1982 Fleet Flatbed Conversion Project

#1
New-ish member here. I picked up an 82' Grandby a few weeks ago to try out this whole truck camper thing. I have one poor quality picture for now..
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I've used one truck camper before; it was a monstrosity S&S in an F250, dry weight of 3k lbs. The comfort was nice but I was glad I didn't own it as it was terrifying to drive (I drove ~600 miles in CO with it). I wanted something cheap, light, with comforts (cold beer & a stove out of the wind!) that I could wheel back to my favorite lakes in the Rockies on my F150. After reading ExPo & WtW I realized an old FWC fit the bill.

It's rough and needs work, but I'm not one to be without a project. It will be hauled on my 96' F150 flatbed. The truck has a mildly built 351W engine (last fall's project), 4x4, auto, 33" LT tires, heavier springs all around, front & rear sway bars, and Bilstein 4600 shocks so it handles the Grandby pretty well. I built the flatbed to haul snowmobiles a few years ago (light-ish construction). It is 90" wide and sits above the frame high enough for under deck ramp storage. This isn't ideal for a camper hauler. If I fall in love with the camper, I'll build a camper specific flatbed (lower, lighter, 3 pt mount) and widen the floor pack. For now, I'll bolt the camper down as is and just not wheel too hard.

On to the camper... The camper fridge and stove work great. Sink hand pump works, but the drain needed replaced. Someone tried their hand at narrowing this Grandby for new trucks (terrible work), and removed the heater. I'll use a Buddy Heater as needed for now. The electrical was in shambles when I bought it, but the lights worked when given power. My first project was electrical. I started by wiring a 7 pin plug to charge a 105amp/hr deep cycle battery while driving (30amp breaker added, used 10ga marine wire, and these Ford's have a built in isolator on 30A circuit). Next I wired in a 6 spot fuse panel (50A breaker between panel & battery, 6ga wire used). Next I tied the lights into the panel, added three 12V outlets, and a dual USB port. A 100W solar panel is in the plan before winter. On the first trip, the truck charged up the battery fully on the 100 mile trip there, we discharged it a bit at camp, and it was fully charged when home again, so the charge setup works for now.

The lift panels are gone; and the canvas is shot. This is a budget project, so I'll be replacing the canvas myself and rebuilding lift panels sooner than later.

There was some water intrusion on the drive home in the rain/snow after purchasing. I know some of this is the bad canvas, but I checked over the roof too. It needed a reseal. I wanted to camp in this thing last weekend, so after cleaning out old sealer, I used a roof sealer that was available locally on Friday. I resealed the perimeter trim and each screw. The vent doesn't leak, and looked to have been replaced fairly recently. No leaks sitting in the driveway since doing that (top down).

I have removed ~100 lbs of "extra" wood that a PO (previous owner) seemed to screw down for no apparent reason. The PO was a hack. I'm sure I started with a terribly rough camper, but it'll come around with time. I'm fighting a strong urge to strip this down to the frame, re-skin, new insulation, new interior panels, flatbed floor pack, and build a 3 point flatbed mount, but I've seen how long those builds normally take, and cost, and I want to be mountain biking this summer so a simple refresh/reseal is my current plan.

Anyway, I figured I'd share my progress, maybe a few trip reports, and join your fine community. I should have time this weekend to get some more work done, and I'll take better pictures then.

EDIT: It's actually a Fleet! Built August 1981. It was advertised as a Grandby, and was modified from original Fleet dimensions, so I never questioned it.
 
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#2
Escalated quickly

I was doing some poking around this evening, discovered the floor pack was rotted near the rear window. I knew it wasn't great there, but this was badddd. I think water was running down the corner post, from the leaking roof, and rotted this corner. I could patch this back together, but then I'll be patching things to get by for years, and each time it needed repair I'd spend a day thinking about a full rebuild.
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It'll be better for me to just get busy now (busier). One thing lead to another, I removed the rotten section and part of the floor pack and have decided I'm going to gut this thing and do a flatbed floor pack. I've been in tents hundreds of nights..what's another summer of it :ylsmoke:
 
#3
I'm completely rebuilding a 79 Grandby. I concur a rebuild is in order, especially if you are going flatbed. Just my opinion though, you aren't going to cause any more damage than you would have to fix anyhow, I'd patch it and use it this summer. You will get to know the camper and what ways you could improve it to meet your needs. Now if you don't have a place to do the build during the winter, maybe you should start now.
 
#4
I appreciate your input; a dose of sage advice is always welcome. I have some options, at my place I'm limited to a 1 car garage (minimal heating) and somewhat minimal shop. If I were to take a mini vacation and visit family, they run a full fab shop where I can tig weld aluminum and make anything I can dream up but wouldn't be able to do that for some time (I live in WY, they're in MN). Being a single young guy with fabrication experience and some construction experience I'm cautiously optimistic I can crank this out rather quickly now, and intend to do that.

A complicating factor is that I'll be aiming to finish grad school late in the fall; I would like to have the camper ready to go for that time period as I doubt I'll have much time to build but will very much benefit from the mental reprieve that adventures provide. Plus, who knows, maybe I won't find work right away and I'll spend the winter biking, splitboarding, & snowmobiling out of this thing...one can dream anyway!
 
#6
I'll have to check out your thread on WtW.

I ended up spending the weekend rebuilding the front end of the truck. It was getting unruly, especially with weight on the deck. New ball joints and a tweak to the alignment has it driving well again.

Hopefully I can squeeze in the tear down this week. We're forecasted a snowstorm toward the end of the week..so next weekend might be spent playing in powder. Some models show 30"+ for the local range, it would be great to get the moisture!
 
#9
Flatbed specific. I built this flatbed a couple years ago and have no regrets removing the pickup box. The pickup box may look better, but for me, the flatbed suits my uses better. I anticipate going with flatbeds for future trucks too.

I'm struggling with how I want to build the new floor pack. The options are: adding to the aluminum tube frame as I've seen a few guys do; versus riveting aluminum angle to the existing frame, and screw/glue a plywood floor pack to the resultant lip (use plywood to extend the walls down). The plywood sides would be covered by siding on the outside, so appearance wise it makes no difference. I foresee a slight weight penalty, but this is negligible I think. My motivation here is that the extended tube frame necessitates aluminum welding (I'd need to either pay someone or take a little "vacation" to MN to do it myself), while I can do the other approach with the tools I have on hand. I have not seen this approach, it just sort of hit me as an option the other day. I realize I won't be able to insulate the lower wall sections with my idea. Thoughts?

Are you making your own replacement canvas?
 
#10
Building the floor pack for a flatbed will certainly give you a lot more interior room. But if you are planning off roading expeditions, you could build some boxes on the sides for all your gear. When you are up to your butt in mud, you may not want to start throwing stuff in the camper. If you build straight walls from the bottom up, you need to think about the cost of siding, it gets expensive! I've got about $600 in re siding mine. The original siding is stapled to the aluminum tubing and there's no easy or clean way to disassemble it for reuse. Overall, it sounds like your camper was in slightly better shape than mine, My floor pack was trash, the interior was trash, cat piss cushions, no lift panels at all, and the canvas was shot! From the original camper I salvaged the aluminum frame, the windows, the sink and the roof. I'm paneling the inside this week, then I will build the lift panels and then make the canvas sides. The end is in sight. The only thing I farmed out so far is the aluminum welding.
 
#11
I'm headed down the same road as you in terms of full rebuild... I was originally hoping not to, but deep down I knew what was coming. I see you paid $400 for your camper. I paid $580. It sounds like we each did okay there, at least for FWC pricing. $600 in siding is a lot though. Looking through your thread, it appears half of that is in the VHB tape! That''s good you're nearing the finish, it looks very well done. I'm sure you and your wife are getting excited to go for the first trip!

My camper probably had a better floor pack and the fridge works well, but that may be about it? It is rotten in places, and poorly modified in others. The previous owner told me that before they purchased it, it had been narrowed, and this work was questionably done (see pictures). The canvas is junk in my camper: near fist sized holes in the corners and just dry as can be. I'm planning to order 18oz vinyl coated polyester fabric and making a new one. My roof will work, but like you I have no lift panels (though I do have lift struts). Some hail damage on the roof but that's just cosmetic. The headliner is rough, I'll redo that when I do the canvas. Mine had no cushions, which is fine with me.

Fortunately, around here there isn't all that much mud. It's mostly rock that poses the challenges, so I'm not too concerned with dirty storage areas. The back seat of the pickup will give me more than enough extra storage space. All recovery gear fits in a box at the rear of the flatbed too (straps, tire chains, etc.). With a half ton truck, it's important to keep storage space in check, because storage equals stuff, and stuff is heavy!

Work has been slow today and yesterday, three projects are held up waiting on various things to arrive, my fourth is dead in the water for the time being, so I went in today, twiddled my thumbs, read a journal article, did some training of a new lab member, and went home. The weather was not looking good for mountain biking so I gutted the camper, and found some interesting things.
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This showcases the fine craftsmanship of a previous owner. This is where the heater once resided, and where they narrowed it, or something?
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I removed the appliances first.
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Then the counter came off. There were two layers of plywood on top of the ply making up the horizontal portion of the floor pack here. The truck we used to haul this two weekends ago for a night of camping leaned to the driver side pretty heavily. Now I know why. There was easily twice the wood on this side, plus appliances. I'll be moving propane storage forward and down, water tank forward and down, and the battery will be against the cab.
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This shows that when the camper was modified for a narrower truck, it was also raised by extending the framing with steel tube structure bolted to the aluminum frame (look at the bottom of the aluminum tube frame near the floor). I'm 6'4" and have about an inch above my head when standing in this camper. No wonder this thing's cab-over TOWERS over the cab of my pickup.
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Other side.
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This is at the doorway, again, you can see the frame extension.

The steel tube frame extensions have me thinking. I could easily do that with the tools I have. I would use 16 ga steel instead of the 11ga that's currently on there, but the idea doesn't seem half bad. I do think I'll eliminate this extra height in the floor pack. Since I'm doing my own canvas, I can easily make it taller there, and cut way down of wind drag going down the road. I currently have something like 12" of cab to cabover clearance.
 
#13
Yep it'll be a bit of work. But it has to wait for spring to return. Today is winter with 8" sitting on the camper and plenty more coming. Biggest storm of the year here.
 
#14
After waiting for this snow to melt...I was able to do some work yesterday.
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I've got it stripped down pretty far now.
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I'll get it in the garage on level ground before starting on the new lower tube frame. I've been planning interior layout some.

Anyone ever tried HH-66 vinyl cement to make their own replacement canvas, rather than sewing? Seems like it could work pretty well here.
 
#15
Not sure about the cement, I picked up an industrial sewing machine. Been practicing. I've got all the material on hand, screening, clear vinyl for windows, and also the canvas type material for the sides. Not sure if I want to make the lift panels first, or the canvas sides.