Beginning the Minivan Camper Creation…

T&C Left Front

T&C Left Front

OK, everyone has been waiting for pictures, so here is what we have to work with.  This is the van, a 1994 Chrysler Town & Country, with all the bells and whistles, just exactly as we bought it for $3250 in 2006. It was a “second-owner” van, with the last owner having bought it from the original owner with only 7,000 miles on it. When we bought it from the second owner, it had about 105,000 miles on it, but he had kept meticulous records of literally “everything”, and he gave me his log book to prove it. I could even tell when he had replaced wipers last and when he put water in the battery! He had also just had new front struts installed and new front brakes put on it.

T&C Left Side
T&C Left Side

 As you can see, it has very dark windows in the back. It also has a roof rack and a trailer hitch, so this makes it nearly ideal for what we have in mind.

T&C Trailer Hitch
T&C Trailer Hitch

We took the rear seat out right away, because we had need of the rear area for hauling things. There’s only the two of us anyway, and the most we may ever do is go somewhere with another couple, so we have no need of the rear seat. It’s sitting in storage for now, as will the middle seats when we get ready to install our reclining couch/bed in their place. But this also brings up another problem with these kinds of vans… if we should ever decide to trade vans while on a trip, it’s not complete without the seats… which are back at home!

This is why after much thinking about the logistics, it would be much better to use a later model van, with the fold down seats. That way, they’re always with you, no matter what happens.

TC Cargo Area
T&C Cargo Area

 As with most minivans these days, there is just a hair over 48-inches between wheel wells, and from the rear threshold to the base of the driver and passenger seats there is just a hair over 8 feet in length. The floor to ceiling height in the middle of the van is about 45-inches. I wish that it were taller, but in reality, anything less than standing height wouldn’t matter that much. We used to own an extended top luxury van with about 5′-4″ of height, and we still couldn’t stand up straight. As long as you have enough room to sit comfortably, you can always get out to stand up. That’s what side and rear tents are for. Besides, this is a traveling vehicle, meant to be on the road most of the time. The camping gear is for when you get back to the campground after a day of sightseeing, and have a place to fix a meal, unwind for awhile, and then hit the sack. It’s not meant to “live” in, although you could… if you’re that desperate!

When we changed tires, we upgraded to six-ply tires, just to be safe. They don’t ride quite as smooth and are hard to balance, but the weight range is also higher. We did have one minor problem with this van, but it wasn’t the fault of the van. Someone had apparently switched the sway bar in the rear when the trailer hitch was installed. It was a slightly different design than the original, which had kind  of a “dog-bone”, double barrel connecting link. This one has one straight vertical bolt at each end, loaded with washers and rubber grommets like you would find on a shock absorber spindle. One of the washers let go one day and let that end of the sway bar get loose and it made a terrible “bang” when it slipped past the bolt.

When I tried to find parts for it, they tried to sell me the “dog-bone” link, and I had to go back home, take pictures of what I actually had, and return to show them what it really had on it. But not one auto parts house showed anything like I had in their computers. It was probably some after-market sway bar. Rather than try to change out the whole assembly back to factory original equipment, I  bought  a $2 pack of replacement shock absorber grommets, and used some very heavy shock absorber top washers from my own junk bin.  It works fine, and is probably stronger than the way it was before it let loose. The old washers were way too thin.

The original radio/cassette player didn’t want to work on FM at all, and very weak on AM, but a friend gave me a newer style radio from his boat that he had changed out. I bought the proper new mounting bezel for it and the connecting plugs from Crutchfield, and installed it myself.

The premium sound system on the Chrysler was no problem. The amps on the speakers just need power when the key is turned on, and that was accomplished by using the wire on the radio for a power antenna, which we don’t have on this van. It works fine to power up the amps on the speakers. This radio also has a CD player on it, too, which brings it up to date with the times. Unfortunately, the FM section on that one doesn’t work, either, but at least with having the new DIN sleeve already in the dash now, it will be easier to change out when I find a different radio… again.

I have been thinking about getting one with all the bells and whistles, including GPS, with one of those pop-up displays, but that may be overkill. I have never gotten lost in my life. Besides I have seen those things make enough mistakes, that I don’t trust them except in urban areas, and that’s not where I would need it. If I was out in Washington state in the middle of nowhere, with no map (which would never happen anyway), that’s when I “might” need it, but it’s also the time when it’s least reliable, so I can’t see wasting money on it.

Funny story:  This last winter I called for a propane delivery for our 250-gallon tank here at home. I saw the driver go past at one point, but he never stopped. We called again later in the afternoon to see where he was, and he claimed he had been there already! I told the dispatcher that I had been home all day, and I could assure her that we were running on fumes… on a Friday, yet!  After investigating, we discovered they had insisted that he get used to the new GPS systems that they had just bought for all the trucks, and it said we lived two blocks north… where he dumped 150 gallons of propane in someone else’s tank!  Can you say “Oops?!”

They did manage to get another driver out there before the end of the day. We never did find out whether they got their money or had to go pump the propane back out of that other person’s tank! Either way, it’s not my problem!

We still have to get a new torque converter installed, as it has a slight shudder in it yet. They said that should cost around $500. The tranny tested out OK, so I won’t worry about that just yet.

Only one other minor problem… this last winter I got too close to the edge of the road and clipped a mail box with the right side mirror. Thankfully, I didn’t break the side window when it folded back, but the outer mirror housing shattered into a half-dozen pieces, not all of which were found. My wife found a good used side mirror on eBay for a reasonable price, but it’s silver-gray, with a couple of small dings in it. I’ll have to sand and fill it, prime it, and then have it painted to match the van before I install it. I haven’t decided whether to do the painting myself or let a body shop do it. I can install the mirror easily enough.

Other than that, everything on the van is like brand new. I believe it has every option that was available in it’s day. The mileage computer has already told us that we get about 24 MPG on long trips, and about 18 MPG around town. The engine probably needs a tune up, and new belts before we make another long trip. I may have the harmonic balancer pulley replaced at that time, too, just to be safe.

The only other quirky thing is that the gas gauge is erratic. The previous owner said he had the sender replaced, but it still does it. Sometimes it reads correctly, and other times it goes completely to empty. Then the next time the van is started it will suddenly wake up again and go back to normal. Very weird. If the sending unit didn’t fix it, then I suspect a problem with a loose connection somewhere, maybe even behind the dash. Anybody else ever had that issue before?

Anyway, I have more pictures, with details of the inside, but for speed of loading I’ll put them in another post. If you have owned a Chrysler van before, I’m sure it’s nothing new to you, but if you are starting a project like this from scratch, maybe it will help clarify what I’m taking about. Just don’t expect too much, too soon. We’re just clearing out a week where some areas around us have hit 115 degrees, and I’m not about to work outside in this heat. My garage isn’t finished off on the inside, either, and when the sun shines on the roof it’s like an oven in there! The actual building of the reclining couch/bed frame and storage cabinet may have to wait until September.

Meanwhile, I’m still trying to get caught up with getting pictures and content loaded. I still have product links to add to the site, as well as work on the editing the full version of the book. And in between all that, I still have somewhat of a “life” away from this computer screen.  Not much of a life… but enough to keep my sanity.  If I can just keep from climbing these walls in anticipation of getting out there and traveling again!

Let me hear your comments!  I can’t make the site better without knowing what you want! (Please, no spammers, though. I get tired of editing one sentence comments that are made for no other purpose than to get your links on here. I want conversation about the topic, not just dumb remarks!) Don’t be shy!