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Old 01-16-2016, 01:22 AM   #1
Mini-Skoolie
 
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Join Date: Jan 2016
Location: Willis, TX
Posts: 31
Year: 1999
Chassis: Midbus
Engine: GM 5.7 L31
Rated Cap: 19
Project: Off Road Compact Abode

This build is the next step in our passion for travel.

I give you: The ORCA:



So here's some backstory:

My first car was an 87 Suzuki Samurai. I got her when I was 15. Learned a stick in a few hours in a muddy pasture. Learned a lot with that truck and absolutely fell in love with offroading.

10 years ago My cousin gave me his 92 Integra. I've never owned a small car before and was immediately pleased. Wife and I ended up driving out to Big Bend National Park around 2006. We decided to drive on some un-maintained roads. We got about a mile and a half in before I decided the feeling of rocks beneath my feet was a bad idea and turned back.

We came back to Houston. I bought a 94 GMC T15 Jimmy 4x4 specifically to take back to Big Bend and see the rest of those roads.

We fell in love with the experience. My wife loves to look around and I love to drive the trails. We went back to Big Bend in the Jimmy a few years later. I proposed beneath a waterfall somewhere in the back country.

Fast forward a few years. We got some dogs to add to the mix. We put them into the cargo bay and recline our seats flat for overnighters. It's a great makeshift bed. Got to explore a ton of places we otherwise would not be able to afford the conventional way of Hotels and eating out. Lots of canned tuna and dry goods. We just recently did an offroad trip with our family up through and around Colorado that really sealed our Skoolie fate.

We took the Jimmy (refitted with v8 POWER!) and they took a brand new 2 door Jeep. We drove around with no itinerary for 10 days. On the way home my wife found out that her grandmother had passed away. We have a 4000lb load to haul to Salt Lake City UT scheduled to deliver when we get back from the Colorado trip that will finance us driving to the east coast for the funeral.

We get back home, I find out the rear diff pinion bearing is shot. Drive it to the junkyard and grab another diff, drive to my brothers, install the junkyard diff, drive home, grab the 2000lb trailer and 4000lb load and head north in 1 day.

We make it to Utah with our trailer, drop the load then head east. I negotiate with my friend in Louisville to store the trailer at his place so we don't have to drag it around with us the entire trip. He obliges. So we drop the trailer in Louisville, head up to Boston. We do the funeral and somehow convince the in-laws to do a little exploration. 2 weeks later we have been through 11 states and as far north as Acadia National Park. We head back to Louisville and spend a few days with our friends. Grab the trailer and on my way home a friend calls me and says: "Hey your taking an empty trailer from Louisville to home right". I'm already like "expletives". So we "swing by" Bonifay Florida and load up an 84 El Camino onto the trailer.

2 days later we are home. The heat was brutal.

I start shopping for a larger truck to take on bigger trips like these (the long distance towing trips). I'm nearly dead set on a 7.4 96-99 Suburban. My wife says "I just want something I can stand up in".

After searching for the last 5 months and coming up empty handed consistently we found our Orca. Listed on craigslist 10 hours ago 45 minutes south of us.
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Old 01-16-2016, 01:26 AM   #2
Mini-Skoolie
 
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Join Date: Jan 2016
Location: Willis, TX
Posts: 31
Year: 1999
Chassis: Midbus
Engine: GM 5.7 L31
Rated Cap: 19
We looked at a few different bus combinations:

Transit busses: They all look like fiberglass. I'm not a fan of the material for body parts. Never have been.

5 window busses: Departure angle was just despicable. Especially Ford models. I have so much experience with GM power-trains I felt it would be fun to learn something new but not fun on the side of the road troubleshooting foreign systems.

Single rear wheel busses: LOVE how narrow they are relative to their drw cousins. Unfortunately thats really a bunch of square footage to give up. That and the drw is vastly superior for towing.

So we ended up with a shorty. After measuring everything out we just can't figure out where to put a toilet/shower.

Thinking queen bed for the rear of the bus. Fold it up in an s shaped couch to save space but otherwise the back 2 windows on both sides are occupied by the bed.

Use from behind the drivers seat to the bed for the kitchen so the front left 2 windows are occupied.

finally a table for work and eating on the passenger side 2 windows.

A bathroom shower isn't required but it would really take this from a lavish camper to a proper tiny house.
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Old 01-16-2016, 01:56 AM   #3
Mini-Skoolie
 
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Join Date: Jan 2016
Location: Willis, TX
Posts: 31
Year: 1999
Chassis: Midbus
Engine: GM 5.7 L31
Rated Cap: 19
Specs on the bus:

1999 Express cutaway van (2 wheel drive)
L31 5.7 Vortec v8 engine
4l80e Automagic transmission
14 bolt full floating GM Corporate open rear differential with 4.10 gears
10,000lb brake system powered by hydroboost and ABS.
She has 252xxx on the odo.
No cruise control but appears to have the provisions to retrofit from a similar configuration GM vehicle from the junkyard for next to nothing.

Engine pulls well, had some major coolant and power steering leaks. Lower intake gaskets were bad and milking the oil. The power steering hoses were all deteriorated and there was a ton of just poorly routed plumbing and wiring.

All of the lights work, the motorized stop sign acts funny unless the vehicle is running. Not sure what's going on there. Lots of little things I've been plowing through over the last few days getting everything back up to snuff.
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Old 01-16-2016, 04:13 PM   #4
Mini-Skoolie
 
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Join Date: Jan 2016
Location: Willis, TX
Posts: 31
Year: 1999
Chassis: Midbus
Engine: GM 5.7 L31
Rated Cap: 19
The day we bought her:

55 mile trip home and let the dogs do an inspection:


Empty coolant bottle. topped off the coolant system with half a gallon of coolant when we bought her. The following morning it rained and this is how much water got in.

The alleged perpetrator:

Some of the seats had the nuts installed up-side down. It took me a few minutes to decide on vice grips which worked perfectly.


Found the RPO sticker stashed above the passenger sun visor stuck to the headliner. What a weird location!

Rattling heat shield. Thinking a nut goes here to secure it.

I haven't checked the rear brakes yet. They require removal of the axle tube to get the drum off. Waiting on some cash for a gallon of diff fluid and axle seals first. HUGE friggin drums:

This is a shot of the first removal of the doghouse:


Centered is the beautiful cap for the vacuum booster. Since we have the power of hydraulics for brakes!


Spark plug wires tend to rub/burn holes in themselves. GM tends to wrap sections of spark plug wire in corrugated tubing. Most people don't move it over to the new wires leaving them vulnerable. These wires had damage throughout but nothing serious yet so I installed some high temp corrugated tubing to keep them in good shape.

Before:

After:


Passenger side before:

Passenger side after:


Completed:


Then comes the bad news:


This is coolant/oil mixed inside the pcv system. I had already done a coolant pressure test and noticed the lower intake manifold gasket leaking externally to the front of the engine. This wasn't exactly unexpected but somewhat worrisome because it could also mean the cylinder heads are cracked from overheating.

Fortunately (in this particular case) GM designed the intake gaskets incredibly poorly and Fel-Pro designed a proper gasket (model # 98000T) to retrofit the Generals garbage design. I happened to have a set on hand and installed it.

It's very important to mark the distributor and rotors relationship when replacing it. These engines have no timing mark and are set via an expensive computer. You can get lucky by trying different settings but you can also damage the engine that way.



Nasty milked intake:

Gasket is damaged around all 4 coolant jackets:




Junk gasket design in:


Awesome gasket design in:


Cleaned up the intake:

Mysterious adapter installed in-line to the hydroboost return line:

Dropped the transmission pan to replace the filter and fluid:


Pretty normal in my experience. Transmission with lots of miles and minimal fluid changes. No metal on the magnet, just dark brown fluid. Still shifts like a champ.

So that's where I'm at on the project thus far. May God have mercy on those of you who clicked on this thread with low speed internet.
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Old 01-16-2016, 06:13 PM   #5
Bus Crazy
 
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Join Date: Oct 2009
Location: Moodus, Ct.
Posts: 1,054
Year: 1996
Coachwork: Champion
Chassis: Ford e-450
Engine: 7.3 Powerstroke
Rated Cap: 14
Thats one thing about the Chevy-easiest by far to work on. Good progress.
You don't have to do anything special to get the drum off. Just some careful taps of a hammer-and maybe backing off the shoes if there is a ridge in the drum. Just hope you don't have buy new ones. $$
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Old 01-19-2016, 06:53 PM   #6
Mini-Skoolie
 
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Join Date: Jan 2016
Location: Willis, TX
Posts: 31
Year: 1999
Chassis: Midbus
Engine: GM 5.7 L31
Rated Cap: 19
The rotors are $112.79 on rock auto for the fronts but the rear drums are $95.79. Not the worst prices around considering they are ac delco parts but it's still pretty spansive.

Been looking around for a lift kit for the front, found a fabtech 4.5" lift spindle kit but it's discontinued and was around 800 bucks.

Then I found this for 330 shipped: Amazon.com: 1988 -1998 Chevy / GMC C15 C1500 C2500 2WD 4" Lift Lifting Spindles + 2" blocks + U-Bolts: Automotive She's a 4" lift spindle. I'm still trying to figure out if it will work on an 8 lug platform with drw rims but it's a long while off before I can afford them anyhow.

The rear leaf springs have an inverted shackle on the rear and some 2" blocks already installed. I figure I can grind the iron rivets off of the hanger and flip it 180* then reinstall with some grade 8 bolts. That should bring the eyelet down a good 8 inches or so (eyeballing, haven't measured yet). Hopefully the lift will be high enough to remove the lift block as well.

Then there are brake hoses and shock lengths to deal with but that's a heck of a lot easier to solve than lifting the front of a 2wd.

I also think I can get away with adding a 1" or so coil spacer after the lift spindle if the suspension geometry can handle it. Might end up needing 20" rims though haha!

Detroit makes a pretty inexpensive locker (around $500) that just replaces the spider gears in the diff. Couple rear locker with aired down drw's and you have a pretty large footprint which should be stout enough for any trails we find.

My next concern is 1st gear power. The 4l80e really doesn't have a good 1st gear for offroading. One solution I'm looking into is installing an np243c tcase to be used for it's 4lo gear reduction. I think it's 2.6-1 ratio would be tremendously useful.

Depending on how the lift works out tires will become a factor. I'd love to see some 35's with a 4-5" suspension lift on the front. That would give it 6-7" of total lift height.

The biggest issue would be gearing. 4.10's are pretty anemic with such a heavy rig towing with such a relatively small engine (5.7 liters). Looks like I can go to 5:13's for about 250 bucks. Motive Gear GM 10.5- Ring and Pinion- 14 Bolt Gears This is just an example of gearing. I haven't calculated the correct ring/pinion ratio as there are far too many variables missing from the equation.

The dual rear wheels also interest me in that how you air them down without having them rub sidewalls against each other?

So that's where I'm at. Ooh and painting the hood. Got 3 $1 cans of enamel black from lowes. Soap and water washed/scrubbed the hood. Used a dremel and attacked a few rusted spots and away we went. We're not trying to make this a show truck. If she holds 3 bucks worth of paint and 2 hours labor for a few years I'm calling that a win.

Soapy water and dremel rust deletion tool.


2 coats and I forgot to spray the backside:

3 coats and 20 hours later. I think we're going to toss a few coats of clear on her depending on the price of course.
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Old 01-20-2016, 08:22 AM   #7
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Join Date: Feb 2014
Location: Cuyahoga Falls Ohio
Posts: 372
Year: 1997
Chassis: Ford e-350 single wheel
Engine: 5.4 litre
Rated Cap: 12
Awesome. I like your style and budget minded personality. Remember, the higher you lift that bus the towing ability gets worse.
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Old 01-20-2016, 02:24 PM   #8
Mini-Skoolie
 
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Join Date: Jan 2016
Location: Willis, TX
Posts: 31
Year: 1999
Chassis: Midbus
Engine: GM 5.7 L31
Rated Cap: 19
Thanks, I find a great deal of pleasure doing builds balancing expense vs practicality.

Anyone can throw money at a problem. That's boring to me.
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Old 01-20-2016, 06:07 PM   #9
Bus Crazy
 
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Join Date: Oct 2009
Location: Moodus, Ct.
Posts: 1,054
Year: 1996
Coachwork: Champion
Chassis: Ford e-450
Engine: 7.3 Powerstroke
Rated Cap: 14
Thats gonna be quite a top heavy off-roader. And you better really consider carefully what you do to your interior-and how secure you can make everything. The body is going to be leaning at angles that's going to want to be throwing things off shelves-and a twisting body is going to want to be pulling screws out.
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Old 01-21-2016, 01:06 AM   #10
Mini-Skoolie
 
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Join Date: Jan 2016
Location: Willis, TX
Posts: 31
Year: 1999
Chassis: Midbus
Engine: GM 5.7 L31
Rated Cap: 19
I'm looking forward to the challenge!
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