The black van is a Chevy Express 3500 2WD passenger van that I converted in 2017.
I removed all the interior fit out- seats, mounting rails, seat belts, trim panels and headliner. The seat mounting rails were the hardest. They were fastened with stud bolts and nuts under the floor that could not be gotten to in a lot of places. Had to drill around the bolt heads with a hole saw to get them out. This was a pain, so be prepared if you decide to go this route!
The pop-top was built over the winter in my garage. I made a model of what I wanted out of wood and extruded polystyrene (EXPS) and covered it with epoxy resin and fiberglass. Finished it smooth with Bondo and then cast a polyester resin and fiberglass mold on top of that. Then I was able to cast my finished parts from the molds. More on that here: http://www.sportsmobileforum.com/forums/f24/big-mike-a-diy-fiberglass-v-top-tutorial- 19778.html. The fairing was given a flange, insulated and bolted to the cab roof. The lid was insulated with EXPS, given a perimeter frame of 1/2″ baltic birch for attaching the mechanicals and tent, and then given a layer of epoxy glass and headliner material, then came the hard part,
cutting out the roof opening. You probably know the old saying” measure twice and cut once”, I measured about four times, put masking tape on the lines, measured again and then cut it out with a 7″x 1/8″metal cutting wheel on an angle head grinder. Welded together a 4’x10′ steel frame 6″ high and welded it to the opening. I used Sikaflex sealant to waterproof the exterior of the curb. Lifting hinges were fabricated and installed along with a pair of 120# gas springs. I had a local canvas shop fabricate the tent and I installed it with aluminum strips and Sikaflex. With the top done, I could stand up inside and move on to the next phases.
Insulation was a combination of 1” EXPS, “ Great stuff” triple expanding foam (3xF) and fiberglass batts. EXPS was cut to closely fit openings, glued in and filled in with 3xF. Hard to access areas in door panels etc. were stuffed with batts using a stick. I went through a case and a half of 3x foam. The floor was patterned and I cut 1” EXPS and 3/8” CDX plywood to this. With 3xF and self tapping screws at hand, I quickly filled the ribs in the floor with foam, put down the pre-cut foam panels in sections, covered it with the plywood and screwed through both to the high ribs underneath. I built the wall panels out of 3/16” luan plywood cut from patterns that I had scribed on rosin paper. Panels were covered with a grey indoor/outdoor carpet glued on with Wilsonart spray contact cement. Main wall panels I pop-riveted on to the body frame where they are very unlikely to ever need to be removed. Door panels were attached with truss-head screws.
The electrical system is a pair of 110 AH, 6V golf cart batteries, wired in series to provide 12v. A Tripplite 3000W. 3 stage charger / inverter provides shore power and keeps the batteries topped up for maximum battery life. An automatic relay switch allows thebatteries to be charged when driving. I was going to put 200 watts of solar initially, but we use this vehicle as a weekender mostly, and haven’t found a need for it yet. When my long-suffering wife finally gets to retire and we go off grid for longer periods, I will probably put it in. The electrical demand items include a 12v ARB compressor refrigerator, 8 LED lights, heater fan, and water pump all wired to a 110vac/12vdc distribution panel.
Cabinets were made from ¾” cherry plywood, scribed to the walls and attached to the floor with glue and pocket screws. Countertops are laminate and butcher block maple. I got a $10- double basin sink at the local re-store, Cut it into two single basins and under mounted it to the maple top. Water system was initially a hand pump but has been replaced by a 12v diaphragm pump and single handle tap. 2-5 gallon water jugs for supply and a 5 gallon pail with a mason jartype lid catches the gray water. In the wintertime I just pull out the removable pump and store it. The 5 gal. jugs have pour spouts and I just dispense water from these as needed, Simple.
The propane system is a 9 gallon horizontal tank with a 2 stage regulator mounted under the van on the driver side. 3/8” soft copper pipe runs underneath to the 2 burner stove and 18,000 BTU furnace, both Suburban brand. I covered all exposed pipe underside with loom material to avoid damage from road debris. I made the upper bunk platform out of OSB and covered it with padded headliner material.
The mattress is 5” of poly foam 2” soft and 3” firm glued together and sewn into a cotton cover. When the bed is not in use, it gets attached to the lid with two river straps and rises up along with the top. The main cabin cushions are 4” of poly foam, 2” soft and 2” firm, glued together and covered in zippered cases made by a local upholsterer. The rear seating area converts into a double bed when we don’t want to put the top up or lose too much heat. I made insulated curtains for the tent and they attach to the lid with snaps and work really well at keeping the cabin cozy in cold weather. Finish flooring is thin vinyl snap lock strips installed after all cabinetry was in. The front passenger seat got a swivel base and I installed a “gate-leg” auxiliary table in the side door opening. (You can’t have enough counter and work space.)
This project was a boatload of work and I have absolutely no idea how many thousands of hours I have into it. That being said, it was worth every minute that I spent. This is a great vehicle- small enough to go unnoticed when we want, but large and flexible enough to be very comfortable. I am now involved in building another one now that I have apparently forgotten how much work they are. I am adding some upgrades and improvements and will post a write-up when it is done.