Saturday, September 05, 2009

And so it begins...

Some of you may know that I've been in the research phase of a new vehicle project for quite a while. Using the excellent resources of the Expedition Portal forums, I've been scheming on the most affordable way to build a 3-4 passenger Overland/Expedition Camper. This should be the start of a series of posts as I being the transformation from8-passenger midsize van to what a friend has dubbed an "Astrolander".

The base for the transformation is our newly acquired 2003 Chevy Astro. I picked it up this weekend from a dealer in Tucson with just 52700 miles on the clock (under 8800 miles/year!) This is a very clean van and the drive back from Tucson was easy-peasy, despite the fact that it was Labor Day weekend. A bit more legwork will be needed to get the car smogged and titled in California, but there just weren't enough AWD Astro/Safari vans in SoCal to get a decent example for myself.

Some people have trouble differentiating between All Wheel Drive and 4 Wheel Drive, so this sticker isn't strictly accurate just yet, but it does portend what is to come. Phase 2 is to begin hunting for a full 2-speed 4x4 transfer case and electronic bits from a suitable S-10, Blazer, etc. You see, one of the great things about this particular van is that the BorgWarner AWD transfer case is an external module that just so happens to be a bolt-in (or nearly bolt-in) match for a New Process 2-speed 4x4 transfer case. It amuses me that the full-size van guys have to go to places like Salem-Kroger or Quigley and spend thousands, or tens-of-thousands, to get their vans converted to 4x4 with parts from the truck side of their family tree, while this humble mid-size is basically parts-bin compatible.

And here's where I hope to end up. This is the Astrolander of T.Low from ExPo and the AstroSafari forums. People are going to think I'm copying him (which I am) or going all Talented Mister Ripley on him (which I'm not) because our vans are the same color and similar vintage. Color was a coincidence, I narrowly missed out on a white 2002 Astro at a GSA auction last month.

Key features of T.Low's build that I hope to emulate: The GTRV Sleeper-Top, a 4" lift from Overland Vans, and a 4x4 conversion courtesy of some GM parts bin creativity. Interior-wise we'll have substantially different builds as we have different needs. I also suspect that his will continue to see much more rigorous offroading than I plan for our van!


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