Old College Kid (re)builds a Camper/Moto Van-1989 Ford EB SMB Penthouse

Mwilliamshs

Explorer
Greetings!

Been reading this and other forums for a year now while planning a camper van build and learned a great deal but like they say, the more you learn, the more you realize you don't know. I'd basically made a wish-list of the van I wanted and cruised several online classifieds daily looking for that magic combo. I knew I wanted a Ford or Dodge (personally preference mostly), knew I didn't want the noise and complexities of a sliding door, knew I wanted the long-wheelbase (no point in a 'big van' that wasn't big enough), knew my budget was going to put me in a high-mileage and/or older rig so a dependable and repairable drive-train were paramount, and knew this was going to be a long-term project for me and my primary vehicle for part of that, so a versatile wide-open floor plan or a totally empty van were my best options for not only daily-driving the van but also to keep purchase price reasonable.

So I wanted either really low miles on a newer van or one old enough to register as an antique ($7, one-time fee in AR) and a 138" WB RB or an EB with a 6.9 or 7.3 diesel (love the IDI's) or the 300 I6 (most diesel-like gas burner there is) with either an AOD or a C6 spinning 'highway gears' (3.08-3.55) as opposed to 'towing gears' (3.73-4.10) and wanted the fewest undesirable, cost-raising options possible. I don't need to pay extra for lots of seats, power windows that probably don't work anymore, somebody else's idea of the ultimate stereo, or fancy "street van" interior that wouldn't suit my needs or tastes and likely couldn't be resold to recoup funds.

Found exactly what I wanted for a van and although it may not fit anybody's wish list but mine, I've spent a lot of time researching this thing and I'm glad to finally be getting the ball rolling on this. My 'van with no name' is a 1989 Ford E150 Supervan (LWB + EB) Cargo that was converted by Sportsmobile to a pop-top camper with a Penthouse roof, side windows, interior build-out, and 110 wiring. It's got the EFI 4.9, C6, and 3.08 gearset in the 8.8" rear, manual windows, and fully-functional cruise-control :ylsmoke:. The interior build-out has been removed with the exception of the wall paneling, leaving behind a perfectly blank canvas for me to get started.



The penthouse canvas is in good shape and I'm working with Nancy at Sportsmobile North on getting new window panels for it because my vinyl is cracked from the TX sun. Hope is to get new canvas panels with screens, zippers, and vinyl windows sewn into them so I can remove my canvas and have a local upholstery/boat-cover shop remove my windows as panels, sew in the new, and I can re-install the whole thing. Not a small project but the most effective means I've been able to come up with to get new vinyl and screens put in my old top without a total canvas replacement since the EB Fords of this vintage are no longer supported by SMB but apparently (hopefully) the window sizes haven't changed.





The body on the old boy is basically PERFECT. I was blown away. There's one little scrape in the driver's front fender and a scuff on the passenger's rear corner but the paint is very solid and the ONLY rust I've found is in the step of the side doors and it's minimal, as you'd expect on a Texas rig. Been trying my hand at photoshopping paint schemes on the big body and once I get presentable prototype I'll post it up for opinions.

My plans are to fix the very very few mechanical issues (leaking injector, inop windshield wipers), get maintenance up to date/upgraded (change fluids, Sixlitre ignition tune-up, use synthetics) add some longevity mods (trans temp gauge, e-rated tires), and start a westfalia type interior build-out for dirt-bike camping. I've ordered an exterior tire carrier (not gonna give up any interior space for that) and new hitch (old one is welded on junk).

The interior at present is just stock vinyl front seats in need of recovering/replacement and bare plywood walls that probably have fiberglass insulation behind them (haven't looked but it sounds that way to me and seems to be what SMB would do). Ignore the electric bench seat, it's just strapped down (and probably going on CL) and the parts washer was picked up on the same trip; it's going in the shop not the van.



My first "mod" after maintenance will be to pull the paneling, store it for use as templates, and get started insulating this thing. I'm ALL EARS for that project and open to suggestions. My current thoughts for the walls are (outside to inside, in order) van skin, diy lizardskin on the walls and floor (penthouse takes care of the roof), Eastwood sealer inside the body ribs (the kind with the long straw), some kind of fatmat/dynamat/etc on the walls, wheelwells, in the doors, on the floor, etc then some sort of bulk insulation (rather not use fiberglass batts, maybe auto grade 3M thinsulate?) followed by reflectix fully seam-sealed and covered with plywood (or masonite) upholstered with 1/4" or 1/8" foam and a mix of vinyl/tweed. The floor will get the diy lizardskin and probably just plywood for sound/insulation/durability with self-padded carpet on top of that. Might try carpet tiles instead of automotive carpet.

Thanks for looking and please share any suggestions/links/etc especially for insualtion/sound control!
 
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poriggity

Explorer
I don't have a lot to add, but I have seen the use of Dynamat in vans a lot lately for insulation. Plans to make it 4x4 eventually, or just enjoy it as is?
 

Mwilliamshs

Explorer
Can't see me needing 4wd in this vehicle but I can see possible reasons for an 8 lug swap someday so who knows. I'm familiar with the dynamat sound control material and something along those lines is definitely in the plan.
 

Mwilliamshs

Explorer
Hydroplaned yesterday in the truck I was planning to sell to fund phase I of this project. So that'll push things back a few weeks while I locate and buy, install, etc front and rear bumpers, a fender, etc. This has led to the discovery of the van's name!

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=j0Xtsi7Jcec

Art Vandelay of Vandelay Industries. Given the project's delayed start and probable slow nature and the fact I drive slowly to save fuel...it fits. I'm 30 so I grew up loving Seinfeld but watch most of it as re-runs. When anybody asks why I have the big van I'll tell them I'm a traveling latex salesman who import/exports.
 

Mwilliamshs

Explorer
Thanks poriggity!

Here's what I've been messing around with in photoshop. My thinking is that the navy blue stripe (probably need to darken it some) makes the van appear shorter and matches the interior, and the mountain graphics (probably airbrushed since I think I could get that done cheaper than vinyl these days, funny how that works) break up the big slab-sided van without being overly heavy visually, like big stripes would be. This is the first photo-shopping I've ever done and I whipped this up in about 15 minutes so I'm not married to it.

It's not perfect and it's not finished. Open to opinions!

 

Mwilliamshs

Explorer


This one looks really rough. The contours were impossible to see in the photograph so I was really just guessing at them and it turned out poorly but ya get the idea here. Follow the more vertical edge at the hoodfront and then below the grille. IF i add a chin spoiler it would most likely stay black but I've considered them for possible fuel savings. Every little bit's gotta help right? If a $100 spoiler gives me an additional .25 mpg that's 25 free miles for every 100 driven. So if I get (just to make the math easy, hope it's better than this!) 10 mpg without it and 10.25 with it and fuel (I wish) is $3/gal, and it'll take about 13,000 miles to pay for itself completely. I don't think that's too bad considering I drive that far in an average year and I'll certainly spend $100 on lots of other things that will never pay me back at all, each and every year. (cuz I'm single!)

This one really makes me think vinyl may be the way to go though. The paint protection would be worth something and if I paid someone to paint I'd probably use some of that clear 3M paint shield anyway...
 

Shocker

VanDOOM!
Great project!

On the plastic windows, you should be able to get them cut and installed by just about any marine canvas top place. If'n you can't get originals.
 

Mwilliamshs

Explorer
Thanks Shocker! I'm liking your mid-Ford too!

Here's another photoshop job I've been toying with.

 
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geolove2

New member
glad to see another Centex vanner out there

Hey, I looked at this van too, that guy that rebuilt the motor did an incredible amount of work to get this going again, there was a great back story to how he got it, if you bought it from the Discount Tire reseller you might not have heard it. PM me if you want details or the name of the guy that rebuilt it.

Sonny
 

Mwilliamshs

Explorer
PM'd ya, Sonny. Look forward to hearing the story!

Been doing some research (cuz I can't do anything else till school's out):

*LONG BORING MATH-FILLED POST ABOUT AXLES AND TRANSMISSIONS AND MPG*

I really wish I had an E-250 or E-350. The size of the SuperVan body means I can put lots of stuff in it. The Sportsmobile penthouse means I can put stuff (like uhm me, in a prone position, snoring) up high. So lots of stuff, and stuff up high, means I'll have a heavy, tall vehicle. Yeah, I wish I had heavier duty rig than my 1/2-ton E-150. I'd really like some stiff tires. Stiff sidewalls, with lots of air in them. Good for mpg, good for stability, good for durability. Too bad there aren't any good choices in 15" sizes. I've shopped around and while I'm very familiar with the 16" tires available (I'd probably go with 215/85-16s) I think the newer 17s that are on new HD trucks are where it's gonna be for HD tires in the future. Their commonality means demand for these sizes is way up and the popularity of these is trucks way up, so there are tons of the appropriate tires on the market and lots of wheels too. Craigslist has lots and lots of "takeoffs" in 245/70-17 load range E for less than I'd pay for a set of the heaviest rated 15" tires, that are far less HD. So $ spent now on wheels and tires means less spent on tires in the future, and greater availability of those tires for years to come. 15s are just not common at all on trucks anymore and haven't been since about 1997. Bigger payloads, bigger brakes, bigger wheels. I think 16s are a good choice too and I'm really hoping to stumble upon a set of them in my current bolt-pattern but I'm not happy with many of the aftermarket choices (I'm not into black wheels at all) and there are VERY few OE choices in this size. SO I think I'm gonna swap some brakes or swap some axles. More on that below.

Not touching the engine till it needs something. It needs injector seals now and I've ordered them, and all the incidentals for doing that job (intake manifold gasket, etc). I'll do an oil change, fuel filter change (pump's kinda loud right now so I suspect the filter but the tank's basically empty too so maybe that's it?), drop the trans pan and replace the filter then refill (not doing a flush, in other words), and whatever other maintenance I run across. If the plugs aren't super fresh looking I'll probably do the "sixlitre upgrade" or whatever they're calling it on the Ford Forums these days where you put in a fresh brass cap and rotor, hot coil, thick wires, cheap copper plugs with a bigger gap, and bump the timing. Supposed to really wake up this era of Ford and I'd rather replace old parts with better than new ones for longevity and MPG. Basically just get everything as fresh and up-to-date as possible so I'm on a solid foundation maintenance wise.

I'm not concerned, but am curious about the suspension. The weight and height of this rig are not to be ignored but I'm not afraid of them either. Right now I'm sure it's very light due to being empty but that's gonna change. I expect to eventually tip the scales at around 6,000lbs and that's within the GVWR of 6200 lbs as posted in the driver's door sticker. To move and handle that weight that regularly and comfortably though will require good maintenance and even then I doubt it'll be truly comfortable without upgrades. The front kingpins (as opposed to ball-joints) and the lack of E rated tires (for stability and strength, a BFD in my book) for 15s and the lack of 16s in 5x5.5 bolt-pattern (as opposed to the SUPER common 8 luggers) have me pondering a couple axle swaps.

I think the frontends of 150, 250 and 350 vans will interchange. Thanks to RockAutos awesome website: I know the sway bars do. I know the springs do. I know the shocks do. I know the radius arm bushings do. I know the pivot bushings do. Those 5 things are all that connects the front axle to the frame so if you unbolt the axle from them, the axle from a 1 ton van should bolt right into a 1/2 ton van so long as the frame dimensions are the same. Will need to measure to be SURE but I'd be pretty surprised if something was off, especially since the swaybars fit all 3 vans because they mount to each frame rail and then just inside each kingpin, so any dimensional differences would have to exist outside the kingpins and I assume whatever they may be would be made up for by wheel/tire differences. What you get there is 8 lug hubs (easy to get E rated tires), bigger brakes, and stronger axles. I know the swap of a 1 ton axle to a 1/2 ton frame doesn't change the GVWR. I'm going to look into just swapping the front hubs, from the kingpins out too but I don't think it'll work and I want the bigger kingpins of the 1 ton, or even ball joints if 92- axles fit a -91 frame.

I also think the rear-ends of 150, 250, and 350 vans will interchange but the leaf springs may not. The spring-eye bolts for them are 1/2" longer on both ends on 1-tons than 1/2-tons and I think the spring hangers, shackles, and hardware are all longer because the springs themselves are wider, which means the spring pads on the axles are too probably. This doesn't mean I can't swap them, just means I probably can't unbolt the spring at both ends, the driveshaft from the pinion, and swap the entire assembly. I'll probably have to unbolt the u-bolts and swap the axle itself, then figure out leafsprings separately or swap the spring hangers from the 1 ton frame to mine, which frankly, since rust is not an issue, I'm not gonna do. Those frame rivets (remember I'd be cutting mine, and the donors, so 2x the work) aren't fun to cut and I'd rather not replace something (especially 10+ such somethings) so important with grade 8 bolts. It wouldn't be cheap and even though I'd use loctite and torque them correctly (no point in doing it if I wouldn't do it right) I'd still be concerned about that solution long-term. The bigger brakes, 8 lug hubs, and heavier duty parts (full-floater anyone?) here have mucho appeal.

The axle swaps have me considering a tranny swap too. Make that, TRANSMISSION swap, ya perv. The 250 and 350 vans normally have lower (numerically higher) axle gears than my 150 and it's very high at 3.08:1. A typical 350 of this era with the 300 I6 would have 4.10:1. Since I'm contemplating the swapping of the rear axle, and I'd rather not mess with the axle gears (I'd only buy a ready-to-run axle, unless it was very very cheap) something has to be done about the gear differences. My van is two-wheel drive and I don't plan to change that, no need to, so I don't want to run taller than necessary tires to compensate for gearing. I try to make changes with lots of consideration to the vehicle as a whole, not just whatever's cheap or easy or best for 1 purpose, and a tall, wide, heavy tire isn't good for MPG or performance except in ways that wouldn't benefit me, like traction off road. That being said, I think what I'd like to do is keep a tire of about 30" tall, my van's stock height. This is good for MPG, less air turbulence and resistance under the van, good for maintenance (no step stool for oil checks) and good for practical uses (like loading things in the back, girls climbing in and out the door, etc). The 245/70-17s I've seen so much of lately are about 30.6" tall on average, perfect. So...that 30" tire and my 3.08 gears with my c6's 1:1 top gear puts me at 2416 theoretical rpm at 70 mph. I say theoretical because A) I don't have a tach and B) I did this with a calculator that doesn't account for torque converter slippage, since the c6 doesn't have a lock-up TC that does matter and the numbers would likely be as much as 200 rpm higher for the given speeds. I think 2416 is too high for this motor (peak torque should be about 1800 rpm I think) to get good mileage and since the engine is INSIDE the van I think excessive rpm will make noise control more work than it ought to be too. Now, I don't plan to drive 70 often, I don't drive that fast now unless I need to and my current ride gets about double the MPG I'm expecting from this van when finished, so I'm just using 70 because it's the speed limit on interstates around here and I can always slow down, but don't want to be incapable of speeding up if need be. So ideally I'd like to cruise at less than 2416 rpm at 70 but that's how the van was originally rigged, and it's what's cheapest since it doesn't require any changes and any changes would require expenditures. That's the baseline, 30" tires, 3.08 gears, 70 mph, 2400 rpm. Since I'm considering an axle swap, and the new axle is likely to be geared 3:55 or 4.10 to 1 (not many 3.73 Fords out there apparently), let's see what those gears might net me, engine rpm @ 70 mph-wise: 3.55s spin the ol 300 2784 times a minute, and 4.10s do it to it at a rate of 3216. Neither of those numbers is acceptable to me. Not even a little. I think she'd do it and I think she'd do it just fine but I'm not interested. In a 350 with the 300, c6 and 4.10s, with 235/85-16s like it would've come with, 70 mph requires just 3043 and 55 is 2391, both more reasonable numbers and pretty much in line with what I expected a 1-ton van to do in 1989. There were overdrive automatics available in this year, and if I were ordering my van new myself I would've chosen one. So let's see what I would've gotten if I'd checked the boxes for a 1-ton van, 3.55 gears, 300 I6, AOD automatic, and 30" tires, my ideal setup: 70 mph is is 1951 and 55 is 2200, and right on the verge of the 3-4 shift I think. The lock-up torque converter of the AOD makes these numbers less theoretical too. Now I said before that the torque peak for this engine should be about 1800 rpm I think, and 70 mph is just a bit over that mark with the AOD and 3.55s and 30" tires which means when there's a little grade, or gust of wind, short hill, etc where normally you'd rev up to prepare for it or you'd slow down a little because of it, I'll just keep my foot steady and she'll just cruise, no bog, no bull, just torque. This makes the cruise-control far more usable without killing mileage. Pretty darn close to perfect if ya ask me. So, for now, I don't plan on changing anything but some seals and the oil and driving the heck out of my new van, but I'll be keeping my eyes open at the junkyards and on craigslist for an AOD trans (there are other models out there but I like the simplicity of this one and they're very upgradeable and have good reputations when built and maintained properly) and an 8lug rear end of the appropriate width with 3:55 gears. I'll also give some thought to picking up a pair of extra rear rims to mount some 235/85-16s on for long stretches of highway where they could drop the rpm at 70 to 1758 (1800rpm=72mph). This would be an ideal highway gear set up and keep the nose of the van nice and low (but not tooo low, still stock height) for what I'd say should be as good gas mileage as this rig could ever return.
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In the vein of transmission info, I'm considering a swap to a deeper pan to gain fluid volume and cooling as part of some routine maintenance. Since the stock pan doesn't have a drain plug I'll have to drop it anyway, so might as well swap to one prepared with a drain and if an OE deeper pan presents itself, two birds, one stone, much happy.
The deeper C6 pans use the same filter as the shallow pans but use an extension tube to connect it. I've found the dimensions of this tube and am saving them here:
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-The tube is 33.5mm in diameter..
-From the top down 12mm there is a rib around the circumference to stop the extension sliding too far into the filter.
-The tube length is 33mm
-There is two little tangs on the bottom edge to go against the pan and hold it in the filter.
-The tangs are 8.5mm long and approm 100wide
-The overall length is 41.5mm including the tangs.
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This filter is what goes in the 4x4 pan that steps down in the middle and is approx 70mm deep.
You could adjust the length to fit you aftermarket pan...
 
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