Fred the Van. The More We Explore's Adventure Van Build Thread


Current state:

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it's a great van. '97 7.3L, 125k miles, 15 passenger. A little surface rust on the frame (it's from NJ). It's got a lift from Tulsa Truck Manufacturing D60s front and rear, mile marker hubs, and brand new 33s.. I'm not crazy about the lift (leaf spring with shackles in the front), but it does the job. I'll probably end up slapping a bunch of Ujoint parts on it. It's got some bump steer and it wanders a little at 65 mph +. Overall it's a very very solid platform. It's HUGE.

- 1997 EB (Extended Body) Passenger Van
- 7.3L Diesel
- purchased with 124,444 miles on it
- 285/75/16 all-terrain tires (10 ply)
-Warn front manual locking hubs
-Dana 60 front and rear axles, fresh oil in both
-4x4 conversion completed by Tulsa Truck Manufacturing
-New roof rack almost the entire length of the van
-Trailer brake controller
- Mile Marker manual hub upgrade

Maintenance notes:
- heavy duty torque converter (for an RV) installed in the tranny back in 2011. Nice, crisp shifts.
- 2013 - tranny has a recent fluid change, filter replacement and new gasket.
- 2013 - new driveshaft U-joints
- 2013 - new bilstein front and rear heavy duty shocks
- 2013 - new bushings in front sway bar
- 2013 - new rear sway bar
- 2013 - new super steer track bar
- Dual front steering stabilizers
- Spring 2015 - New AC pump
- Spring 2015 - Fresh oil change, oil filter and fuel filter

Links to all the parts I've used.

Car Audio:

Clarion XC1410 4-Channel Amplifier:
Alpine MRV M500 Sub amp:
American International Single-din kit:
Metra Wiring Harness:
Metra speaker adapter:
(2) JBL GTO8628 6x8 speakers:
Alpine CDE-HD148BT head unit:
Stinger 12 GA speaker wire:
Scoche Sub Box:
Alpine SWS10D4 Subwoofer:
4 Gauge Amp Installation Kit:
8 Gauge Amp Installation Kit:
RCA Cables (not what I used, but close):

Axle Rebuild Stuff:

(2) Moog K80026 Ball Joint:
(2) Moog K8607T Ball Joint:
(2) Spicer SPL55-3X U-Joint Kit:
Axle Shaft Seal Installer:
Wagner Severe Duty SX75Disc Pad Set:
(2) SKF 28600 Axle Shaft Seal:
(2) National 710492 Oil Seal:
(2) National 710413 Oil Seal:
(2) Timken SP580205 Axle Bearing and Hub Assembly:
(2) Centric Parts 121.65086 C-Tek Standard Brake Rotor:
(2) Ford F81Z-4A322-AA - SEAL
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After living the "American Dream" for 10 years, my wife and I realized it wasn't for us. The big house, big yard and white picket fence just didn't make us happy. The more we've been backpacking and camping, the less sense it made to pay for a house that's bigger than we need, water and mow a lawn that we never use, and keep buying stuff that still doesn't make us any happier. It was time for a change.

In Spring of 2015, we decided that we were ready for a change. We contemplated backpacking Europe, but we realized we've hardly seen this great country, so we decided to move into an RV full-time, work from the road, and explore the great outdoors more. We're all for exotic travel, but it felt a little blasphemous to head outside this country without even scratching the surface here in the states.

So in May we sold our 3,200 sqft house. The next three months consisted of us selling 95% of our possessions as we adopted a minimalist lifestyle. We've been shopping for RVs like crazy, and while we still haven't decided on which trailer we're going to buy, we have decided on a tow rig: an E350 Van.

Why a van? The more we looked at RVs, the more we felt overwhelmed. When looking at airstreams, we fell in love. We started racking our brains how we could live in an airstream full-time, yet still safely carry our bikes and camping gear without it getting stolen. Then the idea hit us: a van would allow us to have a tow rig to tow the airstream, while we could also safety transport and store our bikes, camping gear, and everything else that wouldn't fit in the airstream.

So we began the search for a good E350 7.3L diesel van.

We had a tough time finding one, and even had an out-of-state seller set up who fell through our fingers, but the stars aligned and we recently picked up a great 97 7.3L E350. This is the story of Fred, our van.
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We'll be seeking sponsors for this build. The mods we go with will greatly depend on who sponsors us.

It won't be a big build. It'll mainly be simple stuff. I've learned that the more I modify a rig, the less I enjoy it (weird, huh?).

The goal:
- Have a van where we can store the bikes, camping gear, and still tow a travel trailer comfortably
- be able to break away from the "house" (travel trailer) for a few days and explore rugged terrain in the van, and use it as a small base camp
- Keep it light, simple, and reliable, and keep MPGs high

What it's not going to be:
- a full-on camper. It won't have a shower, toilet or a stove.

Exterior wish list:
- new suspension, we hate the current suspension design
- 400-800 watts of solar panels on the roof with a battery bank. It'd be great if the trailer could tap into these batteries too. I know nothing about solar or batteries, so I have a lot to learn.
- My wife likes the look of the vans with the big aluminess bumpers. I'm not sure we'll go that route, but it's a possibility. After hitting a deer in my tacoma, I quickly learned the safety and cost benefits of a big front bumper. Considering all the driving we'll be doing in Idaho, Colorado, Montana, Alaska and Canada, I think some sort of bumper for deer would be beneficial. Aluminum bumpers are spendy, but I like that they're lightweight. I'd like something a little smaller and lower profile. I don't plan on running a winch.
- better lighting up front. The stock headlights aren't amazing. I'm thinking some rigid duallies, even though these aren't legal for driving on the road. I'd love some sort of legal driving/fog lights. Light bars are cool, but I'm not sure I need one.

Interior wish list:
- Better stereo with backup camera. I'd love some sort of option that would let me control my phone from the touch screen, since we use Google Maps and Trimble Navigator a lot.
- Black out panels for some of the windows (I'm thinking reflectix style so it an insulate too)
- Super bright interior LED lights, courtesy of Airman Williams.
- Interior bike rack to hold the 2 bikes (the whole reason we got a van in the 1st place)
- Mount and wiring for my ARB fridge
- captains chairs behind the front 2 seats. Swivel sequoia recliners? Is that even possible?
- Some sort of track system on the floor. I like the aluminum track Adam has in his trailer and tacoma.
- Some sort of cool storage solution to hold a bunch of action packers. We need an organized way to store all our outdoors gear: tents, 4 sleeping bags, packrafts, paddles, PFDs, bike gear, hiiking boots, helmets, stoves, backpacks, etc. I think action packers are the best way to keep them all organized, but I'm open to other lightweigh options. I don't want to end up adding 2000 lbs of cabinets to this rig. While it's not exactly nimble, I don't want it to be heavier than it needs to be.
- Eventually we might put some sort of rudimentary small sleeping platform/bed inside for when we go to Alaska or Canada and leave the trailer behind.
- Some way to black out and insulate the windows when sleeping in it. Im thinking something simple like corrugated plastic, or reflectix or something like that.
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Recommended books for Overlanding


Episode 1: Why a Van?

Episode 2: Meet Fred

Episode 3: Pre-op

Episode 4: Work Begins

Episode 5: The Struggle

Episode 6: Finishing The Axle

Episode 7: Out With the Old
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I will be following this closely.

My wife and I are planning something very similar to this. Quit the rat race and explore the country for several months trying to figure out where we want to live and what we want to do with our lives.

Right now I am trying to come up with the guts to sell my beloved Tacoma to finance a van buy.

Good luck with your build out! Look forward to seeing what you do with it.



New member
Very Cool! Subscribed to this thread, and I'm looking forward to seeing how it progresses, as I will hopefully be in this position in a few years. Good luck and happy travels!!!


Expedition Leader
Congrats on the van, Man! Definitely convert that front end to the UJOR setup. You will absolutely not regret the money spent! I recommend doing the high steer upgrade as well, maybe track bar too depending on what you have going on in there now. Post some detailed pics of the front suspension components so we can help you spend your money, I mean, sort out your rig.

You have probably already seen this thread, but here's the link anyway. Seats and swivels and cargo tiedown rails galore!

And this too...!!!!!!!-or-WTF-did-I-just-fly-to-Maine-to-by-a-Sprinter!?p=1883152#post1883152 Lots of possibilities for lightweight storage and sleeping.



Also, for headlights, check out the (expensive) DOT approved LED headlights from Trucklites. They're around $360 a pair, but they're DOT legal, and plug-and-play.
I'm saving for a set...


Nice work steve, great start. I love the color too, dont see that color too often. Excited to see what you guys do to it. I agree with bknudtsen, get the ujor stuff.


Expedition Leader
FYI, stock headlights are useless on back highway roads. I supplemented mine with a set of Hella driving lights, and the are 10x brighter than stock headlights. Halogen sealed beams are a waste of money. H4 halogens have served me well in the past, and they'll be my next light upgrade.

Recommended books for Overlanding


I was also wondering that, unless your are doing outreach etc, why would anyone help fund the build?

Sent from my Passport using Tapatalk 2


Valid questions. We are planning on our youtube channel continuing to grow to the point where it is attractive to sponsors. I do a lot of promotional videos on the side as well, and I have some video work to trade for parts. Our target audience would mainly be people who aren't familiar with 4x4 vans (98% of our YouTube subscribers).

Good suggestions about the lights. For some reason my electric mirrors don't work, and the electric door lock on the side barn door doesn't work. I'll have to look in to common problems and solutions.