2wd E-350 Chinook upgrade to 4x4 using "F" series donor

68camaro

Any River...Any Place
Hi all, I have a 2001 E-350 V10 Chinook Motorhome (Dually) I am considering upgrading to 4x4. Installer recomends finding a F250 - F350 V10 4x4 donor vehicle and swapping in its 4x4 system. Would I need to look for a 4x4 dually or can I go to SRW?

He thinks I can find approp F-250-F350 for $5 - $6k and just swap out 4x4 sytem. He estimated 70 hours or less, so we'd be looking at parts/labor of $12k plus tires for a 4x4 lifted to 4-6". I just put new Power Stop brakes on so I would like to keep these.

He thought a V10 F-250 or F-350 Superduty 4x4 would work. This is very interesting, does anyone see issues with going this route. He does a lot of fabricating and said although a lot of work its fairly easy just time consuming.

Any thoughts or advice on those that did this?



Thanks
 

45Kevin

Adventurer
I would think $5-6K would get you new parts.
Why not find a truck in the junkyard you can strip the parts from?

There are several build threads on this forum doing exactly the same thing you propose.
 

68camaro

Any River...Any Place
Thanks, I'll do a search. It seems anythime I've looked in junkyard most donors vehicles already pretty stripped, but by finding a complete reasonably priced unit I figure I can find all parts in a single swoop as opposed to hunting over time.
 

Mwilliamshs

Explorer
Your donor needn't be v10 unless you're looking for engine parts too.

Try parts shopping on car-part.com for cost comparison.
 

Pinnacle Campers

Chateau spotter
There is more threads on this forum section alone on converting e series chassis to 4x4 than all of the internet.
Maybe do some research? There are recipes (and parts) for doing this.
The truck suspension connection points don't blend very well with the van chassis. That is if I'm interpreting the comment from your installer, "swapping in its 4x4 system" correctly.
 

Vandit

Observer
The frames between the E-series and the F-series are different. That means that your fabricator's suggestion of simply just swapping the truck 4x4 onto the van chassis won't be possible without custom fabrication of parts. Are there lots of talented fabricators out there who can do this? Absolutely. Will they be able to do it in 70 hours and have the final product drive, handle, and be as reliable as an F-series? Probably not.

Lots of people have designed their own van conversions. Some have done it successfully and have awesome driving rigs. However, I think a good majority of these endeavors end up in 2 scenarios: 1) A converted rig that took twice (maybe thrice) as much time, effort, and money as originally estimated or 2) a successfully converted vehicle that suffers from lots of drivability issues.

Fortunately for you however, there are several companies out there that have done all of the work and research for you. A couple of these companies have successfully converted 100's of vans, but most importantly they have refined their systems by drawing on their vast experience of doing lots of conversions over the years and having lots of seat time and customer feedback. They also know what axles and from which years are compatible with what years of vans and can easily answer your question about going SRW or keeping the dually with the info about the pros/cons of each and what will be necessary to make it work.

A lot of these inquiries usually start out with someone thinking that they can complete a conversion for half of what one of the established companies charge. But in your situation it already sounds like you're okay with the idea that the cost of the conversion being around $12k. For that money you're in the ballpark of having a proven company do your conversion or getting an already established DIY kit and having your local guy install it.

My first 4x4 van was a one-off, homebrew. The welding was immaculate and the fab work was top notch. However, the van didn't ride and drive that great. It took hours and hours of driving, tweaking, driving, tweaking, re-doing, and tweaking until I got it dialed in. I think the converter was a great fab guy, but didn't have the hours behind the wheel of his work to get it dialed in properly. Successfully welding on some parts isn't the same as some very important design decisions like front end geometry, caster, spring rates, turning radius etc. How much time and money are you willing to throw at it with someone figuring it out on the fly?

If I were you, my first call would be to Ujoint Offroad. Not only do they have years of experience converting vans, they have also done tons of larger Class B's and Class C's. They also offer their conversion in a DIY kit form which you could have your fab guy install. You can also source your own axles with the Ujoint kit (they can tell you exactly what years are compatible) or you can order already rebuilt units from them (pricey, but completely rebuilt). They've already done the homework and research. I would at least give them a call.

Depending on where you're located, I would also look into Agile Offroad (no DIY kit though, installation has to be done by them) and Expovans. Each company installs a different front end suspension: Ujoint (Leaf Sprung), Agile (TTB) and Expovans (Coil Sprung). The knowledge these guys have about the van platform is astounding. All of these companies also stand behind their products and provide customer support.

A couple final considerations to think about:

Spending a lot of money to have a van that sucks to drive, doesn't perform up to expectations, or is simply unsafe, is a hard pill to swallow. Google or search "Javier Vans" for an example.

Expecting a smooth running 4x4 van at the end of 2 weeks of work time and not seeing the completed van for 6 months also sucks. This has happened to lots of people since it's not a bolt-on swap from an F-series.

Don't underestimate the time it will take your guy to research compatible parts, part #s, and design time to custom fab the parts necessary to complete a conversion on his own. All the little differences between the E-series and F-series will add up to a lot of extra time (trans conversion for 4x4, e-brake, ABS, brake lines, cross members etc) The major van converters have already done all of this work and research.

Resale of a reputable 4x4 conversion is higher. Their systems are tried, proven and well regarded at this point. Conversions are so expensive to undertake that a lot of people don't want to roll the dice on an unproven homebrew.

Whatever you decide to do, good luck. Be sure to start a build thread and post pics! The Chinook is an awesome platform.
 

68camaro

Any River...Any Place
The frames between the E-series and the F-series are different. That means that your fabricator's suggestion of simply just swapping the truck 4x4 onto the van chassis won't be possible without custom fabrication of parts. Are there lots of talented fabricators out there who can do this? Absolutely. Will they be able to do it in 70 hours and have the final product drive, handle, and be as reliable as an F-series? Probably not.

Lots of people have designed their own van conversions. Some have done it successfully and have awesome driving rigs. However, I think a good majority of these endeavors end up in 2 scenarios: 1) A converted rig that took twice (maybe thrice) as much time, effort, and money as originally estimated or 2) a successfully converted vehicle that suffers from lots of drivability issues.
Vandit, thank you for thorough and thoughtful reply. My installer does alot of Jeeps but in reading about this process and my research on Ujoint/Action Van/Weldtec on van 4x4 upgrades I was concerned he may have been overly optimistic in approach, that is why I can here to get opinions. For 12k I am not really interested in potential driveability issues and certainly don't want to spend months or even weeks more and thousands of dollars getting it dialed in.

A lot of these inquiries usually start out with someone thinking that they can complete a conversion for half of what one of the established companies charge. But in your situation it already sounds like you're okay with the idea that the cost of the conversion being around $12k.

If I were you, my first call would be to Ujoint Offroad........They also offer their conversion in a DIY kit form which you could have your fab guy install. You can also source your own axles with the Ujoint kit (they can tell you exactly what years are compatible) or you can order already rebuilt units from them (pricey, but completely rebuilt). They've already done the homework and research. I would at least give them a call.
When speaking with conversion shops above they usually quote $20k plus to do themselves, and based on cost of rig if I was gong to sink this much in, plus tires, I would seriously consider another rig. My installer is $95/hr, if I bought a UJoint 4" (but concerned about using their 3" rear blocks) coil over conversion for $4k, sourced own axle do you think I can still come in around $12k? They have 6" kit with leaf springs running 35" tires but max tire I want to go is 33". So custom leaf springs may add up to $1500 to their $4k cost of 4" kit.

Depending on where you're located, I would also look into Agile Offroad (no DIY kit though, installation has to be done by them) and Expovans. Each company installs a different front end suspension: Ujoint (Leaf Sprung), Agile (TTB) and Expovans (Coil Sprung). The knowledge these guys have about the van platform is astounding. All of these companies also stand behind their products and provide customer support.
ExpoVans is no longer doing conversions but has group sale thru 9/31/18 on 4x4 conversion parts/brackets with detailed instructions on what additional parts are needed, however this still seems way too complicated for me...I am OK writing check but way too busy to chase down parts. Ujoint isclosest to me in VA, and they have a new radius arm/coil over front suspension for the E series vans coming, not sure on timing or exact benefits/drawbacks.

A couple final considerations to think about:
Couldn't agree more on your final points. I will say one thing that is a bit frustrating is tying to get timely communication over phone/email from companies doing these conversions, I do understand it though. They probably get a ton of calls/inquiries from guys just kicking tires or with no real intent to buy so they need to be protective of their time.

Whatever decision I make my goal is to get done for Overland East. Thank you again.
 

ujoint

Supporting Sponsor
All of this advice is good! There are too many differences between the E & F series chassis, it usually doesn't work out to get a donor truck unless the price is really really cheap and you have the time to tear it down along with the time to build the van. Check out the RVs we've build, we have a solid recipe for making the big boys perform much better than stock while adding 4wd. If you want to speak with some owners or need a price shoot me an email. chris@ujointoffroad.com
 

68camaro

Any River...Any Place
All of this advice is good! There are too many differences between the E & F series chassis, it usually doesn't work out to get a donor truck unless the price is really really cheap and you have the time to tear it down along with the time to build the van. Check out the RVs we've build, we have a solid recipe for making the big boys perform much better than stock while adding 4wd. If you want to speak with some owners or need a price shoot me an email. chris@ujointoffroad.com
Thanks Chris, I got your email and responded.
 

Vandit

Observer
When speaking with conversion shops above they usually quote $20k plus to do themselves, and based on cost of rig if I was gong to sink this much in, plus tires, I would seriously consider another rig. My installer is $95/hr, if I bought a UJoint 4" (but concerned about using their 3" rear blocks) coil over conversion for $4k, sourced own axle do you think I can still come in around $12k? They have 6" kit with leaf springs running 35" tires but max tire I want to go is 33". So custom leaf springs may add up to $1500 to their $4k cost of 4" kit.
It looks like you and Chris have finally connected, so hopefully you can get all the pricing info and options you need to help you decide. Since you have the dually you have a couple more considerations than a regular conversion, but I know that Chris will have some good guidance as to what might work best for your rig.

I will say one thing that is a bit frustrating is tying to get timely communication over phone/email from companies doing these conversions, I do understand it though. They probably get a ton of calls/inquiries from guys just kicking tires or with no real intent to buy so they need to be protective of their time.
I know it can be frustrating, but you're right. With the onslaught of "vanlife" I'm sure these guys are getting inundated with tons of inquiries daily. I think a lot of new enthusiasts are seeing 4x4 vans on Instagram and thinking it would be cool to have, but aren't coming into this from any background in off-roading and don't know much about vans and platforms so they just don't have any realistic ideas on cost. So they reach out to these companies with the anticipation of pricing in the $5k or less range and are blown away when they find out that there is way more that goes into this.

All of these van converters are pretty small operations and tire kickers can eat up tons of shop time with casual inquiries. However, from your post it's clear that you've been doing your research and are serious and it's obvious that Chris has picked up on that so hopefully you can get it worked out and on your way to a 4x4 Chinook.

Keep us posted!
 
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