The Struggle Bus - A 70's 4x4 van build

Discussion in 'Shiny Things' started by Parepin, Oct 25, 2013.

  1. Parepin

    Parepin The Filthy Nomad

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    That's... a tough one to answer
    I've been dreaming of getting myself a solid adventure camping rig for several years, now. I've looked at retired school buses, short buses, vans, and trucks. I was pretty dead set on the longest time towards a small 4x4 pickup with a cap on the back. I'm not looking to build an RV to live in, but more a mobile base camp to live out of. I wanted the ride to be short and high, able to tackle some narrower trails and not have a half ton of shit hanging off the back axle. I was also looking for something which would allow me to transport my KLR or similar bike with me, which kind of contradicts my last point. I didn't like the idea of a van, as I didn't want to feel like I was driving around in my bedroom. The separate truck bed/cap combo would give me this bit of a divide. The living is in the back, and business is up front.

    Anyway, so I scrapped that idea. And I got this.
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    What we have here is a 1976 Chevy G series short body panel van with a 350 motor, turbo 350 transmission, 205 transfer case, and two straight pipes that dump out the side through some "Performance" cherry bomb exhausts. Manual locking hubs, 8 lug wheels, discs in the front, and a four barrel Edelbrock under the hood. The odometer reads just over 90k miles, but it's only got five digits so you could easily add another 100k. Not that any of that matters, as the odometer doesn't work, anyway. It's pretty clean, runs like you'd expect, and screams potential as far as an overland rig goes.

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    So this is how the story of my acquisition goes, though it requires a bit of a back story. I've been staying in San Diego, doin some side work and helping my buddy out at his shop, for the past few months. I've recently come into an opportunity to move up into southwestern Oregon to take care of some property and carry on the way that I do. With that in mind, and only a few motorcycles to my name, I was in need of a way to move my shit north. I could rent a U-haul, but I considered that just kind of throwing my money away. Why piss money away on a rental when I could buy something I've been wanting, and come away on top in the end. That was the plan, at least.

    I'd been hunting around on Craigslist for a few weeks for a 4x4 van. Most of what I was finding were either severely overpriced or rust buckets. On a whim, I did a search up north and found this diamond in the rough, otherwise known as Seattle. I inquired on it and sat on the idea for a while. After working my ass off for three straight months, 16 hr days, working weekends, etc., I was about ready for a break. So this was my excuse. I would ride up at the end of my contract, load the bike up, and drive back down. Fun times.

    So I made some calls and managed to get a good buddy of mine, who lives just outside of Seattle, and asked him to check out the van. He drove up, poked around, drove it, and declared it rough, but solid. Good stuff. The seller offered to hold it for me, refusing a down payment until I could get up there. A few weeks later, with a wad of cash in my pocket, I spent three days riding along the coast, through the mountains of Oregon, and up to Seattle.

    The ride was wet, but the van looked solid. I had a big grin on my face. We chatted, I drove it around, and noted a few things. The throttle was stiff as fuck, the shifter needed coercing to get into park, and it rattled like the tin lunch box that it is. The owner told me how he came to acquire it, and some of the stuff he had done to the motor, and made mention of the transmission needing a flush. He had just put a new pan on it with a drain bolt, so a flush should be easy. He made mention of the transmission two more times, so I straight up asked him:

    "You've mentioned it twice now. Is there something going on with the transmission that makes you think it's in need of a flush?"

    To which he replied "No, not really. It's just an old rig, it's about due."

    Alrighty, then. We finished off the paperwork, I handed over some cash and drove into the night. I made it just over forty miles and halfway into my first spliff of the trip when the transmission dropped.
    #1
  2. Biebs

    Biebs BMW Airhead

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    He told you the transmission had to be flushed but did he mentioned flushed down the toliet???:rofl
    #2
  3. broncobowsher

    broncobowsher Long timer

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    Interesting home made (probably a custom fuel tank shop) gas tank.
    Looks like the common 350/350 combo. 350 Chevy V8 with a turbo hydromatic 350 transmission.
    The driver's side drop on the transfer case is interesting, they didn't use off the shelf GM parts for that. GM didn't go to driver's side differentials until '88.
    The transfer case looks cast iron. What does that tag on it say? Random guess, New Process model 205?
    I am questioning what is going on with the angle iron attached to the front tie rod.
    Front axle looks like a Dana 44. Being of that vintage and the setup, probably a custom built part made for the conversion shop. I also see it is an 8-lug set up. So ¾ton setup. I see a bit of ID tag on one of the bolts holding the front cover on. What are all the numbers on it?
    #3
  4. troidus

    troidus Long timer

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    Obviously you have bigger near-term problems with a dead tranny, but if you're going to take this thing out in the sticks and want it to be reliable, I'd put a factory air cleaner housing on it (with a functioning heat riser and cold air duct) to keep water out of the filter element and to keep the carb from icing at altitude. Then get some skidplates.
    #4
  5. DirtyDog

    DirtyDog Lust for dust.

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    That van is you, dude. Hope this story has a happy ending.

    :lurk
    #5
  6. klp

    klp Been here awhile

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    :lurk
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  7. sailah

    sailah Lampin' it

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    Awesome I love vans. Only owned one. I was brokeass broke in Bozeman MT and got a early 80's ford creeper van with a 300/6. 2WD, bald tires, couch in the back, it was so right. I'd like to say I was slaying tail in it but the reality was I was fishing and duck hunting more than getting laid.:lol3
    #7
  8. 1911fan

    1911fan Master of the Obvious

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    If you've got the cash, contact your local GM dealer for a SERTA transmission. GM reman and great warranty at dealers nationwide, and competitive w/aftermarket rebuilds. Unless you want it beefed up in the rebuild process. TH350s are simple transmissions. Flush & filter every 30,000 miles or few years if you don't use it much.


    1911fan
    #8
  9. 9Dave

    9Dave Bazinga!

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    I would expect nothing less from you, Alex. :D

    Hope you get it back on the road soon.
    #9
  10. MacNoob

    MacNoob piney fresh

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    I see a Seca Turbo and a sailboat (?) in the background. You can haul those with the van.

    Turbo 350? If it needs a trans you can probably get a good one almost free at the pick n pull.
    #10
  11. troidus

    troidus Long timer

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    If you're willing to do a bit of work, you could put a 4L60 (no E) in it.
    #11
  12. beemerkid

    beemerkid Do you ADV

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    So a 700R4. But is the back of a th350 the same as a 700r4? The motor is an easy matchup, but how do the output shaft and flange compare?
    #12
  13. broncobowsher

    broncobowsher Long timer

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    Before you go all crazy about the transmission there is the fact that the transfer case is NOT a standard GM unit. An off the shelf (or junkyard) transmission may or may not work. At this point there is no telling what transfer case bolt pattern or shaft spline count you may encounter.

    As for the 4l60 (more commonly known as a 700R4) suggestion, you really need to know the axle gearing first. If it is already too tall adding that overdrive will be a big expense and added complexity for no gain.

    As for the air cleaner bits... He did mention he brought it into California. Getting all the California emissions stuff on it and working good enough to get it registerable will probably be the next big challenge after getting it to drive again. Part of that will be the correct air cleaner.
    #13
  14. xymotic

    xymotic Long timer

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    Are you gonna need to do this on a 1970?:ear
    #14
  15. broncobowsher

    broncobowsher Long timer

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    Maybe. I am not current on all the California laws. Considering the complexity of red and green stickers for bikes. Never seen them happy with any modified vehicles unless there is a CARB exemption sticker on it somewhere. And it came in from out of state. Good chance it will need inspection, but not going to guarantee it.

    I am in Arizona and they just ended emission testing for motorcycles (was the only county in the nation that tested). Here (in 2 of the counties anyway) they test everything back to '67. Although depending on year (and car or truck) they don't do an equipment check. I had a built, stroked, 5.0 mustang engine in a '90 Ranger that passed the visual and tail pipe test. But a bone stock '74 Pontiac with a sticky EGR valve failed.

    I have heard of the pre'75 not needing testing anymore, but my understanding is that is for current California registered vehicles only.
    #15
  16. xymotic

    xymotic Long timer

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    Interesting I guess I mis-read it anyway and it's a '76.

    So then how does that affect if you do a total transplant on it?

    Like if you put a new EFI 5 liter or something in it, does it just have to beat the OEM version?
    #16
  17. troidus

    troidus Long timer

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    The rules were changed back in the 80s, I think, such that you have to meet specs for the engine in the year it was produced, not for the chassis in the year it was produced. They did that to clamp down on the guys stripping smog gear from 80s engines and dropping them into pre-emissions chassis.
    #17
  18. troidus

    troidus Long timer

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    I missed the CA aspect of this vehicle. I think he'll be dumping a small fortune in this thing to get it to pass inspection. I was thinking about all of the mid-70s emissions gear and how there were two versions of everything, one for Federal and one for CA.

    I don't remember if the engine has its original EGR manifold on it, but he'll need that and:

    1. a period-correct Quadrajet or CARB-approved replacement
    2. electric choke with the proper heat riser tubing
    3. Thermactor (air cleaner with a thermally controlled vacuum motor for the heat riser)
    4. Early Fuel Evaporation Valve (to force passenger-side exhaust up under the carb to heat the plenum, and on a '76 not sure if it's a bimetallic coil-driven valve or a vacuum motor driven valve)
    5. Evaporative Emissions Control System (charcoal canister, with CA-only purge valve, IMS)
    6. Catalytic Converter.

    Plus a couple of thermal vacuum valves, many feet of vacuum line, probably a couple of bleed valves, and who knows what else I've forgotten from back then.

    That homebuilt fuel tank is probably a no-go, too, because it won't pass safety and probably doesn't have the EECS plumbing in it.

    OP may be better off "moving" to NV and registering it there.
    #18
  19. larryboy

    larryboy Chopper Rider

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    He bought the van in Seattle and is moving to Oregon, can't you fawkers read?

    Oh and it's a Ford 205 case to a Ford Dana 44, the heat riser stuff for the intake is in the van.

    Good luck with the trans Alex, that sucks!!
    #19
  20. troidus

    troidus Long timer

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    :shog Apparently not. I saw the part about living in SD. I guess the emissions part is going to depend on whether he tries to register it in CA before he moves or what the regs are in OR. Regardless, he'll still want a factory air filter housing with all the plumbing installed and working if he wants it to behave well.
    #20