I'M BATVAN! ...a 2006 E350 V10 DIY Ujoint Conversion

Pinnacle Campers

Chateau spotter
This is the story/documentation of my 2006 Ford E350 v10 passenger van.
The intended use is as a daily driver/work truck/multi-sport utility van.

I primarily do residential remodeling as a General Contractor. As a carpenter by trade, I do most of the demolition, rough, and finish carpentry on the jobs I do. I have a couple trailers, for tools, and a dump trailer for hauling debris/materials requiring towing capacity and cargo hauling.
As far as multi-sport, I do mountain biking, snowboarding, SUP, backpacking/camping, and have dabbled in autocross/hill climb/auto events a bit sometimes requiring a tow/support vehicle.
I have never been a “wheeler” per se, but I do like to get into secluded camp spots now and then even fording creeks with water filling the wheel wells of my Toyota Tundra. My 4x4 needs are primarily for snow driving, at the same time I’m looking forward to something with a little more capability.
I also have a multi-sport 8 year old girl that is going to need a support vehicle over the next 10 years. 

The most popular tool for my job is a pickup truck and I have had them for years, mostly Toyotas, my last being a, new 2000 Tundra, access cab, 4x4, with 180K.
The Tundra had been used and abused but overall held up well, rear wheel bearings, a couple starters, and more recently cats and oxygen sensors. Needless to say the cost of ownership per mile of the 4.7L V8 gasser was extremely low and I like that.
Truth is, I had decided way back in 2007 that I was tired of a pickup truck, tired of crawling around on my knees in the back, not having much interior space to “move about”, lacking secure locking cargo space (I did have a shell), and I needed something a little more robust.
It was the NCV3 Sprinter introduction in 2007 that got me headed in the van direction. The lack of 4x4, towing capacity, strong frame, etc. made me realize it wasn’t for me, but being able to stand up inside is so cool! For nearly 7 years I looked at vans, trying to make a Sprinter work in my head (the 2011? And up 3500 had 7500lbs towing but still no 4x4), looking at the Nissan NV vans (robust, bad MPG, can’t get excited about the looks, no 4x), AWD Express/Savana vans (no capacity increase over Tundra), converted/converting a GM van, even step vans, and medium duty trucks like Fuso, etc.
The last place I looked, and refused to look at for so long was converted/converting Ford vans. I’ve had carpet installers that have had them over the years and I always looked at them as junk, In fact I think I said at one time that I would “never own a Ford van”.
I’m an import guy, I have had VW’s, Toyota’s, Honda/Acura, Mitsubishi, etc. My first ever domestic was a 2004 Corvette Zo6 and I didn’t have good luck with it (oil systems aren’t up to high G force driving, go figure).
After reading many of the builds on the forum over and over, including Naterry’s (who’s mom I have lived next door to for 26 years) ambo, and van builds, and bknudsen’s build of Vandiana. I decided if I wanted a 1 ton van with 4x4, going with a Ford van and a ujoint conversion was the only practical way for a DIY’er like me.
I have worked with cars and mechanics all my life. My dad raced an econorail dragster in the 70’s. While I was in the single digits then, I think I picked up a few things while sucking on wrenches in the back of his Chevelle tow vehicle. I started dropping engines out of VW’s and rolling them out on a skateboard at 16, but being a mechanic wasn’t meant to be and I’m glad I don’t do it for a living and only as a hobby.

After many hours of research I decided I wanted a Ford passenger V10 (because of my history with gas motors to be reliable, low maintenance, less noise) with the Torqshift 5 speed auto (for the ease of conversion and extra gear), but no RSC. Since this is a 2005-2006 van it really limited the search. I did open up my search to include later model (2007 and up) RSC vans as I did like the new front end and dash.
Oh yeah, I was also really picky,
Budget of $15K
No white
I wanted grey
<100K miles
close to home
and no tan interior!

After 8 months, a few close calls, and a couple bad dealer experiences this 2006 Chateau showed up on my search tempest feed. I looked closely but didn’t respond for 3 days over the weekend, it was 2500 miles away, had tan interior…finally I gave in. I secretly wanted a Chateau, and I like how the black hides the tinted windows and looks less passenger like.
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I found a very responsive seller who sent extra pics, dealer records, etc. He was the original owner. He was pretty shocked when I told him I was flying in from Boise to Philadelphia to buy his van.
The pickup/ sale went off without any hiccups.
I had a friend along and we made a trip out of the drive home. First going out to the New Jersey shore because we had driven from Boise to the Oregon Coast a couple months earlier and we wanted to say we had driven coast to coast within 3 months’ time. This required driving the “wrong way” about 150 miles.
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The van had all of the seats in it so we slept in a tent. We spent a day in Philadelphia and a day at Gettysburg (amazing!).
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Each night and morning while setting up/taking down tents, air mattresses, bags, etc. I thought about how nice it is going to be to have the van setup for travelling with multi nights on the road and not have to deal with that every day. Reality is the worst night was in a hotel in Wyoming because we were too lazy to set up/take down that stuff. This was October of 2014 and driving across the country at that time of year is beautiful, great color and perfect weather.
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The van was pretty comfortable to drive although a little sketchy on curves over expansion joints. The van wallows under its weight, and is a far cry from my IRS front end Lexus Tundra, and size wise feels like a semi by comparison.
On the drive the van got 12mpg in the east, dropping to 11 in the hilly windy west.
Van specs include:
2006 Ford E350 Chateau, Black with Tan leather interior
95K miles
7 Passenger seating with 2nd row removable captain’s chairs
V10/ torqshift 5 speed
Rear heat/AC
3.73 rear end
tow mirrors
Factory receiver hitch
Dual batteries/ engine block heater

Besides regular maintenance, the batteries had been replaced and transmission flushed less than 15k miles ago.

This is the third vehicle I have bought not wanting tan interior and ended up getting it. 

My plans initially include:
Get rid of the rear bench seat, some sort of bed platform, and a durable, truck bed like, rear under bed area for hauling toys, tools or cargo
take care of some surface rust on the frame
DVD/rear camera, trailer brake controller
Blackorize the exterior
Insulate for sound and heat
Screens/ventilation, more pop out windows
Maybe a microwave at some point, no other permanent appliances
Eventually a water tank/ hot water shower handheld using an exchanger off the rear heat/AC lines.

I still plan to camp “beside” the vehicle but often sleep in vehicle. Meaning I won’t be camperizing this. Stove, cooler, sink, will be set up outside or under canopy (I have an easy up) in inclement weather.
This is primarily my daily driver so keeping it light with good mpg (as good as a v10 can get?) is important. Four full seats for passengers, ample, durable cargo space and a bed platform.
I’m considering a bed platform that converts to a bulk head behind the second row captain chairs to retain large cargo and suppress the noise.

I planned on doing a “phased” ujoint conversion with a scheduled completion of fall 2015 but after getting “stuck” twice on the 2500 mile drive home from Philadelphia, once on the beach in New Jersey and the other time, a muddy campground in Iowa, the ujoint conversion moved up the list.
I plan to keep my truck while I pull the van in the shop and get it done in one shot!

Every van seems to have a catchy name, mine has been called a few, one of my favorites since the conversion is, “Double Decker Hearse”.
The one that has stuck and I like is “BATVAN”. I’m not a huge vanity plate fan but I did consider it, unfortunately it is already being used in my state.
Thanks to all those that contribute to the forum.
As they say, more later….
Brian
 
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Bbasso

Expedition Leader
For mpg... talk to Mike at 5Star. Tell him Rob/Bbasso sent you .
My past V10 went from stock 13 mpg to 17mpg.
 
G

Gravity

Guest
Subscribed. Looking forward to following along. Hopefully digging into the conversion on my Agnes this wkd

Sent from my SAMSUNG-SM-G890A using Tapatalk
 

bknudtsen

Expedition Leader
I LIKE THE NAME! Gotta say it like the movie too...

Seriously tho, why can't I be paid "by the view" for my VANdiana thread? 421,000+ views and counting... That's over 100,000 views since I sold the Big Guy to Jeremy... Glad to have steered you the right way.
 

Pinnacle Campers

Chateau spotter
For mpg... talk to Mike at 5Star. Tell him Rob/Bbasso sent you .
My past V10 went from stock 13 mpg to 17mpg.
Thanks Rob, i did pick up an SCT tuner but I'm not seeing near the mileage you are. What tune were you using?

Very cool, we need some pics of how the van sits now!
Patience, there is lots to come, I'm way behind. :)

I LIKE THE NAME! Gotta say it like the movie too...

Seriously tho, why can't I be paid "by the view" for my VANdiana thread? 421,000+ views and counting... That's over 100,000 views since I sold the Big Guy to Jeremy... Glad to have steered you the right way.
Thanks, people look at me really funny when I say it like the movie.

Oh yeah, and the only one getting paid by the view on that thread is Chris. ;)
 

Bbasso

Expedition Leader
I don't recall but I asked Mike to do his magic...
Even with the eco tune, I got the most mpg with the hp tune.
 

350outrage

Adventurer
Hey Brian! If you want a quick, cheap, removable, lightweight bed you can use in the back of your van, try Walmart's folding cots. I'm talking about the ones with metal frame, that fold in half, and stretch the fabric tight when you open them up. Once you pull the rear bench, 2 of these cots exactly fill the space behind the captain's chairs and between the wheel wells. Lots of times when camping, I just leave one set up for use as seat, naps, etc., and fold the 2nd one. This preserves your cargo space, and a lot of stuff even fits under the cots. When I first tried this, thought it was just going to be temporary, but now I like the set up so well I've decided not to do a dedicated, permanent bed. I still use my van for people hauler on occasion, requiring removal of the cots, and re-install of the bench.
 

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mikracer

Adventurer
So the conversion is already done?! Hurry up and get to posting! I remember when you bought this van and you posted on the "vans for sale" thread. I have an 05 V10 Chateau and wanted to do the UJOINT 4x4, but the funds to do what I wanted just weren't there (did Camburg instead :eek:). Eager to see how you transformed yours. Great color combo too with the black/grey. If you want to sell your leather seats, let me know!
 

Pinnacle Campers

Chateau spotter
P
Hey Brian! If you want a quick, cheap, removable, lightweight bed you can use in the back of your van, try Walmart's folding cots. I'm talking about the ones with metal frame, that fold in half, and stretch the fabric tight when you open them up. Once you pull the rear bench, 2 of these cots exactly fill the space behind the captain's chairs and between the wheel wells. Lots of times when camping, I just leave one set up for use as seat, naps, etc., and fold the 2nd one. This preserves your cargo space, and a lot of stuff even fits under the cots. When I first tried this, thought it was just going to be temporary, but now I like the set up so well I've decided not to do a dedicated, permanent bed. I still use my van for people hauler on occasion, requiring removal of the cots, and re-install of the bench.
That is a great suggestion Dave. I'm working on a more permanent solution but I'm already seeing the benefits of something more convertable like you have, the way mine will be set up the rear bench will not be able to go back in. Yet for some reason I have a hard time parting with it. It don't think it's ever been sat in for any length of time.

So the conversion is already done?! Hurry up and get to posting! I remember when you bought this van and you posted on the "vans for sale" thread. I have an 05 V10 Chateau and wanted to do the UJOINT 4x4, but the funds to do what I wanted just weren't there (did Camburg instead :eek:). Eager to see how you transformed yours. Great color combo too with the black/grey. If you want to sell your leather seats, let me know!
I'm trying to decide how those chestnut brown sienna seats would look in my van. It's a slippery slope though, I don't think I can buy just the fronts and get away with it. At the same time the rear seats didnt show any signs of wear at all, in fact the bench and pass side rear seats were in storage most of the vans life.
 

mk216v

Der Chef der Fahrzeuge
P
That is a great suggestion Dave. I'm working on a more permanent solution but I'm already seeing the benefits of something more convertable like you have, the way mine will be set up the rear bench will not be able to go back in. Yet for some reason I have a hard time parting with it. It don't think it's ever been sat in for any length of time.


I'm trying to decide how those chestnut brown sienna seats would look in my van. It's a slippery slope though, I don't think I can buy just the fronts and get away with it. At the same time the rear seats didnt show any signs of wear at all, in fact the bench and pass side rear seats were in storage most of the vans life.
Mmmm, tasty!
http://www.expeditionportal.com/forum/threads/147147-Optima-Batteries-SEMA-2015-Build/page3

 

mk216v

Der Chef der Fahrzeuge
What seats are these? What year vehicle?

Sent from my QMV7A using Tapatalk
2015 Toyota Sienna 2nd row leather recliners(they have headrests of course, and built-in seatbelts). Also come in grey like my van has. Incredible seats. LMK if you need a source for a set--I have a great contact.
 

Pinnacle Campers

Chateau spotter
Moving along....

For the first couple weeks I put the van to use. Pulled my trailers and generally wanted to get a feel for what it was like to have a van now. With the stock van and a white enclosed trailer I looked like I was heading to church camp (not that there is anything wrong with that), the van needed an attitude change in a big way.
The comparisons to the Tundra are interesting. The van is just 1 inch longer in overall length but has a 10” longer wheel base. The van feels way bigger because it has such a high driving position.

I don’t plan on doing a step by step here but I will be thorough in my description. I will also round out my costs in the end. I think it really helps conceptualize the big picture as the prices on Ujoints website don’t quite give the full picture of what the overall costs of conversion are.
For those 2 weeks I poured over the forum threads again, making a list of parts I needed to order and generally formulating my recipe.
I decided that I wanted to build my front axle myself, not only to save money but basically so I can say I did it myself. Nothing on it is beyond my capabilities just bigger, heavier, and possibly requiring a tool investment. Tool investments usually aren’t a problem for me.
I sourced my axle at a local LKQ junk yard. They gave me a list of four trucks in the yard I could go pick from. I chose the only 2004 F-250 on the list.
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The axle had 240K which really doesn’t seem like an issue when rebuilding. It’s unlikely that a front diff on these has been engaged for even a ¼ of that time. Price? $400 with everything except the calipers, the swaybar was an extra $40.
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As the forklift operator lowered the axle into my Tundra it squatted a couple inches. The operator laughed and said “good luck getting it out of there” I said, “what you aren’t following me home with that thing?” I literally took it apart on the tailgate to get it to a manageable weight.
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While tearing down I cut the steering stabilizer bracket off with my Milwaukie sawzall and a metal cutting blade.
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Then I made modifications to a cart I had similar to the ones in the Ujoint videos.
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For the time being I planned to keep my rear axle and use spacers. This is to save initial costs and build time. Basically I’m looking to get it on the road and get my feet wet, decide if I like what I’m getting myself into and move forward from there with further investment like re-gearing, sterling axle, front locker, etc.
Before sending my order in to Chris I acquired a few other parts locally. I found a parting out of a 2004 F350 6.0 diesel that had suffered an engine failure from a blown head gasket/overheating. Most of the truck was gone when I got there but I did manage to get a few parts I needed. I wanted to do electric shift so I got the 273 T-case (with adaptor and input shaft), interior switch, GEMS module and even the harness off the frame that was sitting in a field with 3’ tall weeds growing up through it.
While digging around I found the front driveshaft I could use for a donor. All this for $500

At this point I had finalized my list with Chris and blew my wad. I had decided on a 4” kit. Although Chris’ suggestions to go 6” had merit with a greater amount of wheel travel and turning radius. As a daily driver I wanted to keep a low COG, easy ingress/egress, and keep costs in check by keeping a lower kit cost and smaller tire size (33” vs 35”).
I also finalized my order with Rockauto. Pretty sure the time into this alone can be measured in multiple hours. Big orders are a little game with them and even making minor adjustments in brand can make huge differences in costs as shipping scenarios change. I mostly stayed with Moog parts.

With parts on the way I pulled the van into the shop and started tearing it down. First was the fuel tank, I had made arrangements with my local Mac’s Radiators to do the cut down of the tank using Chris’s kit. I had sent them the video Chris had made and they basically quoted from that. I figured this was something I could do myself but I preferred it be done by someone that does it every day, pressure test it, etc. I had them quote sealing the tank but in the end they said they could not do it with the OEM plastic reservoir inside as the sealant would melt it. This is a concern as I think the tank will rust over time maybe a long time but when it does it will be the wrong time. Total cost for tank mods, $226
The front suspension came out without issue following Chris’ videos.

Then the parts started pouring in.
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I also picked up a Plasma cutter
This is just one of the Chinese versions off ebay, I think I payed $325 for it. All I can say is if you are even close to sitting on the fence about something like this, or if you have a project coming up where you think this might be handy, just do it! I would have spent more than $300 of my time with a cut off wheel/grinder, or worse paying someone more to do it (at MY shop because the van is immobilized). The plasma made all of the necessary cuts effortless with just a minimal amount of practice and now as I see it, it’s paid for.
I actually cut my front engine cross member twice, once for practice and the other in order to allow for more potential up travel without interference.
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Even cutting in the shackle bushing sleeves was just a matter of using the hole in the provided (thanks Nate, Im sure it wont be the last time it gets used between us) jig as a guide and sliding the sleeve in.
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I did the welding of the upper shock mounts in the bucket, and the bushing sleeves with a little Lincoln weld-pak 110. I have had this welder for nearly 10 years, with a little practice it works just fine for what I need it for.

later..
 
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Pinnacle Campers

Chateau spotter
Install of the transfer case was pretty straightforward. It did require removal of some casting tabs because of the tight clearances in the van.
As I have said in the beginning. I chose the 5r110 transmission equipped van for the ease of conversion. Other models with 4 speeds require dropping the trans. which often leads to rebuilding "while its out" and more costs.
Because I did my conversion off jackstands, rather than bench press the axle into position I used my furniture dolly with a few blocks on top. With the right height set, I could just roll it into position under the springs.
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Of course while I was under there I cleaned/painted the surface rust, etc.
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Since I wanted the stock bumpers for the time being, the plasma came in handy once again modifying the bumper mounts to fit around the ujoint spring hangers. ALso for modifying the heat shields around the t case, etc.
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Money shot of the front axle.
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Shortly after the first drive, and with a piece of high temp flexible hose connecting the open exhaust I dropped the van off for some exhaust work at a local shop http://www.throttleworks.com/
The issue is that the left bank exhaust should be where the the driveshaft is now. Also the fact that there are 4 cats doesnt make it easier.
Mikes idea was to bring the left bank exhaust immediately over to the passenger side under the transmission bellhousing. Then 2 cats would be in parallel before going to the "y pipe" and on to the muffler. This eliminates two cats but as long as it passes the sniffer test in our county its all good. Mike wrapped the exhaust under the transmission, Im not a huge fan as I think it soakes, and holds water against the steel pipe which prematurely rusts but I will keep an eye on it. I may even make a metal heat shield here at some time in the future.
In this pic, passenger cat is on top, drivers side is on bottom.

In this pic you can see the 2 into 1 right behind the trans crossmember. The muff is a OEM replacement. Also here is the frame rail battery box and further down is my portable propane tank mount.

Another nice thing is that Ford provides an extension cable for the cat wire that allows the relocation of the cat without custom wiring.
More later....
 
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