Sunday, September 25, 2016

Building the cabin

So when we got the truck and we were told that it had a great futon mattress and awesome blinds...not. What we got was a leaking roof vent that turned into a damn shower every time it rained, a mouldy/funky smell and cramped cabinets made of MDF that drank all the moisture and weighted a ton. This on top of the classic old American car smell that settles in all classic GMs. It's a hard to explain burnt plastic/dusty smell that no amount of detergent will get rid of, you just get used to it. Recently, a friend actually said the truck smelled like the 80's!

What had to be done was obvious, everything had to come out. Peeling off the old vinyl flooring confirmed my suspicions, black mold had formed on the underlying plywood, so we had to start from scratch. Thankfully the steel floor of the van was unaffected so we were starting on a solid foundation. We ripped every thing out and held back on burning the futon mattress and just threw the stuff away.

We replaced the plywood and decided to lay down some imitation hardwood flooring for the cabin and replaced the vintage shag carpet in the cockpit with artificial grass carpet. The stuff is cheap, comes in brown, dries fast and is a breeze to lay down. We used the original carpet as a template for the new layout. I took the time to shoot the floor of the cockpit with tar sealant paint to protect the steel floor from moisture. I had a leak somewhere I couldn't locate and this would help out until I did.

We kept the vintage wall covering vinyl as it was easy to clean and it also kept a bit of the vintage van look. At this point, we also found our main theme for the truck, Tiki style. The van is mostly brown inside out and the look is pretty easy to make as I would be using mostly wood. A rough finish would also go with the theme, so I had room for mistakes. After all, woodworking is my kryptonite. I hate it!

The first thing we built was the bed. No dinette-turn-into-a-bed-at-some-point crap. A straight and strong almost Queen size bed made from 1X2 and 2X2 lumber and plywood. The mattress is a custom cut foam unit. Next I built a cupboard from plywood and kept the original kitchen unit minus the icebox which I turned into a storage unit. The top cabinets were left as is and this is how we rolled for our first season. Usage would dictate otherwise.

Cabinets version 2.0. came to be out of necessity. After using the van for 2 seasons, its shortcomings were obvious. Not enough room and the looks were horrible. Also, the weight of the MDF was being felt, especially the ones at ceiling level, you could feel the truck wanting to tip on tight turns. I had to bring the Center of Gravity down. Skills learned while building model aircrafts would come into play.
The Plan

The only tools I used, nothing else.

We started by making our layout of what we wanted, took measures and made smart decisions. Part of the doorway on the side door was not really being used so almost half of it was sacrificed for storage. The ceiling cabinets would be made a little bigger, every inch counts. The side window behind the driver's seat would be condemned for a storage unit. I would also try my hand at building a custom icebox.

The construction method used was based on aircraft design, strong but small structure(1X2 pine) with light covering to hold everything in place (1/8 birch plywood). The gamble and lots of hard work paid off, I shaved at least 75 lbs of weight and gained 100% more storage room. The icebox is a partial failure with ice having to be replaced at least every 2 days and water drained before we move by hand. Storage has been a success and the truck doesn't feel as heavy as it was before. We still need to varnish and finish the doors and some modifications will be done. Keep posted for version 2.2 that will be done during the off season. I'll be adding some gadgets as well.

Electric, electronic and plumbing set-up will be part of another post.

Living the Vanlife


Thursday, September 22, 2016

Genesis of the Tiki Motel Van, a 1980 GMC Vandura.

Van as seen on the very first visit. This was going to be a gamble.

Back in January 2014, my wife and I were having a discussion about travelling during our vacation and she voiced her desire to own an RV. I said a full size RV was not a good idea as they are too big and cost too much in fuel. What about a camper van? Easy to park and drive in the city, still a fuel guzzler but not as bad as a full fledged Winnebago. Compromise was agreed and off to Kijiji we go to shop. Second ad I spot is this 1980 GMC Vandura camper van for $2 500. I phone the guy, ask if it's a 350 and the positive answer seals the deal on a visit.

So the next day we show up in the evening at a pizza place to meet the kid who owns the van where it is being stored outside for the past 2 years. The van is already idling on the choke as we pull up, smart guy started her up before we showed up to make sure it was running. the van wasn't plated so the test drive was very limited. It went forward, backwards and it stopped. It looked and felt its 34 years but still it was solid for the base of our project. The Chad, yes that was his name, told me their was nothing to do on it, I told that was a stretch for a 34 year old truck. Apparently the truck had been plated in the previous year and wouldn't require an inspection. I knocked of $250 on the price and made a deposit.

2 days later the first snafu popped its ugly head, at the license bureau. Truck hadn’t been plated for more than a year and would require an inspection. I still went ahead with the purchase. I had learned to drive on a 1980 Chevy van and I wanted that baby bad. This was the first surprise of the many more to come as expected. You can't lure yourself into thinking that all will be good when you buy something this old at that price, there's going to be some work involved.

Towing in the beast

I didn't take any chances and spent the bucks to have the thing towed straight to my garage where it was inspected prior to the official MOT inspection. The list was long. In order to make sure I wasn't going to get flagged down for minor stuff, I sent the van as is to be inspected and it failed miserably. Here's a list of what had to be fixed: Replace entire exhaust system, broken springs, replace all four tires, loose steering, loose stabilizer bar, spark plugs, wires, distributor cap, rear wheel bearings, busted locks, broken motor mounts and high-beam switch. Later on I had the carburator rebuilt for $300 thinking it was the reason for the engine running rough, turns out it was a $0.25 vacuum leak. That's only the mechanicals which added another $3 000 to the price tag. Lastly, the entire inside of the cabin had to be gutted for a fresh start since it had a serious water leak from the top vent and moisture had set in. Of course, we also replaced the top vent.

As for the good news, this original truck's paint was rustproofed and garaged during the winter except for the 2 years it was with the Chad. The under side and 95% of the panels were free of rust. Numbers also revealed that the engine was replaced at some point and the transmission runs good. A great base to start our project.
The funky interior

I'll talk about the build in the next chapter.

Living the Vanlife