Category Archives: RETROvan

Window Plan

I’ve decided the Scenario Mobile should sport a row of four smallish windows on each side centered above the rear wheels, resembling portholes on a jet or submarine. Remember the Proteus sub from the 1966 sci-fi classic, Fantastic Voyage?

They will be 14-inch squares with 2.5-inch radius corners to mimic app icons in the iOS dock on iPhones and iPads. I’ll even label them with “app” title decals that reflect my professional services.

I can’t find any pre-fab windows meeting these specs, so they’ll need to be custom made by Motion Windows. They’re in Vancouver, WA so I can pick them up and save on shipping charges.

Here’s the hole-cutting template I worked out. This is based on a nine-inch grid to nestle each window between the two-inch frame ribs, which are spaced about 18 inches apart on center.

I’ll cut the corners with a five-inch hole saw, and then cut the sides with a DeWalt jig-saw and/or angle grinder. There will be no room for error. The windows will clamp in place, made watertight with gaskets on the outside and inside.

The critical dimension here is my finished wall depth. So that means before I can order them I need to remove a few interior panels to expose the ribs, and then decide on how thick my wall sandwiches will be, including the insulation. I’m guessing that depth will be around two inches.

I was quoted a cost of $248 per window, or $1,984 total and a lead time of six weeks. That may seem excessive considering larger off-the-shelf RV windows can be had for under $100. But these portholes would be the most distinguishing exterior features and make for a truly unique design element, completing the theme.

To keep the design clean, I don’t plan for these eight windows to open. I’ll add vents on the ceiling, and larger stock RV windows on the back doors and behind the entry door later.



It took a full day to remove all of the branded vinyl decals, using a Wagner heat gun, a cheap plastic scraper and a can of 3M Adhesive Cleaner. If you ever have to remove decals, don’t waste your money on Goo Gone, Goof Off or Oops. Go right for the industrial solvents or you’ll spend all day picking, rubbing and cursing. Even the 3M product takes more effort than it should, but that could be because it’s only 50° out.

Ah, there. Much better. We couldn’t believe how good the paint job is. (It must have extra lead in it!) The big photo decals can linger a while. My wife likes them, and she’s the world’s best baker.

Gutting, DMV & Design

It took a few hours to gut the cargo area completely, leaving only a box clad in riveted aluminum panels that would look like an Airstream once polished up. That’s where the diner-style booth and table will go, along with a six-foot kitchenette and passenger captain chair.

I went to the DMV and got my title and registration. I convinced the clerk that I’m converting a commercial vehicle to a passenger van, so I was able to get the custom license plates I wanted. Fortunately, no inspection is required for vehicles older than 1975.

I also spoke to a mechanic in Sherwood about engine and front-end options. He estimated $8K to $10K over three to four months. But he works alone and his shop seems too small for the job.

Then I stopped by a place called Van Specialties only to learn they’re booked out 18 months, and they want $1K just to get on the wait list. No thanks.

They gave me a referral to a company called RC Display Vans in Portland. They specialize in custom “display” vans for marketing. They do not, however, specialize in replying to emails.

I’m spending most evenings exploring design ideas in SketchUp:

This is one of our design inspirations:

Scenario Mobile

I’m now the proud owner of a beautiful 1961 Ford P-400 Parcel Delivery Van. These beasts were known as “bread trucks,” because so many were used by bakeries. Today they’re known as “widowmakers” because they’re, well, dangerous to drive.

I plan to convert mine into a mobile home office, branded for my mobile software development business. That way it qualifies as a tax deduction under marketing expenses. It’ll mostly sit at home under shore power with an occasional client visit, coding session at the beach, or vintage car show.

The van was owned by the House of Bread in Tigard, Oregon. Quite by accident, I got word that they were going out of business so I inquired about their parking-lot ornament. Two sleepless nights and a harrowing test drive later, I traded a cool $4,444 for the title.

The 56-year-old body and Pantone 201 “maroon” paint are in great shape as you can see. The engine, however, needs to be rebuilt or replaced because it clanks like hell. It’s the original Ford 223 Six, mated to the 3-speed Cruise-O-Matic transmission. This transmission was an original Ford upgrade, and bonus — it was recently rebuilt. The odometer shows ~42K, which means 142K or possibly 242K. If the latter, that would be farther than the moon.

I’m thinking about having a bigger Ford engine (their old 292 V-8) dropped in, and the front-end swapped out for struts. Hopefully all for less than $7K. But I don’t know whether that would require a transmission change as well.

The cabin (which I’ll call the cockpit) needs a lot of work. It was basically painted by a chimp with a spray can. That’s one of my biggest pet peeves: Painters who are too lazy to mask or remove hardware that shouldn’t be painted. The cargo area, however, is potentially a blank canvas totaling 72 square feet (or 438 cubic feet). It has some broken shelves and a giant wooden sled that pulls out on ball bearings to service the local Farmers Markets.

While I built hundreds of models as a kid, I’ve never restored or customized a real vehicle. But what can possibly go wrong, right? I’ll update this as the project progresses, so stay tuned!