I’ve been thinking quite a bit about all of the good things I can do to my latest project, and the list is coming along nicely. Going through the process of a build up before hand in your mind and on paper is the best way. It keeps the project on track and gives it direction. Most vehicle builds take months or years, and sometimes it’s easy to sway from the original idea. This can be an OK thing if something pops up in the middle, like a better part comes along, but generally it’s best to have a game plan and stick to it.
Considering the fact that I have yet to take this vehicle out on any type of trip, I will keep my thoughts here vague and open, but the meat of it shouldn’t be too far off. The van is going to need to have certain things, no matter what, to meet the criteria of an “expedition van”.
Since the engine, tranny and transfer case are all pretty fresh, I won’t need to do much in the way of fixing them up. Stock is simple and simple is good for an expedition rig. I haven’t seen to many American made vans with a snorkel kit installed, but overseas there are plenty of Japanese vans with them. Though I would hope to never have to drive through water as deep as the hood of the van, one never knows. Snorkels also serve another purpose. Having the air intake up high ensures that while driving down dusty roads the engine is breathing fresh air above the dust kicked up by the tires. This is an important feature I feel will be needed across the deserts of the southwest and Mexico.
The stock transmission cooler may need an upgrade, so as I add extra weight to the van I’ll keep an eye on transmission temperatures. If things start to get hot, I’ll add an extra tranny cooler in the line.
Rather than just installing the typical dual battery system one may find on an expedition vehicle, I want to go a step farther. I’ll go with a deep cycle Optima type battery for starting and normal engine needs, and then go with a set of golf car batteries mounted in the back of the van for use as electrical supply to the camper area and accessories. A solar panel mounted on the roof will help to keep these extra batteries charged up while parked with the engine off, and a 1500 watt power inverter will provide 110 volts for goodies in the camper. While I’m not sure of the exact output of the alternator, I will go ahead and install a high output version. Preferably one from premier power welder with a complete welding set up as well.
The van already has a great cat-back exhaust system with magna flow mufflers, so no need for upgrades here. Staying with stock exhaust manifolds means less hassle when it’s time to smog.
Not really knowing what the van will be like to four-wheel, it’s hard to say what modifications will need to be done to the transfer case. It is a NP205 heavy duty version, so it could get many modifications, in theory. With the automatic transmission final drive ratio is not as important, and since this will in no way be a rock crawler I’m not too worried about it. One thing that I would like to do is install a twin stick shifter. One shifter is for two to four wheel drive selection as well as front wheel drive and the other is for high or low range. I can see a real advantage to being able to shift into low rear wheel drive while maneuvering in places with good traction. An even bigger advantage is the ability to shift into front wheel drive. Maneuvering around tight corners can be much easier in front wheel drive only, plus there is the added benefit of being able to shift to the front axle only if there is a problem with the rear end in any way. This could be a huge advantage off the beaten path.
Some type of air compressor system will be installed. There’s not much room under the hood, so a 12 volt compressor may have to work. I’ll install an air tank under the cab and run air fittings to both ends of the van. Airing up tires and rafts will be a snap.
The axles on the van are pretty stout to begin with. It’s equipped with the venerable combination of the Dana 44 front axle and the GM 14 bolt full floating rear axle. Other than a disk brake swap for the rear axle and some selectable lockers, I don’t know what else I could do to beef them up. Maybe a truss and some quality differential covers would be nice.
The van is rolling on 35” tires right now, with nice aluminum wheels. I’m not sure I’ll want to keep the wheels, though. I have a deep down desire to see the van with a nice set of Humvee wheels, but I’m not sure they will fit. If they do, I’m not sure about the run flats that go with them, maybe I could take them out so I can use the 35” tire instead of the 37”? I’ll have to look into it a bit more. Either way, a good set of bead locks could be a great upgrade for a really heavy vehicle that will undoubtedly see lots of time with aired down tires.
Body protection for a big old rig like this is going to be an interesting feat. The idea that I have in my mind is to keep it simple, yet functional. The front bumper I plan on making myself, I doubt that there is a pre-fab unit in existence. Even if there was I doubt I’d like it. All of the ones I’ve seen to date have been way too big and bulky, as well as looking quite out of place. I’ll just start with a winch mount and move out from there, protecting the grille and head lights where I can and providing a good mounting point for lights. Most likely two HID driving lights or Lightforce brand lights.
The rear bumper will need to have a modular rack system of some sort. I’d like to model it after some of the land cruiser bumpers I’ve seen with mounts for the spare tire, gas cans, back-up lighting, a jack and a shovel. Simple rocker panel protection with some type of step built in will be fabricated as well.
Taking a canoe will be a huge source of entertainment, so adding a roof rack that can hold it is important to me. I’ll go with a Thule or Yakima set up, maybe with a basket for some extra storage as well. I’d like to make up, or possibly purchase an awning to mount on the rack as well, so that I can get some good shade in camp.
Moving to the interior, the seating arrangement is pretty good already. Four captain’s chairs are nice and comfortable, and should be well suited to long days on the road. Adding a nice stereo with a good speaker system and a connection for my I-pod will be great for both the road and in camp. I will also add my usual CB radio and Ham radio, with ½ wave antenna’s mounted on the roof rack.
Since I plan on keeping the important gear inside, where it’s safe and easy to get to, I’ll build a rack system for the rear portion of the van. An elevated sleeping platform will give us the ability to sleep in comfort. I’ll add some padding in as well. Under the sleeping platform I have a vision of three drawers facing forward for clothes and goods that are 18” to 24” deep. On the other end will be two sliding pulls that will make access to goods easy as well as double as a table for cooking or what not in camp.
I’ve been looking into water tanks that will fit under the van, because it would be great to have on long trips. If there’s room, I’ll plumb the tank both through a small pump and also through a heat exchanger on the engine to provide hot water for showers. I’ll valve the water to the heat exchanger so it can either draw water from the tank or an external source like a river or lake. The tank may or may not stay clean, for potable water. I’m not sure at this point if it would be better or not.