Astro AWD conversion

Yellowstone2Yukon

New member
Newly settled in the Pacific Northwest after years of rambling from Utah to Alaska. In all those years, I've always dreamed of having the perfect expedition camping vehicle, and what better time than now to build one?

Enter my 2005 Chevy Astro AWD.

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It's a former oxygen tank transporter. Currently has a ladder rack on the roof and a slide out vault drawer about 11" wide in the back, mostly stripped otherwise.

The plan is to have it be a base camp vehicle that has the capability to sleep two adults. As such, I'd like to be able to do some cooking and washing inside, but not planning on making it into a full-scale RV type setup. Also going to be my daily driver, so fuel economy and highway drivability are important. Here's a very rough outline of the areas for design and current priorities.

Interior:

I like the existing vault cabinet.

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The issue with it is that I don't have much use for the little bench on top of it and don't want to put the bed over it since it's on the shorter side of the vehicle. I've considered putting a twin-XL bed on the other side and putting a ceiling-length cabinet over the vault cabinet. Kitchen will be the same height as the bed and current vault cabinet centered in the back with a removable cover. That way there will be a space big enough for my feet and a walkway between bed and vault cabinet. Very crude idea of my intended layout is done in MSPaint here.

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As for bed, a VW-style deal center-facing couch that converts to bed would be nice. I'll have to get exact dimensions, but twin while folded up and full while down looks like it would fit perfectly. The existing rail in the floor would also be a good place to put it. I'm not really sure where I can source the folding bed or if I'd have to make something up myself.

Before adding much of anything to the interior, I'm going to insulate it, since I've spent a lot of time in very cold places. The rough plan is bubble wrap all around with layers over. Floor covered by carpet anywhere that winds up being exposed, durafoam ceiling, and fiberglass/vapor barrier walls. Not sure what I'm going to finish the exposed parts of the interior with, over the vapor barrier. Wood seems a bit overkill, I want something easy to clean, durable, and light.

Not sure what I'm going to do about window coverings. I'd like some kind of blackout curtain that provides insulation but can be moved out of the way between the driver's compartment and over the sliding door and back door windows.


Electric:

I plan on adding a deep cycle auxiliary battery soon. The most logical place I can think of is directly in front of the driver's side wheel well. As for an inverter, a 300+ watt pure sine inverter/charger would be ideal, and I'll definitely leave space in the box for one, but a 150-watt regular inverter in the dash area might be the first step. There's room for a lot of accessories in the dash as is, and I think I'll put my 120v and USB plugs just to the right of the stereo, where the rear climate controls would be if I had rear climate.

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Stereo also needs to be replaced and I'm going to put in something that works as a more general entertainment center when parked.

A cell phone signal booster is also pretty much a necessity for a serious expedition vehicle. Somewhat lower priority than stereo and auxiliary battery due to cost and the fact that I don't have a pressing need for it at the moment.


External:

An awning of some sort would be handy to give me space even if there's some weather. Since the kitchen will be in the back, maybe something there as well as/instead of over the sliding door?

I don't want to put too much weight on the roof. It seems like a good place to fit tent, sleeping bags, and other light but bulky equipment, but I don't really want to remove the existing ladder rack. Is there some type of Thule box or something similar that I could fit on the ladder rack? Maybe a half-length basket? The only recreational equipment I can think I'd like to have up there is a sea kayak.

I want to move the spare tire to the back door. Sharkfox had a pretty slick system for doing that. I'll also probably stick my fuel jerrycan on the other door the same way. That will probably wait until I've got new tires and wheels figured out.

I want a good brush guard and bumper, preferable with a winch and "moose lights". Looks like that will have to be custom fabricated or at least customized. Probably needs to wait for the lift to be done.


Suspension, brakes, and tires:

I'm planning on lifting it with one of the Overland kits. The 4" version seems like a better idea overall. This will wait until I need new tires, which means probably at least a year. No specific tire plans, I want something very durable that's good on the highway and efficient. I've got discs all around and I'm pretty happy with braking.


Driveline:

No current plans.


Suggestions and questions are very welcome. I'll be updating this OP in dribs and drabs as I get inspired and document the work as it goes. Parentheses will be replaced with photos very soon, other photos available by request.

I was going to link to all the Astro/Safari threads that have inspired me, but I'm not allowed to post links yet.
 
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Yellowstone2Yukon

New member
I managed to take an entire three weeks off work to do nothing but work on the conversion. Insulation and interior finish, a new roof rack, and furniture were the priorities. Electric, plumbing, and other creature comforts will have to wait a bit.

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View from the shop

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All material assembled. Steel for the roof rack, two half-inch XPS sheets, one two-inch polyiso board, three one-inch polyiso boards, two batts of wool insulation, and five sheets of quarter inch plywood. Not pictured are 1x4 and 2x4 lumber and two half inch plywood sheets, as well as furring strips and miscellaneous trim.


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Now all I have to do is rouse my shop assistant and get to work.
 

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Yellowstone2Yukon

New member


I'd already taped Reflectix over the bulkhead and the sliding door and back door windows, which I followed up by stuffing the doors with wool insulation.



Over the reflectix I added a square of one inch polyiso. You'll notice that the back doors are missing the stops that keep them from swinging out all the way and one back door and the slider are missing the sheet metal panels that go over them. I'll hopefully be able to fix those from a junkyard somewhere down the line.

I took the wool out of the back door to stuff the inside frame at this point, which is why it's no longer visible. Turns out the hollow parts swallowed two entire batts when I only planned on one, and could have fit more if I'd had more.




This is one inch polyiso glued in place with Great Stuff. In the small areas of below the midline where the sheet metal was directly exposed, I put a second layer of polyiso.
Furring strips are held in place with 1.5 inch self-tapping lathe screws. It's fairly irritating that those only come in Phillips everywhere I looked for them. The furring strips had to be interrupted for the vertical rib on the driver's side.

Lastly, cut out space for the wheel wells and gas tank with the jigsaw and screw up the quarter inch plywood walls. I looked at using fancier wood, especially being tempted with cedar strips, but decided in the end that I'd rather save the money here.
 

RVflyfish

What comes next?
I did my own 4" lift with 2" body pucks plus 2" of torsion bar preload for the front; and S10 springs in the rear. Cheaper and easier than working with Overland from what I hear. I have less than $300 into the complete lift.

The thing is, that much torsion bar preload makes the suspension pretty harsh. So I was browsing another forum the other day and came across this 3" puck + 1" preload thread. It's the way I'd go if I were to do it again. In fact I'll probably redo mine this way eventually.
 

Yellowstone2Yukon

New member
I did my own 4" lift with 2" body pucks plus 2" of torsion bar preload for the front; and S10 springs in the rear. Cheaper and easier than working with Overland from what I hear. I have less than $300 into the complete lift.

The thing is, that much torsion bar preload makes the suspension pretty harsh. So I was browsing another forum the other day and came across this 3" puck + 1" preload thread. It's the way I'd go if I were to do it again. In fact I'll probably redo mine this way eventually.
I'm on astrosafari as well. They talked me out of the overland kit. I think I'm going to do 2" pucks and 1" preload, but that's a ways down the road at this point.
 

Yellowstone2Yukon

New member
Right as I was getting done with insulating the walls and hanging plywood, the weather dropped below zero and working in the pole barn shop got a lot less fun. Time to go inside the garage.

While I was working on insulation, my dad was fabricating a roof rack for me. I brush painted it white, with the thought that I'd like a little more stealthy exterior look.




The little bracket in the back is to accommodate my Ventline Vanair vent.


Fits perfectly.


I also put together my furniture while I was frozen out of the shop. The bed slides out from 26" to 48" wide. There's room in the van to fit a full size bed, and buying a 54" inch mattress would have been a bit cheaper than getting a custom size, but I wanted some additional room on my shelf unit. The kitchen box can only be accessed from the back, teardrop camper style.
 

Yellowstone2Yukon

New member
Weather went from 10 below to 70 in the space of about four days. Time to get back in the shop.



First we bolt the roof rack on. Butyl RV flashing goes below the feet and self-leveling putty goes beneath it.

Then screw down the furring strips. We chose to have two on the ceiling, one long one on the corner on the driver's side, and a complicated arrangement of short ones around the sliding door.






Insulation was mostly the 2" polyiso. Since it was exactly two inches from the roof sheet metal to the bottom of the furring strips, I chose to just wedge pieces in rather than stick them in with Great Stuff. There were quite a lot of places where I used 1" and 1/2" insulation as well. Sort of a jigsaw puzzle. Polyiso doesn't like taking curved cuts, so the vent was a bit of a challenge.





And then quarter inch plywood over the top.

 

Yellowstone2Yukon

New member
Subfloor was quick and easy to make, since I already had that steel flooring that I'd taken out to use as a template. A half inch of XPS (chosen because of its compressability) and quarter inch plywood. The plywood I glued to the insulation with subfloor adhesive, but didn't bother sticking the XPS to the metal floor.





But these wheel wells make a big ugly protrusion of bare metal into the cabin




Finished the subfloor by bending the half inch XPS over the wheel wells and gas tank.


 

Yellowstone2Yukon

New member
I didn't take any pictures of the process, but linoleum flooring strips go in over the subfloor, then we put in the bed


And the kitchen box


I built a shelf unit along the passenger side, but didn't document the construction. The shelves are fairly shallow and intended for smaller stuff. The only addition I put on so far was one coat hook:

I now literally have a place to hang my hat.




Also screwed in a fire extinguisher bracket by the sliding door and put a carbon monoxide detector and indoor/outdoor weather station on the bulkhead.

Then I had to go back to work.


So far, so good. The insulation has been amazing. I stay 10-15 degrees warmer than the outside with no heating at all. We had one 88-degree day, and I never broke 79 inside. I was worried the bed would lack headroom, and while I don't want to hang out in there much, it's plenty comfortable to sleep, change clothes, and all that inside.


Still a ton of work left to do.

I need a new rear door seal, as well as one of the metal covers for the back door and another for the slider. The bulkhead is covered with contact paper, which was a mistake, as it looks like total ass. I think I'll eventually cover the bulkheads and doors with plywood. There's a gap for a jerry can between the kitchen and the passenger side. I'm going to rig up a hand sink there, with the very long term intention of putting a RV water tank where the spare tire is currently. Some molding and trim stuff is left to do, especially around the wheel wells. I don't even have the stock lights hooked up right now, and all my internal power is coming from my power pack, but that's working pretty well so far.

I'm off work right now and I'm headed out for the hills. I'll figure out over this next few weeks what little things I need to add to make the van more livable. Suggestions are more than welcome, and I can take pictures of anything you'd like to see more of, or the puppy if you liked seeing him.
 
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