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Insufferable spoiled hipster tech-bro motorcycle adventure camper van (with a power sliding door)

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Alternate title: "How to build a van in only two months (by having your dad do most of it for you)"
Alternate alternate title: "How to built a van in just two months (while only crying three times)"
Alternate alternate alternate title: "Before you build your van, build another van for practice"


The mostly-finished product first:



After buying my unicorn dream van because Ford forced me to cancel the much-desired power sliding door from my 2022 order, the first decision I had to make after road-tripping it across the country (and averaging 19.6mpg) was where to start the build. It was early September and the weather was going to be getting chilly soon, and we all know how much fun working on a van outdoors in the cold and rain is.

"Not to worry!" said my dad. "You can use the unused (heated!) loading dock at the back of my office."

Why thanks dad!


I never thought a garage would be so large that it could make an extended high-roof Transit look small.

The first step was to gut the interior. The previous owner had lined the entire thing with sheet metal, and it was held into place with like ten thousand rivets.



With a handful of cobolt drill bits, I went to work.



The walls actually went pretty easily. Plenty of the rivets spun, but they were all aluminum and eventually got drilled out without too much trouble. Dealing with such large and unwieldy sheets of metal wasn't easy, but it all came out pretty quickly in the course of a long day.



The floor was a different story. It was held in place with steel rivets, many of which spun and simply did not want to come out. It took hours and hours, of putting all of my weight on the back end of my poor little cordless drill to try and shove it through this stuff, and I chewed up a bunch of drill bits in the process.

Once I did manage to drill out the rivets, I found the entire floor was also glued down with RTV silicone. In small batches this stuff isn't hard to deal with, but when it's entire sheets that are attached down you are fighting against thousands of square inches of adhesion.



It was brutally slow work, of prying it up inches at a time while trying to shove scrapers into the gaps to slice up the silicone, while also not denting/damaging the floor or paint too much. I was sore, cranky, and just about everything hurt by the end of the process. It was a full week just to get the diamond plate out.



Then came the process of cleaning it the best I could, using plastic scrapers to get off as much of the RTV as was reasonable and the vacuuming up all the metal shavings everywhere from drilling out so many rivets. Fortunately, dad was happy to help me clean up (I figure he spent the last 38 years cleaning up all of my other messes, what's one more to make him take care of?)


I did pry up some of the plywood filler bits that the upfitter had put in, but they ended up being so difficult that I gave up and left most of them in place.

Then it was a solid few days of individually cleaning and painting/rust-proofing all of the ten thousand rivet holes, then also plugging all of the ones in the floor. Sounds simple, and doing a single hole is! But then when you're doing ten thousand, your knees and back quickly hate you.



Once I had the floor out and all the little holes filled, the next step was windows. I'd ordered slider-opening windows from Van Windows Direct during their black friday sale (a full year ago), with the intention of putting them in myself. But in the interests of time with cold weather fast approaching, I elected to take it to a shop and have the professionals do it. Auto Glass Plus put them in for $200 per side, and had it turned around overnight. Very happy with their work so far, and it save me what would have probably been an agonizing week-long process to DIY.





With the windows in, it was time to start on the floor. Sheets of Mini-cell from DIY van were cut into strips to fill the grooves, then another solid layer went over the entire top.





Seems simple enough, but this actually took forever. Every grove is a different width, it's all different lengths and funny shapes with weird curves. Almost every piece has to be custom-cut and fitted, and I'm unreasonably detail-oriented and don't know when "close enough" is close enough. In retrospect there's probably easier ways to do this, but you only really learn that after you're finished doing it the wrong way. Oh well, at least I've got this knowledge for the next van I build! 馃ゴ

Speaking of lessons learned, the next step was figuring out where the heck I wanted all of the L-Track in the floor. This took me an embarrassingly long time to figure out. Trying to balance the needs of what I was attaching, appropriate lengths, sizes, bolt placements, and working around everything that you can't drill into under the van (like the fuel tank!) is enough to drive you crazy. And actually drilling (and then de-burring, and counter-sinking) ~150 holes in all of the L-track was another saga that took an entire week to figure out. I won't even go into that mess, but that was the first (of multiple) time that I nearly broke down in tears of frustration in this build process.

Anyway, I ended making measurements based off of references that I took while crawling around under the van of where I could/couldn't bolt stuff through.



When you're given unlimited options, it's easy to get lost in choice paralysis.

Anyway, I then needed to pull up all of the carefully-cut insulation to start drilling more holes in the floor of the van. Sigh



After all that was figured out it was time to glue down the insulation. First step was to give the floor a good cleaning with a mild de-greaser, to make sure the adhesive would grip reasonably well. I chose to have my dad do this for me because again, after 38 years I have him well trained in cleaning up after me.



Glued down for real! Now with the slices cut out of where I'll bolt the L-Track through.



Another sheet of foam went over all of the ribs and filler strips.

You've got two options for how to accomplish this.

Option 1: Take very careful measurements, then test fit the foam in, then make preliminary cuts, fit it in again, then make small trimming cuts, try fitting it in again, basically spend an eternity slowing trimming the top sheet to fit because you have no idea what you're doing.

Option 2: Have you dad (who spent ~6 years laying carpet professionally) do it for you.

I chose Option 2.


He was annoyingly fast at this.

What took me an eternity of fiddling, he had done in ten minutes. Doesn't even need to measure, he just eyeballed it and cut it perfectly the first time. Had the whole thing done in an hour.



Edit Oh WTF there's an image-per-post limit?
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2021 Power Sliding Door that also has a van attached to it
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Discussion Starter · #2 ·
Next step was the plywood floor itself. Again, you could use the time-honored method of CAD (Cardboard Aided Design), putting in big sheets that you trim to shape and then use as templates, making minor adjustments and fitments as you go . . .

Or you can just have your dad do it for you.





Not pictured: Just as we got done with the floor, my dad decided he didn't like how much flex the 3/8ths plywood had in it. So he ripped it all out, and re-did THE ENTIRE FLOOR again in 5/8ths plywood.


Wow, that was so much easier than having to do it myself!

At this point I figured we were done with the floor, right?

"Ah, not so fast" says dad! "You have joints in the plywood right where you are walking/standing. This is going to flex over time and will be very noticeable, you don't want that."

"Oh, so . . . what do we do?" says Princess Fluffypants, a dumb look on their face.

"We do a biscuit joint!" says dad.

"...that sounds complicated", says Princess Fluffypants.

"Not when you have a huge assortment of fancy and expensive specialized tools collected from a lifetime spent working in the trades", says dad.





After we had the floor cut (And joined) to shape, it was time to actually glue it to the foam underneath. A few squirts of construction adhesive, we're just looking to hold it in place. The flanged L-track will do most of the mechanical work of anchoring it down.


I would tell him to act his age, but I'm worried he'd drop dead in response.


Every time he asks me how I turned out so weird, I'm going to show him these pictures and remind him who I had for a roll model.


We found an assortment of heavy things to leave on the floor while it dried.



~~~TO BE CONTINUED~~~
 

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2021 W2X High Roof Cargo T350, 148", EcoB, AWD, Avalanche Grey
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The van is looking great. Gotta love those hands on dads. Mine's been gone for years but he involved me in many of his DIY projects and he is with me every time I pick up a tool.

BTW, I now have garage envy.
 

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2015 350 HD EL 3.2L HR Diesel Wagon
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So the VWD window was a good fit where the OEM window was removed?
 
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2020 High-Extended AWD EcoBoost Cargo with windows
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Bravo, Fluffy. On the thread title and the unicorn acquisition and the progress... and on dad.

I'm regularly reminded how fortunate I am that my dad - similar to yours, it seems - could figure out how to do stuff and passed on that premise of being able to figure things out to his kids. It's been a privilege to build the vans we've done with my now-adult sons (and the one's wife) and see them embrace that as well.

We all laugh together (in awkwardness and pride) when people passing by ask, "so, that's just a kit you guys did, right?" Uh... no... we just figure stuff out and do it... poorly at first then learn and get better. Eventually, we hope to be as adept as your dad at such projects.

TFPU!
 

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2021 Power Sliding Door that also has a van attached to it
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Discussion Starter · #11 ·
The van is looking great. Gotta love those hands on dads. Mine's been gone for years but he involved me in many of his DIY projects and he is with me every time I pick up a tool.

BTW, I now have garage envy.
That's just what I was thinking! It's amazing how having a dad with a heated shop, all the tools and the knowledge of how to use them, can make a job go so much easier.(y)
This shop is a godsend. Having built my last van in a cold and muddy parking lot behind a motorcycle shop in a particularly exposed corner of San Francisco, having almost unlimited tools and space to spread out in was amazing.

And did I mention it was HEATED!?

So the VWD window was a good fit where the OEM window was removed?
Yes, the VWD brand windows fit perfectly in the OEM cutouts. However, the CRL windows do not.
Finally...an honest build thread title.
Inspired in no small part by the article How I saved enough to buy a house with my parents money.
Bravo, Fluffy. On the thread title and the unicorn acquisition and the progress... and on dad.
The funny part is just how much learning we still both had to do. He spent a lifetime working in the trades doing residential light construction, but of course that teaches you how to build houses. Not vans. Many things that would have been second nature to him would have instantly fallen apart with the heat and vibration that vehicles are regularly exposed to. I had to almost smack the Great Stuff out of his hands more than once.

Many processes we took on without any real idea how to do them, and ended up having to re-do them multiple times, only to finally get to the end and realize that there was a WAY simpler way that we could have done from the start. The perpetual joke through the build was "Oh well, we'll get it right on the next van."
 

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2021 Power Sliding Door that also has a van attached to it
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Discussion Starter · #12 ·
Just getting the plywood floor down and L-Track in the floor had taken an entire month of working almost every day. As we entered into October, we worked on getting the final part of the floor down. A coin-cell vinyl that should be pretty durable and grippy but also easy to clean.

This stuff came on a giant roll that weight a solid 100lbs. I would have had no idea how to even begin doing something like this while keeping the pattern straight, so . . .


I had my dad do it for me.

Again, years of laying carpet made him whip through this annoyingly fast. Made it look easy (and having a collection of specialized knives and a heat gun helped immensely)




I had also started getting sticks of L-Track bolted to the walls. I used the factory 9.38mm holes for 6mm rivnuts, and bolted sticks in at the kneeline as well as above the windows. I'm not 100% sure what I'll use it for, but no one has ever complained about having too many hooks or attachment points in a van.

The L-Track on the walls (and in the floor) honestly took a solid 1/4 of the entire build time. What looks so simple when installed was the result of dozens of individual steps. Many, many late nights were spent marking with transfer screws, then drilling, then counter-sinking, then de-burring, then putting rubber on the back to act as a thermal break, then making spacers, on and on and on. Seriously, an insane amount of work.

We also had to figure out what to do with the wiring harness. Eventually settled on slicing a tube of PVC in half and gluing it on with construction adhesive, held in place with 1x2s braced against the other side.


As a nice break from the manual labor, I busied myself with one of the only things that I'm good at and my dad isn't isn't; Electrical and computery stuff.

I decided the flat section overhead where the rear HVAC controls would have been could make a great spot for my battery monitor screen. An evening with a dremel and fish tape, and I got it put into place.



Everyone knows that having to reach overhead to push buttons or look at a screen automatically makes it 10x cooler. Gives a little bit of a space-shuttle feeling!

The battery charger itself was going on the back of the drivers seat. Right next to the CCPs, plenty of airflow, easy to access if needed but also out of the way. Seems simple right? Just pull out the seat, a couple small rivnuts and you're good?

LOL NOPE

In retrospect, an entire day pullout out all the cabling and batteries under the seat just to take the seat base off and mount the battery charger to the back was absolutely not worth it. I should have just found a slightly less elegant but VASTLY easier location.

Oh well, lessons learned for the next van. As long as I have it out, I might as well mount it.

I tossed a couple of 12v outlets onto the back of the seat too, just for good measure. It's a convenient place to have house power.

I threw a couple of sheets of plywood in the wall voids behind the driver's seat. This would make a good place for the mess of bus bars, circuit breakers, fuses, shunts, and relays that make up every van electrical system.

Now I could finally start the fun and easy stuff!

Electrical things just agree with me. I find the logic of it all very intuitive, while my dad finds it confounding and frustrating. So hey, maybe I'll actually have to put some work into my van!

While I was cabling stuff up, I also took apart the wireless controller for the 12v winch that was getting mounted to the front of the van to help pull my motorcycles in and out. It had been crammed together in a ridiculous higgeldy-piggledy way with seriously under-sized wires that I'd completely expect from Hazard Fright Harbor Freight, so a quick re-cabling with thicker stuff was in order before I wired it into the system with a 50a self-resetting fuse.
 

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2020 High-Extended AWD EcoBoost Cargo with windows
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...

The funny part is just how much learning we still both had to do. He spent a lifetime working in the trades doing residential light construction, but of course that teaches you how to build houses. Not vans. Many things that would have been second nature to him would have instantly fallen apart with the heat and vibration that vehicles are regularly exposed to. I had to almost smack the Great Stuff out of his hands more than once.

Many processes we took on without any real idea how to do them, and ended up having to re-do them multiple times, only to finally get to the end and realize that there was a WAY simpler way that we could have done from the start. The perpetual joke through the build was "Oh well, we'll get it right on the next van."
That's the best part of it: it's the, "we'll figure it out," part that so many people seem to lack. That's those weird interactions we had with folks walking by while we've been building this rig (outdoors in the terrible southern California weather 馃槈): almost everyone just can't fathom figuring things out; they're just /certain/ there must be a kit or a pre-built model we're working from. So weird... and unfortunate!

You could see in our build thread intro (my typical overly-wordy mess) that we agreed ahead of time that everything in this van will be done three times; if it has only been done twice so far, it's not done yet. That makes it easier to accept that the first pass is just that. This is our second van of ours, plus building a couple others with friends; and, still, everything needs to be re-done multiple times lest it fall to the adage, "temporary is an ugly form of permanent."
 

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Looks great, amazing progress in such a short time! Wish I had a space like that! Would make life so much easier. It is freezing out and working outside sucks.
 

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Van name is too long, alternate acronym. (apparently tech bros love acronyms... see van automation thread)
I sht-bm adventure camper van
I suspect dad will approve.
 

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2021 Power Sliding Door that also has a van attached to it
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Discussion Starter · #17 ·
What kind of motorcycle are you hauling that you need a winch to load it?
Need is really just a severe form of want. I鈥檝e gently nursed bikes up hundreds of ramps into vans and trucks with delicate clutch work, but gawsh darn if it isn鈥檛 easier to just push a button and have an electric motor do it for you.

As for which bike, it depends on what I feel like riding. Could be my Multistrada, my 701, my SV650 track bike, or my SV650 street bike.
 

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Nice build thread - love the detailed photos. Mine is a moto hauler too. What is the cup holder mounted under your cargo window?
 

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2021 Power Sliding Door that also has a van attached to it
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Discussion Starter · #19 ·
Nice build thread - love the detailed photos. Mine is a moto hauler too. What is the cup holder mounted under your cargo window?
It鈥檚 some kind of magnetic cup holder that I found at Microcenter for $5
 

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2022 Long HR Crew 350 - Ordered 10/21 Balanced out 7/18
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What did you use to finish your walls? It looks like that trunk liner/4-way stretch carpet stuff. I'm curious what it is and where you got it. I got some samples from an auto trim store and am not thrilled with the texture.
 
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