Project Van: Adding Pop-Out Windows

Update by Tom Suddard to the Ford E-250 project car
Jun 27, 2019

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. Up next: Making the windows open. 

This van, like most cargo vans, doesn't have much airflow compared to a tent. That's because only the front windows open. Most people would be content with that, but most people aren't camping in them–-but we are. To the workshop!

While most Econolines have fixed windows like so:



Some had pop-out windows all around. The internet seems to think Ford stopped making pop-out rear windows after about 1994 because people were driving around with them open and inhaling exhaust, but we couldn't find anything definitive to support that. Either way, junkyards are so full of these things that it wasn't hard to find a full set of pop-out windows and all of their associated hardware. Total cost? About $100 for a set of four windows and the associated hardware from our local LKQ. Next step: Installing them.

Step 1: Cut the old butyl tape holding the windows in.



And after unscrewing a few nuts, we'd successfully liberated the old windows. 


One problem: The tape remained.


We cleaned that off with an eraser wheel and Prep-Sol (not at once!), and were left with a nice, clean surface.




Next, we'll prepare our new window/frame combos.


These have old tape on them from the junkyard, so use a screwdriver and more Prep-Sol to clean them, too. Don't scrimp on the prep work–they'll leak or rust or fall off if you do.


Then, put new butyl tape on the window (we sourced a roll from our local body supply shop), pop it in, bolt it down, and you're done!





We repeated the same process for our side windows:


After we finished installing the new windows, we turned our attention to curtains: After all, nobody likes changing in public, and most paddocks don't afford much privacy.

Here were our priorities for our window shades:

  1. Be cheap. 
  2. Be easy to install. 
  3. Be easy to store in the van. 
  4. Be durable. 
  5. Be easy to remove (nobody wants curtains while they're towing their race car). 

That ruled out any off-the-shelf options meant for traditional RVs… TO THE LINEN CLOSET!

We grabbed some old sheets, then bought some magnets from our local home improvement store. We used 16 strong bricks, and two little hook magnets. We bought a wooden dowel, too.


We attached the hook magnets behind the front seats, then cut the dowel to length to sit on top of them:



Then, we started cutting up our sheets. 


Rather than break out the sewing machine to create a pocket for our wooden dowel to ride in, we simply removed the elastic band from a fitted sheet and used the pocket left behind.IMG_1357

Just like that, we'd created a privacy curtain for the rear of our van.


For the side windows, we kept things real simple: Cut squares of cloth, stick on with four magents, done!


Ta-dah! We'd made a set of cheap, durable, rattle-free curtains that stow in a small bag when we're driving.

So, what's it like camping in our van? Here's the basic layout. These were taken after the long weekend, so things are a bit of a mess, but you get the general idea. Up front we have a chair, 12V fridge, blue bin of food and kitchen stuff, bucket, fan, light, etc. Rear has a bed, trash can, tie-downs, life jackets, water, umbrella, shovel, axe, and a tool box on top of a pelican case that acts as a table and stores more tools and supplies. It's not fancy, but it's super easy to reconfigure and dirt cheap. It works well enough that we don't have any immediate plans to build a "real" interior for the van.




When we're not sleeping, we fold the futon up into a couch, like so:





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View comments on the GRM forums
spacecadet GRM+ Memberand HalfDork
6/27/19 10:39 a.m.

This was what I needed to see this morning. I love this project. 

Datsun310Guy UltimaDork
6/27/19 10:41 a.m.

My wife made a similar one for my garage service door window.  She sewed flat magnets in the top and bottom.  Never lose the magnets.  Pull on or off instantly.  

Tom Suddard
Tom Suddard GRM+ Memberand Director of Marketing & Digital Assets
6/27/19 12:35 p.m.
spacecadet said:

This was what I needed to see this morning. I love this project. 

It's not impossible, We just haven't figured out how to do it yet.

Glad to hear that! You’ll see a bunch of updates coming out over the next few weeks; I finally sat down and wrote them all. 

grover GRM+ Memberand HalfDork
6/27/19 1:14 p.m.

very cool and relevant. 

californiamilleghia HalfDork
6/27/19 2:08 p.m.

I did the same on my Chevy van , but GM saved money by not drilling the holes if you got solid windows , 

So we needed to drill the holes for the popouts.......they were "almost" square !   Enough that the latch closed at least !

Also made some pockets for the back doors to store small things like tape , bungees etc

Aaron_King PowerDork
6/27/19 2:11 p.m.

Any plans to add a roof vent?

Tom Suddard
Tom Suddard GRM+ Memberand Director of Marketing & Digital Assets
6/27/19 2:43 p.m.

Not at this point. With the pop-out windows and a 12v fan, it's quite comfortable to sleep in.

Karacticus GRM+ Memberand Dork
6/27/19 2:47 p.m.

Looking ready for your spot down by the river!


californiamilleghia HalfDork
6/27/19 2:53 p.m.

Any back up camera to help line up the trailer and not run over things ?

Or parking sensors to help you park in smaller spaces ?

Tom Suddard
Tom Suddard GRM+ Memberand Director of Marketing & Digital Assets
6/27/19 3:01 p.m.
ojannen Reader
6/27/19 3:04 p.m.

Do you have any concerns about a fan or fridge running over night and draining the car battery?

Tom Suddard
Tom Suddard GRM+ Memberand Director of Marketing & Digital Assets
6/27/19 3:18 p.m.

Yes, we'll cover the solar panel in a future update. 

californiamilleghia HalfDork
6/27/19 3:57 p.m.

Thanks the backup camera looks the same as the $4 ones on eBay , good to see a photo of it mounted and see how small it is which will make it easy  to use 2 , one for trailer hitch and the other for backup


6/27/19 4:18 p.m.

Interested in this project, I have an '03 E-150 Chateau.  Great hauler, rated at 6300 lbs with the 5.4.

I found a new set of those windows, and the interior surrounds for under $200.  But they have that mirror like green tint vs. the medium dark of the factory privacy glass.  All the local tint guys said no way to match so I sold them.  Tell me the fix?  Keep up the greart work.

Tom Suddard
Tom Suddard GRM+ Memberand Director of Marketing & Digital Assets
6/27/19 4:35 p.m.

These weren’t tinted at all, but I had them tinted with 5% black tint, which would cover any difference quite well. 

Xceler8x UberDork
6/28/19 10:17 a.m.

Great project. I'm loving the utility and low investment on this one. Big vans are crazy cheap compared to pickups. 

Ian F
Ian F MegaDork
6/28/19 10:23 a.m.

Did you do any sort of screen to keep bugs out?

Tom Suddard
Tom Suddard GRM+ Memberand Director of Marketing & Digital Assets
6/28/19 12:49 p.m.

Yes–we've used screens from for years and never been disappointed. 


Billy_Bottle_Caps Dork
6/29/19 2:34 p.m.

Great update! Relevant to current needs

redtanrt10 New Reader
6/30/19 12:47 a.m.

Hey Tom, loving this project since I’ve got an E150. I need to look into the inverter and going back to the junk yard for rear windows 

Here’s a tip or future purchase idea for you. The bed looks good but you can find an oem bench/bed seat. Ford used them in mid ‘90’s then discontinued them. Looks like a stock 4 passenger bench but has an extra panel behind the seat back that folds out. Their pretty slick and the you also have factory belts for passengers while your rolling 

I also like  your external power and may think about that. I just added a black and decker internal outlet that runs off the cigarette lighter but that inverter looks slick. Thanks!!

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