, so you won't be reinventing the wheel, just building your own individual wheel. My third van is an older SMB which I grabbed because it was a deal and 4WD, but as a guy who knows woodworking, you'll probably find any older SMB to be pretty lousy in the cabinetry department. Pressboard, etc. That's why I'm currently rebuilding my interior with updated, better quality materials.
Either way you go, you're bound to have a good time and make some great friends here. This is a really fun place to hang out and learn.

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Old 03-21-2014, 07:24 PM   #3
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Re: Another New Guy

Thanks Scotty!
That looks to be our plan of attack. We have been snooping the cheaper SMB and other van ads for that very purpose. To determine if this is really for us before dropping the serious change. I like the idea of feeling this out and not jumping in with both feet and a huge check. That said I do not want a never ending project. A work in progress is cool as long as it is pretty much continually usable. I loved the whole thread that Brent wrote, even the "social experiment" as he has continued to get things done.

I also have a 54 Chevy pickup that has been sitting until lately and I cannot do that again...

I am pretty darn sure the van is the way to go as we even like sleeping in the back of the 4Runner on the trail. Here is the Cargo Storage/Sleeping Platform we use when pitching a tent won't cut it. You know, when you take that day trip to Point Sublime on the North Rim and you decide you want to stay a bit.

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Old 03-21-2014, 08:19 PM   #4
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Re: Another New Guy

Quote:
Originally Posted by skyrat
Thanks Scotty!
That looks to be our plan of attack. We have been snooping the cheaper SMB and other van ads for that very purpose. To determine if this is really for us before dropping the serious change. I like the idea of feeling this out and not jumping in with both feet and a huge check. That said I do not want a never ending project. A work in progress is cool as long as it is pretty much continually usable. I loved the whole thread that Brent wrote, even the "social experiment" as he has continued to get things done.

I also have a 54 Chevy pickup that has been sitting until lately and I cannot do that again...

I am pretty darn sure the van is the way to go as we even like sleeping in the back of the 4Runner on the trail. Here is the Cargo Storage/Sleeping Platform we use when pitching a tent won't cut it. You know, when you take that day trip to Point Sublime on the North Rim and you decide you want to stay a bit.

That is awesome how did you build out those draws? I have been thinking about doing the same thing under my bed. Having pull out storage draws just like that what did you use as tracks?
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Old 03-21-2014, 08:42 PM   #5
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Re: Another New Guy

Another way to go is to find an older, low mileage 80ish SMB and test them out. Mine is an 89 that cost us $5,000. It is great fun. Have done a few upgrade to it to make it more livable. It has allowed me to get use to van camping and figure out the changes that I would make on my next newer one.
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Old 03-21-2014, 11:45 PM   #6
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Re: Another New Guy

Thanks Ghostkid:
I used Knape-Vogt 28" Full Ext. 110# Capacity Slides. I didn't want to spend 4 times as much for longer slides to go all the way under the sleeping platform, so I just created a cubby with a hinged lid to use the space forward of the drawers as storage. That is where I put all the gear I always carry. Winch control, straps, chain, etc... Then I used turnbuckles to attach it to the factory tie downs in the back of the truck.

Here is a pic that has a better view of the slides and overall construction. Heck, it even shows a touch of my project 1954 Chevy 3100.

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Old 03-22-2014, 11:06 AM   #7
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Re: Another New Guy

I think where you live, and what your ultimate goals are will be the key to how to move foward.

I started with an E250 and assumed that the pop-top would be most beneficial, and started saving to pay for that to be done. In the mean time, I "test built" some of the interior so we could try van camping.

My long term goal was/is to have a place to ski (as well as other things) out of and save on resort hotel costs and the time/cost of driving back and fourth to Summit County from Denver. I figured chains and good tires would be good enough. But, after a few trips, I decided 4WD was pretty important. Others disagree, but I think the van handles terribly in the snow (especially windy roads) even with good tires. Throwing on chains on the side of the hwy blows.

So, we bit the bullet and are having the top and 4WD done at the same time, and I will rebuild out the interior, again. Although it wasnt in-budget to do both, our van is low mileage and I figured the sooner we did it, the more use would can squeeze out of it.

I would recommend, similar to 86scotty, that you can do different things. If 4WD is a possibility and you want to build one yourself, start with a E350 in good shape. They are far cheaper to convert to 4WD. (this was my 1st mistake). If 4WD is not a likely requirement, you can do lots, and save some with a E250.

My novice .02.
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Old 03-22-2014, 12:10 PM   #8
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Re: Another New Guy

Thanks 2Horse!

My wife and I both know that 4x4 is in our future, as we put probably 2K miles a year on it now in our 4Runner. We spend lots of time in the Ouray, CO area as well as dirt roads all over UT and the eastern Sierra or Cascades, from Lone Pine, CA North to Bend, OR. We constantly take a turn down whatever dirt road that sparks an interest. We went to a wedding in Prescott, AZ 2 years ago and opted for the 50+ mile dirt road route from Seligman over the paved lower path up Interstate 10.

The trick is how to make it happen. I cannot, nor would I, lay down a check for $65K to get something that has it all for us, especially since we are not sure what that even means at this point.

I would be happy to drive a Van without much conversion in either the interior comforts or 4x4 for a while to see what works for us and what does not. Eventually 4x4 is a must, but I would hate to add that expense to a van that did not have enough life left in it to be around for quite a while. I also love the idea of the Pop Top as I often make photographs of wildlife from my vehicle, especially while off-road. They make a great photo blind. Interior layout is a big mystery. Every time I see a layout that makes sense, another seems to top it. Thanks all for your suggestions, they are very welcome. The main reason I am here is to gain from your knowledge and experience. Hopefully one day I can pass that on.
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Old 03-22-2014, 12:20 PM   #9
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Re: Another New Guy

In my opinion, if 4x4 is in your future, you should try to find one thats already been done. From what I've read, it costs between $10-$12k for a conversion. Sometimes you can find nice vans that already have the 4x4 conversion for a very good price. If you get a van that already has the conversion done, all you would need to focus on is the interior build out and pop top if you choose to get one. I really like the CCV tops because it goes up higher and the bed is wider.
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Old 03-22-2014, 01:08 PM   #10
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Re: Another New Guy

I mulled over a 4x4 conversion around 250,000 miles. I was also worried about doing it on a high-milaege van that may not last much longer.

Fast forward to 375,000 miles.... I still have no plans on replacing the van, so my worries were completely unfounded. And since then, I've worked on E350 vans with well over 500,000 miles needing nothing more than a couple alternators (mine did require a new radiator, heater hose, and starter relays).

So... don't be afraid of a high-milaege Ford gas-engine van, or even a 7.3L diesel. They will last a long time if the rust stays aways. Chris at U-joint even did a conversion on one with almost 800,000 miles on it (I think he went ahead and refreshed the motor at the same time).

Also another consideration... If you go with QuadVan or U-Joint, swapping the 4x4 over to a new van in the future shouldn't be too bad. I saw QuadVan doing a swap once after the owner rear-ended a stopped garbage truck. Owner had the van towed back to QuadVan, and just had his existing 4x4 setup swapped under another van. The only chassis part modified permanently is the engine crossmember. Everything else bolts on.
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