Grumman the Backcountry Box Van____1997 Ford E450 7.3l Power Stroke diesel

#1
Many of us have gone through a vehicular evolution as our budget and interests change. Before I go into what the plan for this build is, I'd like to take a short, pictorial stroll down my ExPo vehicle memory lane.

My first 4x4, a 1986 Ford Bronco with a 302 H.O. and EFI when I was a college student.

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Turned into this:

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Next, a more fuel efficient 1984 Toyota 4Runner with a carbureted 22R that I took to flight school.

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Turned into this

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Next an '03 Toyota Tundra with the excellent 2UZ-FE 4.7l V8

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Turned into this

66546_646003272813_6150755_n by Petrolburner, on Flickr

We wanted to extend our camping season into the winter without shivering in a tent, so we bought an Aliner.

10300530_10100589410319503_1626980053382270606_n by Petrolburner, on Flickr

Then I bought the van on the left as an experiment. It wasn't big enough so I bought the van on the right.

10900227_10100774031297583_34866401485781470_o by Petrolburner, on Flickr

The intention was just to use the van as a toyhauler and camp in the Aliner. Then a friend and I took a trip to the Baja 1000 and opted to leave the trailer at home and I'd sleep in the van and he'd sleep in a tent. This led me to build a single person loft in the top of the van.

Untitled by Petrolburner, on Flickr

The 3rd trip to Baja with Gertrude the Motovan included some time with Kathleen so I built a two person loft.

Untitled by Petrolburner, on Flickr
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15385260_10101428810973863_2593519176761256254_o by Petrolburner, on Flickr

It's not too hard for us to climb up into the loft, I can still fit two full size dirtbikes below it and I can even stow my paddleboard on the bed and close the doors. This is really a pretty cool setup without a very big footprint. But after living in the van in Baja for over a month, I'm wanting a stove and sink that are setup and ready to use 100% of the time. A shower and ****ter would really be nice too. Boy it would sure be nice to not have to climb over all my cargo or unload everything when I need to get at one of the rarely used items. This gas V8 sure likes to downshift at the slightest uphill or headwind, I guess that's why semi trucks have big turbo diesel engines. You know what else? These van windows are a huge loss of heat and entrance for heat. I pretty much leave the Reflectix shades in all the time. Also, curved walls are a pain to insulate, panel, build cabinets against etc. A box van with great big flat walls would make life so much easier. I've been dreaming of a box van since I bought the Motovan honestly. The problem was, I had nowhere to park one or work on it. I needed to buy a house with some space. This spring I bought a house on 5 acres. It's box van time.

I saw this 1997 Ford E450 Super Duty with a 7.3 liter Power Stroke diesel and Grumman Olson aluminum box for sale by the original owners on craigslist. I even posted it to one of my other frequently browsed forums saying what a great deal it was. I wanted it, badly, but I just couldn't take on another project. Several weeks later I notice it's still for sale, and I've got room to park, the cash in the bank to buy it, and a lack of excuses not to grab it and park it at my house until I have the time to start building. I've been looking at box vans for several years, so I know this is the combination I want, and it's very rare to see for sale. The 7.3 Power Stroke is clearly the engine to pursue, for my price range anyway. Ford is the platform to start with because of the MG Metalworks 4WD kit, or another Weldtec Designs long travel 2WD kit. The Grumman Olson box is awesome because it is made of aluminum ribs with aluminum skin, as opposed to the heavy fiberglass reinforced plywood of the U-Haul boxes. It has the cabover for me to build a full time bed in. This one even has double doors in the back instead of a rollup door that rattles, leaks, and costs you headroom and ceiling lights when it's rolled up. Yes I clearly need to go test drive this van.

Untitled by Petrolburner, on Flickr

I rode my XR650R over the Cascades to go check it out. The floor definitely needed to be replaced. It had 6 matching all terrain tires, 13 pages of maintenance history with frequent oil changes which is pretty important for the health of the injectors. Not too much body damage, some surface rust underneath, a huge fuel tank, 204k miles and a seller that needed the van to go away. So I bought it for what I feel was a very good deal.

Untitled by Petrolburner, on Flickr

The drive home across the Cascades was so much fun! I couldn't believe how flat it cornered and how well it powered up and down the hills. The character of the motor and the sounds it made were really entertaining. I took it across some road side scales, 3750 on the front axle and 5250 on the rear for a gross weight of 9000. The 29" tall tires and short rear gears had it pretty wound up on the highway and I only got 10.6 MPG on the trip home.

Data plate by Petrolburner, on Flickr

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I feel good about this van. I think it's the biggest I can go while still being able to run around in the dirt comfortably and park in normal parking spaces.

Untitled by Petrolburner, on Flickr

Untitled by Petrolburner, on Flickr
 
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#2
Cool box truck, should be a fun platform to build on. Did you figure out your rear axle ratio from the tag code?

Nice van, too. Is that 2WD with a lift?
 
#3
Cool box truck, should be a fun platform to build on. Did you figure out your rear axle ratio from the tag code?

Nice van, too. Is that 2WD with a lift?
I believe it's the 4.63 stamped on the tag, although that seems like an odd ratio.

Gertrude has the WeldTec Designs Octillo Cruiser kit. It's pretty awesome.
 
#4
Nice box van. I bought an E450 school bus to do the same thing with. Have a 6 inch U Joint lift to go under it, just waiting on the springs and time.
Was going to go with an ambulance but realized I did not have enough space. Going to put a sink with foot pump, inverter, and possibly a drop down bed. Went and got an ARB fridge the other day and it works good.
 
#6
My '97 SRW ambo has the 4.10, IIRC. Seems good enough on the highway up to 70-75 with the 7.3 turbo.

That Octillo cruiser kit looks real nice. I'd probably need a larger rear spring pack for the weight of the ambo?
 

Bikersmurf

Expedition Leader
#7
I think it needs some 4.10s or much bigger tires. At 9000 lbs my Ambo gets waaaay better economy... best highway run was double what you got. So you've got lots of room for improvement. :D
 
#8
We've got an 03 E350 4x4 DRW Terra Turtle Top at work with a 7.3L and I've driven it cross country several times and it gets 9-11 mpg, depending on the wind.
 
#10
I think it needs some 4.10s or much bigger tires. At 9000 lbs my Ambo gets waaaay better economy... best highway run was double what you got. So you've got lots of room for improvement. :D
Yes it probably needs both. At this point, I'm leaning towards a 265/75-16 up front, and 235/85-16 on the rears. I would either go 4WD with the MG Metalworks kit, or stay 2WD and go with WeldTec Designs Baja Grocery getter kit. The plush riding WeldTec suspension is what I need and want 90% of the time. I'll have to see how it does in the snow this winter first.
 
#12
It's 10'2" tall right now.
Awesome, not as tall as it looks in the pics.

Whats the plan for the layout? Rear bed over the garage or front bed over the attic? The width and height that offers will be great to work with.

The aluminum sheet and spar construction sure is nice. Whats the plans for insulation and sound deadening?

Thanks Ross
 
#13
I saw a couple nicer box trucks this weekend that had side doors. Definitely a nice feature.

They had the door lowered down, more work to mod., but much easier to get in/out. I like that feature on my ambo.

I've seen this box truck for sale with the door and then fold out steps.

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225

Village Idiot
#14
I'm jealous. A few years back, I almost picked up a low mileage 7.3 box truck, but it didn't work out.

I'm watching this one.
 
#15
I really like those examples of the side steps. I think I'm going to go with an automatic electric step. Probably 2 or 3 steps. I have one on my Motovan and while I thought it was goofy when I first bought the van, it's turned out to be super reliable and necessary. The power to it stopped working in Baja on a trip and for several days it sucked not having it. I tapped into 12v someplace new and it's been good ever since. It's a Kwikee brand step. I'm sure it's been on there since the Nursing Home had the van converted into a wheelchair van, so that thing has cycled about a million times and it's still fine. In my search, I was hoping to find one that had a door and steps already cut in to the floor like the one you posted.