Let's talk about step vans...

#1
I've been kicking around the idea of converting a step van into a moderately capable US-only backcountry camper, and because there are so few good examples out there, I'm wondering if it's just a bad idea for some reason. Here's basically what I'm thinking:

Something not too big -- 12' to 14' cargo area at most. In this size, I see various options out there that don't have too bad of a rear overhang, and it looks like with a little creative cutting/fabbing, one could improve the departure angle a fair bit. Do a modest 2" lift or so -- nothing crazy -- super singles if it's a DRW, maybe an LSD or rear locker. And then perhaps the best part would be having that huge, cavernous box in which to do a really sweet interior build. Plenty of GVWR to work with, enough space to create a small "garage" in the rear to carry an electric bike to help offset the van's lousy 10MPG or so, tons of roof space for solar panels, vents, etc...

Sure, it's not going to get to where a true expedition vehicle can get, but here in the US, I don't find myself in a lot of situations where that's truly necessary. I currently have a pretty modest 2WD camper van, and routinely get to remote enough spots for my needs. So I'm thinking that a step van setup would offer a few more creature comforts without compromising too much of my ability to get beyond where all the RVs can get to.

So...terrible idea? If so, why?
 

LowTech

Dirt Track Traveler
#2
If you're interested in that sort of a platform to build on you should check out CheapRVLiving. It's a forum w/ a decent amount low/fixed income builders building out rigs to full-time in. Step vans are the choice of some of the builders. (Don't have time or good enough connection to find you links)
Personally I prefer the cab/chassis, also known as a cutaway, style if I want something in that GVW rating. They are commonly see as ambulance or box vans.
I like that form of cab better and they tend to have higher clearance. Also easier to find in 4x.

www.DirtTrackTravelers.com
 

jkam

nomadic man
#3
I know a guy who converted s Snap On tool truck to an RV.
His has the 5.9 Cummins and an Allison trans which is a nice combo.
The problem I have with them is that you sit right over the front wheels,
even with his air suspension seat it's a rough ride. And noisy.
 
#4
Thanks for the feedback.

I guess my main concern is whether or not it's viable to make a small to medium-size step van a reasonably capable rig in the wilderness. I've seen plenty of cool step van camper conversions online, but they all seem to focus on the interior, making them essentially comparable to larger RVs in terms of wilderness capability (i.e. not all that great). Very few seem to have done anything to improve their functionality off pavement, and so I wonder if there's a reason.

Again, I'm thinking along the lines of improving ground clearance, departure angle, bigger/better tires, possibly a LSD or locker...nothing too out there. I really like the idea of having the cab totally connected to the living space (i.e. not just a tiny pass-through), the locking metal bulkhead door that many step vans have (i.e. security and stealth), in addition to no need to waste any valuable wall space on a side door.

Anyway, I'm just thinking out loud. I don't see any reason why any of this isn't doable, but just wanted to throw it out there in case I'm missing some important point. Better to learn sooner than later...
 

vintageracer

To Infinity and Beyond!
#8
Many "Stepvans" are/were built on the Chevrolet P30-P32 lightweight commercial truck chassis or the similar Ford commercial truck chassis. Early chassis's or higher GVWR chassis's tend to be straight front axle with leaf springs with later vans being A arm front suspensions with coil springs for the lighter GVWR applications. These suspension designs "could" be very limiting depending upon your build desires.

Depending upon the body manufacturer and if originally SRW or DRW there can be LOT'S of room for BIG tires/wheels. Chassis's tend to be C channel rather than boxed and given the size of these things expect LOT'S of frame flex driving "Off-Road" and as such possible aluminum body cracking issues over time. Engine and transmission combinations are endless and easily swapped. Low side skirts from the aluminum body will be a problem for clearance Clarence. Given the height of most step vans roof top mounting of any type of gear could cause drive-ability issues due to additional weight so high above the ground. Stepvan's tend to be hard to insulate particularly in the front driver's area and therefore cold or hot most of the time depending upon the season. Condensation issues can be a real problem in Stepvan's. Some Stepvan's have a translucent roof to provide light in the box. Probably not the best for for your application. Lot's of rear door configurations in the back so look carefully at this to determine which best fit's your needs. Interior height can be an issue on some Stepvan's IF you are a tall person.

Stepvan's "can" make a nice RV conversion alternative however like with anything else there are limitations you need to understand and accept before you decide to build one. If you want to go "Deeper" into da wilderness you might also consider purchasing a small 4WD "Toad" to "Flat Tow" behind your Stepvan. Something like a Geo/Chevrolet 4WD Tracker are inexpensive, lightweight and very capable off-road alternatives that can work well to get you to those really deep off-road "Expeditions" away from your Stepvan base camp!

Here is a picture of my 14 FT 1969 P30 A Arm Front Suspension Chassis Full Aluminum Body "Stepvan" that I recently sold. SRW with 19.5 inch Aluminum wheels/Tires, 10K GVWR and full opening rear doors.

00J0J_5TtKNGBJDvb_600x450.jpg
 
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vintageracer

To Infinity and Beyond!
#10
There are no FORD manufactured Stepvans.

There are Stepvan's, Kurbmaster's, Utilimaster and other "Stepvan" type body manufacturer's who used a FORD CHASSIS under their version of the "Stepvan" just like they also used the Chevrolet P30-P32 Chassis under their version of the Stepvan.

The use of the term Stepvan "I" believe is a generic term now used to describe this type of vehicle produced by many manufacturer's.

Kinda like Jet Ski, Jacuzzi and Crock Pot are used to describe those items produced by many different manufacturer's.
 
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