GMC 4×4 Van

1978 GMC Van with a Pathfinder 4×4 conversion

Update Sept 2015

The van lived a good life and helped me live a good life, but it was time to go. I sold her to a local recently and now it’s on to other projects

I’ve been looking for a vehicle that is capable of taking me and my two kids on long journeys around the North American Continent for quite some time, and after quite a bit of thought, this was the vehicle of choice. The first criteria for the rig is that it had to be four wheel drive. While I am in no way a hard core four wheeler, it is nice to have the ability to get far off the beaten path and a 4×4 is what you need for that.

After a bit of thinking on what to vehicle to base a project off of, I was ready to buy into something that I knew would be too small for me and my needs. The thought of getting a Chevy Suburban crossed my mind, but that still wasn’t quite making things work for me. I just didn’t get a good feeling about it. The plan was to buy a Toyota 4runner, because they are reliable and I know them well. Even though it would be considerably smaller than I would want, life is about compromise and I was willing to deal with it.

Then a friend asked if I wanted to buy a four wheel drive van that he had. After taking a look at it, and seeing the amazing condition of the running gear I knew that this would be the one. The interior was not in the best shape, but this would give me the ability to tear it out and build it the way that I want. I liked this.

So I bought the van off of him and now it sits in the driveway. Currently, I am in the planning stages of the project and researching possible set ups for the living area and other trail worthy modifications. I plan to make the living area comfortable for a good nights sleep, as well as provide ample storage for gear and clothes. Having a bathroom and kitchen is low priority, I do plan to use the van as an accessory to camping, so it’s going to be more of a nice version of a tent than anything. I feel that the bathroom and kitchen would be too much, and really just want to keep things simple.

Mechanical additions I would like to make are an ARB air locking differential for the front axle and a cross over steering set up. I would also like to take the lift blocks out from under the rear springs and do a shackle flip instead, because there is a bit of wheel hop currently.

I’m also thinking about bumpers and racks at this time. I’d like to mount a winch on the front bumper, a rear bumper with a tire holder and mounts for a hi-lift jack and a couple of fuel cans. I’m undecided about a roof rack at this point, mostly because I don’t think I’ll need it, but also because the thing is so tall already. I might get some yakima bars for the roof and see what comes after that. Kayaks sure would be a nice addition to the rig.

Update 5-11-2011

Over the last several days I’ve been busy working on the van, getting ready for the summer camping season. So far, I’ve wired up dual batteries, an air compressor and a fridge. Things are coming along very nicely!

The wiring kit is from Warn Industries, after getting the box open I found out that it is actually for atv’s! The good thing is, that the only part that wouldn’t work is the battery box, so I replaced that for $15 at the local Napa auto parts and now I’m good to go. It only took about 2 hours to wire up, and the system works perfectly. When the ignition is on both batteries are in series, being charged by the alternator (a 95 amp factory unit) unless the main battery drops down below 12 volts, then the relay shuts off the auxiliary battery. When the ignition is turned off, the two batteries are separated so that I can run the fridge or inverter without worrying about being able to start the van up later.

Finding a 12 volt air compressor worth anything for under $500 is pretty hard. After a bit of research on Pirate 4×4 I found a compressor made by Puma that was 12 volt. Puma is a pretty big name brand in compressors, so I was glad to see that they made a 12 volt version. The cost was around $300, and it came with a 1 gallon tank as well. I was originally going to separate it and hard mount the compressor in the engine bay, as well as mount the air tank under the body. After a bit of thought I decided to keep things together. What I did instead was wire up a cord for it, then make up a connector so that I can disconnect it and use it in other vehicles. I found some solid connectors that look like they should hold up good. I’ll do a full function test on the compressor and write a review here in a few days.

I’ve been drooling over other people’s 12 volt fridges long enough. After some solid research I decided to buy an Edgestar 63 quart model. At $400, the price was right and hopefully it will hold up. It’s well built, and seems to look like it will be ok. I’ve got it wired up the same way as the compressor, a cord that goes to the cool connectors I’ve got. I’ll write a review on this after I get a chance to use it a bit.

Update 6/23/2014

The van has been a great vehicle over the years, but the time has come for some updates. I’ve got the interior ripped out now and it’s time to set the rig up like I’ve always wanted to, with a bed, cabinets for storage and other goodies for camping.

Soon I’ll get going on the build and updates will follow!

Here’s the specs:

1978 GMC VAN DURA 35 1 ton van with 46,000 original miles
Balanced and Blueprinted GM Goodwrench 350 c.i. motor
Turbo 350 3 speed automatic transmission
NP205 Transfer case
Dana 44 3/4 ton front axle with 4.10 gears and an open differential
GM 14 bolt rear axle with 4.10 gears and a factory limited slip differential
112″ wheel base
33 x 12.5 x 16.5 BF Goodrich A/T’s
16.5 x 10 Alcoa wheels

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