Herbie's Astrolander/ZMB build thread

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C/D pillar utility rack

Post by Herbie »

A quick update, now that I've finished the build on my utility rack that spans the rear quarter window between the C and D pillars.

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The primary motivator for this was to relocate some of the weight from the forward end of the pop-top. In years past, I've overloaded the front end a little bit by putting the slide-out solar panel and recovery mats on the forward rack. The goal was to make these things easy to each by standing in the open forward door area, but the side effect was that raising the pop-top was significantly harder, due to the extra weight way out on the long lever arm of the hinges/top. As a nice bonus, the TRED recovery mats are now even easier to access, without the precarious tip-toes reaching from the passenger door. (Yes, I'm short.)

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The bottom rail is aluminum L-track that's fastened via a host of RivNuts through the body skin. Skipping to the end, you can also see I've added a pair of right angle "tabs" that let me sit the recovery mats up on the rack so I don't have to hold their weight while I thread in the eye-bolts that hold them down.

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The top part of the rack is more complicated. Like most of my projects, I started by mocking up in paper. This helped me figure out how to get all the bends I'd need to match the curve of the top and get these two "arms" out from underneath the pop-top.

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Then I moved onto steel. This bracket connects to two of the holes that go through the roof for the pop-top hinge on the drivers side. These are secured into a thick backing plate with tapped holes that is bonded to the roof on the inside.

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The arms protrude out from the body, and are connected by another piece of L-track. I couldn't use RivNuts here because there's a second piece of sheet metal at an angle behind the outer skin here (from where the "wall" and "roof" panels were joined at the factory) - so it would have been hard to get a clean seat on the nuts. (I'm glad I suspected this would be the case and eventually double-checked by drilling holes on a junkyard van body.)

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You can see that the hold-downs are 5/16" stainless eye bolts. I used a pair of nuts to jam a fender washer at just the right depth along the bolt threads so that they tightly hold the mat to the rack without protruding too far through the back. I could have used the supplied TRED mounting plate that gives you a pair of protruding "studs" to mount the rack on, but then these would be sticking out all the time, and I wanted this to sit fairly close to the van when I don't have the mats mounted.

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Obviously I have plenty of real estate for mounting other tools. It's nice to not have to try to stand on the rear tire to get my shovel down anymore.
"My minivan is cooler than your bro-truck"
2003 Astro AWD Astrolander/ZMB - GTRV Top Transplant, 4" OLV Lift, NP233 T-case, evolving interior
1995 Safari GTRV Organ donor - gutted and gone.
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Water System Updates

Post by Herbie »

I'm long overdue for some updates!

Rather than wrestle with trying to remote-link a dozen images here (since I keep failing at that), I'm going to just post a couple teasers and point you to my blog entry:
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Image

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https://chooseadventures.blogspot.com/2 ... rades.html
"My minivan is cooler than your bro-truck"
2003 Astro AWD Astrolander/ZMB - GTRV Top Transplant, 4" OLV Lift, NP233 T-case, evolving interior
1995 Safari GTRV Organ donor - gutted and gone.
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Re: Herbie's Astrolander/ZMB build thread

Post by Astrophysics »

Herbie,

That is super. A water pump and outside shower. Very nice.
I put a Road Shower 4 gal pressurized Black colored aluminum tank up on roof rack. I pump it to pressure with bicycle pump.

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Re: Herbie's Astrolander/ZMB build thread

Post by Astrophysics »

Hi Herbie,

Here is a photo of my roof mount solar shower black aluminum tank with hose and spray nozzle.

AP
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alum solar shower, hose, nozzle roof mount 2003 AWD
alum solar shower, hose, nozzle roof mount 2003 AWD
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Re: Herbie's Astrolander/ZMB build thread

Post by Herbie »

While I'm waiting for the weekend to arrive, so I can get back to the pick-n-pull for more parts to play with, I can do a quickie update on a few other things:

1) On-Board Air Update

A while back I'd gone through the effort of fabbing up some brackets so I could sling a viair tank under the slider-door sill area. Once I realized how heavy my rig had gotten and started questioning all my life choices, I bagged that part of the project. I DID, however, follow through on mounting a compressor. I have been using a Viair 400p for ~9 years and found it to be more than adequate for my ~30" tires. A few years back, I'd scored a good deal on a used 400c (the fixed-mount version) at a gear swap. The clean-up to the water-system in September 2020 unlocked easier access to the little cubby in the right-rear corner where the factory scissor jack originally stowed, and I wanted to use that space to mount the compressor. It's out of the dust and moisture, but also out of the way, and if I leave the factory jack cover off, there's more than enough ventilation.

Popping out the little "oddments tray" at the top of the trim panel also gives easy access to the area from above, making it relatively easy to service things, once I'd rerouted the factory harness that normally clips to the outside panel:
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As I said, ventilation in that area is pretty good, but I saw that Viair offers a mounting kit that includes a pancake fan to help keep the motor cool. I thought that was a good enough idea to adapt for myself from a surplus 12v PC fan:
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Next I needed a little control and mounting panel for my air chuck:
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The panel mounts to the edge of my cabinet along that cubby and makes it quick and easy to connect the air line and turn on the system. The fan and relay coil are powered by an unused factory accessory wire in that corner (originally intended as a 20A supply to the trailer wiring harness, I believe). A separate power wire for the relay to the compressor was run from my accessory fuse block.

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Since I'm running this system tankless, I'm using a relatively low pressure switch (70on-100off) and I've setup my refill hose with an inline regulator set to the desired tire pressure. I can just clip it on to the tire and let it run. This is an idea I've shamelessly stolen from this thread. When the tire hits the target pressure, the backpressure from the regulator lets the air line get to 100psi and the compressor shuts off. Move to the next tire, and repeat.
I am THRILLED with how much faster it is to air up at the end of the trail. About half the time spent previously was to unlock the rear cargo box, unpack the portable compressor from the bag, pop the hood and connect the power clips to the battery, etc. etc. etc. Now I can just pop open the rear doors, plug in the air hose and flip the switch, and I'm filling. The auto-shut-off also means I can spend that fill time walking around and looking for problems, instead of watching the gauge.
Last edited by Herbie on Fri Jun 11, 2021 7:51 am, edited 1 time in total.
"My minivan is cooler than your bro-truck"
2003 Astro AWD Astrolander/ZMB - GTRV Top Transplant, 4" OLV Lift, NP233 T-case, evolving interior
1995 Safari GTRV Organ donor - gutted and gone.
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Re: Herbie's Astrolander/ZMB build thread

Post by Herbie »

2) Awning Bracket Upgrade

This one should have been pretty minor, but it turned out to be a surprising amount of work.

Ever since I harvested parts from the 1995 LuLu Island/GTRV back on page 2, (11 years ago.... sheesh), I'd been running the pair of "custom" awning brackets that had been fitted to that van. These were nothing more than a pair of 1/8" bits of steel plate bent into an "L" with the lower limb curved slightly to fit the contour of the van's roof:
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On the donor van, these were literally just screwed to the van's roof with sheet-metal screws and covered in silicone. As a minor concession to safety, I fabbed some threaded backing plates to at least spread the load a bit.
These brackets mostly worked, and when I switched to an ARB awning in 2016, I was able to re-drill the brackets to just about get the awning high enough for the "bag" to clear the van's slider door. Things were also tight when opening/closing the passenger door if the awning was tilted downward at all, but I was at the top of the brackets.

Unfortunately, the "back rail" of the ARB mounting scheme is significantly less rigid over a long span versus the original hard-case "Norseman" awning, and so over the next few years it had sagged in the middle, and the outer cover of the ARB would occasionally catch in the slider. An upgrade was needed.

Step 1 was to fab new, taller brackets. I started with plenty of length to spare, and bent these using a combination of a makeshift bending jig and the bench-vise-and-hammer-and-swearing method. After getting things in-place I mocked up a straight edge and trimmed them to a height that solved my woes and also gave me a little margin for the future:

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Since these brackets have to sneak out "under" the bulb seal of the pop-top, they need to be as flat as possible, and cannot have any reinforcement to the "L" shape. As a concession to this detail, I made the new brackets a bit wider. More importantly, since sagging over the middle was the original issue, I added a third bracket for the span (and additional backing plates). Please admire the three differently-shaped-curved-Ells and appreciate what a pain in the ass these were. :D

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Because of the contours of the roof, the backing plates were most easily made in strips to fit each roof segment. These were then given a strip of 3M VHB tape and pulled into place with some temporary studs. Once the tape had secured, I could re-fit the headliner without worrying about the plates dropping out of position.
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Finally, after the brackets were painted, I cut some rubber sheet gaskets and bolted them down:
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Then it was just a matter of fitting new hardware into the ARB mounting track and getting 12 wobbly screws to line up with 12 holes and the awning was mounted:
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Now everything hangs straight and has adequate clearance for both the slider and passenger door, no matter what angle the awning is deployed to.
Last edited by Herbie on Fri Jun 11, 2021 9:55 am, edited 1 time in total.
"My minivan is cooler than your bro-truck"
2003 Astro AWD Astrolander/ZMB - GTRV Top Transplant, 4" OLV Lift, NP233 T-case, evolving interior
1995 Safari GTRV Organ donor - gutted and gone.
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Re: Herbie's Astrolander/ZMB build thread

Post by Astrophysics »

Herbie,

That is Fantastic work you did on your Astro!

Lots of great ideas and clever fabrication techniques.

Thank you for sharing the photos.

Yes, the shop finished the 4.10 gears and Eaton Tru Trac in rear diff.’Friday or Saturday they plan to complete front diff 4.10’s.

I am really looking forward to the low gears to get better acceleration on hills and from standing start.
I can also pull a small camping trailer now.

AP
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Rear Suspension Refresh

Post by Herbie »

So aside from a few COVID-projects to optimize a couple parts of the van, things have been pretty stable/reliable for a while. After a particularly hard push at the day job, I took advantage of a free day to take a solo overnighter up to one of my favorite areas in the San Bernardino National Forest. Access is via a pretty good FS road, but there are a few spots where the graded dirt gives way to a vein of rock poking through the terrain.
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Coming down after a great night of photography and relaxation, I was feeling pretty good - and maybe not crawling quite as slowly as I should have been. Dropping the rear end off of the "step" formed by one of these rock veins, I heard a pretty significant clunk from behind me. Upon inspection, I found that I'd sheared the shaft of one of the rear shocks:
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Once freed from the upper mount, the shock flopped over to rub against the muffler - hence the melted boot. I also severely bent the upper mounting bolt (single shear), such that it had to be cut out in order to replace it.

After a little time spent taking measurements and thinking about the failure mode, it became pretty clear that what likely happened was that I over-compressed the rear suspension without appropriate bump-protection, and something had to give. I'm honestly surprised it hadn't happened sooner - the rear of my van is VERY heavy (right at or just over the 3100lbs GAWR), and the S-10 springs (1350lbs rated) were over-loaded. This had led to them sagging over time. Combined with the relocated shock tabs and OEM bump-stop height, this created a condition where the reduced neutral suspension height was such that with a big compressive moment (such as coming down off a bump with all the weight of the ass-end) could get the ride height shorter than the minimum length of the shock. I had been noting that the suspension was riding low, so it was entirely stupid that I didn't address this sooner.

Needless to say, more than a replacement shock was in-order.

As I'd already noted the sagging springs, uprated 22-687HD springs (rated to 1750lbs) had already been ordered and were sitting in my garage. These were fitted, and I also fabbed a set of 3" risers for the bump-stops:
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Combined with the more appropriate spring rates, I was now back at my intended lifted-height, but found that GM's OEM clamshell arrangement for fixing the springs to the axle didn't easily accommodate the thicker 4+1 spring pack:
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The upper clamshell half is supposed to meet the lower. While I had sufficient bolt-thread through the nut, the tension there was flexing the 1/8" steel of the upper clamshell in a way that didn't inspire confidence. Some folks have stacked washers or a spacer into that gap, but I also disliked that the studs coming up from the tube bracket were so short that it was very difficult to get things "started", so I went looking for a better solution.

The tricky thing is that in the original design, the top of the spring pack operates pretty close to the "rail" in the rear body. Upward-facing U-bolts will definitely interfere with suspension movement. Instead, I adapted a solution I've seen on other Astros with a thicker spring pack:


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I did not want to modify my original hardware since I wanted to be able to reverse this if it didn't work out, so I started at the junkyard and picked up another pair of upper clamshells and TWO pairs of the lower axle brackets with the studs.

A little time with a cutoff wheel was needed to remove the studs from the tube brackets and to clearance the upper clamshells for the U-bolts:
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Due to how my weekend schedules worked out, I had done all this prep work on these brackets a few weeks in advance. When it came time to actually install everything on the van, it was pretty much a bolt-on operation. Is this what it's like for the Jeep guys who just buy everything off the shelf? Child's play!

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A few quick notes for any other Astro/Safari owners who may follow behind me:
  • At my local yard, there was one fairly late-model van (~2000) and one older van with the fiberglass leaf setup - I took the upper clamshell and lower tube brackets from the newer van (a match for mine), and the 2nd set of lower tube brackets from the older van.
  • I noticed that the fiber-leaf tube brackets are "shallower", so I put these on the inboard-side of the arrangement (left in the above photo) so that they wouldn't touch the lower-clamshell bracket that's fixed to the axle. With the stock leaf-pack, the lower bracket, lower clamshell, and upper clamshell all meet and you tighten the sandwich together. In this case, that won't work, and I didn't want the lower bracket pulling UP into the welded-part of the lower clamshell (and I didn't want to have to cut it off), so the "shallower" tube bracket worked out great.
  • The U-bolts are part #BT5-0111S from AutoAndTruckSprings.com - they're 9/16" diameter, 3-1/2" inside width, and 8-1/4" long
  • I could probably have got away with a slightly shorter bolt, but there's a lot of compression with the OEM rubber pads, so this made it easy to get the nuts started.
  • I probably didn't need 9/16" bolts, but from this supplier, those were the only parts with 3-1/2" inside spacing. If you find 1/2" or even smaller U-bolts from another supplier with the 3-1/2" spacing, that would let you install these without drilling out the brackets. The 3-1/2" spacing makes it possible to re-use the existing inboard bracket holes without having to slot or grind anything (other than enlarging the diameter of the holes with a drill).
I had one other side-effect from the new HD spring pack: with the same nominal +4 arch as the S-10 springs, but a more appropriate spring rate, I've got slightly deeper arch in the pack, and I got interference between the "rebound clip" and the exhaust pipe after the muffler. A torch and a couple of burly dudes at my local Midas sorted this out for a coffee-money sized tip:
Image Image
"My minivan is cooler than your bro-truck"
2003 Astro AWD Astrolander/ZMB - GTRV Top Transplant, 4" OLV Lift, NP233 T-case, evolving interior
1995 Safari GTRV Organ donor - gutted and gone.
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Re: Herbie's Astrolander/ZMB build thread

Post by Herbie »

"Simplify, and add lightness" - Colin Chapman

It's not just for race car engineers, it's good for overlanders too.

My process of slashing weight off the van continues. By going through a bunch of small steps, I have been slowly eliminating or finding new homes for many of the items that I'd been keeping in the Pelican case I had mounted to the rack on the rear Dutch door:

Before:
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That box held a Viair 400p compressor kit, leveling blocks, and entire recovery kit bag (which also included the tire repair kit and a whole mess of miscellaneous small spares, goops and greases.)

My Trasharoo then usually went over the top of that:
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In the end, between the trash bag and the padlock, it kind of made it a pain the arse to access anything inside the box! Plus, the Pelican case weighed almost 17 pounds empty.


After:
Image Image


This is the summation of a number of tiny projects:
  • I had already hollowed out the door interior for storing the leveling blocks back in 2018 - since they're literally the last thing I put away as we break camp, I was tired of having to unhitch my trash-bag and undo the padlock to put those back in the box.
  • I sewed some velcro to the back of a cheap zippered-mesh bag so I could stick my solar extension cable in an easy-to-reach spot.
  • I finally finished the OBA installation and put a Viair 400C into the factory jack cubby, eliminating the 400p and it's bag
  • I relocated a number of other small items and freed up room for the kinetic strap and soft-shackle in the door space
  • I thinned the tool kit and was able to relocate the rest of my "hard" recovery gear (Factor55 hitchlink, hard shackle, pins, etc.) to the removable underseat tool drawer.
Technically, I didn't need to relocate the jerry-can carrier back to the driver's side (where it had started many years ago), but having it on that side makes it a little easier to transfer the fuel, and it balances the rear door loads. It also provides just enough of a spacer to keep the trash bag from just sitting on the bumper. Relocating the small bit of table-mounting rail onto the passenger-side rack also gives me a better way to brace the leg on the bumper - I was right at the limit of being able to extend that leg to the ground previously!

All told, this set of mini-projects let me strip another ~30lbs off the van and eliminated several more "pain points" where getting things in/out was a hassle.
"My minivan is cooler than your bro-truck"
2003 Astro AWD Astrolander/ZMB - GTRV Top Transplant, 4" OLV Lift, NP233 T-case, evolving interior
1995 Safari GTRV Organ donor - gutted and gone.
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Re: Herbie's Astrolander/ZMB build thread

Post by Astrophysics »

Hi Herbie,

Excellent work on your camper van.

I am enjoying the 4.10 re geared axles in my 2003 Astro np231C , with p245/75016 Cooper Discovery tires . The speedo is even closer to correct now.

Been to busy to hit the dirt to test the rear Eaton Tru Trac.

There is a recent You tube video with a guy named Eric with a red GMC Safari lifted, and he made his own front sway bar dis connect.


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Winch on HF winch tray on Manik brush guard
Winch on HF winch tray on Manik brush guard
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Re: Herbie's Astrolander/ZMB build thread

Post by Herbie »

Weekend Projects, continued

In a previous tweak, I'd added a bit of table rail to the rack on the rear door. Being able to wedge the adjustable leg onto the bumper was fine, but it meant I couldn't access the rear of the van while the table was in use.

To fix this, I welded up a little drop bracket from some scrap C-channel. I was working so fast I forgot to photograph it before mounting - there's a hidden tab on the backside that keeps it square to the rack, even though it's only attached with a single bolt into a leftover mounting tab on the rack:

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Now I can swing the door open while using the table. This is also very convenient relative to the awning - I can stand out of the sun without heat from a stove rising straight up into the canvas.

I'm going to experiment with a different packing scheme for my kitchen kit - with a little more work, I think I can completely eliminate the need to bring a separate kitchen/prep table.
"My minivan is cooler than your bro-truck"
2003 Astro AWD Astrolander/ZMB - GTRV Top Transplant, 4" OLV Lift, NP233 T-case, evolving interior
1995 Safari GTRV Organ donor - gutted and gone.
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Re: Herbie's Astrolander/ZMB build thread

Post by Astrophysics »

Hi Herbie,
Awesome table idea.

I have kept my 2003 4x4 Astro on the rough and ready side as far as camper.

This last weekend, I install 20 liter water can in metal bracket. I out it at right rear to balance weight of inside spare tire which is on left rear.

Plan to get a siphon hose to draw water out. Or a 12V Shurflo faucet.

Added 2 of the Caframo 12 v fans on inside since my AC is not working,

Also, got the Rigid brand stackable with lock rings tote boxes and tool box from Home Depot and secured the heavy tote to my 5/8" plywood which I added on floor

AP
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Rigid locking stackable tote crates
Rigid locking stackable tote crates
20nlitre water can and bracket
20nlitre water can and bracket
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