2 Steps Forward, 1 Step Back

Everything came to a screeching halt as Brett was about to install the intake manifold last Saturday. He discovered (much too late) a large crack that had been J-B welded. This won’t do.

So after a phone call and a few photos, Ted King at PER was kind enough to step up and track down a possible replacement from a scrap yard in Troutsdale.

While cracks in intake manifolds are a rare problem, Ted’s theory is that my engine’s manifold was missing an important spring that prevents an internal damper/diverter from getting stuck. So exhaust was flowing back into the intake manifold at 1,000° F full-time, thereby stressing the metal to the point of failure.

Here’s Ted at his shop with the manifolds side-by-side:

They’re a close match, but not close enough. So Ted is looking again to see if we can source a working solution. Brett is scheduled to finish the job on Friday, so hopefully luck is on our side.

Tick… tick… tick…

Meanwhile, I spent Tuesday chasing down another dozen parts from Brett’s scavenger hunt with some help from Amazon.com and Wayne at the NAPA store in Tigard. Parts like a thermostat, oil sending unit pigtail, distributor cap and rotor, pipe plugs, spark plugs and wires, heater hose, fuel hose. And then various fluids like type F transmission fluid and full-strength coolant.

The problem with NAPA is that their stores are franchised and so, for some reason, they don’t share database information. And their online database is pretty sloppy. The Ford P-400 apparently never existed, and some of the parts that are searchable under the P-350 are misnamed. For example, the Oil Sending Unit Pigtail shows up under Cigarette Lighter Connector. So everything basically has to be matched visually.



The engine rebuild is “done,” in the same sense that software is done.

It took six weeks and cost almost $3,000 including replacement parts. Ron Larsen and Ted King at Portland Engine Rebuilders took care to track down the right rod bearings and then discovered a major issue:

Basically the cylinder head was cracked. This 223 had been rebuilt more than 15 years ago and the crack was welded. But the weld had failed some time ago. So PER tracked down a replacement head in pristine condition and all should be good now.

So tomorrow Brett from McFarland’s Mobile Mechanics will do the install and hopefully the RETROvan will be drivable by happy hour.

My dad and I also got a good start on the helm console, or power station. We installed both Blue Sea Systems traditional metal circuit panels, one for AC and one for DC. Each panel is overkill, but they light up and have analog gauges. And that’s important.

Next, I modified and installed a cool iPad mount on the helm where a pontoon boat steering wheel would normally go. We spent the rest of the afternoon watching old TV shows on that iPad while my mom made her world-famous coconut meringue pie in the kitchen. This helm will serve as a safety bulkhead, and will also be a super cool design element for the passenger seat while driving, working or camping.

My retro JVC “Teeny Vision” TV also arrived from a collector on eBay, circa 1971 and in mint condition. It took a ton of research but I found an iView digital converter box that also serves up modern media attached via USB and routes it over an RF antenna cable. So imagine watching your favorite old TV shows on a tiny B&W screen with all the pops and buzzes.

Shows like The Twilight Zone, The Andy Griffith Show, I Dream of Jeannie, Bewitched, The Outer Limits, Hogan’s Heroes, Gilligan’s Island, The Addams Family, Get Smart, M*A*S*H, Star Trek and so on…

Much more to say, and more photos to add. The design is really coming together in SketchUp. I have the electrical system, the galley and the diner/berth mostly figured out. The berth will form a queen bed, even.

Stay tuned…

Bring in the Reinforcements!

It’s been a while since my last update, so there’s a lot to cover. My parents were here over Memorial Day, while large parts were arriving every day.

My dad helped me reinforce the roof by cutting and installing various lengths of 1/8″ aluminum L brackets along the cross members. This took forever because every hole had to be pre-drilled, and that aluminum is tougher than my old drill driver.

Next, we had to reinforce the curved corners sitting atop eight metal studs because, as you can see, all of them were cracked and some were split all the way through. And that means the roof itself was essentially supporting the supports!

To fix this, we used 6×6″ Simpson Strong-Tie galvanized steel L straps and bent one end to 90°. (My dad’s creative idea.) That gave us three points of contact with each load-bearing structural point and added only a few pounds to the overall weight. Once I get the rest of these screwed in, I’ll be able to get up on the roof to install the vents and the solar panels. Otherwise I’m sure I might have damaged the roof, since it was designed to protect cargo—not to support heavier things like air conditioners (or me).

I made my first holes in the hull. The first was a 2-3/4″ hole for the Marinco Shore Power 30-Amp inlet port. It’s stainless steel and beautiful.

Next, I measured and cut two 14-inch square holes in the roof for the Fan-tasic Vents. This involved learning how to use my new DeWalt jigsaw upside-down. I got them cut cleanly but it took a while including sweat breaks. And my arms felt like they were vibrating the rest of the night.

The vent in the front will be set to suck and the vent in the back will be set to blow, which just might obviate the need for a power-hungry air conditioner.

These vents have remote controls, thermostats and rain sensors to open and close themselves automatically. The vents set in place nicely, but before I can get up on the roof to seal and screw them into place, I need to do some additional reinforcement.

The hull was strengthened significantly from side-to-side and at the corners, but the steel skin is still a bit saggy in between the cross-members. So, I’ll be adding two more aluminum angle brackets inside each ceiling pocket, in perpendicular fashion. This will require the use of some sturdy 2″ steel corner braces to secure a brace to each end of the bracket, and then the braces to the cross members.

There’s a strip of Dicor butyl tape between all the aluminum angles and the roof. That’s to reduce vibration. And the rule here is that “no new screw shall penetrate the roof if possible.”

That should complete the reinforcement phase to the point where I can safely start installing the roof-mounted goodies: Solar panels, vents, lights, wire conduits, insulation and ceiling panels.