Another E350 build thread


After lurking here for quite awhile, our family of 3 now has the makings of a 4x4 camper van! Thanks to everyone here who has provided inspiration and great ideas!

We bought a 2001 E350 extended body (7.3L diesel) with a salem kroger 4x4 conversion. Right now it's just a bare cargo van. It was posted in the vehicles for sale section a few weeks ago.

The end goal is to do a year-long trip in South America in 2-3 years' time. In the meantime we'll use it for camping vacations and the like, and take the opportunity to get to know it and kit out the interior to our liking.

We're having Derek at Colorado Camper Van do the conversion for us, in phases. One of my goals in posting here is to get opinions on some of the decisions I'm having a tough time with. Here's the first one that we need to decide on soon, since the pop-top will be one of the first things we add:

Should we go with a high-top pop-up or a low-profile pop-up (like a SMB?) The high-top is still a canvas sided pop-top, but provides enough room for someone my wife's height to stand up with the top down. That could make it easier to make lunches while on the road without raising the top.

The downside is containerability (for the eventual trip around the darien gap, and possibly further afield) - with the low profile top, the van will just fit in a standard container if we let a little air out of the tires, but the high-top won't fit in even a high-cube container. Any experience with roll-on roll-off shipping around the darien? Is containerability desirable for that trip? What about longer passages?




:) Yeah, I know one picture isn't much, but it really is just an empty cargo van right now. I'll leave it to your imagination as to what it looks like inside. I promise to do better as the van comes together!

Thanks for the link!


im just north of you in lafayette if you wanna see my derek/ccv top, it is called a 14" i think. im sitting tight at 8'-9" give or take. what is a container height? i was thinkin they were 9'. i really like the added versitility of the "TV" top in every day use, i can stand up in it confortably in the section not occupied by the bed


Lead Recon Team
Remember to think about the weather, ANY pop-up or lift-up top has drawbacks in cold or heavy rain type weather. Just one example may be the canvas is icy or wet from a nighttime storm (and cold) sometimes the top will not fold back in properly and sometimes the wet drips inside the van after you get it folded down. One of good things is you retain your original fuel mileage with a pop-up but a solid high-top may cut that down. It’s one of those “How are you going to use it” things. :smiley_drive:



Thanks for the offer! If we decide we want to see one before making the decision we may take you up on it. The extra interior height with the top down would be really nice. A high cube container has a door height of 8'5" and an interior height of 8'10". If you're at 8'9" yours just might fit if you aired down the tires. Our van measures 86" from the ground to the gutters. Derek said to add 20" to that for the high top plus another 3" for some solar panels. That brings us to 9'1" which definitely won't fit.


I definitely appreciate your point about the drawbacks of a pop top. To add another to the list, you're adding the lifting mechanism, which is heavy and another thing to fail. With a family of three, though, we like the ability to sleep all of us "upstairs" to avoid having to convert seats to beds every night. Derek has a great idea for a kid's bed across the width of the vehicle over the driver/passenger seats.

Also, after reading about Doug Hackney's experiences ( we're thinking that container shipping is the way to go if at all possible.

We're quickly learning that these vehicles are all about compromise!
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We got our top situation sorted out. Here's what we ended out with, if anyone stumbles across this looking for similar information:

Van height, ground to gutters: 86"
Colorado Campervan high top: 16"
Fantastic Fan: 4.5"

High cube container door height: 101"
High cube container interior height: 106"

The van with the high top is 86+16=102". That means that if we air down the tires a bit, we should be able to drive right in with the high top. However, we want solar panels and a fantastic fan. The solution we came up with is to take those off before shipping. It sounds like it will be a matter of cutting out the sealant, unbolting and disconnecting them, and reversing that process to re-install. Since shipping is a fairly rare occurrence, it'll be worth the hassle for the everyday convenience of the higher top.

Another solution we discussed was having a set of "container wheels" made. they'd be about 16" in diameter with solid rubber around the outside. We'd mount them on the vehicle and drive it into the container. I think that would reduce the vehicle height by about 7". However, the other solution saves us the weight and storage space that would be taken up by the useless-most-of-the-time wheels.

Since high-cube containers only come in 40' lengths, we'll either have to find someone to share one with or pay for the whole thing ourselves. There's also the risk that a high-cube isn't available when we need one (I don't know how common they are).

Thanks for the feedback everyone! It will take a few weeks to get the parts in, so we'll be taking the van up to Derek's shop sometime in early February. I'll post pics of the build process if possible, and certainly when the first phase is complete. Woohoo! Game on!! :wings:


regarding the container wheels, I always envisioned taking the time and asking around as you get near the port for a set of stock wheels that would fit your rig, installing them without tires at the port, and driving the rig right into the box. When you get out on the other side, sell them or pitch them!


Expedition Leader
Get the cheapest set of low profile tires from the locals and throw them away at the other end. Airing down your "good" tires and leaving them in one spot for a week or so will not do them much good.

regarding the container wheels, I always envisioned taking the time and asking around as you get near the port for a set of stock wheels that would fit your rig, installing them without tires at the port, and driving the rig right into the box. When you get out on the other side, sell them or pitch them!


Van Weight

I've seen a few posts in various threads asking about van weight. I'm going to try to keep the total weight of ours under the GVWR, so first I need to know how much it weighs empty, which I did today using a commercial truck scale (the weigh cost $9)

The van in question is a 2001 Ford E350 extended body 7.3L PSD with a Salem Kroger 4x4 conversion installed. It's a cargo van with a sliding door, and it was completely empty when I weighed it. I estimate about 20 gallons of fuel in the tank at the time.

Front axle weight: 3760 lb
Rear axle weight: 2880 lb
Gross weight: 6640 lb

For reference, the sticker on the door shows:
Front GAWR (gross axle weight): 4050 lb
Rear GAWR: 6084 lb
GVWR: 9400 lb

So if you add me, my wife, a center seat that we're going to install for our son plus our son, I'll bet we're already over on the front axle weight. Looks like no brush guard for this van! I imagine I can thank the 7.3 and the 4x4 conversion for the heavy front end.


Lead Recon Team
Yep, that’s why Sportsmobile only uses aluminum bumpers (Aluminess Brand). The conversion adds weight but it also adds to the front axle GAWR. You can look at all the 4x4 Van sites on the internet and find conversion vans slightly to massively over the GVWR all day long.



So what are the consequences of a mildly overloaded vehicle? After reading this article posted on expo, it sounds like safety (mostly increased stopping distance) and reliability are two of the main ones. I do plan to upgrade the brakes on our van.

Sportsmobiles seem to have a pretty good reliability record (though most tend to not be driven much), so can I assume that the E350 platform can handle a bit of overloading without falling apart?

Anyone have experiences with maintenance problems stemming from being overweight, or have you heard of anyone having such problems?

I guess what I'm really trying to ask is, how much should I worry about it?



Lead Recon Team
Remember that Ford uses an independent twin I-Beam coil spring setup in the stock front end when they calculate (and "to err on the side of caution") come up with that number. A 4x4 conversion is going to use a solid front axle. Set up properly (including “E” rated tires) you should have no problems at all with a great bumper and a big winch with a steel cable. Sportsmobile stopped using steel bumpers because of Ford parts warranty concerns. I have used many kits over the years starting back in the day with “Pathfinder”. My experience is that leaf spring front ends work the best with Ford vans. If I build another one, I’m thinking of using a U-Joint kit.


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