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Old 06-09-2020, 11:49 PM   #1
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Newbie: Buy an old Ford, install new poptop, then what?

After car-camping for many years out of a Honda Fit with a crazy giant carbo box and often three or even four surfboards on the long bars, plus sometimes a cargo rack on the back, my plan is to buy a used Ford Econoline passenger van, 2000-2007, with as low milage as possible, then have Sportsmobile put in a new poptop. After that, I'm planning to convert the thing as I have money and time.

Basically, the used Sportsmobile conversions I've found are either too old and funky, or they are new and crazy expensive and have stuff I don't necessarily want.

Does that make sense?

I don't really care about 4x4, a sink (I think), or a stove. I camp a lot with my wife and daughter, usually near the beach, rarely where it's cold. When we camp, we surf and love to cook and hang out. I also imagine using this for day trips to our favorite surf beaches, where we can use an awning and the pop top as a shady place to hang.

So I'm imagining the pop-top for two to sleep, some kind of third and fourth seat with buckles for my kid and an occasional pal, a bed/couch thing for another two, a table and various surfaces, some kind of fridge/solar situation, and a bunch of smart storage. Do the boards go on top of the pop top? In a sling that hugs the underside of the roof? So many questions.

Anyhow, nice to meet you all, and thanks for all your time on this amazing forum.
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Old 06-10-2020, 07:30 AM   #2
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Welcome. What you are suggesting makes sense.

Yes you can put a couple hundred pounds on the pop top with a roof rack.
My van has a Thule roof rack on the pop top and another over the cab:


There are a few inches of space inside between the upper mattress and poptop where you might be able to store a board depending on curve.
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Old 06-10-2020, 07:39 AM   #3
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Nathan, from what you've described you have a ton of options available to you. May I suggest you do a little more research before pulling the trigger? Seems your willingness to forego 4x4 really gives you MUCH more flexibility with your build... One resource that may help you decide is on online course by Barefoot Theory (Kristen). She does a good job of pointing out the many choices you have available

https://bearfoottheory.com/category/van-life-roadmap/

Best of luck in your build! -steve-
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Old 06-10-2020, 09:37 AM   #4
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Nathan - It sounds like you have a good outline. We are a family of 3 who take a handful of surf trips annually, usually along with friends in another 4X4 van (white van in pics) that are a family of 4. Our current build (tan van in pics) sounds pretty similar to what you are looking at. We have two captains chairs and a folding rear bench that converts to a bed. We have a manual SMB pop-top and soft storage to hang chairs and other stuff. We also have a 270 degree awning, no interior cabinets, stove, or sink.

Here are a few things that I would consider in thinking about a van purchase based on your description:
  • Will you be driving on the beach? Will you be accessing remote beaches? If so M+S tires with the ability to air up and down are a must. You should consider other recovery gear (traction boards, tow straps for when you get stuck, a good shovel). 4x4 has gotten me unstuck a couple times solo, but I probably could have gotten there with recovery boards and airing down. On popular beaches - folks will tow you out if you have a recovery rope. If you play with your van in sand, you will get stuck.
  • Consider a Colorado Camper Vans topper. More room for two adults. I don't think SMB sells manual toppers any more - with more than 2 boards on the top (let alone solar or other toys) you want to go motorized.
  • Think hard about starting with an aluminess ladder surf pole and hooks. They are a game changer for both accessing boards on top and for days shuttling between breaks or camp and the beach. I'm 6'5" I can get stuff strapped and unstrapped standing on the wheels, but the ladder really helps. Our boards go on top for long drives to the beach (e.g. I drove Seattle to Baja). Once we get to camp, boards on the hooks...

I can share more pictures or details if you are interested in our build - it is a 1997 that was originally an SMB and was redone before our ownership to remove most of the SMB kit. We are slowly adding components and changing things to fit our needs and this forum has been insanely helpful in research and feedback.
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Old 06-10-2020, 09:51 AM   #5
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I would definitely go with a CCV top rather than a SMB top. The SMB top is almost too narrow for 2 adults of average size to sleep comfortably. Its also not tall enough to sit up, you're basically crawling up there.

Your description of what you plan is kind of what SMB had in mind when they built the "Transformer" layout. Minimal build out inside thats also able to convert from passenger van to camper van. A few members here appreciate that layout as we use the van for daily life as well. Check out this thread of an awesome dual purpose build. It was also built over time and not all at once so you can see the progression.

I would also consider looking for a Chateau or Traveler package van. These came with 4 captains from the factory. Theyre on quick release mounts as well, so you can take them in and out very easily. Definitely nice to have with kids.
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Old 06-10-2020, 07:25 PM   #6
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I question spending big bucks to outfit an older chassis. If the chassis wears out before the top, it will be a stranded asset. And with that much gear you're going to be unloading the van at night anyhow, might as well set up a tent rather than leave the sporting goods outside at night
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Old 06-10-2020, 07:51 PM   #7
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I would also suggest driving something a bit newer. The top is going to cost the same no matter what you put it on. I bought a van last year that was a 98 with a regular interior and a pop top. Paid $8k. Thatís the way to do it. Or get a newish van and add a top. I would highly recommend a transit. They drive so nice.

I flipped that van after cleaning it up a bunch for $11k. Still cheaper than a new top.

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Old 06-10-2020, 09:55 PM   #8
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Update: I'm convinced that a newer chassis makes sense

Partially it was aesthetics that influenced the 2007 or older Ford search. My wife just can't deal with the Death Star look of 2008 and newer Econolines.

But she's authorized the look of new Chevy's and Fords. And I found a 2015 Express 4.6L V8 that looks promising.

Thanks for all your input! I'll keep you guys/gals/etc posted.
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Old 06-10-2020, 11:13 PM   #9
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Hereís something thatís already done for about what youíd be in a van and a top.


https://boise.craigslist.org/cto/d/b...134167246.html
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Old 06-11-2020, 11:17 AM   #10
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You might find that 4.6 a bit disappointing.
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