Ford Transit USA Forum banner

1 - 20 of 43 Posts

·
Registered
Joined
·
105 Posts
Discussion Starter #1
In late 2019, I bought a 2017 cargo van used with 8k miles on it. It is a medium roof on the 148” wb (not extended). Basic white exterior but the original owner installed plastic cargo interior for the rear and added a 3 seat second row.

My intention was to build it out as a camper over the next 6 months or so to support my paragliding addiction. Generally, I want a camper that is open and simple. I need the ability to sleep two while also drying out my wing on the inside of the van. To store or dry my wing (think parachute), I want to be able to use a mesh envelope against the driver side wall where the wing isn’t compressed.

Since most paragliding events are done in remote locations, I need to be able to sleep in it for a week with some level of comfort (electric, water, porta-potti) but I also want to keep a lot of the utility of being able to carry a volume of cargo when needed. I've previously owned a sportsmobile e350 with a poptop so I have some background with camper vans although none as a builder.

I’m on the waiting list for a 4wd upgrade at Quadvan. I have used them previously for an e350 4x4 build and their product was trouble free including two trips to the Arctic circle. Current schedule is May although the virus may change that plan.

While I don’t have the building skills of most on this forum and I can’t write as well as many, I figured to give back to the group since I have stolen so many ideas from you people:)

My tool skill set is modest and I live in a classic suburban neighborhood without a dedicated shop but I like to try new things and I have a number of friends that I can use for support if I get in over my head.
 

Attachments

·
Registered
Joined
·
105 Posts
Discussion Starter #2 (Edited)
High value, low cost changes

There were a couple items that were quick and relatively inexpensive. I put them high on my list of things to do because they provided me a lot of value for the effort. Some I wish I had done earlier:)

The keyless entry has been the single most useful add-on to me. It allows me to leave the keys in the car when I’m at an event knowing that I won’t lose them somewhere :) Even when I have the keys with me, I leave a second set of keys on the inside.
I bought it off Amazon for ~$70 and it took 15 minutes to install and configure after watching a youtube video. Here is the link. to the product.
I installed it on the rear window.
After you type in your access code, the driver door is unlocked. If you hit an additional "3", it unlocks all the doors. If you hit an "8" and "9" simultaneously, it will lock all the doors.

Tinting the windows
The van had stock windows on the slider and rear door and since they aren't tinted, it bothered me that people could see everything inside the van. For increased security, I had the rear windows and slider windows tinted. For some reason, the Seattle shops were quoting between $300-400 bucks for the three windows (1 side, 2 rear) but on a trip to Portland I had a shop do it for $175. It took a couple hours and works great and people can no longer see the interior of the van when they walk by.

Controlling the cargo lights
Turning off the cargo lights so they don't come on when you open the sliding door. I recently saw an old post by HarleyHauler where he put a switch on the fuse. Super simple and easy. I wish I had done it a couple months ago.
Here is the link. ~$25 or so for the parts.

Rear door handles
In the cargo van, there are no handles on the rear door which makes it difficult when you are on the inside. I drilled holes and installed rivnuts on the rear door so they are easier to close. Here is the link to the $8 Amazon handles. 30 minutes or so if you have the tools (drill, and rivnut installer)

Rear receiver
Finally, under cheap and easy addons is a rear receiver. I worry about getting stuck since I didn't have a lot of weight in the rear of the van and I spend time in soft pastures. I wanted the ability to get pulled out and with a receiver, hitch and strap, it would be a lot easier to have a friend give me a short tow. I installed a receiver off etrailer and it worked great. $130 including shipping to my house. It took an hour or so to install but most of that was tapping out the frame threads which is a Ford issue, not a receiver hitch issue. Link here.

I wish there was an equally easy answer for a front receiver.
 

Attachments

·
Registered
Joined
·
105 Posts
Discussion Starter #3
Privacy blanket for the front and window covers on the side and rear windows

When we are sleeping in the back, I need to have privacy so people can't see into a lighted van.

My family was kind enough to sew a privacy curtain for the front area spanning the height and width of the van interior as well as the side sliding window and the rear windows.
For the front blanket, they sewed three pre quilted material panels together to get the appropriate width. To hold the top of the blanket, I bolted in straps above the driver and passenger seats to hold it in place. At the bottom, I strapped the blanket to the OEM D rings behind the front seats. Once I am finished with my wall panels I will add further attachment points side to side to get better hanging tension.

For the windows, I used cardboard to make an interior template of the window. We then cut reflectix to that shape. The reflectix was sandwiched with a black polyester material for the exterior and a pre-quilted flannel from Joann's for the interior surface. We sewed through all the layers and then hand sewed magnets to the edges for the window covers.

I wanted the grey for the front privacy blanket because the front of the van is grey based.
I wanted black nylon on the exterior of the window coverings because it will blend in with the tinted windows and will dry more quickly when we have condensation from the windows.
I’m hoping the red quilted material which is on the inside will visually warm up the look of the van which is otherwise going to be white and gray based. The window covers are held up by magnets but I may add velcro later because I'm a belt-and-suspenders kind of guy.

Results?
At night, there is a small bit of light leakage on the edges if you were looking at the van from the outside but privacy is maintained. In general, I don't see us stealth camping, I just like to have some privacy when I am in the van.
On close inspection, I don’t think they are quite as polished as the commercial offerings but they were a fun sewing project with my kids and we got the color material we wanted.

In hindsight: Potentially I would have used velcro rather than magnets. I would have added a bigger border on the window coverings so I wouldn’t have to place the screens as carefully on the window.
On the front blanket, I may have just bought premade quilted stadium blankets from Costco and cut them to cover the entire van front. The sewing would then be minimal trim work.
 

Attachments

·
Registered
Joined
·
105 Posts
Discussion Starter #4 (Edited)
Roof rack

One consistent design goal has been a roof deck where I can relax and watch others once I'm finished flying for the day. A windsock, umbrella and a couple beers completes the fantasy nicely:)

After procrastinating over various roof racks, a friend offered me some excess used 8020 to build a roof rack and I was on my way.

I used Hein’s heavy duty towers to fasten the rails (north south) to the existing Ford roof holes. There are lots of videos out there on youtube showing how to access the roof mounting points. Of the eight OEM holes I was using, five required me to use a tap to clean them out. It was relatively easy but somewhat irritating because I needed to buy a tap and die set.
Like Hein’s other products, the towers were beefy and well made but a bit costly when you are buying 4 pairs of them.
They are incredibly sturdy and offer separate mounting holes for the rails as well as the cross-braces. Both end up attached to and resting on the towers for the maximum structural support.

I was given (1.5"x1.5") 15 series 8020 for the 8 foot rails (north south) and used the same for the completion of the frame around the perimeter of the van and then some (1"x3")10 series for four cross braces. Somewhat overkill but I used some hefty 8020 connectors to make them extremely solid. I get roughly 53 inches wide(east west) by 54 inches long (north south) before I hit the fan in the rear-ish of my van.
The advantage of 8020 is that it's easy to mount additional items to it down the road like an awning, cartop carrier or d-rings as attachment points.

Once it was put together, I did a test drive on the freeway. It was outrageously noisy with some harmonic humming over 50mph.

Hoping that a front fairing would resolve the noise issue, I added some beautiful aluminum triangular mounting braces to the front of the roof rack. I planned on either adding a plastic piece cut to fit or a snowboard as a front fairing.

The next time I got to highway speed’s the humming had gone away even without the fairing!
For now I just have the shark fin pieces upfront but I may add a faring at a later point if I think it would improve my gas mileage.

Going forward, I am looking at adding a side ladder to access the roof deck. I suspect I'll go with the flatline midroof ladder once they have it back in stock and assuming I can mate it to my 8020 rails.
I'm also looking at boat dock decking material to cover the surface on top of the cross-braces. It's light and durable but it's unpleasantly expensive.

If I were buying the 8020 rather than receiving it as a gift, I would probably have used 15 series LS. It is a bit lighter and I like the looks better. I used the 15LS series on my cabinets and enjoyed working with it.
 

Attachments

·
Registered
Joined
·
105 Posts
Discussion Starter #5
Wall covering

I wanted to put fabric covered panels on my van and it was done early in my projects because I wanted to show quick progress. This was a mixed decision. The good news was that wall panels are a fairly easy project and visually have a lot of impact. The bad news was rework. Each time I added or changed cabinets, I had to remove, resize and reinstall the wall panels.
I only covered the top panels since I plan on cabinets covering the lower parts of the wall. I want the plastic panels inside the cabinets so they will wear more gracefully than fabric.

There are quite a few videos showing how to panel walls so I won’t go into a lot of detail. I had existing aftermarket plastic panels on the side and roof of my van which I used as templates for ¼ ply sheets. I decided to go with ply so it would be easier to attach things going forward. I used the oem hole pattern and inserted ¼” rivnuts into the van wall so the attachment would be stronger. I fastened it with flat head hex socket cap screws and finishing washers.

I painted the ply to reduce possible delamination going forward. I then added thin batting and fabric, stapling (lots of 1/4" staples) both on the back to the panel to keep it tight.
I first paneled the small section above the slider as practice which was a good idea.

My family likes the give of the walls with the batting so I’m generally chalking up the project as a success.

After doing the big wall panels as described above, I did the small panel on the slider and didn't use rivnuts, reusing the plastic trim attachments from Ford. It was a lot easier allowing for a bit more slop.

Lessons learned:

I could have saved myself some effort by just reusing the plastic panels. Likewise, the rivnuts are clearly stronger but also require a precision that the OEM plastic trim attachment didn’t. If I were to do it again, I’d just use the OEM holes and the original plastic trim connectors.

Regarding fabric, I initially tried a fabric with a linear pattern and some stretch. It didn’t look great because it was tough to get the pattern to line up consistently. I then tried a charcoal trunk fabric which I bought off Amazon but it was too dark.

I ended up going with a bland light grey upholstery fabric which didn’t have directional patterns just like many of the commercial conversion vans. I picked up all the final fabric and batting at Joann’s and it was fairly inexpensive.
 

Attachments

·
Registered
Joined
·
930 Posts
Damnn, beat me to it. I was going to ask how large the chute needed to be to keep the van suspended.
 
  • Like
Reactions: bitburger

·
Registered
Joined
·
105 Posts
Discussion Starter #8 (Edited)
Ha! Well my apologies for the misdirection. I would have called it the White Whale (taken), White Whale (Moby Dick) (taken), the Marshmallow (taken), Vanman(taken), Moby (taken), Great White (taken), Ford Transit Build (taken), 148" Van (taken), Camper Van (taken).
Finding a name was the hardest part of the build write-up!

On a factual note, with enough money, you could paraglide the Transit. If you didn't already know, hang gliding and paragliding both trace their roots to designs at NASA to bring re-entry vehicles down with more control than a parachute. Link to the Wikipedia article here , Smithsonian article here, and to the sport association website (USHPA) here.
No, I don't have that kind of money:)
 

Attachments

·
Registered
Joined
·
113 Posts
You live in SLC area or in the PNW? I spent post of last summer at Point of the Mountain Flight Park South (the last picture). I hope to get back to the SLC area and fly more after I finish my current build, Hopefully we are able to fly more soon!
 

·
Registered
Joined
·
38 Posts
@bitburger so am I understanding you correctly in that you think it would work to wrap the OEM plastic panels with fabric using Staples and just stick them back up with the plastic push-pins? That seems like a quick, easy way to do the walls ....:unsure:
 

·
Registered
Joined
·
105 Posts
Discussion Starter #11 (Edited)
You live in SLC area or in the PNW? I spent post of last summer at Point of the Mountain Flight Park South (the last picture). I hope to get back to the SLC area and fly more after I finish my current build, Hopefully we are able to fly more soon!
No, I'm a Seattle-ish based guy although I travel a fair amount. Last year, I went to the Chelan Nationals in July and Red Rocks Utah in September as well as Point of the Mountain and SoCal.
Since we are grounded, I'd go crazy if I didn't have the van to keep me busy:)

Maybe see you at Red Rocks this year? It's super fun if you can make it. The people running it do a great job.
 

·
Registered
Joined
·
105 Posts
Discussion Starter #12
@bitburger so am I understanding you correctly in that you think it would work to wrap the OEM plastic panels with fabric using Staples and just stick them back up with the plastic push-pins? That seems like a quick, easy way to do the walls ....:unsure:
Staples on the plastic panels didn't work well for me. I think you would have to use glue but you could still use the plastic trim retainers.

Boboxx did a great job using that method here . I'm sure there are others but that is a recent one.
 

·
Registered
Joined
·
113 Posts
Since we are grounded, I'd go crazy if I didn't have the van to keep me busy:)
I'm feeling the same way, glad to have my project even though it is pregressing very slowly

Maybe see you at Red Rocks this year? It's super fun if you can make it. The people running it do a great job.
Thats a possibility but no way I could plan that far ahead now. Is Tiger Mtn your local site, I have heard about it and wanted to check it out but I still havent. The only PNW sites that I have flown at are Cape Kiwanda and cliffside near Hood River in Oregon
 

·
Registered
Joined
·
105 Posts
Discussion Starter #15
I'm proof of that. I'm grounded in another country right now..... about 1,200 miles from my Transit.
Well, looking on the bright side, it gives you plenty of time to read the forums to get great ideas! Not in this thread specifically but in other useful threads where the people know what they are doing:)
 

·
Registered
Joined
·
105 Posts
Discussion Starter #16
Is Tiger Mtn your local site, I have heard about it and wanted to check it out but I still havent. The only PNW sites that I have flown at are Cape Kiwanda and cliffside near Hood River in Oregon
Yes, Tiger is my local. I love it the most because it's a short drive from my house:) but the PNW has quite a few great sites. If you are looking for distance flights, retrieves can be a problem in some of the more remote launches. Drop me a note if you are headed this direction and I can give the 411.
 

·
Registered
Joined
·
105 Posts
Discussion Starter #17
Rear cabinets and bed


From a design side, I wanted a bed in the rear of the van. I also wanted a place to sit (bench?) in the back and fixed storage. We also wanted flexible storage (bins) and the ability to bring bikes or larger items inside the van.

I looked at popouts but decided that they were out of my budget for the utility that they gave me.

Adventure wagon solutions are neat with the MOAB bed but they are a bit pricey and continuously out of stock for the Transit van when I wanted to build.

I decided to use 8020 and build cabinets on both sides of the van with removable bed panels that would sit between the cabinets. When we were in day use mode, I’d have a walk through to the rear of the van. When I was in camping mode, the bed panels would be up with storage below.
There are lots of great videos on 8020 but I found the youtube videos by ourkaravan to be the most useful to me.


What I loved about extruded aluminum (8020):
  • Great quality, I just love the precision.
  • Lots of options on both the connectors as well as the bars
  • Easy to cut accurately
  • Strong and light
  • Looks great to me
What I don’t love about 8020:
  • Price, expensive for the product as well as the shipping costs
  • Availability is generally direct from the factory, nothing local
  • Delivery schedule, it takes 1-2 weeks to arrive at your house
Given that the shipping costs are high for the initial quantity but only a small bump when you order additional items, it is expensive to order small quantities. It makes a lot of sense to plan well and order once.
I reminded myself of this when I ordered the second time, and third, and fourth….


It is worthwhile to see if you have a local distributor that carries stock. I couldn’t find any Seattle distributors but I went to my brother in San Diego to help me with the wood work on the cabinets. San Diego had a great distributor (F&L Industrial Solutions, Inc. | 80/20 T-Slot) that carried a wide variety of stock and made the buying process a lot more pleasant.

I ordered 8020 on Amazon and a couple weeks later it arrived. I built up the cabinet frames in my garage using a basic chop saw with a metal cutting blade. 1 ½ angle that was ⅛ inch thick from Home Depot was cut to make the connectors. Since I used 2 or 3 L brackets for every joint, I went through a lot of this stock. Chop saw, drill and file were the only tools needed. A good neighbor showed me how to build a jig so all my brackets were the same size and offered his drill press so I could have consistency in the holes.

The cabinets are the same height (30") and length(72") but different depths to give me some flexibility when storing items. I wanted the aisle to be able to put 2 storage bins stacked and 2 storage bins wide.

I bought the extruded aluminum with T-slots on all four sides(15 series LS) so have the option of adding more later.

After I built the frames I went down to my brother’s house to take advantage of his skills and shop. It’s good to have a brother, even better a brother with toys!

He generously led the process of building the wood facing for the cabinets and attaching steel bar to the van frame. He welded tabs onto the bar so the 8020 would be easy to attach.
I also bought Hein’s D ring lugs for the wheel well D-rings. They were well made and worked fine but I don’t think they were required.
We continued to add L-brackets and bracing until the frame of the cabinet was rock solid, then I added a bit more just to be sure they wouldn't wobble or rattle.

For the cabinet tops, we went with a premade butcher block (rubber wood) from the lumber store. For the sides we went with ¾” Maple ply which we finished with solid Maple on the exposed sides. For the front, we used ½” maple ply because in my previous van they used ¼” and it was too flexy for me. The rear was left open and would just utilize the plastic panels already installed on the van. We went with a plastic slider channel rather than the purpose made aluminum slider from 8020 because that higher quality option was so outrageously expensive and I didn’t want to wait 2 weeks for delivery. I’m still mixed on that decision because the household slider channel will need to be covered with trim to make it look acceptable.

A ¾” channel was routed on the aisle side of the butcher block so the bed panels would have a place to rest.

We cut 4 bed panels out of ¾” maple ply. The cabinets were 6’ long and the mattress will be a full (54”x74”) so the panels were just cut equally (72”/4= 18” each). I used a metal plate at the front of the channel to keep the bed panels from sliding out. When traveling, I put the mattress on top and use a ratchet strap to keep them safely in place without rattling.They stack nicely when not in use.

While the bed panels don’t have much sag (deflection) at this point with my wife and I on top, if I gain lots of weight I’ll just add some aluminum shelf stiffener to the edges to help them out!

The foldable 4” thick mattress was from Amazon. We already had another like this for guests at the house so we were both happy with the comfort. My wife wanted a queen size but I explained that it was outside the design and we would just have to snuggle closer. I may regret that decision.

Once the cabinets were installed and screwed in, I needed to recut the walls (because the cabinets blocked them) and reinstall them. They are flush with the cabinets so nothing will fall between the walls and counter tops.

All in all, I am quite happy with the outcome. The cabinets are as solid as the frame of the van and it was a fun project to do with my brother.


Lessons learned:
The **** van isn’t square and that’s a pain when attaching square items. It is my biggest complaint with the van.
If I didn’t have my brother and his help, I would have bought an aftermarket kit like Adventure van’s interior mounting kit. Or framed the inside with wood.

Plan well, buy once-ish from 80/20. Nice in theory but hard for me since I don’t visualize well.

Check out craigslist for aluminum that can be repurposed. In my area, there is used 8020 as well as just various formed aluminum connectors. Boeing is a key manufacturer in my area so they have a lot of scrap that is beautifully made.
 

Attachments

·
Registered
Joined
·
40 Posts
Thanks for the info. It looks like there are several of us on here that use our vans for paragliding. I switched from 25 years of hanggliding and that allowed me to get this high roof van since I didn't have to worry about loading on top.

Cheers,
James
 

·
Registered
Joined
·
83 Posts
Looks good mate! Have you thought about turning the angles on the front of the roof rack so they're closer to the roof and 'forehead'? If it's possible, it appears the aerodynamics would be better instead of allowing wind to go between the roof and bottom of the rack. Just a thought
 

·
Registered
Joined
·
105 Posts
Discussion Starter #20
Looks good mate! Have you thought about turning the angles on the front of the roof rack so they're closer to the roof and 'forehead'? If it's possible, it appears the aerodynamics would be better instead of allowing wind to go between the roof and bottom of the rack. Just a thought
That's a good idea! I'll give it a try when I put on a deck surface. Even if it doesn't change the aerodynamics, it will lower the roof height by 4" which is a good thing. Thanks!
 
1 - 20 of 43 Posts
Top