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Old 05-21-2020, 01:14 PM   #1
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98 E-350 Type II McCoy Miller Ambulance Conversion

Hey all. I've lurked for ~2.5 years now and picked up a ton of info (thanks!) I live in the greater Charlotte, NC area, work full-time, have 3 kids (twin girls, 9, and an 13-year-old son), and undertake various home improvement and car projects. I'm an active High Performance Driving Event (HPDE) coach and am working driving a 1999 base model Corvette. As the Vette gets more track/safety oriented it will become less ideal to drive it to and from the track with my 4x6 trailer behind it. So the ambulance build is primarily for towing and sleeping in the paddock but will also be a base camp and/or camping vehicle for outdoor adventures with the family. While I've owned and tracked lots of different cars, I'm pretty new to vans and the community, so if I say something dumb I apologize in advance. I'll post build pics/info and questions if I'm unable to locate something here.

I found the ambo on CL 3 hours from here. The guy bought it from auction and had plans to convert it for camping with his son but had to drop the project since it sat awhile and he was starting to get threatening letters from his HOA that he'd get fined if he didn't move it. It has 470k on it but the 7.3L toorbo diesel and I'm sure 2-3x that in run time. I used uShip to get it local and to a trusted diesel mechanic. He went through it thoroughly and replaced relatively basic things: both batteries, intake tube, glow plug relay, fuel filter, oil and filter, and a couple of other minor things. He noted it as being in surprisingly good shape for the age & mileage, that it made good power, and that the trans was "tight." Phew. In driving it around there are no discernable issues aside from needing to idle it for 30-60 minutes before driving.

Most of my progress to date is gutting the rear to make way for new stuff, but I've done a couple of "fun" things too. In terms of how things will flow from here, I'd normally work in chronological order to current day, but I'm really excited about the roof rack we built last weekend so I'll start there then work my way forward.
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Old 05-21-2020, 01:15 PM   #2
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I've been thinking about a roof rack for awhile, to mount solar, allow access to the to-be-mounted rooftop A/C unit, and to have an "observation deck" for use in outdoor activities and to get a better view of the racetrack when I take it there. I was talking to a good friend of mine VK who's a draftsman by trade and a very talented fabricator, who's dealing with massive boredom from COVID lockdown and offered to help plan and execute. He likes to plan the sh*t outta projects to reduce the number of trips you have to make when you undertake something like this. The planning was extensive and was 100% worth it, in addition to it being kinda fun to bounce drawings and ideas off one another, make to-do lists that aren't for my actual job, and iterate through all the details. On the minus side, thinking about this stuff tends to impact my ability to sleep...oh well, YOLO.


Despite diligent planning, every project has unknowns that could derail / elongate the timeline. Our biggest unknown was how we relate the roll structure location to the topper. The rack has to look centered on the topper, which is centered on the van (at least on the long axis). The roll structure, while plenty structurally since ambulances are mandated to have rollover protection, looks like it was welded by someone who bought a welder, watched a few YouTube videos, then decided to drink heavily before practicing. That created a lot of uncertainty, over-measuring, and minor adjustments on the fly. Thankfully VK is really good at this.


We started by locating two center points in the topper. We were able to use a centered midship antenna hole for the first, and located a second center point at the back by measuring side-to-side with a tape measure and flat surface against the side of the topper, then using another piece of threaded rod to serve as a physical reference. This was just aft of the rear red flasher and helped us to translate the side to the top since the topper is a relatively complex shape. We then tied a string around both bolts, pulled it tight, and marked a line in the middle of each roll hoop. VK designed the feet to be 17.5" from the centerline, so we marked that distance out on each hoop and used a laser to ensure they were all linear.











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Old 05-21-2020, 01:18 PM   #3
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With the attachment points being located, the next step was to drill holes through the topper and attach the uprights that VK designed (drawings below). We agreed on 10 of them, given we'd have some overhang on the front and they would need to support the weight of the rack, solar panels, Trex, and 1-2 people on the "observation deck."

It became clear, quickly, that going outside-in wouldnít work without making much larger holes in the topper than we need, which increases leak risk. So it had to be inside-out, which left the challenge of "how?"

I bought a couple of hole saws and noticed the pilot bit diameters were all 1/4". As it turned out I already had a 12" long drill bit in 1/4" flavor, so I had the idea to attach a jig to the roll structure that would allow me to drill straight up through the topper. It would have to attach to the structure in a movable fashion the produce repeatable holes since we needed to drill 10 of them. I couldn't find any pipe or material with a 1/4" I.D. in short order, so we drilled holes in a couple of scrap pieces and VK tacked it all together.










We had to iterate through which hole saw to use, because a bigger hole allowed more wiggle room (lol) but would be harder to seal. We ended up using 1 1/2" but decided that were we to do this again, the plates that sit on top and below would be more workable if they were larger, to increase the ratio between the hole drilled and sealing surface. We didn't have time to get a new batch made, so we agreed that the marine sealant Jason recommended would be needed. I had some trouble locating it but was able to find it through a local marine shop that uses a common warehouse with other shops. After getting one hole located to test the process, we drilled 3 more to locate our corners, then installed the uprights without sealant and clamped the long members in place to ensure we were equidistant front-to-back.













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Old 05-21-2020, 01:24 PM   #4
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Next we drilled the other 6 holes. The other 6 uprights were installed, feet tacked attached to the uprights, and location tested to ensure we were on track. Only 1, maybe 2 feet were slightly off from the long member but we determined we could weld shims in place to make up the difference. Then, in an incredibly satisfying moment, all were welded to the roll structure.

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Old 05-21-2020, 01:27 PM   #5
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With the long members/rails located, the next step was to actually build the thing. VK's cut sheet was infinitely helpful in driving things forward, with me cutting as he was welding or working on something else. While things went pretty well, cutting was a bit of a challenge because it was hard to see the lines I made on the material. Ultimately it took me a little longer to cut certain lengths/angles and I had a few waste pieces, but I saved the shortest lengths to last (13" and 6") so I was able to keep waste to a minimum.



On cutting the 6" pieces, Vincent recommended a fence / positive stop since I needed to cut 24 of them, and that was a huge win.



Progress on the last day or so *seemed* much better, but the reality is that Friday, Saturday, and half of Sunday were spent doing "foundational" work. Meaning it took us most of that time to get the long rails in place. Even making the long rails was challenging, since the overall length of the rack is over 14' and the pieces were cut to 10' nominal. VK had the great idea to join pieces using a piece of round pipe from Lowe's that slid into the 1" square tubing. He welded the pipe into one piece of tube, then the other, and welded the connection, which created pieces that were stronger probably than a simple 14' long piece. I'll say that with the amount of work that went into joining those pieces and a few screw-ups on my part, those long pieces took a LOT longer than the others.

The work area:



Corner jig:



Basic lower frame:



Nighttime welding to the long rails:



How we started Monday morning:



Semi-finished product after VK left Monday:



Foot detail:

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Old 05-21-2020, 03:51 PM   #6
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Bet getting your finger to pull the trigger on the drill for the first hole was one of the hardest decisions you've ever made.
Looks great - you're on a roll now.
Will be fun following your progress.
Welcome!
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Old 05-21-2020, 04:13 PM   #7
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Twoxentrix View Post
Bet getting your finger to pull the trigger on the drill for the first hole was one of the hardest decisions you've ever made.
The *first* hole was the one for the threaded rod antenna (at the back) to locate the center line. But for sure there was a moment of, "What am I forgetting?" before pulling the literal trigger.


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Originally Posted by Twoxentrix View Post
Looks great - you're on a roll now.
Will be fun following your progress.
Welcome!
thanks!
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Old 05-21-2020, 09:39 PM   #8
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Great posts! Wish I had forethought, talent and time!

Group Buy on right now swivel bases if youíre ready for those. Let me know, just need zip code and what you want.
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Old 05-22-2020, 05:13 AM   #9
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Awesome, yes it does look like you are on a roll. Well done.
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Old 05-22-2020, 03:01 PM   #10
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Originally Posted by 1der View Post
Great posts! Wish I had forethought, talent and time!

Group Buy on right now swivel bases if youíre ready for those. Let me know, just need zip code and what you want.
Thanks! I might be interested depending on current pricing and shipping to SC. Shoot me a PM and we can go from there, if that's OK.



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Awesome, yes it does look like you are on a roll. Well done.
Thanks! I appreciate the kind words.
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