Herbie's Chevy Astrolander/ZMB Build Thread

#16
Aaron, do you have more information on this rally? I've checked out the website, and it looks awesome! something that I'd love to participate in. When are the 2010 dates? I haven't found them online...
 

BIGdaddy

Expedition Leader
#17
I'll be leaving it in for a while, mostly while I work on/pay for other aspects of the build, but I will be driving it as-is for several months, at least.

The main reason for the swap is to get the low range. Granted 2.7:1 isn't a deep deep low range, but anything that will help the big tall van move more slowly over uneven ground is going to be a big plus. On a daily-driver note, the electronic AWD engagement is a little clunky (versus the older viscous system, which was smoother), and I expect a small but non-trivial mileage boost when I can disengage the front axle on the street.
Aha, I see. Sounds like good reasoning to me, I guess I had never heard the basis for the change. (I should have assumed you had a inate fondness for AWD, being a subie guy:D, and would only swap out such a system for good reason)

Its a smart swap to a great tcase, and having the 2.7:1 on my cherokee, I can tell you its plenty low for what you and I use our vehicles for.

cheers, dude.
 

Herbie

Rendezvous Conspirator
#18
Mapping the roof crown





After the paper template of the roof's X-Y plane comes the mapping of the roof crown in the Z axis. Starting with this single foamcore spine we will make a series of ribs and scribe the curve and features of the roof. This may not all be strictly necessary, but it will allow us to make an excellent model of the roof so my friend can really see all the curves to help decide the next steps.
 

BIGdaddy

Expedition Leader
#19
So my first post outlined some of my reasons for doing this project, along with some of the implementation goals, but I never really detailed what my criteria for success were. This will hopefully explain both why I tackled a van camper, and why an Astro. Based on a few trips of varying length with my wife (pre-pregnancy), and some experience with "suburban" infant care, we tried to figure out what the big hurdles were for getting the whole family out camping on a regular basis. In something resembling an order-of-importance, our design criteria:

* Affordable. We have a discretionary budget, but its a small one. A Sportmobile, even a used one isn't in the cards for us for a few years, at least. Similarly, $10k for a "pro" 4x4 conversion would be a hard sell.

* Reliable. I like to tinker with cars, but I want to be able to have some adventures without worrying I'm putting my family at risk that they'll have to wait out a breakdown (or worse).

* Everybody sleeps IN/ON the vehicle. This comes from a variety of factors, mostly related to my wife's comfort (both physical/emotional).

* No need to get dressed for a midnight pee. This should almost be the top of the list. Cannot stress how important this is to my wife. With a small child over the next few years, I'm sure this will be more than a luxury.

* Easy setup/teardown. Striking camp should not take an hour. This would mean one adult keeps the munchkin out of trouble for an hour while the other strikes camp. We want as much self-contained functionality as possible.

* 4x4 capable. Rock crawling not required, but we hope to go some places more remote than just "Fire Road" accessible.

* Relatively small/nimble vehicle. Both for the offroading needs and because I am replacing my daily driver vehicle with this project. I don't want to drive something massive every day, nor pay for the gas to do so.

* Street parking. I don't have room for trailer storage at my house. Any solution would have to be able to be street-parked.

I put this all into my brain computer and churned on it for a while and the only options that came to me at the time were an inexpensive camper van, or a crew-cab truck with a Flip-pac. (I have since stumbled on some other solutions, but I'm committed now! :Wow1:)

Crew-cab trucks (even used) were still a bit more money that I had to spend in one chunk, but I did look for quite a while. However, I grew up camping in two distinct vehicles: My Mom's Toyota-truck based Camper, and my Dad/Step-Mother's VW Westy. The Westy was the closest to what I thought we needed, so I kept leaning in that direction. Seeing T.Low's van and a host of totally awesome (but ultimately unaffordable) VW Syncro westies just kept the van fires burning.

Eventually I found a very low-mileage Astro at a good price, so I jumped. The Astro fits most of the bill pretty well. Converting AWD->4x4 is the simple matter of swapping the transfer case and doing a bit of wiring, which is a DIY project instead of writing a big check. Lifting is similarly easy and inexpensive. T.Low has shown that its smallish size works well on most trails, though as I move forward with my interior layout I find myself wishing for a few more inches of interior space. More than anything, I like that I'm not breaking a ton of new trail here. As I said earlier, I'm leaning on the experience of a lot of other people, so not much of what I'm doing should prove to be impossible, or even very very difficult.

For posterity and others following in my path, here are the alternatives and things that I keep second guessing:

* I still think a crewcab truck with a Flip-Pac would have suited very well. Fullsize domestic crew cabs are thick on the ground here in SoCal, but bigger than I really wanted to drive every day. Smaller 4-door trucks like the Tacoma are still much in demand, so prices remain high.

* I wish I'd looked harder at lightweight slide-in campers like 4WC, etc. I think I ruled them out because I thought I couldn't afford one PLUS the crew cab truck to put it on, but experience has shown there are deals to be had for the patient among us. Plus I'd have to either store the camper or haul it every day, but it still bore more scrutiny than I gave it.

* I wish I'd looked harder at the fullsize vans like the Express/Savanna. I looked but I couldn't find enough data on whether the AWD->4x4 conversion was as easy on those vans as it has proven to be on the Astro. With more research or some experimentation, I might have had a bit more space inside the van!

* Seeing all the clever folks who've bolted inexpensive trailer campers to the frame of Isuzu NPRs or similar larger truck chassis is inspiring. Doesn't really fit the bill for a daily-driver capable dual purpose rig, but it makes me wonder what else I could accomplish if I were as creative as those people. Maybe if we have more kids? :)

re-reading this, Mike, has me thinking you've made the best choice possible given your well-defined set of criteria.

While you may decide 1 or more of them is negotiable once you been out and about with your familia, I think the van is going to be very adaptable...:coffee:
 
#20
Aaron, do you have more information on this rally? I've checked out the website, and it looks awesome! something that I'd love to participate in. When are the 2010 dates? I haven't found them online...
The BABE Rally is taking place June 7th - 11th this year. Registration due this Friday.

www.baberally.com
www.streetsafari.com

I'm currently looking for team members. Aside from fuel, I've covering all vehicle expenses.

I went as a stranger in a strange car last year and had a blast.
 
#21




After the paper template of the roof's X-Y plane comes the mapping of the roof crown in the Z axis. Starting with this single foamcore spine we will make a series of ribs and scribe the curve and features of the roof. This may not all be strictly necessary, but it will allow us to make an excellent model of the roof so my friend can really see all the curves to help decide the next steps.
Will this be for building a base for the Maggiolina top or the 2 piece top you had planned on building?
 

Herbie

Rendezvous Conspirator
#22
Will this be for building a base for the Maggiolina top or the 2 piece top you had planned on building?
Yes.

Seriously, for my short term needs, it will be for a base for the Maggiolina, but we still haven't ruled out doing our own layup at some point that would incorporate a roof-hugging base shell with a more generic top-shell to form something similar to the Maggiolina.

Basically, we don't know exactly where we're going to end up yet, but more data never hurt anyone.
 
#23
Im still kicking this idea around due to us having 2 vehicles that would potentialy be our campers for diffrent camping...(ones 4wd ones not)

putting a maggiolina ontop...putting a sunroof in the back of my fullsized van..and making an airlock (rubber gasket) and access hatch in the maggiolina..that way you can access the roof tent from inside the van..and with the jeep I could just use the standard ladder to get in the roof tent..

 

T.Low

Expedition Leader
#24
Im still kicking this idea around due to us having 2 vehicles that would potentialy be our campers for diffrent camping...(ones 4wd ones not)

putting a maggiolina ontop...putting a sunroof in the back of my fullsized van..and making an airlock (rubber gasket) and access hatch in the maggiolina..that way you can access the roof tent from inside the van..and with the jeep I could just use the standard ladder to get in the roof tent..

UOTE]




Thats some sound thinking, there, WR.:ylsmoke: Great idea. I've always wanted to put a pop top in my RV trailer to increase the sleeping capacity while keeping the same small footprint; maybe the thru hatch to a Maggi perched on Thule bars is the answer.
 
#26
Hey Herbie,

It was great meeting you tonight! I won't spill the beans, but you got a heck of a deal! Come on back when you are finished and we'll get three vans (T.Low's too) out on the road! Thanks for dinner too!

Brian
 

T.Low

Expedition Leader
#27
No doubt. Glad you could make it by and thanks again for dinner.

Now I'm real anxious to see your progress. Hope you had a save journey home and we'll see you agin in the flesh one way or another.

Cheers.
 

Herbie

Rendezvous Conspirator
#29
Thanks Tom and Brian, it was great to meet you guys too, if even briefly.

Made it back to San Diego in almost 22 hours exactly, which bested Google Maps' estimate considering we actually had to stop for food and fuel!

Did someone go up to BC to get a pop-top installed? :Wow1:
You're close. Picked up a "donor" van. High-mileage, highly-abused 1995 GTRV Safari. I'd been keeping things quiet since it was an awesome price for my purposes, fearing someone else might also think it was an awesome deal and beat me to it.

Pictures to come, but here's the reader's digest of the trip:

Flew into Vancouver on Sunday, took SkyTrain and SeaBus to North Vancouver and met the seller. We looked over the van, covered some of the problems, but confirmed that the pop-top and tent are in excellent shape. Concluded the deal and I head for the border.
Border line is massive, almost 2 hours just to get to the kiosk so I can get pulled into secondary to start the process of importing the vehicle to the USA.
First CBP officer at secondary didn't know as much about vehicle importing as the CBP website (and thus me), so we wasted some time with him telling me I couldn't import the van because the speedo had kph on top. (!!?!) After I insisted that the van had all the proper labelling (CMVSS and EPA labels, etc.) and that it was an HS-7, 2B import, he handed me off to a second CBP officer who within five minutes confirmed that all was well and I was on my way.

Made my way into Bellingham and stumbled into the driveway of one T.Low, already besieged by Brian's sportsmobile. Hey, Pop-Top Party!! :wings: After comparing Tom's van to mine and the minor evolution of the implementation, we had some decent beer and some grub, all in all a too-short visit. Picked up my co-pilot from the Bellingham airport, gathered a few supplies, and aimed the van south.

I have to stop here to thank Tom, Jen, and Brian for such a warm welcome and their fabulous hospitality. By-far the best aspect of the trip was meeting you all and thinking forward about the next visit when we can actually enjoy your beautiful surroundings!!

By 11pm, we were on our journey, here's where we started finding some of the "features" of this wonderful machine. First, the instrument lighting in the dash was out. Lots of fun trying to avoid a speeding ticket in an unfamiliar machine on the very-dark northern stretch of the I-5. With the creative use of the map light and/or my ipod, was able to keep tabs on instrumentation until dawn. Door locks are broken in an inconvenient combination of ways (lock cylinder on driver's side, power lock switch on passenger side, etc.), water temp gauge reads 40c constantly, and a few other niggles.

We went straight through, stopping only for bio breaks, fuel, and breakfast. By 10am we were far enough into California that it started to get hot. Real hot. The little thermometer on my REI zipper-pull said 100+. Before 11am. Oh, and the van's AC doesn't work. Crap. Oh well, windows down we soldier on. The upside of our late departure from Bellingham was that we had missed any sort of traffic going through pretty much all of Washington, Oregon, and Northern California. The downside is that we hit central California in the middle of one super-hot day. 105-110 in Sacramento, Bakersfield, etc.

By 4:30pm, we were at the base of the Grapevine. Citibank's Fraud Detection division helpfully declined my card at this fuel stop, because they'd noticed what they thought was too many gas purchases. Um, I'm on a roadtrip back from Canada, hello? The guy starts reading off charges in Washington, Oregon, Northern California.... oh, all moving south. Duh. Sorted out that little issue and back on our way.

For most of the afternoon, it seemed the Water-temp gauge had been "waking up". It had slowly begun to register, then read near the middle of the gauge. As we got into the serious climb of the grapevine, it started to move more quickly towards the top end of the gauge. I wasn't sure whether I could trust it, but figured discretion was wise so we took a casual pace up the hill. On the decent the gauge settled back to just south of the middle, so we pressed on. Narrowly missed getting stuck in a massive backup due to a recent accident where the passenger and truck routes of the grapevine rejoin, then clean sailing all the way through LA. Somehow we'd timed the drive to miss EVERY bit of rush hour.

Entered into San Diego proper by 9pm, dropped of my copilot, and headed for home. Stopped at the store to get some milk, and then.... crank but no fire.

Yep, after 1400+ miles, two countries, three states, and 22 hours, the van has died within two blocks of my house. Oh well, could have been much, much worse.

I walked home, took a shower and went to bed. Will spend today trying to get the van running or towed to my friend's shop. Shortly afterward, we'll begin the process of tearing down the top and interior, documenting the hell out of everything, and then transferring the good stuff over to my 2003 van.

Stay tuned!!
 
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