Herbie's Chevy Astrolander/ZMB Build Thread


Rendezvous Conspirator
OK, now for some pics. These are all courtesy of the PO, some lifted from Craigslist, so excuse the photography. I'll start shooting my own pics once we begin the top-ectomy and other transplant operations.

Pop top and tent in good condition.

Some accommodations for a lower bunk, but I'll skip this stuff in favor of the conversion van bed and platform I've already sourced.

Also scored an awning, some curtains, dual swivel seats, and a few other RV goodies, which I may or may not use.

I've got the rest of the annotated gallery here, with more images to come:

I had half a day to try to get it running before the manager of the grocery store who's parking lot the van died in sort of insisted that I stop doing auto repair and get the van out of there, so I just had it towed to my fabricator's shop. Its now sitting in the back, waiting to be gutted. Getting it running would have been convenient for moving it around, but wasn't strictly necessary. I hope to begin tearing into it soon, maybe even this weekend.


Expedition Leader
Two blocks from home. I've experienced that exact same scenario. Somebodie's looking out for us.

May I be so bold as to suggest a new blade for the sawzall.:wings:
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Expedition Leader
You know, you and Tom are really making me want to get an AWD that is in better condition than Grumpy and pop the top too.
I don't like to push people into big comittments or anything, but with your knowledge and skill set and active lifestyle...I'm just saying...


Supporting Sponsor
Sounds like you had a great adventure with the retrevial of your new donor - I wish my kids were smaller to allow a nice compact rig like your build, but with 2 full size kids a full size rig is a necessity for us. I envy you!


Rendezvous Conspirator
Holiday Weekend Teardown

Unfortunately, I still don't have any really good pictures. I forgot to bring a good camera to my friend's shop for my first day of teardown, so these are all from my Blackberry. The upside is that I made some good progress and I now have a pretty good understanding of the construction of a GTRV pop top Astro/Safari.

For those who want all the gory details, my fully annotated image log is here.

Awning works pretty well, but needs some cleanup.

Tent fabric is in good shape.

First thing, need to remove this plastic shelving installed in the back. Not sure what's going on there...

Questionable implementation of a "layback" sofa/bed - stock seat modified with pins through the hinge bracket to allow this position. Second seat (on top) is a rough, but unmodified, stock rear bench.

Once I removed as much of the stock interior plastic trim as was practical, I started on the "conversion" headliner and trim.

The rear bed platform is just some padding over the roof sheetmetal.

The rest of the area has the headliner fabric wrap over the exposed edges and is glued down to the top of the van, covering the vinyl strip that secures the bottom of the tent to the top of the van.

After the carpet headliner is removed, we can finally see the steel reinforcing ring that surrounds the hole cut into the van roof. It is bonded and riveted into place.

Next I removed between 200-300 posidrive screws to release the tent and vinyl trim from the van.

Tent now attached to top shell only.

Then proceed to drill out a couple hundred rivets that hold the reinforcing steel to the roof.

As it stands now, the only thing holding the reinforcing ring to the roof is the adhesive that was applied. I'll go after that with a heat gun next. The pop-top is now attached to the van only by the hinges and lift struts (10 screws total), so that can be removed as soon as its convenient. I'm leaving it on for now, just because the van is still stored outside my friend's shop, so it's easy to close it up.

More to come!!
Looking good! I love the detailed photos. Interesting to see how it was put together. You haven't posted in three days?! Anything new? :^)



Rendezvous Conspirator
Looking good! I love the detailed photos. Interesting to see how it was put together. You haven't posted in three days?! Anything new? :^)

Progress is likely to be "burst-y" for a while. I can usually convince the wife to give me a good block of time on one day per weekend, but during the week it's hard to find enough time to make it worth getting dirty. Turns out, being a Dad is like having a second full-time job! :ylsmoke:

If the weather holds, I'll have another go at it tomorrow. Hope to be able to drop the steel reinforcing ring off the body, and maybe even pull the top off for good.

After that it's a matter of transferring cut measurements over to my van and then we hit the "point of no return"! :wings:
Cool! Yeah, cutting open the roof on a good van is an act of faith! I cut in a sun roof on a van I had in the '80's. Standing on the roof with a drill and sawzall, I was thinking, "Am I really gonna do this? Check measurements twice, maybe three times, cut once"... Nice that you have a full size "template" in your other van. Good luck!



Rendezvous Conspirator
Day 2: Fun with Fire

Saint Kimberley the Luscious (aka Mrs. Herbie) granted me another big chunk of time this weekend, so I was able to make some more good progress on the teardown.

As before, my annotated image log is here.

The primary goal on Day 2 was to get the steel reinforcing ring separated from the rest of the van. After drilling all the fasteners on Day 1, I found that a significant amount of adhesive had been used. This stuff was STRONG. If I pulled hard on the steel ring, the roof sheet metal would flex some, but the adhesive didn't budge. Well, when in doubt, apply heat:

I worked my way around the perimeter with a propane torch and a wide putty knife. In most cases a little heat and sliding in the putty knife would get things separated nicely. In a few spots things were obviously under a bit of tension because just applying heat would cause the gap to separate.

In a few other places, more heat and a bit more aggressive application of the putty knife were needed. Mostly where the adhesive was laid on thick and there was a lot of mating surface area.

Eventually though, the glue surrendered and the ring came away, leaving just the sheet metal and what remained of the original reinforcing ribs.

The carpet/glue residue looked pretty nasty after "burning", and in a few spots I really did have to burn the paint to get the glue to let go, but that's one upside of a disposable donor, I don't have to care!

And here's the ring after separation. I was pleasantly surprised to find the ring is "open" at the right-rear corner. This made removal much easier and should make re-installation much simpler also, because in several places the horizontal surfaces of the ring slot in between the roof sheet metal and the stock cross bracing. This thing will have to be maneuvered into place around several such interfering areas, so the fact that I can "pinch" the ring slightly will be a help. Once in place, all of the mechanical fasteners should make it at least as strong as if the ring was welded around the entire perimeter.

The remaining white is more adhesive that I'll scrape off later. I really want to brush or blast this whole thing and at least give it a coat of primer. I hate seeing the start of rust on bare steel.

I also had time to start tackling transplanting the passenger seat swivel base into my van.

I had originally installed a different swivel that sandwiches in between the slider track and the seat bottom:

The problem here being that the added thickness of the slider plus the spacers needed to clear the "arch" of the slider track make the seat dangerously high. (Without a headliner in my 2003 van, a couple of my taller passengers are too close to the roof unless they recline the seat quite a bit!) My hope is to be able to transplant the older swivel base into my van.

After removing the seat, I had to get past the massive amount of brushed on bedliner that covered everything on the floor of the donor van. Mostly I just brushed it off the nuts so I could remove the base plate.

The next problem was that my 2003 van includes an underseat heater duct for the 2nd row foot area. At first I thought I could clear the duct by just notching the rear of the baseplate (underside in this photo):

However it turns out that the stack-up of ducting, insulation, and carpet means the studs aren't long enough to meet the baseplate. (The OE seat mount in my 2003 has a raised bracket with feet that extend to meet the studs, rather than a flat plate.) I'm still brainstorming on the optimum solution here. I may try to turn some sleeved nuts to reach down to the studs, or I may build a similar rail/foot system to clear the floor area entirely, but that will raise the seat back UP, so I may have to compensate by cutting down and re-welding the extension tube in the swivel.... ugh.

Anyhow, more to come, stay tuned!
Herbie and other Astro campers,

I am also drawn to Syncro campers, but considering an Astro for more engine power, towing ability, familiarity with Chevy, and lower cost. Do you have more or less space with a Westy layout in an Astro, compared to the Vanagon? From what I have gathered on the net, it appears the Astro is slightly larger, although lower in height. Do you think you could put the bed and cabinets from a VW Westy directly into an Astro, with minor tinkering? I'm also considering a Weekender layout, with kitchen appliances on either side of the sliding door.




Expedition Leader
Mojo, there is actually 16" less length from the back or the seats to the rear doors in an Astro than a Vanagon. That was a stcking point for me while making the same decision you are contemplating.

Remember, the vanagon is a forward control, so everything it moved forward.

Now, that being said, when my van is set up with the rear bench seat (instead of when I use the gaucho coach) I have a rear platform behind the bench seat that I put my tool box and duffles under, and maybe my memory foam and other duffles on top. Obviously, this space is taken up with an engine compartment in the vanagon so I don't neccessarily know where those items would go.

So, in the Astro you have less space in the open living area, slighly less space overall, and more space behind the rear bench.

Ah, but life is a trade off, isn't it.

Picture of my favorite Astro interior in typical Westy layout (RB50 in Sportsmobile lingo). This is a Safari Condo out of Quebec. There is a good debate on the Samba about wether "to cabinet or not to cabinet". I look at this picture and lust after the interior, but too often my bin with riding gear goes where the lower cabinet is, etc., etc., and I'm just not convinced the cabinets are usable enough for our purposes. I think they may be too limiting, and we really don't seem to miss them while camping.

Mike: I'll try to address your email regarding the top tonite. I was rushed yesterday to get an enduro ride in after work, and I'm covering a lot of territory on the road today. Would a video of the bunk be any help? I think it would be easy and quick enough to do and post.
I too am in a similar boat. I have two kids 6 & 4 and need to find a 4 passenger vehicle that will also sleep 4. Like you I don't like campgrounds. I am homing in on an Astro van and have thought about all of the same methods for increasing the sleeping space. I am eagerly awaiting more info on your build as it progresses. I do have a few questions for you:

You mentioned early in your write-up that you had a Maggnolina that you were thinking of grafting to the top of the Astro. Do you still have the Mag? Do you have any pictures of it on top of the Astro for size reference?

You mentioned that you were thinking of building a short "tower" on the roof of the Astro to make a flat surface for the Mag to sit on. I have pondered the same thing. I have CAD and fabrication skills so I would be doing the work myself. If I end up with an Astro is there any way I can get the shape of the roof from you so that I can put it into CAD and design from there? It isn't critical but it would save me some time.

Has anyone ever measured the pop top of a Westy or euro van to see how close they are in size? I assume this has been done and it isn't close to the same size since no one is looking that direction.

Now that you have scored your GTRV donor vehicle any search tips for others looking for the same thing?

Thanks for the great write-up and keep the info flowing!