My 4x4 Chevy Express van build

Hazelfilms

New member
First off, hello everyone! First time posting here, and I've been lurking around for a couple months. This really seems like a fantastic site, group of people, and a wonderful resource.

This thread is going to be the long process of my 4x4 van build. I say long, because I don't even plan on owning my base van for another year or so, but I wanted to start rolling thoughts around, with like minded people. I hope to learn from your experience, and have most of this conversion planned out on paper, before ever purchasing my van.

I live in Bailey CO, about an hour west of Denver. This van will be the primary family vehicle, but I also want it built so our family can experience as many of the wonderful things, our state has to offer, both on and off road.

Current thoughts:
I plan on starting with a Mid 2000s Chevy Express 3500 (or 3500 GMC) passenger. My current plan, is to convert the IFS to a solid front axle, with leaf springs. It seems that most if not all shops, that do 4x4 van conversions on the Express, are using IFS now, but I like what I've read about durability of the solid axle, and for a DIY conversion, it also seems the easier path... sorta thinking along the same lines as the Ujoint offroad conversion, but for a Chevy. Until someone talks me out of it, I'm looking at about 6" of lift, with 35s, to help with breakover. Haven't decided if I want the LWB or SWB. The extra 2' of cargo space would be nice, but that also means an extra 2' of wheelbase. That being said, I don't know enough, to know if it would really make THAT much difference, since I'm already pointing the titanic down a creek, decreasing turning, and breakover...
After all that, the usual bumper upgrade, tire rack and storage box on the back, winch on the front (maybe a second on the back if the budget allows...), Lights everywhere, on board air, and at some point in the future, at least a rear locker.

I'd love to hear your thoughts, ideas, stories, and any info you'd like to share.
 

njtacoma

Explorer
You may check out Boulder off road vans. They are in Erie, CO and do solid axle GM 4x4 conversions.

Several years ago I looked at an extended 15 passenger van they did and it looked well done.
 

Hazelfilms

New member
Awesome Neil, thank you. I'd found their page, but hadn't notice if they did solid axle or IFS. May just have to schedule a field trip...
 

Hazelfilms

New member
Still looking at vans, and wanted to hear your thoughts. I still like the idea of the 3500, but just for arguments sake, if I want a 4x4 van, that is capable of taking on say, a level 3 trail, but still be the primary family vehicle, what do you think is the better option...

Express 3500 solid front axle conversion
or..
Express 1500 AWD 4x4 conversion, with the Boulder off road lift kit they now offer?
- Much like the Express AWD to 4x4 conversion found on this site.

Assuming similar price point for both vans ( for the sake of argument) as well as assuming I can even FIND an AWD that I like. I understand that of the two, the 3500 setup would be quite a bit more substantial, but for my intended use, would it just flat out be overkill? 80% on road, 20% off?

The AWD conversion/lift would be quite a bit easier, but would I find that the van wouldn't hold up as well, or is the 1500 AWD going to do just fine on a level 3 trail?
 

Bikersmurf

Expedition Leader
I hate to ask... But why Chevy? I like Chevy motors, I even have one in my Fj40. But Fords seem to be much more common, and you could order a kit from Chris and call it a day.

I picked up a 97 Ford E350 with a 7.3 Diesel and, if everything goes as expected, it should last me a good long time. To the best of my knowledge, GM doesn't have a diesel worth bringing up in the same conversation. My neighbour has a 3500 and he's had to replace the rear diff a couple times, says it'll get stuck on wet grass, and regrets ever buying it.
 

Hazelfilms

New member
Totally fair question Bikersmurf. Guess I'm not 100% sold on the Chevy, just like 90%. So far, everything I've read about the Express, is that they are really solid, specifically the engine. What limited van experience I have, has been with Ford vans, and I wasn't impressed. I have read that the E series has a frame with less flex, and the idea of just being able to order the ujoint kit is very appealing. Some time in the next couple months, I plan on test driving both before making a final decision, but at this point, I've just had better personal experiences with GM vehicles, and I like what I've read.
 

Bikersmurf

Expedition Leader
The ambulance package E350s handle & ride well. Working on the motor isn't much fun. 7.3s were clearly built to have a hood over them... Van dashes are in the way to accessing everything on the top of the motor... Including the massive 32 lb alternator, A/C compressor, Hoses, Fuel filter, sensors, etc.
 

Hazelfilms

New member
Haha, I like the part about "handle and ride well", not so much the part about "were clearly built to have a hood over them". Is that what you currently have? what sort of MPG? How many miles? What sort of maintenance/repairs have you needed?
 

Porterdog

New member
I own a 2008 Express 1500 AWD and love it. I had it for a year before I stared my project (but it never really ends). Since it is my only vehicle, I've been working to keep the weight down while maintaining versatility. I pretty much went with a VW Weekender style build without the pop top. I was able to find a removable seat that folds into a bed on craigslist for cheap. Why I'm responding is to recommend the extra 2'. Now after taking it on several long road trip with my girlfriend and our 2 dogs, I'm always surprised how quickly we fill it up. I wish I had an extra 2' on the back! A big roof rack is a must. I had mine built by a local high school welding class. It was a super cheap and a fun project for the students. This website is an amazing resource! I look forward to checking out our build.
 

Hazelfilms

New member
Porterdog, thanks for the input. Any pictures of your van? Have you taken it on any trails?, or is it more of an on road rig?
 

Porterdog

New member
The Man Van

IMG_0432.jpg

This is the van. I can upload more, but I don't have any interior pics on my work computer. I've never taken it off-roading, but it does well on most FS roads. The stock suspension is cushy and great for pavement and gravel roads. I just go slow when stuff gets steep and rough. I've never been stuck, but then again I've never pushed it. I would say it is more of a road worrier. I'm planning on upgrading the suspension and maybe doing a 2 in lift to accommodate bigger tires, but I really don't want to loose MPGs. It handles very well in snow and icy roads. I find the 5.3 v8 has enough power for me. Happy building!
 

njtacoma

Explorer
Porterdog - I appreciate the perspective on the longer van. I have 2 kids and my wife and I go back and forth on the extra length. I like the longer wheelbase of the long chevy van, vs the long overhand of the Ford.

I'm a Ford guy, and for various reasons am not considering a Ford van. I'm also no longer considering converting one to 4wheel drive.
 

wheels5150

Observer
I can speak for a extended Chevy Express circa 2007, I went with the Express because I prefer diesel & GM, and looked for my vehicle for a good 6 months to find the base vehicle. So far my Duramax has been a rock. I don't do anything really tough offroad, if that was my intention I probably would have gone with a short wheelbase Ford with a UJoint kit.

Honestly I'm not sure an extended van is a great idea on most trails. It really is a big, long vehicle.
 

86cj

Explorer
Still looking at vans, and wanted to hear your thoughts. I still like the idea of the 3500, but just for arguments sake, if I want a 4x4 van, that is capable of taking on say, a level 3 trail, but still be the primary family vehicle, what do you think is the better option...

Express 3500 solid front axle conversion
or..
Express 1500 AWD 4x4 conversion, with the Boulder off road lift kit they now offer?
- Much like the Express AWD to 4x4 conversion found on this site.

Assuming similar price point for both vans ( for the sake of argument) as well as assuming I can even FIND an AWD that I like. I understand that of the two, the 3500 setup would be quite a bit more substantial, but for my intended use, would it just flat out be overkill? 80% on road, 20% off?

The AWD conversion/lift would be quite a bit easier, but would I find that the van wouldn't hold up as well, or is the 1500 AWD going to do just fine on a level 3 trail?
The AWD 1500 Van will take your family all over Colorado, I can't wait to go back to St Elmo and Imogene but in our AWD Van, White Rim makes me a little nervous but I have only been on parts of it. Alot of the best places I have been have been no challenge for a vehicle on 33" tires, remember the Ranger patrolling these places probably has 32" 265's.
You will have to pack light and have offroad driving experience to keep the AWD Van alive, if not order a Quigley GM 3500 for $11,200 xtra and a full GM warranty they offer a lift now to. (even U-Joint says that is a good deal on their 4X4 conversion).

The AWD 1500 does surprisingly well in day to day life, that was the deal maker for me. These things handle and ride way better than any E-350 I was forced to drive on a daily basis, even the brakes are strangely good for a GM, when it beat the V6 SUV it replaced by 1-2 MPG is has been smiles every since.............

I understand where you are coming from, I looked at a new Quigley E350 due to the axle and frame strength but it just felt like borrowing somebodies underwear...........
 
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