The decision as to which vehicle would be our home turned out to be quite a process. Attempting to make a long story short, the decision eventually came down to either a BJ60 (Toyota Land Cruiser) with a roof top tent, a Toyota Tacoma (or Hilux) with a flippac, or a Chevy Astro Van. Unfortunately, a VW Westfalia couldn’t have even been considered due to the exorbitant initial cost. The list of pros and cons for each vehicle is long, however in summary: the Toyotas have better availability of parts south of the border, better gas mileage in the case of the Hilux or BJ60 (diesels) and in the case of the BJ60, overall badassness. The Astro beat out the Toyotas on price, interior space, and availability. After quite a bit of back and forth the decision to go with the Astro was made on a few big points:
- Our knowledge of car mechanics is limited. This increases the importance of a newer car and effects the decision to go with an older car such as a Hilux or BJ60. These are generally considered being better suited for overlanding seeing as they have diesel engines and have less electronics making them easier to fix on the road. However, the original assumption was that easier to fix on the road applied to those with a larger knowledge base than either of us had at the time.
- Interior space. The fact that we could sleep inside the Astro, as well as have plenty of storage space was a huge factor. This allows us to be non-descript while in sleeping mode as opposed to a RTT or flippac, which allows us to have an easier time pirate camping. Furthermore, the larger interior space means a higher comfort level. This was thought as a potential cost savings as we would be more self-sufficient and less dependent on periodic hotel visits. All offsetting any difference in fuel prices.
- $$$$$. After all of our calculations it was determined that to build the car we wanted out of an Astro Van it would be less expensive than any of the other cars.
Our car was found via auto trader and was purchased from a dealer in Rochester, NY. It was a 2003 Chevy Astro Van, AWD, single owner, with a little under 80,000 miles. The car was purchased in March, leaving us four months to perform the laundry list of modifications we had dreamed up. Let me say that without the help of many people, both real and in cyberspace, we could not have created our home. Below is a list of modifications:
- 4″ Suspension Lift – Kit purchased from overlandvans.com
- Upgraded tires -BF Goodrich, 265/70/16
- Zombie Proofing – Partition from Cargo van installed. In addition, expanded steel welded to the interior of the car over the five windows in the rear compartment.
- New floor – 1/2″ ply wood with industrial floor mat
- Sleeping platform – 48”x75” RV mattress on a custom built pulley system.
- Custom cabinetry made for aux battery, tools, shoes and miscellaneous items .
- Custom kitchen – Unit contains a 40,000 BTU camping stove and cutting board, along with storage space for kitchen supplies. The unit is stored in the vehicle on 1” castors and deploys collapsible legs when in use.
- Propane tank – 20 lb bulk tank with securing strap
- Water Reservoir – 7 Gallons with hand pump
- Fridge/Freezer – Engel MT17
- Auxiliary Battery – Optima 31T deep cycle AGM battery. Powers stereo, amplifier, refrigerator, GPS, and inverter.
- Inverter – 1000 w DC to AC modified sine inverter
- Amplifier – 5 Channel amp (4 being used) powering a component system in the front and 6.5” spearkers in the rear.
- CD Player – JVC with usb and two auxiliary inputs. The rear aux input is wired to the rear compartment of the van as part of the entertainment system.
- 18” LCD monitor
- Roof rack – Stock roof rack obtained from a local U-Pull-It.
- Thule – Cascade
- Retractable awning – 8’ ARB awning with mosquito net
- Bike rack
The Role Players
Phong – A former co-worker, Phong is a mechanical engineer who annoyingly knows something about everything. He not only has a work shop with practically every tool we ever needed for the project, but was a sounding board for the overall design of the vehicle. Phong contributed hours upon hours to the build and without his help I cannot say with confidence that we would be capable of making this trip.
Jeremy – Jeremy is a weekend mechanic who helped (more accurately I helped him) with the suspension lift and some general maintenance to the van. Armed with a full car lift in his garage and a barrage of craftsman tools, Jeremy brought the experience and knowledge needed in order to get the car humming prior to departure.
Ben – My brother, a carpenter took the industrial looking interior and not only helped make it look a little bit more like home but more importantly a hell of a lot more functional. All of the wood paneling, cubbies, and shelving was thanks to his saw.
Payne Engineering – Harry Payne Sr. and Harry Payne Jr. made possible the level of security we are afforded during our travels. They donated the steel and labor to zombie proof the van. A special thanks to Todd who proposed the weather stripping which prevents our hands from being cut every time we open the windows and Jake whose welding expertise allows us to go down the rockiest of roads without a hint of rattle.