My wife and I have always loved camping. In July of '15 we had our first child and saw no reason why we could not continue to camp. At 6 weeks old we took her on her first camping trip and while it was a blast we realized that we were clinically insane for taking a 6 week old camping, it was way more stress than fun.. However, nature made her so unbelievably calm and contented we eagerly planned our next trip. We waited and took her again at 3 months and while it went better it was still not as relaxing as we would have liked. 6 months was better still but the trip was cut short because the weather turned cold. At 9 months we rented a tent cabin with a pot belly stove which I fed wood into every two hours ever night. Every trip had its challenges and most were cut short by at least a day. We decided that if we were going to continue to camp in the places we like to camp (off grid, zone camping, tent only campgrounds, campgrounds with difficult access etc) we were going to need to buy a camping vehicle. We looked at everything from $100K custom sportsmobiles to 4x4 Chinooks to mini class C's but never really moved on anything. Earlier this year we found out we were having a 2nd child and decided that if we were going to continue to camp we HAD TO HAVE a camping vehicle other than my 4X4 F150.
The search began in earnest and we kept returning to Sportsmobile. We went back and forth about the value it would provide our family versus the financial cost. We ultimately decided that we would never get $60-100K worth of use out of a used or new sportsmobile so I started looking for cheaper solutions. In a perfect world a Sportsmobile would be my ideal choice, money is no object type of scenario. The dynatrak front and atlas transfer case alone are a compelling enough argument for me. However, with a second child on the way I just could not justify the cost.
Anyway, a couple of weeks ago I found a 1997 Chinook Concourse with a 7.3 powerstroke. It checked many of the boxes my wife wanted like a bathroom/shower, refrigerator and cook top as well as the boxes I wanted checked like the ability to convert to 4X4, a furnace, inside sleeping, diesel engine and short length. The vehicle was located in Texas and being in Southern California it was problematic. I bought a plane ticket and then didnt go. The lack of two separate beds (the concourse has a dinette and sofa that turn into a large king size bed) was a bit of a deal breaker for me and when combined with the hassle of going to get the vehicle I decided against going out.
On December 13th, a Tuesday my colleague sent me an add from Tucson Craigslist, it had been up for 3 hours. I called immediately and asked the seller to hold it for me, Paypal'd him a deposit and went to work on convincing my wife. What I had forgotten was that the following day, the day I planned to fly out and pick up the vehicle, was her company Christmas party. She was not happy. On top of that the vehicle was missing her must haves, a shower, a toilette and inside cooking. But my wife is amazing. She knows I worked hard for the money to buy this vehicle and she told me to go get it.
On Wednesday morning I flew out and was picked up at the airport in my soon to be new rig by Dante, his wife and his 2 year old son. The rig is a 1995 Ford E350 7.3L. It has a high top camper that was taken off of a Chevy van and modified to fit the narrower rear of the ford. The van started its life as a shuttle where it accumulated somewhere around 300K miles. Dante purchased the van 10 years ago and used it extensively, modifying it and re-configuring it to meet his needs at any given time. Early this year he popped the engine on it. His EGT sensor was mounted too far downstream and while towing he got the motor too hot, not realizing that the manifold temperatures were much higher.
His brother had a low mileage (~60K) F250 7.3L 4x4 which became the donor vehicle. From it he swapped the motor, transmission, transfer case and front axle. Before putting everything into the van he had the trans and transfer case rebuilt and beefed up to handle a tuned 7.3 and rebuilt the front axle. He swapped a rebuilt Dana 70 Dually into the rear for added stability and the upgrade to disk brakes.
A major upside to this rig for me was the year. In California, diesel vehicles that are 1997 or older are exempt from smog requirements. This means I can run a fully tuned and upgraded powerstroke without having to deal with the hassles of emissions inspections. The added bonus is also clearly the 7.3 powerstroke itself which is an enormously capable and reliable engine.
I purchased the vehicle and left Tucson at 1PM (12 california time). I hustled her across AZ and California, pulling 75+ mph (even up the grades) arriving in time to make an appearance at the Christmas party (brownie points!!!). So on to the truck...
As I bought her:
-Fully built E4OD transmission and T-case
-New front and rear driveshafts
-Fresh Dana 70 dually rear end with Posi and Mag Hytec cover (3" wider on each side = more stable)
-Fresh Dana 50 TTB front axle with custom progressive coil springs and lengthened radius arms
-Custom valved Fox 2.0 smooth body shocks all around
-Custom 45 gallon fuel tank
-UJOR trans cross member
-Low mileage replacement engine
-Swamps tuned T/S 6 position chip
-Baby Swamps injectors
-Rebuilt fuel bowl and all fuel lines
-New 17 deg. HPOP
-Rebuilt turbo with Wicked Wheel, 1.0 housing with ebpv delete
-4" turbo back exhaust
-Custom front bumper with lights and 2" hitch
-Tow package with brake controller
-A-pillar gauges (EGT, Boost, Trans Temp)
-All new accessory pullies and tensioner
-New water pump
-New P/S pump
-New A/C compressor
-New vacuum pump
-Solar power panel, controller and battery for ARB fridge, inverter and LED lights
-ARB fridge with slide out
-TruckLite super bright LED headlights
-Rear seating converts to large bed with storage underneath
-Upper storage converts to second bed
My plans for the truck are:
- Add two pedestal legs to seat back/bed base to make a 5 person table at the rear u shaped couch. Sand and laquer said bed base/seat back/table.
-make insulated and fabric wraped rigid window inserts with magnet or velcro attachments for each window to provide privacy and insulation at night.
-New front seats
-Isotherm 130 DC Refrigerator
- Webasto Dual Top Evo 6 (diesel forced air and hot water heater)
-Webasto Diesel X100 Cook Top
- Reupholster van
- Swivel base for passenger captains chair
- Fresh and Grey water tanks pump and lines
- Galley sink
- Outdoor shower
- 2nd house battery and upgraded solar controller and battery isolator
- Small TV with blueray player
- Build new galley cabinet
- New Tires
- Aluminess Nerf steps
Possible upgrades if money permits
-Aluminess rear tire carrier and storage
- Dana 60 solid front axle swap to remove Dana 50 TTB
I know this rig is not a "Sportsmobile" per-se but I hope I am welcome here. There are many van related things I need to sort out that I have already found answers to on this forum (like the propensity for the side fixed windows to leak and possible solutions) and many more that I am in the research phase of (diesel appliances, upgraded solar controllers etc). While she will never be as capable as a full fledged SMB, she should get me anywhere my wife is willing to go with our kids
Right now I need help with:
1) A good alignment shop in southern california to try to get this F*&**$* Dana 50 going down the road a bit better (although I will say the fox steering damper does wonders compared to some other 4x4 vans I drove in the run up to this one)
2) Steel wheel selection, Im leaning toward Black Rock 997's in 17x8. I want to run a 285 tire and the 7" wheels I have now wont cut it. Anything else I should be looking at?
3) A cheaper rear tire carrier than the aluminess unit. I might just have to make one out of square channel at this point.
4) Other brands of sliders/nerf steps out there? I am having a hard time finding much
5) Sourcing skid plates.
Anyway, here she is....we named her Frankie
Thanks for looking!