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Old 02-07-2011, 01:58 PM   #1
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Dookie

After being a long time lurker and absorbing everything I can from all the great folks here on the forum I figured it was time to start documenting our project a bit.

The quest for a camping vehicle first started after packing up dewy wet tents and gear from an evening on the Oregon coast and was solidified after borrowing a friend's travel trailer for a weekend late last summer. The once hardcore backpacking/mountaineering couple decided that perhaps it was time to succumb to the creature comforts of an RV that we used to mock others for having. Having an infant/toddler aged child and all the gear that goes along with them helped fire this desire as well.

We started evaluating options. Trailers are a pain because you have to have a place to park them. We had all the pro's and con's discussions that have been beat around here every few months. We were also fortunate enough to spend the weekend camping with family that has amongst them an A-liner poptop trailer, Eurovan Westy, and Vanagon Westy. While the VW's are fantastic rigs, we ultimately decided that there wasn't quite enough room for our liking and to be honest the Eurovan was going to be out of our price range.

Enter the Sportsmobile concept. We LOVED the idea of a supersized Westy. However, did I mention we were on a budget? We found a few 2wd rigs that would have fit the bill, but ultimately decided that having 4wd was important to us and would be a deal breaker otherwise. I started the spreadsheet on factory and DIY 4wd conversions and other costs to get what we were looking for, but it quickly added up to numbers way over what we wanted to spend... especially on vehicles that were already 15+ years old.

Hello Craigslist. I became obsessive combing through CL ads for SMB's and 4x4 vans. One day, I found an ad for a penthouse top that had been salvaged out of a wrecking yard. It is likely the same one that is the topic of previous threads here. It was off of a 1987 Ford RB, and after a bit of research I discovered that this top would fit any Ford RB from 1975 to 1991. Jackpot! I commit to the seller that I absolutely want the top, am willing to prepay or whatever... I just need to find a van to put under it and then make the 900 mile round trip to pick it up.

For some odd reason, there were quite a few Ford Pathfinder 4x4 vans for sale last fall. I kept on looking for the best 'bang for the buck' keeping my options open. I was hoping to not have a 460, but understood that I was going to have to deal with the 3 speed C6 tranny unless I found an '89 or newer with the E4OD (which unfortunately was a weak link in its early years). The 300-6 would have been great, but I didn't see but one of those come up. I could probably write another two pages on the trials and tribulations of finding the 'right' van and dealing with all the craigslist flakes out there, but will not bore you with that.

Enter Dookie: 'The One'. I told my wife that I found our van and I was going to buy a ticket to Colorado, have some beers with an old college roomate, then drive it home. She was mostly delighted that I wouldn't be spending so much time researching vans!



Dookie is an '84 with a 6.9L diesel, Banks Turbo, C6 tranny with a gear vendors OD. The odometer only goes 5 places but I'm fairly certain that actual mileage is about 180k based up on the records I've got.

After hours and hours of driving through snow between Salt Lake City and Reno, then from Reno back to Oregon, there is no doubt that having four wheel drive was the right choice!

A quick detour to pick up the penthouse top:


I drove 1600 miles over the course of two days and Dookie ran and drove great. Knock on wood, but we're hoping this sweet ol' girl can deliver some more reliable miles for us down the road. The plan right now is to build a 50-ish layout without too many bells and whistles. A good fridge and cabin heat are currently on our list of priorites, but first things first - the first order of business will be to repair the corner of the penthouse that was smashed up and acquire everything needed before chopping the top.
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Old 02-07-2011, 02:14 PM   #2
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Penthouse top repair

One thing I really like is the fact that we are going for function over fashion, and it is WAY easier to start hacking away on used/older/cheap stuff that if we went and bought a new van off the lot. There are going to be a lot of things through the build process that I've never done, but will mostly be an investment in time rather than money. If I screw it up, I can do it again until I like it! The first of those things is fiberglass.

I've never worked with fiberglass before, but armed with a bit of google research and the directions on the back of the can I went for it. You have to start somewhere, right?

Here's the damaged area that someone else had attempted to fix (but obviously didn't hold up too well)


Clean up all the rotten areas and then build a form


Lay up the first bit of fiberglass


I am anticipating laying up the front and back each a few more times with some sanding in between before I get something that is going to be reasonable. I haven't yet decided if I will just try to paint the fiberglass patch to match, get some gelcoat, or perhaps go for an elastomeric type paint on the whole top before I put it on.

With a full time job during the week and time with the family during the weekend, this may be a slow process. It will be rewarding, though!
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Old 02-07-2011, 02:34 PM   #3
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Re: Dookie

Congratulations on getting a rig that meets your requirements! And welcome to the 'Club'.

Have fun with the build, and much more fun with using it.

You may want to avoid this site. Seems this site causes many of us to spend money, more money than we expected, and it doesn't seem to end.

But it is fun.

Mike
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Old 02-07-2011, 02:42 PM   #4
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Re: Dookie

The interior as it came actually wasn't too bad. The front seats and rear folding bench had been reupholstered, there were two small shelf units, small drink table and pretty nicely done headliner.


After discovering that the van actually fits in my garage (at least so far without the penthouse yet installed), my Friday night fun was the chore of stripping out the inside to get a look at where I will cutting for the top.


Needless to say, the current state of my garage is a bit on the disheveled side.
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Old 02-07-2011, 07:34 PM   #5
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Re: Dookie

Great! I think that's a really cool van, and a good price. It is definitely the one i was looking at. I contacted the guy about it with a couple questions and he said he had a deposit and someone flying in to get it. I'm glad it came to town, now i can check it out.

I might be able to get away this weekend if you're going to be around. We did go to the steens this last weekend, had a pretty good time except for a mild pet problem.

Excited to watch the build (in person and on the forum)!
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Old 02-07-2011, 08:59 PM   #6
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Re: Dookie

Welcome to the SMB Club. Neat project.

Paul
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Old 02-07-2011, 10:06 PM   #7
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Re: Dookie

Awesome base vehicle. Good luck with the build.
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Old 02-08-2011, 09:26 AM   #8
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Re: Dookie

Thanks for the kind words, folks. Hopefully there will be more beers than tears along the way.

Last night I went to work cutting and shaping the previous two nights worth of repairs


After that, I layed up one more layer on the inside to get the thickness I was looking for. This should conclude my fiberglass work on the top. Today I'll do some more research on some coating options. I was going to just leave it, but the original gelcoat has a few cracks here and there so it might be best to invest a little more time in it while it is in a nice workable spot.

Troy - glad you made it to the Steens last weekend - that place is awesome! I might be cutting the lid out this weekend and am sure I could use a hand if you're interested.

cheers,
josh
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Old 02-08-2011, 09:31 AM   #9
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Re: Dookie

Have fun! How was the Gear Vendors overdrive on the highway? Do you know what gear ratio your differentials are?
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Old 02-08-2011, 11:39 AM   #10
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Re: Dookie

The Gear Vendors OD unit seems to work quite well. It was actually one of the big selling points of this van for me. There doesn't seem to be any issues - it just works. It does have a bit of a hard shift, but so does my tranny so it seems very similar. My system doesn't appear to have a 4x4 lockout so I plan to add a toggle switch to do so since the OD unit is activated on a foot switch. It would be awful to accidentally hit that while in four wheel drive!

My gears are 4.10's. Even with my tires being 315's, it would be rough having the diesel combo with the non-OD C6, so the GV is a welcome addition and really nice on the highway. Without it, I'd be running 3000 RPMs at about 75mph but instead am able to sit closer to 2500-2600. My 'OD' gear ratio is 3.20.
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