Not So Subtle E350 Shuttle - 100% Satisfaction Guaranteed Coil Build

#1
The first time I saw a lifted Sportsmobile was at the New Hampshire International Speedway when I was racing motorcycles. It was awesome...

...and so was the price.

The idea was shelved but not forgotten. Instead I owned a '64 Ford Falcon convertible, a lifted Land Rover Discovery and finally a reliable Ford F150 - the only vehicle I've ever bought new. That truck never saw much real off roading but it was excellent at towing race bikes from track to track, dirt bikes to Moab and finally me across country when I left NYC a few years ago to come to Oregon.

With two young kids my priorities have shifted. My father passed away last year and left me his Avion trailer which we love. The F150 struggles to tow the 28' trailer. My work as a photographer requires cases of equipment on location. A weekend camping trip with kids can fill the whole pickup. And it rains here in beautiful Oregon. It was time for a change and the major requirements were the ability to easily tow a 7000lb trailer, to carry a couple of motorcycles when needed and finally to be able to take the family on some good adventures.

As a kid growing up in Colorado my favorite memories were our annual 4x4 camping trips into the mountains surrounding the small town of Westcliffe. With my kids now 6 and 7 this is the prime time to travel and take adventures. My wife is fond of quoting the Idaho tourism slogan, "You only have 18 summers" and that is frankly our driving motivation - to make those summers count.

So last year I started searching for a Van. I have lurked here long enough to know I wanted an E350. I have wanted a diesel for as long as I can remember and the 7.3 has a reputation for being reliable. Other things were a higher roof, bigger windows and the extended body. To get the exact van I wanted was going to be nearly impossible. It would require building it but the base was important. After having a few snatched out from under me I was growing frustrated and started searching several times a day and finally found this:



I immediately called to get more information and got brushed off, "Call tomorrow and I'll try to answer your questions, lots of people are calling about this van..."

Okay, I said with zero information, I'll take it. Let me send you a deposit via Paypal. "No Paypal." how about a bank transfer? "No, don't trust the banks. Just bring cash"

To shorten the story I spent the next morning learning how to use Western Union and becoming increasingly sure I was being scammed. I found a person through my Garage Journal thread who was willing to take the rest of the cash to the salvage lot and pick it up. This was about as risky as you could get.

A week later I flew to Nashville and took a taxi to the mechanic - it was up on the lift when I arrived which wasn't exactly encouraging.



I wanted the van checked over before I attempted to drive it home and that was a good thing. It had been sitting abandoned for 5 years and needed help. On one of the test drives it had died and that prompted dropping the tank which was drained and flushed and all new filters and fluids were put in.. Finally after 6 hours the van came down to greet me and I got my first look. It was dirty. Really dirty. But it sounded great.













It was that last shot of the sign that put my mind at ease. 100% Satisfaction Guaranteed. How could I go wrong?

A former airport shuttle van with only 166,000 and a recently replaced transmission it was actually in pretty good shape. I tossed my bag in the side door and pointed her west towards home. I was thrilled that she was ticking off tanks of 16-20mpg and I was getting over 400 miles and not even dipping below a quarter tank. My F150 can't go more than 250 miles on a tank so I was pretty happy with the range of my new road trip machine.



So of course the question is how am I going to build it out. I'm not sure. Exactly. I'm a motorcycle guy so I'm learning a lot right now and for the past month I've been just trying to get to know the van and see what it's like to use on a daily basis. One thing I can tell you that MG Metalworks is just down the road from me...

Gregor
 
Last edited:

Bikersmurf

Expedition Leader
#3
Looks like a good starting point.... why did it cost so much:Wow1:





Just kidding, I bought mine for about 1k usd, but it was in a remote location, needed work to be road worthy, and was being dumped by a bank that was trying to liquidate repossessed assets.
 
#4
Great story thus far; keep it going! I'm interested to see where this goes.

Please tell me you're keeping the '100% Satisfaction Guaranteed' sign.
 
#5
Yes, the sign stays. May be the only thing that does.

So the big news is that I've written a check to Michael of MG Metalworks. I visited him at his shop and saw the Cummins van and another customer's van as well - Vandiana? Impressive.

I've also finally gotten the chance to test the van out at it's new job of hauling motorcycles. I took it down to Medford for a motorcycle race. I gave away the last row of seats to a friend as I couldn't imagine ever needing that many. I may still get rid of the rest and replace them with benches but there's some novelty with the aisle arrangement at the moment.



It was so nice to be able to park the van and not have to worry about someone stealing my bike out of the bed of the truck. It was also nice to have a place to change into my gear. I like this van stuff.

So Michael and I discussed the various routes the build could take and I've decided on going with the newer 2013 axels to get the bigger brakes. Brakes are never a bad thing and when towing I'd always wished for more even though the trailer has brakes. We're going to go with a 6" lift and he's ordered the springs and parts needed from U-Joint. Most of the stuff is enroute.

Here's where I need some advice from this forum. Wheels and tires. I love the look of the high sidewall tires and I hate the look of the 20" rims on pickups. It doesn't make much sense to me - or rather I guess it does make sense because it's the evolution of what you'd expect when a lifted pickup never leaves the pavement. I spent a good portion of my childhood airing down tires for our trips to the sand dunes or up into the mountains - I like sidewalls. I'd go with 16" rims if I could but I can't as the big brakes require 17" rims. I'm also not a fan of of chrome, or stars, or shiny spokes and pretty much all of the stuff you see on pickups now a days. I grew up on a ranch and pickups had steel wheels and if you were fancy you had hub caps on your going-to-church pickup.

So with this in mind and trying to not spend the price of the van again in wheels and tires I searched Craigs List (herein referred to by CL) and found this set of stock Ford rims:



Simple, an odd number of spokes (far better visually) and they'll pretty much disappear once powdercoated black. But here's the rub: they're 17x7.5" which limits me on tire sizes.

The largest I can go is a 285/75-17 which is basically a 34" tire. After looking at rigs for the better part of a year 35" looks about right proportionately. 33 looks almost stock and 37 starts to look a bit much. The other part of it was that it's starts to get mightly tall. Michael's van was tall, like really, really tall. Like my wife will need a ladder.

The other part of it is I don't want to destroy the milage altogether. I know the larger tires really start to get heavy and that effects everything. Michael suggested 33's make the van more livable, I love the look of the 35's and so perhaps this wheel and 285/75-17's are the perfect balance. I like that they're a bit narrower too.

I'd love to hear your thoughts on this. I've not dropped the wheels at powder yet so I could go another direction and not be out much but I feel like this is the right path.

In other news the van is headed to Vision Performance Diesel for a Hydra tuner and to take a look at an annoying oil leak. The van leaks a fair bit of oil - a quart every 200-300 miles. I have been told: 1. it's pretty normal (uh, no) 2. it's a cracked oil return line on the turbo 3. it's a cracked timing cover.

The mechanic that picked 3. suggested just JB welding it to which I was appalled until I discovered that the timing cover requires the body to come off and the engine out. I am praying that it is not #3. If so I may be in favor of JB weld until the times comes for work that requires the body off.

More to come...

Gregor
 

Bbasso

Expedition Leader
#6
Pulling the motor from the front can be done, I just went through that. Definitely a tight fit but doable. Imho only if replacing the entire motor.
 
#7
You're going to need a lift to fit 33s or 35s. But if you're going to MgMetalworks I presume that's the reason? Either way, 4" works nice with 33s and 6" is better for 35s. And you will likely need some fender well trimming to fit the bigger tires. Nice score!
 
#9
Tire size - what about 255/80-17? BFG KM2's are 33.3", E load rating, and will fit the 7.5" rim a little better than 285's.
 
#10
You're going to need a lift to fit 33s or 35s. But if you're going to MgMetalworks I presume that's the reason? Either way, 4" works nice with 33s and 6" is better for 35s. And you will likely need some fender well trimming to fit the bigger tires. Nice score!
Michael is doing a 6" lift and we're ordering parts from Chris as well. Going with springs as opposed to blocks for the rear.

Sweet van, nice story and glad it worked out!
Thanks Chris. Looking forward to getting parts and making it happen.

Tire size - what about 255/80-17? BFG KM2's are 33.3", E load rating, and will fit the 7.5" rim a little better than 285's.
The 285 is in spec for the rim so I'm okay with that. I don't think I'd want to go narrower as we can drive on our beaches here and the width is nice for the sand. The jeep guys seem to all put 315/70-17's on the same size stock rim and get away with it but given how much larger the van is I don't know that I'm comfortable with that. I can't see myself ever doing anything larger than 35s so perhaps I will be happy with the 285 as they're right in the middle of 33's and 35s.

Gregor
 
#11
I´ll be right here...stalking one more thread.

Do i spot a Ironman sprocket? I raced those a lot, extreme tough.

Back on topic; May i ask what it actual cost to own such a van. In Denmark there is a hefty price just to own it regarding green-taxes, low MPG etc.

Portals...Halenda...you got this.
 
#12
I´ll be right here...stalking one more thread.

Do i spot a Ironman sprocket? I raced those a lot, extreme tough.

Back on topic; May i ask what it actual cost to own such a van. In Denmark there is a hefty price just to own it regarding green-taxes, low MPG etc.

Portals...Halenda...you got this.
Cost on these vans is all over the place. The very low end of used 4x4 cargo vans is maybe $10-15,000USD. If you then take that van and put large tires and big bumpers on it you can sell it on eBay for $25-35,000. That seems to be the low end of the going rate for used vans. If you want to buy it as a camper from SportsMobile you're looking at used of $60-80,000 and up and new in the 80-120,000 for the lower end. From there you can really start to go crazy.

If you're asking what kind of taxes or penalties such a big van extracts - well, we live in Amurica! So the answer is nothing. They are large enough to escape most standards much like SUV's and given our current situation it's not likely to change. In fact the current administration is looking to roll back standards. The flip side is that a diesel (as you know in the EU) get's great mileage compared to gas and I'm hoping to keep this van in the not-too-bad category. I can see also adding a veggie tank down the road.

Portals - good lord, do you hand out candy at the dentists office too? I did look them up and it's super cool and I'm soooooooooo not going to go down that road. Locul... more like Loco if you ask me.

Glad to have you on board!

Gregor
 
#13
Many many years ago I bought an old vw camper as I needed a home for a few months while doing field work in the highlands of Scotland. The interior was rotten and damp and the only salvageable thing in it was the sink/cooker unit. I had exactly 1 week before I had to leave for fieldwork and didn't sleep much while I rebuilt the entire interior into cupboards, seats that converted to a bed, a kitchen unit, curtains, cushions etc. All done with hand tools and a power drill. It wasn't exactly craftsmanship but it worked and didn't look too bad.

I've had a hankering to build out another van of some form for a long while. After following your thread on GJ, I can't tell you how interested I am to see how you do this and to watch your craftsmanship be put to this new direction.

*pulls up the comfy chair and puts on the popcorn*
 
#14
any recent work on this?

have you decided on a tire brand?

Coils or leaves for the front lift?

I assume the shop replaced all the fuel filters while draining the tank? Dirty/old filters can cause many driveability issues.
 
#15
I have the MG coil kit and 18x9" wheels. I think this is the same size as MG's wheels on his E350, but I think my wheels have more backspacing.
IMG_0194.jpg

Still enough sidewall to air down and a little more clearance for the brake calipers.
 
Top