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Old 02-17-2023, 01:29 PM   #1
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Location: Bend, OR
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2011 E350 5.4V8 EB Passenger Van Build

Hey SMBForum! I have been visiting this site for awhile but haven't posted much. I have been dreaming of a SMB style van since I saw one mountain biking at Northstar in 2011. Like most people I couldn't afford one.

I had a truck already to haul motos, so we bought a small overland-ish travel trailer. The Nobo 10.6 and it was really fun. We wanted to stand up and change clothes so we sold it and upgraded to a Nobo 16.8. That towed amazing and we could take it anywhere but climbing over each other in the middle of the night really sucks (east-west bed). So we sold that and bought a Nobo 19.5 and everything was great.

We spent 3 months in it traveling around with the cats and did a few thousand miles. Oregon Coast, Northern CA, San Diego, Sedona, Oak Creek, Moab, etc. It was amazing but along the trip we keep seeing people in vans pull in, set up camp in two minutes, make a fire, eat and make some drinks. Then they were gone in the morning!

We also got into a lot of sketchy places trying to find turn arounds, smoking the front brakes along a downhill cliff edge near Jerome. Plus every time a semi would pass us on the freeway you have to aggressively countersteer. I just got tired of the stress of towing a trailer and decided to downsize.

We also really wanted to be able to bring our motos anytime we travel. I want to jump out grab the dual sport and let my GF drive the van on good moto roads : ) So, I found this 2nd owner 2011 E350 15 passenger that was really clean minus a few dents and scrapes. Mechanically I had to have the front end ujoints replaced but otherwise not a single thing was wrong. It has taken us 1000s of miles already without complaint.

Ugly ass van that handles like a brick

First mobile office setup! Yes I have an extension cord running through the window

Pacific City, OR

Off to WeldTec in San Diego to get the party started.

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Old 02-17-2023, 01:36 PM   #2
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Wow what a transformation already. The van handles 1000x better in the city, on the highway, etc. I'm sure I am now speeding everywhere because the speedo is off by 7% haha

Boom! It just looks right on these bad boys

The Stand in San Diego

South Carlsbad State Park

O Side Marina

Almost back home - San Rafael, CA
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Old 02-17-2023, 01:47 PM   #3
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TufPort gives you 6'4" in back and 6'2" in front raw. I will just do minimal ceiling insulation so that I don't have to crouch. It is a game changer. People get in the van and they still stoop and your like "hey you can stand up if you want!" They are always amazed. The people at TufPort are incredibly nice. We dropped the van off in the morning, took our motos for a spin around Vancouver and then came back in the afternoon, packed them back up and headed home!

Fuel has not really taken a hit because of how aerodynamic the top is and it looks like it was made from the factory, following all of the major lines. We had the supports put in for the cabinets, ceiling fan and two long windows up front where the "living room" will be. Wastach Overland in Utah actually installs these and has an interior finish option. I should have done that because it is a huge drag trying to make this look good and not become a projectile in the event of an accident! Seriously I wasted months wondering what to do.

Near Bellingham, WA

Almost back home again to start the build

Low tech camping but still amazing

Back view of the tufPort
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Old 02-17-2023, 01:53 PM   #4
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First off, I don't know what I'm doing. I'm a graphic designer by trade and good at solving design and usability problems but I have never built anything except for a few skateboard ramps. I don't know how to make cabinet, do interiors, wiring, plumbing, etc. Seriously no skills what so ever. I am probably making a ton of mistakes and I have already wasted a lot of time by throwing out work and redoing things but the learning is fun. At the end I will have something that I am really proud of because I have made it.

But, damn is it a ton of work, stress and cost. I will keep this van forever haha

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Old 02-17-2023, 02:04 PM   #5
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Finally getting things together. Removable bed platform, front cabinet, noise dampener, subfloor, insulation are all in. Just using a GoalZero for power which works pretty well. It really might be all you need.

The awning was purchased though FieldVan, those guys are amazing, along with brackets. I had a local shop install all of these exterior parts plus a Curt front hitch for our mountain bikes when towing and a recovery point if we get stuck somewhere.

Exterior is coming together

If you can put a supermoto on your van, you should!

Starting to frame up the TufPort

Starting insulation

Reflectix, needs an air gap but I don't have many options

Front hitch and GFs Husky TE150i

Got lost out test camping and ended up on some rowdy roads in the middle of nowhere but with the lift, suspension and tires its a beast
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Old 02-17-2023, 02:19 PM   #6
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We had a full size queen mattress in back and it leaves very little room for living area during the day. Having "garage" storage is clutch though so that will stay a main part of the plan. Here is where I get lost in design. I did hundreds of 2D layout and I was being optimistic. I would go into the van and mock it up with cardboard and tape only to find out that it was going to suck.

I decided to model the whole interior in Maya and then proceed to also try out about a million choices. We had settled on two couch beds like the Travato because we couldn't find a good rock'n'roll bed that would allow us to take passengers. So I updated all of our diagrams and had all of the interior planned out to within an inch or so when an old Sportsmobile seat turned up locally on CL.

We took it to an auto fabricator to weld the base to our factory seat mounts. I can reuse the factory seat belts with shoulder harnesses and just have new lap belts made by another local auto guy. Everything is using factory hardware and grade 8 bolts/washers. I debated this for a while but I feel like it is just as safe as the factory seats. And it is powered and folds down into half of a queen bed. The rest will be the garage plus a short extension in front.

I ended up redoing the interior 3D and diagrams one more time but it will be worth it in the long run. Sleeps 2, seats 4-5. Good enough.

2D Floorplan

Wiring Diagram

3D layout front

3D layout back

Material test render

Material test render 2

I guess all the plans are changing haha
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Old 02-17-2023, 02:28 PM   #7
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Front cabinet framing - cheap baltic birch from Lowes not the 9ply good stuff

Starting electrical wiring through the walls

Had the rear heat/AC removed at a shop and it leaked when I removed the interior unit

Another game changer - swivel seats are a huge difference

Starting to feel like a real camper van

Double our original interior space

Van build was taking over our garage so I took the time to build in some benches

and reorganize all of the parts waiting to go in

At least the house is "done" and the cats are happy
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Old 02-17-2023, 02:38 PM   #8
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It's an average of about 20 degrees in bend these days and I can only work for a few hours in the cold before frostbite sets in. The van doesn't fit in the garage so all of this progress has to happen outside or with the garage door open to go back and forth. It slow going but want to get it done by spring. Everyone is ready to hit the road!

Back cabinet bolted to the metal and screwed into walls on 3 sides

80/20 framing for the garage and back of the bed

Don't laugh, I have never made a cabinet! Pocket screws are my best friend right now

Still slow, but starting to feel hopeful again

Trim and panels should make this come together pretty quick from here

Thats pretty much it for now.

Its a seriously overwhelming project. Between not knowing what to do and not knowing how to do it it has caused me many sleepless nights. The only thing that is helping is knowing that we will use the hell out of this. We love being on the road with the cats and motos. And I can mostly work remote if I want so the possibilities are endless.

I cannot wait until this thing is finished.
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Old 02-17-2023, 07:31 PM   #9
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Looking great. Thanks for posting.
2008 GMC 3500 Quigley Weldtec 4x4 Savana SMB
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Old 02-17-2023, 07:34 PM   #10
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That's an amazing amount of progress for one day....... ....a new indoor record!

.....on a more serious note......assuming that you have have the stock 3.73 gearing, going to 4.10 gearing is a big improvement after going to 285/75-17's with the 5.4L.

I had close to the same setup (285/70-17's) and a 5.4L and the van struggled up grades endlessly..and the speedo was 7mph slower. Chronic downshifting out of overdrive etc. I drove it this way for years and recently installed 4.10 gearing; wish I'd done it much sooner. The speedo is now off by maybe 2 mph or so. Haven't noticed any difference in gas mileage.'

Some would argue to gear even lower, but even with 4.10s it's a big difference.

Is that a vintage Yamaha IT in the house?
2008 E350 RB passenger 4WD SMB penthouse
2013 KTM 350 EXC
2008 KTM 250 XCF-W
2003 Honda Element
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