Rufledt HalfDork
3/26/11 6:14 p.m.

See bottom of post for cliff notes

Project 1987 Ford-ultimate-tow-and-roadtrip-with-free-candy-but-hopefully-not-creepy-Econoline-van.
Part 0.1 planning the pre-planning conceptualization of the long way off and possibly not gonna happen project.

Finally the time has arrived when I no longer need my van for daily transportation. I still don't have a place to work on it, but I have plenty of time to read up, prepare, save up, and plan. First off, my plan will be to fix all rust- eliminate it and stop it from ever comming back, ever. The rest is all up in the air. Keep in mind I haven't researched any of this yet, and I have nothing but time to finish this. I don't care if it takes years of my spare time to complete. I probobly can't start for a couple years anyway.

Why use this van:

-I like the way it looks
-It is in no way collectable, valuable, or rare, so screw ups aren't too serious and I don't have to worry about keeping it original, not that it has been "original" since about 6 months after it was made.
-It isn't plagued by rust (some surface rust that I keep in check, but no holes, and the frame is shockingly good for a WI vehicle)
-I know its history, which involves no wrecks
-Millions and millions of econolines and F150 trucks were made, and I have never had to order a part- Autozone has had everything I needed in stock.
-Sentimental attatchment out the wazoo
-It's old enough that I don't have to get it smogged where I am, though I do plan to update the emissions equipment. I will certainly not be living where i am right now by the time I actually start doing anything so I'll have to adjust the plan for whatever laws I need to obey, but I'll cross that bridge when I come to it.
-Everything on it still works (no bugs to chase down)
-I have the support of my future SWMBO who wants to go road tripping in it
-Finally, and here's the big one, I already own it.


-Moar Power! And mileage (not too difficult)
-Tow 5,000lbs or more (already did this for years, and is still equipped to do so) without excessive heat
-Updated interior a bit
-Reliability (already has this, I just don't want to screw it up)
-Reuse as much as possible, but I'm not against new/junkyard parts so long as they work just fine. In fact, I'd welcome any way to snag fancy tech from newer junked cars to be added to my van's current no-tech, or newer Ford OEM parts.
-Keep it retro looking to some degree
-Do all of this for far less than the cost of a new tow/roadtrip van. also easy, have you priced new conversion vans lately?!?! This one (for van plus one-off custom conversion) was about $30k in 1987, $53,708.35 in 2009 money!
-Honor my (still living) father's motto of "enough is ok, more than enough is better, but overkill is the best"


Currently it has a Windsor 302 W/ aod tranny. Some engine mods, tranny oil cooler. According to the original owner (my dad) it could hardly keep up with traffic, and breached 60 in over 20 seconds before the engine modifications. Afterwards, it would hit 60 in 12 seconds and could break 100mph. That was 70,000 miles ago. Now it takes 13-14 seconds to hit 60. 137,000 miles currently, burns a little oil (about as much as my Rx8), and about a half gallon of coolant a year. Well, it doens't actually burn the coolant, it just gets hot occasionally and the coolent goes out the radiator overflow dealy onto the ground. This is the only problem- during colder months, it nearly overheats before the thermostat starts cycling, after which it is perfectly fine. It starts in -20f weather (or it did 2 winters ago, it doens't get that cold here in MA), and the tranny shifts smoothly. It gets about 11mpg mixed burning premium the last time i checked.

I wouldn't mind updating it with a newer gas engine instead of rebuilding the ancient winsor, but i'd like to keep it Ford. Any ideas? Newer 5.4? Triton V10? the new 5.0? :P I'm also not against a turbo or two... Obviously this doesn't need lightning fast responses or anything resembling high RPM. I was told by a ford mechanic once that the transmission I have wasn't suited for power or towing, and my dad said that in the post-engine-modification towing days he couldn't floor it in 1st, or the thing would jump out of gear, so that will have to be replaced even if the engine stays. Also, engine swap or not, I'd like to go megasquirt on this one.

My dad's current work van has the 6.8L V10, but assuming it would fit in mine (somehow I doubt it would fit without serious work) I still can't wait until he's done with it. He either sells his work vans at the point where they are still fully functional and therefor too pricey, or beyond the point where the engine can be saved.

I'm unsure about the rear end. The manual that came with this thing has all of the rear ends listed and the codes, but when I looked at the sticker, it was faded and hard to read. The letter I saw did not match, and I remember my dad saying something about ordering it with an extra tall rear end for 'cruizing'. The sticker also said "incomplete vehicle" and he also told me it came with no seats at all, a totally empty shell. He had to buy a seat to put in it to drive home, so it might just be an odd van. I can say with certainty that it is an open diff, though.


It currently has an air suspention in the back that we used to pump up with air when towing to prevent squatting. As of last summer when I moved to boston with 2000lbs of crap in the back of the van, it still worked. Is it possible/even neccesary to strengthen the chassis for what i'm thinking of doing? It's a conversion van with full oak wood interior and used to tow as much as I ever plan to tow with it and never had a problem, so maybe I'll just look into repairing any rust (i only found one spot so far) and maybe replacing the ancient suspension bushings. It's never going to corner like a sports car, I just want it to hold the weight.

As for a hitch, We've been using the bumper ball ever since we sold the camper to upgrade to a fifth wheel and pickup, but the old hitch is still there. It's one of these: Notice it's rated to handle a gross trailer weight of 10K lbs, with 1000 lb tongue weight. Overkill for this van, indeed.


Back in the towing days, there was one event of overheating from stop and go traffic and complete loss of brakes. The trailer brakes saved us, but the problem was appearant. My dad's ford mechanic friend did something (different calipers i think he said?) and the problem never came back. It is still severely front biased, and I wouldn't mind if they were a bit more powerful. Is there any way to swap on better/newer style Ford truck parts for a bit more power and/or fade resistance? Rear discs or better drums? Home depot style rigged up brake cooling ducts? Will I be able to tow 5000lbs down a long slope without losing brakes? Remember, this van has no chance of being pretty, and it will never grace the floor of SEMA, I just want it to work beautifully.


The paint is at best faded and mismatched from rust patching, and at worst hiding surface rust that has yet to bubble. I would prefer to keep the same type of paint scheme, but would be open to other options. Unofficial paint-my-van contest for no prize? I already know the hood will need new metal/replacing, as there is some rusting through, but no holes yet. The doors may be in the same boat, but there is no rusting through. yet. Possibly the same for the sliding door. No holes, or rusting through, but I feel there is some hidden inside around the bottom edge under the paint.

The gold roof rack is also kinda ugly, and the gold anodizing on the ladder, roof rack and running boards isn't so vivid anymore. Also, I'd like to keep anodized gold running boards and not those terrible newer plastic ones. Does anybody re-anodize stuff? Or possibly sell newer ones that look like the ones on this van? (immage in my garage). The current headlight set up is too hard to explain, I'll try to get a picture. Of course, I'll have to get a GRM sticker to put on the back. Speaking of the back, it has an aftermarket rear bumper that is bent from my brother's brilliant backing up skills. I can't find another one like it, but maybe i'm not looking in the right places. I'll have to get a picture. It might be repairable.

It currently has 15" gold anodized aluminum wheels from American Racing. They aren't in the greatest shape, but they are straight. The anodizing isn't pretty anymore, and the plastic covers in the middle of 2 of them are deformed quite a bit. (the front wheels at the time of the brake overheating episode mentioned above) They don't make the same wheels anymore, so I might want new ones. If I do get new ones, I want them to look retro, none of those newer bling bling truck wheels. I also wouldn't mind newer ford van wheels, like the polished forged aluminum ones that come on new econlines... I wonder what they would look like gold anodized...


Currently sporting Oak wood and pinstriped brown cloth, with brown carpeting. Again, I'll try to get a picture. I have done some woodworking in the past, but i've never re-carpentered up a van. I have quite a bit of the same cloth material, but I doubt I have enough to reupholster everything that needs it. The oak is also a bit dry and starting to split/discolor. I want to replace it, along with the current entetainment system (VCR and 4" color TV).

I'm thinking PS3 (not just for games, but for DVD and Blueray player, and their availability) and a newer/bigger than 4" flatscreen. the van is currently wired up such that if I plug this dealy into the headphone jack on the TV, the passengers can plug their headphones into jacks next to their seats and listen without disturbing the driver. This seems like a good idea to keep. I'd also like 110v plugs to charge stuff like you see in newer fords.

The stereo will probobly be replaced. Most of the speakers work, but sound bad. The head unit works, though.

The dash has a lot of unused space to play with. The head unit is above the windshield, and the 5 auxiliary switches for the TV and various interior lights are above the driver, whereas the fuses are above the passenger. My dad's 2010 E350 work truck has 4 switches on the dash to power anything he feels like wiring up, and I wouldn't mind seeing some of those in this van, too. Also, the current gauges aren't exactly the best. They don't lie like current car gauges by staying right in the middle all the time, but they are affected by the fan. If i crank up the heat or A/C, The engine appearantly gets hotter, my oil pressure goes up, and I suddenly gain about 4 gallons of fuel. This has caused a problem more than once, but thank you ford for installing 2 gas tanks to protect idiots like me. The gauges are that dull green, does anyone make new ones that would match? I'd like to keep it somewhat retro looking. The seats need some repairing, but that'll take too long to explain, and the rear bench/bed MUST stay, or be replaced with another bench/bed.

The main issue I have is the climate control. There are only 4 vents, and they are in the dash. The A/C (when charged with R12) blows air at 45f, but it doesn't blow enough of it, and it doesn't blow in the back. With a total interior re-do, I want more vents, and possily more blow from the fans somehow. As for the A/C, I read that Vintage Air makes A/C that is pretty good and can be retrofitted to most cars, so perhaps I'll look into that. Also I read there are some heat/sound insulation products (such as those from dynamat insulation) that would help. Any other ideas? Speaking of cooling, there is a cooler in the back (roughly 36 12oz can sized) that has gone all brittle with age. Think a minifridge would fit? I'm gonna need a bigger alternator... It already can't keep up with the extra 8 bright lights in the grill...

I know I'm crazy, but I would like some ideas/reasons to give up or continue, oh great enablers of the interwebs, not that you guys need motivation beyond "help me make this old van more awesome".


My old van needs to be more awesome. Suggest ways to make it more awesome. Anything goes, interior, brakes, paint jobs, anything.

jhaas Reader
3/26/11 7:21 p.m.

wow, that was long, and a waste of time i wana put together a 6.0 3500 family hauler

Toyman01 GRM+ Memberand SuperDork
3/26/11 7:39 p.m.

Cummins Turbo Diesel and a torch will give it great fuel mileage and enough oomph to snatch hell off the hinges. Start there and no matter what else you do it will be memorable. says it'll fit.

Edited to add a F.

Ian F
Ian F SuperDork
3/26/11 7:59 p.m.

Well... that was quite a read...

Anyway, I've had many similar thoughts regarding my old 1990 E-150 conversion van. My ideas are a little different. More towards flexible utility and camping. Plus, mine was raised roof van and after owning one, I'll only own another raised roof van for what I want a van for.

While I like having some windows in a van, a conversion van has too many. To this end, I had planned to go to a junk yard and cut out rear side panels from a cargo van and graft them in place of the rear side window. I'd leave the rear doors in place, although I always left the shades closed since the rear outward sight line was useless anyway.

I've planned a fold down bed on the driver's side behind the front seat. In place, it would be high enough for a cooler and storage containers below.

Flooring would be rubber sheet, cut to fit. With a carpet runner for camping.

I had everything planned out... until SWMBO convinced me to get rid of it and buy a pick-up... (sigh...)

fastEddie SuperDork
3/26/11 8:15 p.m.

Didn't read your term paper but saw this earlier while looking for something else.

Feedyurhed HalfDork
3/26/11 10:02 p.m.

Yep you should have supplied cliff notes for that one!

Rufledt HalfDork
3/26/11 10:06 p.m.

You were warned! long post! time waster! Cliff notes added to original post.

Toyman01: I discounted diesel in my plan early on after seeing a couple massive Ford V8 diesels... I never thought of the I6, but if they say it fits.... Those things have some nice torque numbers, too

internetautomart SuperDork
3/26/11 11:12 p.m.

cut off the back half, toss duallies under there, and put a 5th wheel on the back.

internetautomart SuperDork
3/26/11 11:19 p.m.

White_and_Nerdy Reader
3/27/11 9:10 a.m.


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