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Thread: Herbie's Chevy Astrolander/ZMB Build Thread

  1. #11
    Join Date
    May 2007
    Location
    Bellingham, WA
    Posts
    346
    Hi,

    Cool project. I'm a friend of T.Low's and a SMB owner. Having driven Tom's Rastro van, it rides like a Caddy and corners like a sports car compared to my 4x4 SMB. The 4x4 SMB really is, and drives like, a 1 ton truck. Off road the Astro seems to work well on rough roads, and easy trails, which is what is was "re-designed" for. All around a pretty nice package.

    I was just telling a friend a couple days ago about my idea of using a hard shell RTT with the bottom cut out as the basis for a low cost pop top, and here you are with the same idea! Hmmm, good to know others are thinking about this too.

    Looking forward to your posts.

    Brian Rutherford
    Last edited by Railvan; 04-30-2010 at 04:08 AM.
    2006 Sportsmobile, Ford RB, 6.0 diesel, SMB 4x4, RB50
    2001 Suzuki Grand Vitara, V6, manual trans, manual hubs.
    http://www.pbase.com/railvan

  2. #12
    Join Date
    May 2007
    Location
    Bellingham, WA
    Posts
    346
    Quote Originally Posted by Herbie View Post
    "Based on a few trips of varying length with my wife (pre-pregnancy), and some experience with "suburban" infant care, we tried to figure out what the big hurdles were for getting the whole family out camping on a regular basis.

    * No need to get dressed for a midnight pee. This should almost be the top of the list. Cannot stress how important this is to my wife. With a small child over the next few years, I'm sure this will be more than a luxury."
    A PortaPotty in a van is a great thing for women camping, and, I gotta say, I am spoiled by it too. I thought I would hardly ever use it, but I do often. Not having to go outside at night is great. I have used it in cities too where I can't find an easy place to stop and pee. Just pull over, close the curtains, do your biz, and you're back on the road in a minute.

    Brian Rutherford
    2006 Sportsmobile, Ford RB, 6.0 diesel, SMB 4x4, RB50
    2001 Suzuki Grand Vitara, V6, manual trans, manual hubs.
    http://www.pbase.com/railvan

  3. #13
    Join Date
    Mar 2007
    Location
    The Nanny State
    Posts
    5,772
    Having used my fiance's PETT on a cold & windy night in the Mojave inside the TrailBlazer's tent I will agree that something like this is a good idea. I will suggest that the relative ease of waste disposal be carefully weighed. I personally think that the PETT system, while more expensive, lends itself better to this type of use.
    semi self-banned

  4. #14
    you've got another dedicated follower of this thread Herbie! Can't wait to see the progress!

  5. #15
    Join Date
    Jan 2009
    Location
    Elgin, IL (Chicago burb)
    Posts
    1,265
    Quote Originally Posted by GhettoBago View Post
    you've got another dedicated follower of this thread Herbie! Can't wait to see the progress!
    Ditto, but I guess I didn't have to state that with my Astro geekness.
    Aaron

    2005 Astro (Gandalf) - AWD, 4.3L, 3.42, 140k+ miles
    1997 Astro (Grumpy - $250 Rally Van) - AWD, 4.3L, 3.42, LSD, 2" lift, 31" tires, 335k+ orig engine, $30 eBay fuel pump
    2016 Patriot (MaK - Her Jeep) Painfully stock
    1980 KE100 (Bessie) - 100cc of fury

  6. #16
    Join Date
    Apr 2010
    Location
    FL/TN/IRAQ
    Posts
    134
    Aaron, do you have more information on this rally? I've checked out the website, and it looks awesome! something that I'd love to participate in. When are the 2010 dates? I haven't found them online...
    2004 Jeep Wrangler X
    2000 Jeep Cherokee Sport

  7. #17
    Join Date
    Mar 2008
    Location
    san diego, ca
    Posts
    5,062
    Quote Originally Posted by Herbie View Post
    I'll be leaving it in for a while, mostly while I work on/pay for other aspects of the build, but I will be driving it as-is for several months, at least.

    The main reason for the swap is to get the low range. Granted 2.7:1 isn't a deep deep low range, but anything that will help the big tall van move more slowly over uneven ground is going to be a big plus. On a daily-driver note, the electronic AWD engagement is a little clunky (versus the older viscous system, which was smoother), and I expect a small but non-trivial mileage boost when I can disengage the front axle on the street.
    Aha, I see. Sounds like good reasoning to me, I guess I had never heard the basis for the change. (I should have assumed you had a inate fondness for AWD, being a subie guy, and would only swap out such a system for good reason)

    Its a smart swap to a great tcase, and having the 2.7:1 on my cherokee, I can tell you its plenty low for what you and I use our vehicles for.

    cheers, dude.
    "For He so loved the world, that He sent His only son..."

    Brian
    KJ6GXX
    Mama's rig:
    2015 Ford F150 crew cab:"Snowball"
    Bigdaddy's daily:
    2013 Honda Civic:"The appliance"
    Bigdaddy's therapy:
    1947 CJ2A:"Desert Rose"

  8. #18
    Join Date
    Jul 2009
    Location
    San Diego, CA
    Posts
    1,989

    Default Mapping the roof crown





    After the paper template of the roof's X-Y plane comes the mapping of the roof crown in the Z axis. Starting with this single foamcore spine we will make a series of ribs and scribe the curve and features of the roof. This may not all be strictly necessary, but it will allow us to make an excellent model of the roof so my friend can really see all the curves to help decide the next steps.
    ChooseAdventure.net
    "My minivan is cooler than your bro-truck"
    2003 Chevrolet Astrolander 4WD Van - DIY GTRV PopTop, 4" Lift

  9. #19
    Join Date
    Mar 2008
    Location
    san diego, ca
    Posts
    5,062
    Quote Originally Posted by Herbie View Post
    So my first post outlined some of my reasons for doing this project, along with some of the implementation goals, but I never really detailed what my criteria for success were. This will hopefully explain both why I tackled a van camper, and why an Astro. Based on a few trips of varying length with my wife (pre-pregnancy), and some experience with "suburban" infant care, we tried to figure out what the big hurdles were for getting the whole family out camping on a regular basis. In something resembling an order-of-importance, our design criteria:

    * Affordable. We have a discretionary budget, but its a small one. A Sportmobile, even a used one isn't in the cards for us for a few years, at least. Similarly, $10k for a "pro" 4x4 conversion would be a hard sell.

    * Reliable. I like to tinker with cars, but I want to be able to have some adventures without worrying I'm putting my family at risk that they'll have to wait out a breakdown (or worse).

    * Everybody sleeps IN/ON the vehicle. This comes from a variety of factors, mostly related to my wife's comfort (both physical/emotional).

    * No need to get dressed for a midnight pee. This should almost be the top of the list. Cannot stress how important this is to my wife. With a small child over the next few years, I'm sure this will be more than a luxury.

    * Easy setup/teardown. Striking camp should not take an hour. This would mean one adult keeps the munchkin out of trouble for an hour while the other strikes camp. We want as much self-contained functionality as possible.

    * 4x4 capable. Rock crawling not required, but we hope to go some places more remote than just "Fire Road" accessible.

    * Relatively small/nimble vehicle. Both for the offroading needs and because I am replacing my daily driver vehicle with this project. I don't want to drive something massive every day, nor pay for the gas to do so.

    * Street parking. I don't have room for trailer storage at my house. Any solution would have to be able to be street-parked.

    I put this all into my brain computer and churned on it for a while and the only options that came to me at the time were an inexpensive camper van, or a crew-cab truck with a Flip-pac. (I have since stumbled on some other solutions, but I'm committed now! )

    Crew-cab trucks (even used) were still a bit more money that I had to spend in one chunk, but I did look for quite a while. However, I grew up camping in two distinct vehicles: My Mom's Toyota-truck based Camper, and my Dad/Step-Mother's VW Westy. The Westy was the closest to what I thought we needed, so I kept leaning in that direction. Seeing T.Low's van and a host of totally awesome (but ultimately unaffordable) VW Syncro westies just kept the van fires burning.

    Eventually I found a very low-mileage Astro at a good price, so I jumped. The Astro fits most of the bill pretty well. Converting AWD->4x4 is the simple matter of swapping the transfer case and doing a bit of wiring, which is a DIY project instead of writing a big check. Lifting is similarly easy and inexpensive. T.Low has shown that its smallish size works well on most trails, though as I move forward with my interior layout I find myself wishing for a few more inches of interior space. More than anything, I like that I'm not breaking a ton of new trail here. As I said earlier, I'm leaning on the experience of a lot of other people, so not much of what I'm doing should prove to be impossible, or even very very difficult.

    For posterity and others following in my path, here are the alternatives and things that I keep second guessing:

    * I still think a crewcab truck with a Flip-Pac would have suited very well. Fullsize domestic crew cabs are thick on the ground here in SoCal, but bigger than I really wanted to drive every day. Smaller 4-door trucks like the Tacoma are still much in demand, so prices remain high.

    * I wish I'd looked harder at lightweight slide-in campers like 4WC, etc. I think I ruled them out because I thought I couldn't afford one PLUS the crew cab truck to put it on, but experience has shown there are deals to be had for the patient among us. Plus I'd have to either store the camper or haul it every day, but it still bore more scrutiny than I gave it.

    * I wish I'd looked harder at the fullsize vans like the Express/Savanna. I looked but I couldn't find enough data on whether the AWD->4x4 conversion was as easy on those vans as it has proven to be on the Astro. With more research or some experimentation, I might have had a bit more space inside the van!

    * Seeing all the clever folks who've bolted inexpensive trailer campers to the frame of Isuzu NPRs or similar larger truck chassis is inspiring. Doesn't really fit the bill for a daily-driver capable dual purpose rig, but it makes me wonder what else I could accomplish if I were as creative as those people. Maybe if we have more kids?

    re-reading this, Mike, has me thinking you've made the best choice possible given your well-defined set of criteria.

    While you may decide 1 or more of them is negotiable once you been out and about with your familia, I think the van is going to be very adaptable...
    "For He so loved the world, that He sent His only son..."

    Brian
    KJ6GXX
    Mama's rig:
    2015 Ford F150 crew cab:"Snowball"
    Bigdaddy's daily:
    2013 Honda Civic:"The appliance"
    Bigdaddy's therapy:
    1947 CJ2A:"Desert Rose"

  10. #20
    Join Date
    Jan 2009
    Location
    Elgin, IL (Chicago burb)
    Posts
    1,265
    Quote Originally Posted by nbleak21 View Post
    Aaron, do you have more information on this rally? I've checked out the website, and it looks awesome! something that I'd love to participate in. When are the 2010 dates? I haven't found them online...
    The BABE Rally is taking place June 7th - 11th this year. Registration due this Friday.

    www.baberally.com
    www.streetsafari.com

    I'm currently looking for team members. Aside from fuel, I've covering all vehicle expenses.

    I went as a stranger in a strange car last year and had a blast.
    Aaron

    2005 Astro (Gandalf) - AWD, 4.3L, 3.42, 140k+ miles
    1997 Astro (Grumpy - $250 Rally Van) - AWD, 4.3L, 3.42, LSD, 2" lift, 31" tires, 335k+ orig engine, $30 eBay fuel pump
    2016 Patriot (MaK - Her Jeep) Painfully stock
    1980 KE100 (Bessie) - 100cc of fury

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