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


Still working on a floor plan and trying to be mindful of weight distribution. On the driver's side, just behind the driver's seat I plan to have ~150 lbs of batteries, 53 lbs of fridge, 25 lbs of furnace, and about 55 lbs of propane tank (Manchester 6814 or 6815). 6814 = low fittings, under van rocker panel, 6815 = high fittings, through van wall. Variable weights in this locale will be the food in the fridge and propane in the tank, full loads of each would be about 35 lbs of propane and just a wild guess on food but 50 lbs? 4.2 cu. ft of fridge can hold quite a bit of food.
Also gotta add cabling, breaker, solar controller, battery monitor, etc etc since it'll all be in this cabinet.

So that's about 375 lbs plus a plywood cabinet, all centered about 14" behind the driver's butt. My idea is to offset that weight on the other side of the van, as evenly as possible. There's no easy way to put a water tank directly in front of the side doors and I do want the tank inside the van rather than under it, so I need to either slide the water tank forward or rearward from that position. I'd like to move as much weight toward the front as I can to reserve rear GAWR for cargo and whatnot, and I'd rather find an out-of-the-way place for the water tank. Vanagons have batteries stored under the front seats and I've considered that but access is kinda limited there and it'd require longer cable runs.

I'm liking this water tank right now. It seems a good balance of capacity and compactness. So my idea is to build a frame that fits the tank and sit the passenger seat swivel on that. Right now it's the old style pedestal swivel but I think I can substitute the height of the water tank for the height of the pedestal and get really close to original height for the seat. Now 26 gallons of water is about 220 lbs plus the tank, some fittings, pump, etc so not quite as heavy as the driver's side but also a little further forward so that probably balances itself out. Also, there's always a driver and not always a passenger so that's something to consider in the 100+ lb difference.

This is all academic at this point since I haven't corner weighted the van but realistically, it drives fine now, so as long as I balance what I add to it, it should be fine.

Realizing I can theoretically have all the fridge, furnace, electrical stuff more than 8' from the rear door and possibly the water tank further forward than that, has me thinking I might be able to keep an aisle down the middle wide enough to be useful for lots of other uses than just camping. Thinking if I pull the rear seat I might have an aisle 48" wide and 8' long...which means hauling sheet goods home from the lumber yard, antiques, etc etc. I can have a camper and a keep my stupidly practical van! Maybe.

I think if I build the driver's side as described above and move the bed/couch all the way to that side and build all the storage on the passenger side, and the kitchen on the passenger side, the side-to--side balance will be fine. Front-to-rear will probably work out too, but I do think I'll get axle weights since that's easy (truck stop) and corner weights if I find one of my old racecar buddies who still has scales. Our nearest track closed several years ago so lots of guys have move onto other interests and sold off old hobbies for new.

Incidentally, the van's only fuel tank is 22 gallons and is the rear tank, middle of the frame, behind the axle. If I had dual tanks I'd be taking the side (front) tank into account as well.
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Picked up an underbody propane tank yesterday. Has the low fittings, so no body mods required. 10" D x 22" L. Several hundred dollars cheaper than new, in excellent condition. Holds 5.5 gallons, a little more than the "20 lb" size common to BBQ grills. Smaller than I'd like (the 32" long tank holds 8 gallons) but the price was right. Maybe I'll find another shorty and fit them both.
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Bought a 5 speed donor. Has 3.55 axle gears. Just happened to be a couple hundred miles from home and at the top of some of the steepest mountains in the state. Driving it home I observed it would pull cleanly from any speed above 35 mph in 5th gear. That's about 1,200 rpm. My van is certainly heavier, etc etc so call it 1,400 rpm. 1,400 just happens to be 70% of the engine's peak torque rpm, 2,000. Peak hp is at 3,400. I'm going to replace the stock fiber timing gears with an all metal set and advance the cam relative to the crank so that should improve low rpm performance which I want and hamper high rpm performance which i don't care about. The thing will run 90 now without overdrive so I'm good with top speed. So that gives me 1,400 as the minimum in-gear rpm and I can upshift at any point but ideally not above 2,200.

I mention all that because I haven't swapped the 5 speed in yet and I'm being enticed by a 4 speed overdrive because of its external slave cylinder.

So I'm working on a comparison of those.
Bought the 4 speed van. Think I've convinced myself to go with the 4 speed. The external slave cylinder is the reason. I plan to own the van a LONG time and I fully expect to have to replace a slave cylinder in that time. With the 4 speed, it's a 10 minute thing. With the 5 speed, it's at least a 10 hour thing without a lift and will probably require a new clutch since a failed internal slave typucally leaks onto the clutch. That clutch will require a new or resurfaced flywheel. Those parts aren't terribly common and a machine shop isn't located in all the places i like to go, nor are they all reliable. I just feel much better knowing all the hydraulics are external. The ratios aren't as good and I'll just have to live with that.

The hunt is on now to find the best hydraulic setup. Wagner CM110710 looks like a metal body in a sea of plastics. 7/8" bore. Exedy SC728 is another metal-bodied cylinder, 1" bore. You can tell by bore sizes Ford was getting some mechanical advantage out of the hydraulics, which is fairly unusual. Most hydraulic clutches are 1:1. Russell 640281 adapters should allow connecting the master and slave with a -3AN line instead of the OE plastic stuff.
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Had another crazy idea. Use a 4 speed with a moderate 1st (not a "granny gear" but not a car transmission) and longer axle gears to bridge the gap between stump pulling and landspeed racing.

1-2 (3.25-1.94) 60%
2-3 (1.94-1.00) 52%
3-4 (1.00-0.78) 22%

T19 (Medium)
1-2 (5.11-3.03) 41%
2-3 (3.03-1.79) 41%
3-4 (1.79-1.00) 44%

SMOD with 3.55s is effectively 2.77s in 4th gear and 11.54 in 1st. T19 with 2.73s is 2.73s in 4th and 13.95 in 1st.

The biggest problem is that particular T19 is fairly rare. Was only made 1983-85. The more common model has a 4.0 1st gear which is actually worse than the SMOD when paired with 2.73s. The next problem is I have 3.55s and 3.08s, not 2.73s. A deeper 1st would be useless 99.9% of the time and no matter what 1st is, 2.73 is about the tallest gear I can use at the top. Guess the SMOD is pretty good afterall.

1-2 (3.90-2.25) 43%
2-3 (2.25-1.49) 34%
3-4 (1.49-1.00) 33%
4-5 (1.00-0.80) 20%

M5 with 3.55s is effectively 2.84s in 5th and 13.88 in 1st. Not quite the spread of the T19 but much better hill climbing with smaller steps between gears.

1-2 (5.72-2.94) 49%
2-3 (2.94-1.61) 46%
3-4 (1.61-1.00) 38%
4-5 (1.00-0.76) 24%

ZF5 with 3.55s is 2.70 in 5th (2.83 with 3.73s) and 20.31 in 1st (21.34 with 3.73s). No wonder they're so popular (and expensive) but too bad about that internal slave.
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