The Ati-Van, my type II ambo gnar-v build out.

epinfRN

New member
In June of 2016 I set out from the East coast to the Southwest for work in a roughly built, shoddy 2003 AWD GMC Savana. She was rusted, ugly and high miles. Her name was Vangela and I loved her. Very unfortunately she succumbed to her rusted frame (which was far worse than I had known) and sold it go a climber who fixed it and, to the best of my knowledge, is still traveling and living out of her. Awesome to hear.

This is Vangela in New Mexico:
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Her absence left room for an upgrade. I had longed for a longer van and poured longingly for hours over Sportsmobiles and people's other custom take on this adventure platform, particularly in diesel E350s. I had particular interest in type 2 ambulances because, well, I'm a nurse and that's a pretty kitschy rig for a guy like me!

So then I found her. A 2006 E350 that had served as an ambulance in my hometown. I may very well have even taken care of people who were transported in this rig. That was a unique feature and a big selling point. I was really hoping to find a 7.3 PSD instead of the 6.0 due to the newer engine's lackluster reputation, but here was a rig that checked off almost all of everything on my list. So I gave the man a lot of $100 dollar bills and drove this big rig home (jumping the gun proved to be a significant expense for me, but that story comes a bit down the road).

So this is what she looked like the day I bought her:
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I had preoccupations the entire ride home. Every time I hit a bump and thought the engine made I new sound I instantly started to sweat, my heart raced and I wondered if I had blown the head gaskets (spoiler alert: I hadn't. Yet). I daily drove it for a couple of days before realizing the engine needed some love. It wouldn't start right away. It just cranked and cranked and cranked and eventually started. Turns out the standpipes were leaking oil, not building pressure and therefore the injectors weren't firing.

Sweet. So I sent it to the shop where it lived for a month. Here, it got a lot of love and a few upgrades. Larry at Action Van Suspension sent one of his 6" 2WD van lifts all the way north and east from California. I gave her new 33" shoes on 16" Pro Comp wheels. If you get to this, Larry, thanks for all of your help. I added an SCT X4 to monitor vital signs and programmed the van with the tow tune (next spoiler alert: don't do this on a van with 230,000 miles and stock studs).

After 4 or 5 weeks away, this is how she looked:

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And the interior was totally an ambulance (plus a mountain bike, and my dad):

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I had grand plans for the interior: I wanted solar, running water, plumbed in propane, hot and cold water and, my most sought after upgrade after spending cold nights in Vangela: a furnace.

I spent months debating over interior build styles and how to incorporate my gear into it (I am mostly a mountain biker in the summer if nothing else, so this needed to support the addiction and safely carry all of my bikes. The end result is a mix of lots of different builds I have seen on here.

So then it was time for Demolition!
 

epinfRN

New member
Demolition, vent fan and solar installation.

First in the demolition came out the ceiling. I needed to find out what I was working with in terms of wiring and I was certain of the fact that I wanted a much more cabin-like feel to the interior. The ambulance parts are too sterile for the "hygge" atmosphere I wanted to create. I did, however, want to maintain the cabinetry along the driver's side wall of the van as it will come in handy for storage. Everything came out easily and revealed a very robust roll cage. Stoked.

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This still left a lot to come out. I knew I wanted a slat-style bed that would leave lots of room in the interior and allow for storage underneath. I also wanted to incorporate a couple spare seat belts in the same location that they lived when it was in service. Lastly, I wanted a fully functional galley. So I demolished more and more. First was this storage area behind the passenger seat:

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This giant piece of steel whose job was making sure the big oxygen tank stayed where it was meant to:

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And then eventually the passenger side wall, the floor and the bench, revealing a totally blank canvas:

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At this point, I had spent insane amounts of time (and equally crazy sums of money) on Amazon for all of the camper accoutrements. The list was long, but included the entire solar charging system (2 x100W panels), 200AH of deep cycle AGM batteries, wiring, inline and blade fuses, fuse boxes, switches, a vent fan, the Suburban NT 16-SEQ furnace, an Atwood sink/cooktop combo,...really the list could go on. I wasn't holding back for this build. So I got busy(er), first with the vent van (I highly recommend wearing long sleeves if you're cutting into fiberglass. Also, for any cutting or drilling use a metal-rated object. There's a layer of metal in it that will kill your cutting medium).:

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The previous attachements for UHF/VHF radio antennas proved to be a perfect spot to run the solar wires into the cabin. I bought a rubber grommet that fit perfectly into the hole (how often does that happen?!) and sealed all the insertion points. If you're reading this as a guide, I would highly recommend using 3M's VHB tape, Self-tapping screws (if you feel you need it) through the mounts and the VHB tape and topped off with Eternabond for a sealant. I had to mess with all kinds of different methods and all by myself crawling on top of the van and trying not to fall off. I don't recommend. Do it once with tried and true methods, don't get leaks and love your set up!).

And then it was time to start the interior build in earnest.
 

Recommended books for Overlanding

Dreaming of Jupiter
by Ted Simon
From $18.09
Crossing the Congo: Over Land and Water in a Hard Place
by Mike Martin, Chloe Baker, Charlie Hatch-Barnwell
From $29.19
Road Fever (Vintage Departures)
by Tim Cahill
From $6.99
Tschiffely's Ride: Ten Thousand Miles in the Saddle from ...
by Aimé Tschiffely
From $10.99

epinfRN

New member
Continuing the build...

Cool rig, keep us updated with your progress!!!!!
Thanks, @The Punisher!

I should have explained sooner where I am at in the build. I've been recounting lots of the build in the first two posts and will continue to do so until we come up to the present day status of the build. I should be able to complete that task today. I'm also going to try and fix the image issue. I looked over the thread today and the sideways photos are INCREDIBLY annoying to the eye.

With that said, where were we? I believe we were finishing the wall insulation and adding more tongue and groove to the walls, leaving the thick steel beam onto which the seat belts attach exposed:

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A word on the flooring. In my previous build (which, might I add, was the first time I had ever attempted anything of the sort. I have no trade background, so everything was try-as-you-go done, and this was evident in the final product) the cab floor was rusted through in some spots, revealing undesirably and unexpectedly large vistas of the ground below. This caused a lot of extra repair work (and stress) that I didn't want to go through in my next build. Knowing that the ambulance would have a subfloor already in place represented a very nice time, stress and money (all that savings eventually went out the window) savings. After the walls, wiring and insulation were all installed I bought some of Home Depot's peel and stick flooring. I bought two boxes, but only ended up using one... This stuff is AWESOME. For less than $50 I covered the entire subfloor except for a small amount which would be covered under the furniture in the end (I admit I should have gone over with plaster or some sort of insulating tape to cover seems, but didn't). Moreover, I didn't have to futz with any glues or dealing with rolling extra vinyl flooring around. Not to mention, the stuff is quite robust and, when applied correctly (I didn't:D), it's even tolerant of water. Given the application of the rig, this was great! Once the floor was in I was really able to start imagining what it may one day look like:

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With this in I really went into imagineering mode. I knew roughly where I wanted to put my bed, my galley and my furnace but I wasn't yet able to completely imagine it all coalescing. To complicate matters, the furnace is a direct output style, meaning that it had to be permanently installed in a place where I could cut intake and exhaust vents through the side of the van, allow proper space for the several wires and plumbing coming into and out of it while also navigating proper space for the bed and galley. I also thought I had in mind a great bed layout-a slat style bench that would collapse allowing for extra room during the day. I eventually settled on a bed style that incorporated all of my needs that I'll go into further details of later on.

So I found a home for the furnace and began making cuts in the internal skin of the van to allow for its placement. This is where it is now permanently installed, but this was just a mock-up:

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While I was mocking it up, I discovered the extent of the rust on the body. It was truly everywhere. When I first purchased it, coming shortly off the loss of my last van to rust issues, I was particularly sensitive to rusted-looking vans. The frame on this one looked solid and, while there was some rust on the rocker panels (this is a chronic problem on vehicles, especially American manufactured vehicles, in the Northeast because we feel it prudent to coat our winter roads with salt instead of sand), the stressed members of the frame were rock solid and where there was any rust it was limited to the surface. I convinced myself that rocker repair would be decently inexpensive (it wasn't) and was very surprised to hear an estimate that was quite far off from what I expected. At this point, I was too invested to turn back (this is a recurring theme), and without the vital rust repair I couldn't install the furnace. So I took a deep breath and sent the van off to the body shop.

At this point I have to back up a little to confront a storage problem that I had solved previously but have yet to bring up. Specifically, I had to find a way to house BBQ grill-sized propane tanks outside of the van (and also plumb that propane in-this we will confront later). I also needed a means of transporting at least one bicycle, probably two. I had looked at lots of configurations, including putting a Westy style permanent propane tank on the frame, adding swingarms here and there to the bumper, either home-made or from Aluminess, maybe storing the bikes inside the van...everything always came out to be a compromise. Nothing worked flawlessly and since I was investing in this rig for a long time I had to make a long-term, comfortable solution. After all, I will likely be spending extended periods inside of this thing, so comfort is of high value.

So I pondered. Then I pondered some more, followed by considering and weighing of all my options and cost. I decided that, if I were to make some concessions and mix and match lots of different solutions, I would spend a lot and not get everything I wanted. I stepped back and looked at that option vs. what I considered the absolute solution to all of my problems: an Aluminess bumper. It seemed I could spend a marginal amount more over the option of concessions and get literally everything I wanted and needed for comfort, safety and looks. Something that would really make this rig look good. So I called Larry at Action Van again and asked him to order me up an Aluminess bumper and ladder (I had about had it crawling up on top of this thing with a rickety step ladder) full with a bike-rack swingarm, galley box and spare tire carrier. The auto-body offered to install it for me while they fixed the rust issues and I was happy to let them do so. That was one thing I couldn't do on my own. When this all came back from the auto body, Ati-van was really starting to look the part:

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Stay tuned for more shortly...
 

gmtech

Observer
sweet I just picked up a rig similar to yours! mines a 99 I got out of Chicago but turns out it spent its whole life in North Carolina! title was even from there. thing has no rust what so ever!. Im just as stoked as you are about
ABMO life!
 
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