I finally bought a small box truck as a base for an Adventure RV build. With 'Adventure RV' I mean a vehicle that gets us to interesting place (not RV parks), allows us to make a nice meal, take a shower, use our own toilet, and get some sleep. Something simple and compact, not a McMansion on wheels with kitchen island, home theater, and La-Z-Boy reclining chairs.
Converting a regular van would not have added much amenities over my 1985 square body Blazer (lifted, with heavier axles and big tires) that has a bed platform in the rear. We use this one for weekend overnights in the surrounding mountains and I want to build-out something suitable for longer trips lasting a couple of weeks. A skoolie would have offered enough space but would have needed a roof raise to accommodate my 6'6" height. I then looked at a couple of low floor transit buses and while I may at some point convert one I decided to get a more nimble and fuel efficient vehicle for now.
The box truck was listed as 1999 Ford E350 Hi-Cube Van on Public Surplus and no info was given about the size of the box. Since the truck was fleet maintained, looked OK in the pictures, and had the 7.3L Powerstroke diesel engine, I decided to bid and take the chance that the box would not be high enough and I would have to resell the vehicle and look for another one.
The retrieval of the truck was a bit of a nightmare since the seller was not going to mail the title, the state where the vehicle was located (VA) does not issue temporary tags to non-residents, and my home state (NC) does not issue temporary tags at all. After Hurricane Frances moved out of the Mid-Atlantic region, I drove my 26' International 4700 box truck with 10,000 lbs flatbed trailer to Virginia Beach, just to find out that the Hi-Cube van exceeded the payload capacity of my trailer. That was after spending about an hour finagling the Hi-Cube with its dually rears on my trailer, securing it, and driving to the closest scale.
According to the book numbers I should have been OK but the folks who sold the van had installed a lot of cabinetry and a work bench that apparently was built without any concern for weight.
At least I had the title in my hand after 12 hours drive time and a $320 fuel bill. I also found out that the box has plenty of headroom for my needs and that the truck was rust free, started, ran without showing signs of engine problems or wear, and moved around nicely on tires with plenty of life left in them.
A couple days later I drove a rental car to VA Beach with registration and plates for the Hi-Cube van, a bunch of tools, and an inflatable mattress to take a nap in the box if necessary.
After dropping the rental off, I checked all fluids on the Hi-Cube, added Stanadyne Performance Formula to the fuel, fired up, and headed back home. The engine smoothed out considerably and now runs like a Swiss watch after pushing the vehicle fairly hard for a couple dozen miles with the Stanadyne in the tank. I am not a big believer in snake oils but I had the injectors sticking in my International T444E after burning several hundred gallons of untreated diesel and the Stanadyne additive fixed that in a minute or so.
There was a scary moment about half an hour into the trip when a strong smell of burned brake/clutch lining came out of the vents. After stopping, I found out that the smell was in the air most likely from a truck that had gone down the road before me while cooking its brakes. I used the opportunity to check all fluids again and verified that tire and bearing temperatures were OK.
Since the Hi-Cube weighs much less than half of my International 4700 with the same base engine, it feels quite peppy and when I put the hammer down while cruising at 70 mph the little truck would readily accelerate to 85+ mph. I did not take it any further due to the speed limits. The last few miles from the Interstate to our house are quite curvy and I drove at a speed that felt right, which to my surprise was just as fast as I drive our passenger cars. There is no scary sway with that little boxy whatsoever. Brakes are more than adequate with the current weight of 9700 lbs which will be about the same after the RV conversion. All in all I am very happy with what I got.
The fuel consumption of 12.5 mpg was a little disappointing but I was pushing it hard, never below 70 mph on the Interstate, and there may be some gains possible with a tuner and/or a wind deflector for the box.
The next steps are to remove the very solid cabinetry that was added to utilize the van as a maintenance vehicle and then rip out the floor of the box. The wood is exposed to the underside of the vehicle and not in the best shape. I am thinking to put a layer of composite decking planks down, seal the gaps, add a layer of XPS foam, and top that with interlocking sheets of Advantec subflooring as a base for any decorative flooring. Another possibility would be: Advantec directly onto the steel beams (the stuff is pretty weather resistant), then XPS with hydronic heat piping and a luan subfloor. What do you guys think?
PS: More recent pictures will be posted tomorrow after the rain stops and the sun comes out.