"We're Puttin' The Van Back Together..."

normaldave

GON Weatherman
About May of last year, I awoke to discover our 100+ year old Hackberry shed a ~15" diameter limb which crushed the roof, sliding door, and windshield of our 1995 Ford E-150 Club Wagon Chateau van.
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No storm, high winds, or even a drop of rain. After a big cleanup and creative jack work to free the van, decisions had to be made.

Liability only insurance by choice, it is a '95 model after all, and a spare vehicle for us. Lot's of consultation and advice led me to try to sell it for parts because it is easily a total loss otherwise.

It's just old metal, and a tool we use. Why are we somewhat heartbroken about getting rid of it? "It's just an old van...what's the big deal anyhow?"

Background:
I guess I've always been a van fan. Our blended family of 6 combined with our array of outdoor adventures for the kids resulted in no other vehicle doing the job as well as a boring old van.

The first one was a 1982 Chevy G20 Beauville package wagon. 8 passenger seating, factory conversion, 305 V8 which I replaced with a 350 crate motor from GM. Tents, canoe, bikes, people, it was old school cool.
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It was getting a bit long in the tooth and I weighed a full restoration against replacement. But with what? Another van of course. Ford made an outstanding factory "conversion" sold as the Chateau package. It was top of the line, and above the XLT which was Ford's standard "loaded" package of the day for vans.

A long search with several misses led me to the miraculous "How the mouse got the cheese story" of us finding a one-owner, California based, garage queen 1995 Ford E-150 Club Wagon with the fairly rare factory Chateau package with about 90K original miles that I purchased "sight unseen". This included quad seating, with the removeable third row which folded out into a bed. Front/rear factory air conditioning, factory reflective tinted glass, tow package, upgraded stereo system with separate controls and headsets\ ports for 2nd row seating, 5.8L- (351) Windsor V8, E4OD 3.55 with Trak-Loc.

The owner was meticulous to the point that he had a log of every single tank of gas hand written with mileage and notes of items checked, a stack of all service receipts back to the date of purchase, even the window sticker preserved, and an original showroom brochure for the vehicle. If this had been a musclecar I could have gone straight to Barrett-Jackson premiere car auction with it.

But, "it's just a van".

What an unbelievable blessing it was to our family. Since 2008, it has hauled the family to camping, kayaking, hiking, vacations, car trailers, Christmas lights, dinner out, visitors, building supplies...well you get the picture.
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"Experts" advised I should find a donor vehicle, cut the entire roof section off and replace mine. Others said I should find another van, pull my entire interior and transfer it over.

Some friends who know my capabilities thought I should tackle trying to fix it. "Impossible" I thought. After a few days, and recognition of our years of memories and the overall utility of our pickup truck with built in seating and "truck bed cap" to keep the rain off anything I hauled, we decided to give it a try.

"I'll commit 30 days to it, and if I am confident I can get a windshield to fit and get the sliding door to close, we'll put a roof rack on to hide the damage and call it good, besides what have we got to lose?" Each time we considered taking advantage of the ridiculously high van resale market, we always found we needed it for something that none of our other vehicles could do.

Here we go: I devised a plan, measured multiple points on the drivers side, and transferred target measurements to tape marks all over the passenger side. Look at that cave-in above the passenger seat!
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Then I pulled the interior seats and panels to gain access to the body itself. Lots of blocks of wood to spread the load and not crush the floor, and I began to jack, and push in key areas. Hey, this might be going somewhere.
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Got the sliding door open!
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Well it's better than what I started with...
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normaldave

GON Weatherman
Fast forward to late Spring of this year. Kids married off (all of them), job change for me, Winter. The van rested comfortably.

I re-started the project deciding to try to use Raptor liner to finish the roof since my bodywork left a lot to be desired.
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But wait...this van had the original seam sealer and that needed to be fixed and replaced.
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This is the stuff. 3M 8308 heavy bodied two-part epoxy.
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Getting this window channel back to factory spec was critical.
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A little finishing work and metal etching primer in preparation for the Raptor Liner.

I got the tintable Raptor liner and had a local body shop provide color matching to the factory paint. I also decided to bring the liner down over the roof gutter and to the factory body line just above the windows in order to better protect and hide some of the damage.

I used the Harbor Freight purple spray gun and thinned the Raptor liner to get a more matte finish that wasn't so rough.
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The final test was the windshield. Would it fit and seal?

Thankfully yes!
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After it cured out, it looked pretty decent.
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I have amazed myself and am thankful to those who convinced me not to give up.
 

sparky

Senior Member
Fast forward to late Spring of this year. Kids married off (all of them), job change for me, Winter. The van rested comfortably.

I re-started the project deciding to try to use Raptor liner to finish the roof since my bodywork left a lot to be desired.
View attachment 1244713
But wait...this van had the original seam sealer and that needed to be fixed and replaced.
View attachment 1244714
This is the stuff. 3M 8308 heavy bodied two-part epoxy.
View attachment 1244717
Getting this window channel back to factory spec was critical.
View attachment 1244722
View attachment 1244723
A little finishing work and metal etching primer in preparation for the Raptor Liner.

I got the tintable Raptor liner and had a local body shop provide color matching to the factory paint. I also decided to bring the liner down over the roof gutter and to the factory body line just above the windows in order to better protect and hide some of the damage.

I used the Harbor Freight purple spray gun and thinned the Raptor liner to get a more matte finish that wasn't so rough.
View attachment 1244724
The final test was the windshield. Would it fit and seal?

Thankfully yes!
View attachment 1244726
After it cured out, it looked pretty decent.
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I have amazed myself and am thankful to those who convinced me not to give up.
looks great Dave !
 

normaldave

GON Weatherman
So what's next, and why are you posting this anyhow?

I'm hot/cold on projects, and it helps me to document my progress...keeps me motivated. Hopefully it will encourage somebody else to take a chance on a project, share some insight, etc.

Sharp eyed viewers may have noticed my front mounted receiver hitch. I put that on several years ago in part to have the option of front mounting my bike rack while towing the camper, it also makes a great vehicle recovery point. Another neat feature is the ability to use the front hitch to "spot" park a trailer. You can literally put it anywhere, and because of the front steering axle so close to the hitch ball, you can drive the trailer ''backwards" into any tight spot. It also is a handy place to temporarily install a receiver mounted winch. :wink:

Speaking of recovery, these vans can get heavy, and will often get stuck on simple wet grass. Mine has the factory Ford limited slip differential but the clutches are likely worn out. I'm planning to rebuild the limited slip differential along with the future upgrades.

With a new lease on life, we decided to treat the van to a new set of springs, and upgrade a bit in the process, gaining a bit of ground clearance, and increased capacity for towing.
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You can see how collapsed the factory 1,685lb 2 over 1 springs were. I installed 2,250lb 4 over 1 springs from ATS Truck Spring. This is the "next" step up HD version that will fit the stock E-150 van. I gained a total of 3" in the rear, but figure I was running about 1" below factory, so probably a net gain of 2" over fresh stock height.

I reasoned that the 28 year old front springs needed attention too. Moog makes a newer heavy duty progressive rate coil spring that gained me a 1" lift on the front. You have to be careful with this Twin I-beam front suspension. Easy to modify, hard to align without a shop that really knows their stuff.
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Did new Moog ball joints too. Can't imagine why the original ones didn't last at least 25 years!
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I already had KYB Monomax heavy duty shocks and Firestone Sport Rite airbags in the back, so with the new springs, it is a night and day difference.

With all this moderate lift and factory 15" wheels and soon to be made of "unobtanium" 15" tires, maybe an upgrade to a 16" wheel and taller diameter tire is in order?
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More research, forum scouring, and measuring led to the decision to upgrade to 16 x 8 wheels and LT tires...the tallest I could fit without trimming. LT 265/75/16 mild all terrain Sumitomo Encounter AT. I run them on the other vehicles and have been very happy with noise, treadwear, and road manners. This takes me from 29" stock tires on 15x7 to 31.5" tires on 16x8.

There are very few factory Ford wheels that will fit this old 5x5.5" bolt pattern. I found some aftermarket rims that were actually reasonably a good match. Vision Flow 351 (ironic it matches my engine displacement).
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Of course, they aren't mounted yet, so more pictures to follow. I went with tall and "not so wide" for many reasons. Towing, 2wd, extra ground clearance.
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The gearheads and camper towing folk among us are already thinking: "Well that's all fine and good but what about your new gear ratio with a 2.5" tire diameter gain?"

Glad you asked. :bounce: A '95 5.8L has a max torque rpm right around 2,800, with max horsepower approaching 3,500. My factory 3.55 was the lowest gear ratio you could get, even special order in the 8.8" axle van. To hit my target rpms when towing from 65 mph to 72, with a 31.5" tire, I'll need to upgrade to a 4.30:1 which is next on the list. This motor does pretty well towing stock with OD locked out but it doesn't get to the max torque rpms where it begins to really come alive.

You old school Ford folks know this dinosaur of a 351 Windsor engine in the marine version will run on the lake "all day long" at 3,500 and never break a sweat. Thirsty yes, but with legendary reliability. It doesn't compare to the newer gas engine technology, but if I run it within it's limits, it will do it's job and do it well.

So there you have it. We've saved the van from the scrap heap, and we're getting it ready to keep working now that we have grandchildren to corrupt (I mean educate) in the ways of outdoor adventures. I've been towing with my trusty 4wd Montero and it has been quite capable, but I like the heavy duty drivetrain and capacity of the van as long as the destination isn't tougher than a Forest Service back road.
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Look for us at your favorite State Park, or wilderness area. Maybe I need to christen it with an official GON sticker on the back window!
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Speaking of stickers, much like the bumper stickers on the back gate of the old family station wagon, we started a collection on the inside of our back door on the cargo trailer conversion (camper/toy hauler). Places we've been, equipment we use, etc.
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Thanks for playing along. See you on the highways and byways.
 
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transfixer

Senior Member
Excellent job ! I can understand the allure to a van, for camping/travelling/hunting/fishing its hard to find something that works better



I drove a van for about 20yrs , one was my first vehicle, set it up for camping/hunting, it was a 73 Ford with 302 that my Dad and I rebuilt, modified it some, flat top pistons and 289 cast iron intake, small Holley, had it for probably 15yrs till I ran it off the road and knocked a pine tree down, replaced it with an 80 model E250 long wheel base, which I used for camping/hunting another 5yrs, then decided it was time for something else and a camper to tow

I ran mud tires on the rear of my vans during the deer season, with a bed in the back and various things stored under the bed I had plenty of traction on the rear, learned more about driving in mud with those vans than I ever would have with a 4wd, snow and ice too!
 

normaldave

GON Weatherman
Thanks @transfixer...that is a real vote of confidence. You will especially appreciate this Craigslist find: 6.8L V10 Chateau package Quigley 4wd conversion to F-350 front/rear axles and recent U-Joint Offroad front suspension conversion to leaf springs.
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normaldave

GON Weatherman
"But wait...what is this Cargo Camper Conversion you speak of? Looks like you just take a cargo trailer camping."

If you are interested in going down that rabbit trail, then take a look here:
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Normaldave's 7x16 Cargo Trailer Conversion
 

transfixer

Senior Member
Thanks @transfixer...that is a real vote of confidence. You will especially appreciate this Craigslist find: 6.8L V10 Chateau package Quigley 4wd conversion to F-350 front/rear axles and recent U-Joint Offroad front suspension conversion to leaf springs.
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If I didn't need a pickup constantly now for hauling various things I would still have a van , I would love to have one like that one ! although that 6.8 would be stumbling every time it passed a gas station, we owned an Excursion for a while with a 6.8 ,4wd, it got 10mpg most of the time, best we ever got was 12mpg.

As long as you've got weight on the rear axle of a van, and either a winch or come-a-long for real bad spots, and drive with some intelligence, there isn't many places you can't go with a van. Of course I always ran the old style Gumbo mudders on the rear of mine, and usually relatively skinny street tires on the front, so they wouldn't pack up and act like ski's when going through mud
 

normaldave

GON Weatherman
@normaldave awesome! Van life

Kudos for tackling the work and doing well. My boy and I have been working on our vehicles more and more the past 3 years. We love our van and it has been spotted at many PFAs/WMAs/NFs.

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Sweet!
Do I spy a ~2003 E-250 Class B+ Hi Top conversion?
...and thank you sir!
 

normaldave

GON Weatherman
If I didn't need a pickup constantly now for hauling various things I would still have a van , I would love to have one like that one ! although that 6.8 would be stumbling every time it passed a gas station, we owned an Excursion for a while with a 6.8 ,4wd, it got 10mpg most of the time, best we ever got was 12mpg.

As long as you've got weight on the rear axle of a van, and either a winch or come-a-long for real bad spots, and drive with some intelligence, there isn't many places you can't go with a van. Of course I always ran the old style Gumbo mudders on the rear of mine, and usually relatively skinny street tires on the front, so they wouldn't pack up and act like ski's when going through mud
Well the good news on the V10 is that it doesn't seem to care if it is pulling empty or full...10 mpg it is.
 

normaldave

GON Weatherman
The 4wd van post above has caused a bit of a stir. Allow me to derail my own thread. Checkout Hoonigan garage channel and their feature on UJoint Offroad in Fletcher, NC.
 

normaldave

GON Weatherman
@sparky 's post above reminded me we had took a church youth trip in our van along with his church and vehicles in a small convoy to Red Bird Mission in Kentucky back in 2010. To this day our kids remember hearing the phrase: "This is ----- (insert sparky's real name) in the Lead Vehicle..." :rockon:
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basshappy

BANNED
Sweet!
Do I spy a ~2003 E-250 Class B+ Hi Top conversion?
...and thank you sir!

Close.

It is a 2003 E350 Super Duty, Class B conversion. The single greatest feature my boy and I love is the high roof - being able to stand upright and walk around. Man we love that. Although the bathroom sure is nice, too. Outside shower is great for the tough mudder competitions rinsing off, and for cleaning fish and game.

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Geffellz18

Senior Member
Man, that’s alright there!
GON’ have to copy your idea of the raptor body liner color matched-Any issue identifying a body shop to assist with color matching for you?
 

normaldave

GON Weatherman
Man, that’s alright there!
GON’ have to copy your idea of the raptor body liner color matched-Any issue identifying a body shop to assist with color matching for you?
I just dropped into my local Single Source auto body supply with my color code and requested base color to mix up to 10% with my tintable Raptor liner kit.
 

normaldave

GON Weatherman
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Surprisingly pleased with the color results. I also really liked the smoother matte finish I got with the drilled out HVLP gun and reducer added to thin the Raptor mixture. Up close you can see a hint of the factory metallic color in the Raptor product.

Backed into a space going out to dinner with a low tree branch scaping the roof top and just smiled because it didn't matter.
 

normaldave

GON Weatherman
As a matter of fact I like the Raptor product so much I'm considering spaying the front grille insert in black along with the chrome bumper tops. Probably going to do the hitch frame as well. The lower break on the body is the original factory black and it was painted with a thicker style paint to reduce rock chips. I might go over it since it has some wear spots here and there.

My wife has a list of stuff she wants Raptor lined. :huh:
 
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normaldave

GON Weatherman
For those of you thinking "I'd like to build out a van for camping and towing...". Or find a good platform for a beast mode 4wd conversion.

Here's your sign: '99 6.8L V10 E-350 XLT Wagon 127K Hi Top handicap conversion. You'll need to decide if you can accept the modified side doors as they are cut into the high top to allow higher door access.

Pull and sell the handicap lift, install quad 2nd row seats or pull all of them and build out your camper.

Search Dallas, NC Facebook marketplace for E250 cargo van. (It's a typo in the add).
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