Monday, October 06, 2014

Astrolander Update: Rear-Door Mounted Fuel Carrier

When I first started building this van for overland travel, I figured I'd eventually end up with one of the ubiquitous massive steel bumpers with swing-away mounts for a spare tire and a collection of Jerry cans and other accessories. After a while, it became clear that any such device would have to be custom-made and exceedingly heavy and/or exceedingly expensive. There are a lot of reasons to relocate the tire out from undernearth the van in the stock location, but it is a difficult thing to manage on a van with the 3-part "Dutch" door system with the upper hatch and short lower doors - unless you can swing the tire away, you simply can't put a spare tire back there if you want to be able to open the rear doors. After spending a TON of time scheming and taking measurements, as well as gauging how I actually USE my van and what I really need to carry, I've come to the following conclusions:

Astrolander Update: Pop Top Hinge Replacement

Some dedicated readers may remember that when I originally transplanted the GTRV top from the donor van, I noticed that one of the pop-top hinges was slightly bent and thus was binding. I've lived with this for 3+ (holy crap, just checked dates: actually FIVE) years, but the net effect was that the top never quite seated correctly on the van roof. I had trouble getting enough tension on one of the forward latches and sometimes after dropping the top I'd have to climb onto the back bumper and manually pull down on the top to get it fully closed.

Early calls to GTRV for replacement hinges went unanswered. I eventually figured out (through a lot of catalog searching) that the hinges were Reimo-made, duplicates of early VW Westfalia hinges. Sourcing these directly from Germany was going to be VERY expensive, so I kept looking for alternatives. Eventually I found another hinges with a similar (but not exactly matching) geometry for another product. After some wheedling the manufacturer of those bartered with me for a set:
As you can see, the gold Reimo hinges are longer, so I had to make some modifications to get things to bolt up. I don't have pictures of the process because it was a bit sketchy with the top raised and supported by 2x4s, etc.
As a bonus, the replacements are vastly superior construction. The Reimo design is thin material and single-shear, whereas the new ones are thicker material AND double-shear:ImageImage

For some reason, I never took a photo of the top raised with the new hinges. It looks basically the same. :)
Knowing that the hinge-replacement was always on the horizon, and fearing I'd need access to the roof to change the hinges, I never got around to putting the headliner back in the van. I'm sometimes amazed that my wife didn't complain more about riding around in a van with the metal roof and all the ribbing exposed. With the hinges finally changed, I was able to start that job only five years later.
Step one was to put the headliner "mostly" up, and make a small access hole:Image
Reminds me of the early stages of this project, 5 years and 50+ lbs ago:Image
Anyhow, using the access hole, I marked the perimeter of the headliner against the hole in the roof:Image
Then started in on it with a razor knife:Image
And finally ended up with a big hole:Image
(Note, this is actually about 2/3 of the headliner - the Astro design has it in two pieces, the rearmost 1/3 is a separate piece and re-installed mostly without modification)
Given how thin the "side strips" are, and due to issues with needing to fit around the reinforcing ring at the forward edge, I decided to divide the headliner into two pieces. I'll need to make a new forward section from scratch. The "middle" and rear headliners are now currently installed, but the cut edges still show. I've already sourced new headliner fabric, and will need to strip the OEM fabric and re-cover at some point in the future to really finish it off. I didn't like how the old GTRV headliner was installed as one giant piece with the fabric from the headliner wrapped directly onto the upper roof and was glued down. This made it so you couldn't drop the headliner without peeling the glue, so I'm making sure I "fix" that method before I recover everything here.