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Tom Suddard
Tom Suddard GRM+ Memberand Director of Marketing & Digital Assets
7/8/19 8:03 a.m.
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We’re working on turning this $2000 van into a do-it-all machine that can tow a car to the track, then serve as a mobile workshop and hotel room for the weekend. 

We'll say it: Our van was scary to drive. Empty it wasn't terrible, but hitch up our small enclosed trailer, an…

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arthuruscg
arthuruscg New Reader
7/8/19 9:49 a.m.

Raid a junkyard for the steering stabalizer and mounts from the ambulance E350/450s. All of the mounting wholes should be there.

duke906
duke906 New Reader
7/8/19 9:51 a.m.

Love the project, recently bought a 2002 Ford E-250 Sportsmobile RB Penthouse with only 27,000 miles, a southern vehicle  and like your projects.  Drove it back from Arkansas to Minnesota and was surprised how well it drove (unloaded).  Will be updating to be more of a tow vehicle as it is not set-up with a hitch so your additions, helper springs, sway bars and shocks have interest.  I have not got the vehicle in the air to inspect bushings but will.

Does your van have a tranny cooler? 

Tom Suddard
Tom Suddard GRM+ Memberand Director of Marketing & Digital Assets
7/8/19 11:44 a.m.

It does 

freetors
freetors Reader
7/8/19 12:07 p.m.

I'm having trouble understanding how a beefier rear sway bar would help in the towing department. The force applied at the hitch is essentially at axle height, therefore the roll moment on the vehicle chassis due to the trailer should be very small (negligible?). Unless, you're also planning loading up a bunch of junk inside the van too, then that would be totally understandable.

deaconblue
deaconblue New Reader
7/8/19 12:14 p.m.

Are you sure you got the correct shocks for your van?  The ones you pulled off sure look to be much larger diameter than the ones you put on.  What is the GVW on the van, 8600 lbs or something below?  If it is 8600 lbs, then you have a E250 HD.

The KYB GR-2/Excel-G shocks for the E250 are #344370 front and #344371 rear.

The KYB MonoMax shocks for the E250 HD are #565014 front and #565014 rear.

Tom Suddard
Tom Suddard GRM+ Memberand Director of Marketing & Digital Assets
7/8/19 12:20 p.m.

To be completely honest, I've never sat down and worked the math on exactly how a rear sway bar helps when towing, but it definitely does. We've added big rear bars to most of our tow vehicles over the years, and every time it's made a big improvement. I'll see if I can find an expert to explain it in science terms.

Tom Suddard
Tom Suddard GRM+ Memberand Director of Marketing & Digital Assets
7/8/19 12:21 p.m.

In reply to deaconblue :

It's not the HD version, but thanks for keeping an eye out!

californiamilleghia
californiamilleghia HalfDork
7/8/19 12:45 p.m.

I just got a new to me 2005 Chevy/ GMC Express van , 

When I first got it the rattles and noises drove me crazy , now that I have some carpets on the floor and some stuff in it , the noise has been cut down a lot , 

Do the urethane bushings squeek ?  Or transfer more noise than the stock rubber bushings ?

And do you have any of the antisway bars and chains connecting the trailer to your van ? I  do not understand exactly what they do !

Thanks for giving some "love" to the Vans ,  most stories are on Pick ups.

Cheers

 

jstein77
jstein77 UltraDork
7/8/19 12:53 p.m.

I'm glad that flying steering box didn't catch any part of you on its way down.

Jordan Rimpela
Jordan Rimpela GRM+ Memberand Digital Editor
7/8/19 12:58 p.m.
californiamilleghia said:

I just got a new to me 2005 Chevy/ GMC Express van , 

When I first got it the rattles and noises drove me crazy , now that I have some carpets on the floor and some stuff in it , the noise has been cut down a lot , 

Do the urethane bushings squeek ?  Or transfer more noise than the stock rubber bushings ?

And do you have any of the antisway bars and chains connecting the trailer to your van ? I  do not understand exactly what they do !

Thanks for giving some "love" to the Vans ,  most stories are on Pick ups.

Cheers

 

Tom's certainly driven it more than I, but I did not notice any unnecessary squeaks or more noise from the urethane bushings when I drove it to Atlanta. 

Tom Suddard
Tom Suddard GRM+ Memberand Director of Marketing & Digital Assets
7/8/19 1:07 p.m.

Nope, they've been quiet and comfortable for 20,000 miles now.

RJStanford
RJStanford GRM+ Memberand New Reader
7/8/19 1:48 p.m.

Would love to see a total cost break-down at the end of this - or even adding up as we go. A van does seem like a great choice compared to a truck/SUV, but I'm indecisive about adding another special-purpose vehicle to the fleet unless the cost savings justify it.

FPZguy
FPZguy New Reader
7/8/19 1:52 p.m.

I have a F250 HD Diesel and recently replaced the shocks, which looked very similar to the yellow shocks you took off the van.  I replaced them with Bilstein, which are amazing.  Having used KYB in the past, I'm wondering why you used them?

 

Tom Suddard
Tom Suddard GRM+ Memberand Director of Marketing & Digital Assets
7/8/19 1:52 p.m.

In reply to RJStanford :

We'll do a cost recap post at the end of the project.

 

Mch3jsb
Mch3jsb
7/8/19 2:18 p.m.

One thing I’ve always done when aligning a Ford with I-beam suspension is calculate your loaded rear axle weight and put that much junk in the back when you bring it in. The castor and camber can them be calculated and dialed in with bushings a little better and the front tires won’t cup and chop as fast. 

Donatello
Donatello New Reader
7/8/19 6:31 p.m.

Where's the rust? Lucky you. I am jealous.

spacecadet
spacecadet GRM+ Memberand Dork
7/8/19 7:36 p.m.

the helpers are an interesting concept. glad you guys went that way so we can see how it all goes together. 

kevinatfms
kevinatfms GRM+ Memberand Reader
7/9/19 7:35 a.m.

Any thought of going with an E350 rear set of leaf springs over the Hellwig add-a-leaf? They would fit, have a higher spring rate and should be cheaper than the Hellwig kit.

redtanrt10
redtanrt10 New Reader
7/9/19 9:55 a.m.

Tom,

another great article.  I haven't done the Helwig's yet or the poly bushings but one day?

someone else mentioned the E-450 steering stabilizer and I added one, pretty reasonable $$'s an easy to install.  I went with the Bilstein's on my e-150.  Not sure if I missed it in your notes but even at 50k and 7 years old the rear shocks were painful to remove!!  

I had bought the RAS leaf spring helper that gave my van a 1 -1 1/2 lift in the back, seems similar to what you installed 

Recently I added the Timkin Bump stops.  Pretty reasonable price and I definitely feel them work when I have my 5k car/trailer on the bumps.

thanks for everything your doing!!

CyberEric
CyberEric HalfDork
7/9/19 11:55 a.m.

Awesome. Does it handle like a Miata now?

Also, what is the difference between the E250 and E250 HD?

Tom Suddard
Tom Suddard GRM+ Memberand Director of Marketing & Digital Assets
7/9/19 1:03 p.m.

It definitely  handles like a Miata now. It's even done Tail of the Dragon, and I had motorcycles pulling over to get out of my way.

I chose the Hellwig pieces for two reasons: One, they're easier to install. And two, they're adjustable, allowing me to dial in exactly the right spring rate.

ekauppi7
ekauppi7 New Reader
1/31/20 9:58 p.m.

I was sorry to see in GRM recently that you have retired this van.

I have a 2002 E-350 van with the 7.3 Powerstroke diesel.  It has a 10k tow rating and we routinely tow a 25' toyhauler which is over 7000lbs with motorcycles and gear in it.  Works great!  We've towed to Nova Scotia and all over the eastern USA.  I've even passed other rigs on two lane roads while towing. 

I haven't done much to it except add a much-bigger-than-stock trans cooler, and routine brake and suspension wear items.  It has 250k miles on it now.  I expect the powertrain to be good for at least another 100k.  I might look into that front swaybar kit, thanks for the tip.

IMO, as long as you don't need to tow a fifth-wheel, diesel vans make great tow vehicles.  The only weakness in our rig is traction when off pavement.  We go to a weekend event, they park us in a field, it rains and on Monday we have trouble getting out.  So I've switched to rear tires with very aggressive tread which took a hit on the handling.  Next will be a front hitch for a tow point and a winch mount.  I'm seriously considering an ARB air locker or similar locking rear axle conversion.  I have the factory limited slip but it doesn't seem to do much in a muddy field.  The off-road folks tell me that a real 100% locker is almost like magic.

Vans are so un-cool that they're cool.  And cheap!  I'm very happy with mine.

 

 

Purple Frog
Purple Frog GRM+ Memberand New Reader
1/31/20 10:24 p.m.

Sort of sad to see GRM van project retired.  Totally understand, based on the unit you started with and the need to sleep in it trackside.

150,000 on the odometer, and I'm keeping mine.  Gasser.  E350  Tows a trailer just about everyday.  The enclosed trailer is a 20'.

Never cared for pickups... everything either gets wet or stolen.

ekauppi7
ekauppi7 New Reader
4/30/20 9:50 p.m.

Re handling when towing:

Your first step needs to be a good load equalizing sway control hitch.  They make a world of difference.

It'll fix the sag in the rear, it'll fix the funny handling from the front being up in the air, and it'll fix the tail wagging the dog.

I bought and recommend a Blue Ox swaypro.  It was around $800 but compared to other suspension mods that's not crazy money.  And compared to other suspension mods it was super easy to install and tune.  I don't know why I don't see more race car towing rigs with this basic safety/handling equipment, it's pretty common in the RV towing world.

Our van is an '02 E-350 with 220K miles on it.  In the suspension department all we did is new kingpin bushings and new (cheap Monroe HD) shocks on it.  And the hitch.  We tow an 8k+ toyhauler, have towed it all over the eastern US, Nova Scotia to Georgia, taking us and our bikes to Deals Gap and other fun places.  It's not a white knuckle ride at all.  Half the time my wife or my teen kid are driving it, no problem.

I might try the Hellwig sway bars, just because I always want better handling.  But really, a good load equalizing hitch makes a huge difference.

  

 

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