98 E-350 Type II McCoy Miller Ambulance Conversion

Hey all. I've lurked for ~2.5 years now and picked up a ton of info (thanks!), and started a thread here. I figured I probably needed to move it under 4wd (and 2WD) Camper Vans since I'm converting it.

I originally joined recently at the recommendation of Austin Cabot who undertook a similar conversion before selling his van. I live in the greater Charlotte, NC area, work full-time, have 3 kids (twin girls, 9, and an 13-year-old son), and undertake various home improvement and car projects. I'm an active High Performance Driving Event (HPDE) coach and am working driving a 1999 base model Corvette. As the Vette gets more track/safety oriented it will become less ideal to drive it to and from the track with my 4x6 trailer behind it. So the ambulance build is primarily for towing and sleeping in the paddock but will also be a base camp and/or camping vehicle for outdoor adventures with the family. While I've owned and tracked lots of different cars, I'm pretty new to vans and the community, so if I say something dumb I apologize in advance. :) I'll post build pics/info and questions if I'm unable to locate something here.

I found the ambo on CL 3 hours from here. The guy bought it from auction and had plans to convert it for camping with his son but had to drop the project since it sat awhile and he was starting to get threatening letters from his HOA that he'd get fined if he didn't move it. It has 470k on it but the 7.3L toorbo diesel and I'm sure 2-3x that in run time. I used uShip to get it local and to a trusted diesel mechanic. He went through it thoroughly and replaced relatively basic things: both batteries, intake tube, glow plug relay, fuel filter, oil and filter, and a couple of other minor things. He noted it as being in surprisingly good shape for the age & mileage, that it made good power, and that the trans was "tight." Phew. In driving it around there are no discernable issues aside from needing to idle it for 30-60 minutes before driving.

Most of my progress to date is gutting the rear to make way for new stuff, but I've done a couple of "fun" things too. In terms of how things will flow from here, I'd normally work in chronological order to current day, but I'm really excited about the roof rack we built last weekend so I'll start there then work my way forward. :)
 
I've been thinking about a roof rack for awhile, to mount solar, allow access to the to-be-mounted rooftop A/C unit, and to have an "observation deck" for use in outdoor activities and to get a better view of the racetrack when I take it there. I was talking to a good friend of mine VK who's a draftsman by trade and a very talented fabricator, who's dealing with massive boredom from COVID lockdown and offered to help plan and execute. He likes to plan the ******** outta projects to reduce the number of trips you have to make when you undertake something like this. The planning was extensive and was 100% worth it, in addition to it being kinda fun to bounce drawings and ideas off one another, make to-do lists that aren't for my actual job, and iterate through all the details. On the minus side, thinking about this stuff tends to impact my ability to sleep...oh well, YOLO.

Despite diligent planning, every project has unknowns that could derail / elongate the timeline. Our biggest unknown was how we relate the roll structure location to the topper. The rack has to look centered on the topper, which is centered on the van (at least on the long axis). The roll structure, while plenty structurally since ambulances are mandated to have rollover protection, looks like it was welded by someone who bought a welder, watched a few YouTube videos, then decided to drink heavily before practicing. That created a lot of uncertainty, over-measuring, and minor adjustments on the fly. Thankfully VK is really good at this.

We started by locating two center points in the topper. We were able to use a centered midship antenna hole for the first, and located a second center point at the back by measuring side-to-side with a tape measure and flat surface against the side of the topper, then using another piece of threaded rod to serve as a physical reference. This was just aft of the rear red flasher and helped us to translate the side to the top since the topper is a relatively complex shape. We then tied a string around both bolts, pulled it tight, and marked a line in the middle of each roll hoop. VK designed the feet to be 17.5" from the centerline, so we marked that distance out on each hoop and used a laser to ensure they were all linear.







 
With the attachment points being located, the next step was to drill holes through the topper and attach the uprights that VK designed (drawings below). We agreed on 10 of them, given we'd have some overhang on the front and they would need to support the weight of the rack, solar panels, Trex, and 1-2 people on the "observation deck."

It became clear, quickly, that going outside-in wouldn’t work without making much larger holes in the topper than we need, which increases leak risk. So it had to be inside-out, which left the challenge of "how?"

I bought a couple of hole saws and noticed the pilot bit diameters were all 1/4". As it turned out I already had a 12" long drill bit in 1/4" flavor, so I had the idea to attach a jig to the roll structure that would allow me to drill straight up through the topper. It would have to attach to the structure in a movable fashion the produce repeatable holes since we needed to drill 10 of them. I couldn't find any pipe or material with a 1/4" I.D. in short order, so we drilled holes in a couple of scrap pieces and VK tacked it all together.









We had to iterate through which hole saw to use, because a bigger hole allowed more wiggle room (lol) but would be harder to seal. We ended up using 1 1/2" but decided that were we to do this again, the plates that sit on top and below would be more workable if they were larger, to increase the ratio between the hole drilled and sealing surface. We didn't have time to get a new batch made, so we agreed that the marine sealant Jason recommended would be needed. I had some trouble locating it but was able to find it through a local marine shop that uses a common warehouse with other shops. After getting one hole located to test the process, we drilled 3 more to locate our corners, then installed the uprights without sealant and clamped the long members in place to ensure we were equidistant front-to-back.













 

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Next we drilled the other 6 holes. The other 6 uprights were installed, feet tacked attached to the uprights, and location tested to ensure we were on track. Only 1, maybe 2 feet were slightly off from the long member but we determined we could weld shims in place to make up the difference. Then, in an incredibly satisfying moment, all were welded to the roll structure.





 
With the long members/rails located, the next step was to actually build the thing. VK's cut sheet was infinitely helpful in driving things forward, with me cutting as he was welding or working on something else. While things went pretty well, cutting was a bit of a challenge because it was hard to see the lines I made on the material. Ultimately it took me a little longer to cut certain lengths/angles and I had a few waste pieces, but I saved the shortest lengths to last (13" and 6") so I was able to keep waste to a minimum.



On cutting the 6" pieces, Vincent recommended a fence / positive stop since I needed to cut 24 of them, and that was a huge win.



Progress on the last day or so *seemed* much better, but the reality is that Friday, Saturday, and half of Sunday were spent doing "foundational" work. Meaning it took us most of that time to get the long rails in place. Even making the long rails was challenging, since the overall length of the rack is over 14' and the pieces were cut to 10' nominal. VK had the great idea to join pieces using a piece of round pipe from Lowe's that slid into the 1" square tubing. He welded the pipe into one piece of tube, then the other, and welded the connection, which created pieces that were stronger probably than a simple 14' long piece. I'll say that with the amount of work that went into joining those pieces and a few screw-ups on my part, those long pieces took a LOT longer than the others.

The work area:



Corner jig:



Basic lower frame:



Nighttime welding to the long rails:




How we started Monday morning:



Semi-finished product after VK left Monday:



Foot detail:

 

Bikersmurf

Expedition Leader
In driving it around there are no discernable issues aside from needing to idle it for 30-60 minutes before driving.
30-60 minutes? Tell me you are joking.

If it’s below freezing I’ll idle for 30-60 seconds before moving. I then take it easy for 5-10 minutes... it’ll be a bit sluggish for a few minutes till the combustion chamber warms up.
 
30-60 minutes? Tell me you are joking.

If it’s below freezing I’ll idle for 30-60 seconds before moving. I then take it easy for 5-10 minutes... it’ll be a bit sluggish for a few minutes till the combustion chamber warms up.
I haven't endeavored to see how much less than that I can get away with, but 30-60 seconds is definitely not enough....it idles too rough to move.
 
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dcguillory

Adventurer
I haven't endeavored to see how much less than that I can get away with, but 30-60 seconds is definitely not enough....it idles too rough to move.
I have had that crazy long warm up and super rough idle in the past. Was always due to bad oil. Either to long between changes or the wrong oil. That was my experience
 
I have had that crazy long warm up and super rough idle in the past. Was always due to bad oil. Either to long between changes or the wrong oil. That was my experience
Interesting. It had an oil change about 300 miles ago, but that mileage was accumulated over 1.5 years lol.
 

thefiringline

New member
Those rough idle and long warm up symptoms tell me you may have a fuel or oiling issue, bad injector or two, maybe a sensor like the ICP or IPR going bad because the injectors on the 7.3 Powerstroke are powered by high pressure oil. Check out these articles from a website that has helped me a good deal with my 2003:

Sucks you took it to a mechanic and he wasn't able to sniff the issue out. At any rate, I consider a programmer like a DP Tuner Infinity or SCT Livewire an essential piece of kit on a 7.3 just because when you run it on your vehicle, it allows you to see all the important PID's in real time. I have the Infinity and it is also able to run the Diesel codes for the check engine light as well as the regular OBDII codes, injector buzz test, etc. Mine has helped me out alot in that respect.

Really dig your rack setup through the fiberglass ambulance topper by the way.
 

Bikersmurf

Expedition Leader
I’d also suspect injectors aren’t at 100%... there are some additives that Claim to help. I’m newer to diesels and don’t want to be perceived as an expert.

@Abitibi recently swapped out some ‘03 injectors that were working well when he swapped in bigger ones. I don’t know if he has plans for them or not.
 

Pangle

Wanderer
If you have not found a solution for the rough idle you should get an oil additive called Archoil.. Designed specifically for powerstrokes with hard start, rough idle etc..

edit: this just popped up today..





 
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thefiringline

New member
Here's another good article.

My 03 Super Duty is my first diesel. I'm also kinda learning as I'm going and the high pressure electronic injection system on the 7.3 powerstroke definitely does have alot of parts and sensors that can cause issues that seem like other types of problems. What makes me think you have a fuel/oil pressure issue is that the problem generally remedies after a long warm up period when the oil becomes hotter and thinner. I haven't had an injector or part of the high pressure oil system fail yet (230,000 miles), but I have had glow plug components fail and in my experience, they cause a rough start issue but will also pretty much trigger a code. Also with the plugs, whatever rough start/smoke/rough idle on start up quickly goes away within minutes once the motor fires. Fluctuating oil pressure and injector pressure doesn't seem like it will throw a code unless the sensors fail altogether or ICP pressure completely drops.

Also replace your crank position sensor. That's a cheap fix if its contributing to your issue but I doubt it. Mine was causing a surge and killed the motor in a parking lot a couple of times. I replaced it and that problem went away.
 
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