Enter The Summer of Ven: Booting Up Murdervan and Digging Into the IDI 7.3L Diesel

Here it is, the last post I laid out some time in September before giving up on my “web van” for several months. I might be the only person I know who not only has terrible piles of vehicles in disrepair in his yard, but also terrible piles of websites in disrepair on his hosting account. I have yet to repair e0designs.com, and at this point I’m thinking of just incorporating it here as a “Store” page like way back in the halcyon days of 2011 or something. It’s not like I’m going to take off into full time consulting again any time soon.

So a preface before I dive in – the theme of my past couple of post-resurrection posts has been “I’ve been told by enough people that they have found instances where I fixed or took apart or modified some random contraption valuable that I should continue writing my site”. And this is totally true, both for you and me (as I seem to periodically require reminding). I’ve conversely stumbled upon instances just this year alone where I found that somebody else has deep dove into a contraption I just bought and wrote entire websites about it.

Relatively rarely do I follow someone else’s work so closely because I tend to do offbeat things as soon as I get an understanding of what’s going on. But I’d be way underselling the community contribution to Murdervan and Spool Bus alike if I didn’t give a shoutout to IDI Online, written by Nick Pisca. This guy vans. Like he’s taken his ven up to the Arctic Circle, while the only Circle I trust any of mine to get to is a Circle-K, and only then under duress.

After the “Oh shit, now I actually have to go get it” moment with Murdervan, I spent a long time reading just about every post on his site. I’m not out to modify anything right away, but I found it important to learn the ecosystem and get a big picture idea of what goes into one of these highway-worthy tractors. Also important was a group of friends who have owned, or currently own, older Ferd diesel trucks who gave me leader links and tips on a lot of resources and aftermarket parts such as Accurate Diesel and IDI Performance.

Social media, again, is nice and all for the Now, but I think this level of generational collaboration is not something it’s good at. I’m now taking care of these two abominations after first asking my friends where the distributor and ignition coil is located by accident (….oh, right). At some point, somebody might be crawling the expanses of the Internet for a weird problem with their tractor-van, and they’ll happen on this site, and the knowledge will live on. By no means am I a diesel mechanic, but after the next few posts I might be able to convince someone else!

So here we go! It’s the end of May, and I’ve woken up after a fever dream where I swore I bought a van, but it can’t possibly be real becau…

Oh GOD what have I done

Obviously the first mission was to get the thing running well, then I’ll start working on all the little bugs and generally making facility improvements. My philosophy of ven generally prioritizes Running Good, then Feeling Good, then finally Looking Good. That means after it’s able to run, drive, and at least pretend to stop, then I get to fixing all the annoying broken interior gauges and functions and whatnot.

Let’s get started. First off, it does crank, but it felt quite strained and slow for the two nearly-new size 65 batteries that Not Charles Manson threw in. I also noticed the two batteries were at different voltages. This suggested to me a grounding or charging issue that was throwing them off balance between each other, so I first began digging.

Well, that was simple. The auxiliary battery (on the driver’s side) looks like it’s had its ground cable sucked into the power steering pump.

I pulled the whole mess out and yeowch. You can see where it got pulled out of the ground lug (silver stub of wire on the right).  This obviously is going to need a total rework, but at least the first mystery is solved.

For starters (hee), I just linked the two batteries together using my largest jumper cables, and put them on charge overnight so they have a chance to equalize.

The way I have come to understand the IDI engine family is that they are generally extremely reliable, but there are several weaknesses that are just endemic to being an old all-mechanical diesel engine which, if you don’t pay attention and let maintenance slide after a while (or after it’s been through 8 owners)  can be troublesome to get to a good stable state again.

  • The fuel system is all mechanical, with a camshaft-driven diaphragm-style lift pump that slurps from the fuel tank (18 feet behind you)
  • The fuel delivery is all mechanical, with a Stanadyne DB2 rotary distributor (AHA, IT DOES HAVE A DISTRIBUTOR! Checkmate, friends) type high pressure injection pump
  • The fuel injectors are pressure-pulse actuated from the high-pressure injection pump. That means the pump punches the steel fuel line with a few thousand PSI, enough to pop the injector on the other side open for just a little bit, then it springs closed again. The strength of punch determines how much fuel is injected and subsequently how much motion you get.

What this implies is that if there is air anywhere in the system, it will cause numerous issues and you will be cranking and cranking forever to try and push through it. And of course there’s 17 miles of rubber hoses comprising the fuel feed and return lines, which leak as they age and harden and cause the system to lose prime.  In this case, the…

  • Fuel pump has to be working overtime to fill the injection pump back up
  • The injection pump has to prime itself and push air out of the injection side
  • Any trapped air bubbles in the fuel lines themselves act as cushions for the injection pressure and may cause the injection pulse to be dissipated and no injection to take place
  • And all this implies you’re holding down the starter forever
  • Because the starter has to generate a high engine speed to get the compression temperature and run the fuel and injection pump, electrical gremlins such as a weak/old battery and corroded grounds then come into play.

The starter sounds like it does a lot of work in this system, and you’ll find a lot of guides and how-to posts on forums basically telling you to crank through it which can take several cycles of 30 seconds on, a few minutes off. There’s also arcane procedures on how to bleed air out of the system, such as gently unscrewing the injector fittings, as well as pushing a little Schrader valve on the fuel filter mount. A lot of the aftermarket support for these engines seem to replace or upgrade some of these fuel delivery subsystems, and after experiencing Murdervan I definitely understand why. Old crispy rubber and corroded battery terminals are just things that happen, and they impact this engine family a lot due to its design.

Anyways, after a few hours of tinkering and consulting friends while running the batteries down again,  I elected to cheat and use some ether.

Now, you’re not supposed to ether a diesel engine at all for a multitude of Car Guy Advice reasons I won’t get too much into. What I was told is the primary concern is ether hitting hot glow plugs  and ruining your day (as well as the glow plugs), or damaging the piston rings due to the sudden uncontrolled combustion. These engines also feature pre-injection chambers (“precups”) which can be cracked by said combustion.

I’ll be honest, a lot of the advice on this front sounds like it’s preventing someone from just emptying an entire can of starting fluid at a time like a fidgety lawn mower. Yes, I can see that ending poorly.

Either way, I pressed a little bit and of course, there is recommended leeway if you had to ether a diesel: Use very small amounts at a time, and be cranking through it the whole time. The idea being you’re just feeding the engine air that is just a bit spicier than normal, helping it kick off, and no more. The glow plug circuit on Murdervan was also completely dead, so there was at least no risk of backfiring or blowing them up.

So here goes nothing. I carefully aimed the starting fluid can at the black hole, floored the throttle pedal, and gave it about a half second flick…

Jeez this thing is loud. Also, the vape cloud which slowly swallowed my entire block (You’re welcome, neighbors) was because of the sheer amount of fuel that I deposited in the exhaust from many unsuccessful starts. After it cooked off, it seemed to be a lot better. The initially very unsteady idle gradually settled out after (presumably) the system fully primed itself and all the injectors were air-free. Well, things are superficially working now!

I was therefore able to verify that it does indeed turn, go, and stop. Very well, in fact. I couldn’t get up to a useful speed in the yard without risking expanding my yard into another yard, but all of the motions were gone through.

Oh, and a quick aside: I feel like the 7.3 IDI is more serviceable in the van than the 460 big block. I can plausible reach my forearm into the gap between the exhaust manifold and engine cave seam! No spark plugs or wires or smog lines! There’s also not much going on up top since there’s no carburetor (The injection pump is up front).

After the thing warmed up A HALF HOUR LATER (I was warned that warming up these things is just heating up a 1,100 pound chunk of cast iron) I was able to get a few restarts in without any hesitation. Based on these conditions, my friends and I surmised that it was a fine and functional 7.3L IDI tractor engine, but likely just has old and aerating fuel fittings. Cold starts after sitting a while might be painful, but it should be trouble free.

So now I can move onto the next stage of things, which is making it less shitty. Vantruck went through a similar cycle: less shitty first, more gooder later.

I continued my focus on the starting-centric components because as one of my friends put it, “These engines take 1.21 gigawatts to start but will then run until the sun burns out” or something similar. I had some 2/0-sized battery cables (Good gracious) on order at the time to repair the destroyed battery ground, so in the mean time, let’s tinker with the glow plug circuit.

Pictured above is the only semiconductor in this entire van, and it doesn’t even matter. There is ONE technology in it. Just one.

It’s the glow plug controller, and it looks too new to be OEM – likely a recent reproduction, as I was told the original ones were electromechanical (i.e. relays, bimetallic strips, analog timers…). Either way, it’s dead. I pried the bottom off to access the circuit board, and there’s a burnt out MOSFET on it which I assume threw the big relay.

This glow plug controller appears to just be a timer for the most part – when you key ON (but not START), it throws the glow plug contactor until the current falls to a certain level, indicating the glow plugs have reached final temprature.

The large squiggly metal bus bar on the controller module is a current sensing resistor, and there is an amplifier chip on this board that reads it. It’ll then shut off the “Wait to start” light, and hopefully you’ll actually start the engine. As far as I can discern, it takes the second key-on as a sign to cycle the glow plug contactor every few seconds (to assist in the initial cold start and keep the pre-chamber warm).

A new one costs around $100-150. I decided to wait on buying a new complete unit for now, since I don’t even know if the plugs themselves were working or if they were burnt out, and I otherwise know your only job is to carefully touch the battery to a few little cartridge heaters. Come on. Even I can do that.

The glow plugs themselves are just that, little cartridge heaters that get red hot and then get fuel sprayed on them inside the cylinders. I tested the glow plugs by jumping a starting battery directly to the contactor and reading the current draw with my DC clamp meter. The circuit only pulled about 80 amps, which is far too low according to the specification for Motorcraft (Ferd OEM) glow plugs, which is 0.3 ohms per. That ought to give me an inrush draw of 300 amps assuming the batteries are solid. Whatever, I’m out to make improvements, so I ordered a set of DieselRX glow plugs from Lord Bezos.

See, in the pickup trucks and tractors, you can just look down at them from above by opening the hood. Here, in the Econolines, you are basically working blind in a space you can’t even fit your head into, much less tools of adequate leverage at helpful angles. To get to these, I had to outfit my lonest 1/4″-drive ratchet with a short 2 inch extension and universal joint, then a 3/8″ deep-well socket on the end. Most of them are more readily reached from the backside (inside the cab) after removing the air cleaner and some other odds and ends.

The front two are better reached from the front under the hood, but if you have an air conditioning compressor it’ll be in the way next to the engine-mounted fuel filter bracket so you can’t reach behind it – Murdervan does not have air conditioning, but Spool Bus did.

Yes, this frontmost on the driver’s side is particularly dumb to reach. So find a manlet with small arms to reach up from the driver’s seat.

I was told that if they are damaged, they could be difficult to remove because the tips tend to deform. In the worst case, they could break off inside the chamber, then you’re kind of boned. Tactics include gentle wiggling back and forth to either squeeze carbon build-up off the tip or to slowly forge it back into shape with the help of penetrating oil.

Luckily, all eight extricated fine, except one which required mild coercion. Also, the passenger-side front plug was cross-threaded, so somebody’s been in here before and just sent it.

Before I put the new ones back in, I thoroughly brake cleaner’d the area around the socket as they tend to get filthy, and then gave each plug thread some copper anti-seize grease

Current test time! With the circuit fully wired up, I was going to keep an eye on the inrush current and final settling current after 10 seconds. The “Pliers of Oh Crap” are there just in case, to cut the main battery feeder line.

The current began at around 280 amps and quickly settled to a steady state of 100. I think we’re successful here #ThatAintGoingAnywhere.

With glow plugs now active, Murdervan could achieve a cold start (well, “Cold” meaning 60 something degrees in the early summer morning) right around 10 seconds of huffing and puffing, after I manually connect the alligator clip for 10 seconds and let go. While not brand-new great, friends surmised now there was nothing wrong except an aerating fuel fitting somewhere, which is one of those things you can drag your feet on if you’re patient and pack a spare starter.

With that all said and done, I crammed everything back in, hung the alligator clips out of the doghouse, ripped the inaugural burnout in the street, and took it around the block.

The marks are still there as of this writing in 2021.

First impressions: This thing is slow. I was warned that the IDI, descended from the finest American tractors, is legendarily slow. I had no idea that Mikuvan could handily take this thing in a race. Once third gear in the C6 transmission is done and the engine’s now pretty much redlining, you’re going a healthy…. 60 or so. 65?

After the around-the-block run, I decided to, you know, put license plates on it before taking it any further. It wears the disguise as Vantruck quite well, because who is going to tell one crusty white Ford work van from another without reading the VIN off the door?

First fuel-up probably in a long time showed that the fuel gauge was functional and did read reasonably accurate. I then took it on the usual “Maiden Voyage of Collecting Your Own Parts”.

I will say that it’s rather empowering to have a vehicle that is practically indestructible and will be sold to sentient cockroaches to use as a sentient-cockroach-church bus after Trump [This joke is now outdated, but pretend it’s June] fires off all of our nukes at the same time for the 4th of July.

The upside of blazing down the interstate (… at 55mph?) is I got everything actually warmed up. When I say “warmed up” idling in the yard, I mean the temperature gauge just barely creaks off “C”. But after my roughly 35 mile parts-collecting, curb-jumping, burnout-doing adventure, it’s nice to see the temperature gauge right where it should be.

Besides little annoyances, then, it seems like Murdervan is in good running order now. There’s a favorite railroad crossing jump of mine several miles away that I decided to use as a “Shake It Off” test to see if anything was particularly loose or about to fall off. As nothing was left behind in the road, it’s time to continue on the quest of “less-shittification”.

One of the first operations? Replacing the damaged battery ground cable. By now, my 2/0 replacement cable had arrived. I decided to route it a little more sensibly, up close to the front radiator support and toward the front quarter panel. I made sure to clean up the old ground lug hole with a wire brush, then sealed this bolted connection with a good quantity of silicone dielectric grease.

While I was underneath, I gave the same treatment to the right-side (undamaged) ground lug, to make the connection more secure.

The new auxiliary battery’s ground cable snakes downwards right in front of the radiator support and makes the jump across away from any adventurous power steering belts.

In a “I already have my tools out” fix the same night, I reattached the parking brake assembly which had been limply hanging, causing the parking brake to not be useful.

I’m a evangelical parking brake user, as I grew up and learned to drive while living in a house on a steep hill, and the Trap House itself has a upward sloping driveway. So my instinct is parking brake every time, and I might have been the cause of a one or two seized parking brakes before from driving other people’s ambulatory piles who have never otherwise used the parking brake (heathens) and I mashed all the rusted and grimy parts into each other instantly.

Seems like some previous meathead stripped one of the mounting holes, so I drilled the hole out (under the dashboard, above the release pull here) and used some left over Vantruck giant 1/4″ thread-forming screws to secure the bracket.

The next day, I remembered that I removed the bumper from Vantruck after it got hit for the 197th time in March. The bumper itself wasn’t damaged except for curling on one corner, so I decided the best course of action was to mount it to Murdevan (directly, this time, without extension brackets!) and start hitting it with a 15 pound sledgehammer.

That’s straight enough. It’s as straight as the rest of the van, and I think the mild kinks and dents left blend in with the rest of the doomdriving aesthetic.

Honestly, there’s not too much to report left on Murdervan after this. I dove into the dashboard one more time to repair some annoying electrical faults, so stay tuned for that!

Rememberance of the Summer of Ven: Introducing Murdervan and Spoolbus

One of the hallmarks of a relationship rebound is that you try to do all the things you couldn’t do before with your new one. That’s definitely true for me, as one of the principal reasons I decided to finally get out of the Boston area was due to the near impossibility of finding van-sized workspace. I got a taste of it last summer when I had Big Chuck’s Auto Body long enough to bang off the Vantruck resto, and it was why I was hell-bent on finding a place like the Robot Trap House that let me have a combined private work and storage space.

So what am I gonna do when going from single rented parking spots to an entire fenced in, forested yard that nobody can look at? Well, if the last post was any indication, collect horrible piles of machinery. I can assure you that Crabmower was far from the only thing I fetched this summer! With that, here’s a welcome to…

The Summer of Ven

Ven is the plural of van. Fight me.

The story begins really years back with the original purchase of Vantruck, which was mostly at the behest of someone I’d say is a “diesel bro” friend. I have a handful of said friends all over the country, who operate all sorts of old diesel trucks, vans, and the like while being software engineers, VR/AR enthusiasts, and roboticists. There’s something about these old, usually all-mechanical, diesel engines attached to overbuilt but maybe not well-built coachworks, that appeals to the technocratic futurist. Maybe being on the forefront of changing and evolving technology constantly makes one seek a foil in the antiquated but static. You can always push an update over the cloud, but once the crankshaft is forged, changing any aspects of its manifestation is really hard. Maybe that’s what draws me to buy “vintage” equipment, tools, and lawn mowers too – the yearly newest and shiniest offering from Jeff Bezos’ magic book of tricks will always be there if I need it, so I’m going to have some fun first and keep something time-tested around.

What I’m saying is, everybody (and I wholly agree, by the way) has been saying that Vantruck absolutely needs an International IDI 7.3 or its successor, the Powerstroke 7.3L diesel. Something of its bulging Kazakhstani child-bearing hips presentation just screams it must rattle like a old tractor and smell like warm coals. There’s no social media peanut gallery about it without a number of people wistfully encouraging swapping out the Malaise-era 460. And again, I completely agree. Alas, work of that degree I considered out of scope for the facilities I had available – I know plenty of people have done parking lot engine swaps, but I just didn’t feel like dealing with it, and at the time didn’t have a cohort of Car People friends who wanted to speed the process along.

Well now, with a place I can stash something for an indeterminate period of time, I decided it was high time to take people up on their word and begin learning the ecosystem. My goal was to find a Ford van of Vantruck’s same generation which was built with the 6.9L and 7.3L IDI engine, implying a year range of 1984 to 1991. While I could have just as easily picked up a later 4th-generation model or an old ambulance or something, I decided to constrain the search for the time being to just those years to get as 1-to-1 of a parts correspondence as possible. Worse case, I figured ,it’ll be a vantruck surrogate.

I say “just as easily”, but the reality is the diesel vans (and F-series trucks) command a premium over the average clapped out yard ornament conversion or work van. They’re popular with the bugout and overlanding crowd because the engine and powertrain is legendary for being nearly indestructible and extremely customizable. I casually checked my usual orbiting van cruft clouds – Craigslist and Facebook Marketplace all up along the east coast BAMA corridor whose transit times and approach paths I know well – for a good three or so months, interleaving with the build of Overhaul and intenstifying as the prospect of an April BattleBots filming became bleaker.

You’d generally find them in two states. First was immaculate or intricately upgraded, commanding prices of $5000 and up. Otherwise, it was sunken into the earth and had hosted several dozen generations of small mammals and local reptiles inside. Since I wasn’t absolutely dying to adopt another project, I was looking for specifically something which was “Ran When Parked” but seemed plausible to unpark rather quickly. Kind of like another sadvan, but much heavier. Two hits I found were snatched up before I even got a response. While my guiding principle of van collecting is “Rare doesn’t mean valuable”, it seems like there are still some local maxima of value I didn’t know about.

Well one day in mid May, I finally happened upon a listing just hours after it was posted.

Murdervan

 

Richmond is a drive, but nothing I haven’t done before in a day. Having ran as recently as the last winter was a good sign also. I chatted with the seller some to get a few more details, and with consultation from my Diesel Bro Council, decided to go for it the following weekend. I made an offer of $1000 and he accepted. I decided to name this thing Murdervan because it really gave off the ol’ serial killer van vibe, and the seller reminded me a little of Charles Manson. I completely accepted the potential fate of ending up as a trophy in a basement, and just asked my friends to keep an eye out if Vantruck gets listed in an ad next.

 

And so, here we are on the morning late afternoon of May 30th. I’m ready to set sail towards Richmond. I was planning on getting out at 8 in the morning and being in the vicinity in time to grab a hotel for the evening, but you how that goes with me. Instead, I left Atlanta around 4PM and took a rest stop nap from around 2am to 8am the next day, going directly to the burbs of Richmond after.

Nestled in a quaint park-like neighborhood was the seller’s smol house and yard, with this thing squarely in the middle. Well, at least it’s van shaped and there are no visible mantraps, and the driveway slope made it a pretty reasonable gravity-assist push load onto a trailer.

Overall, Murdervan checked out as described in the ad. The interior was pretty messy and barren, and the driver’s side floor had a giant rust hole in it, but nothing insurmountable. After all, if I got it “running”, I wasn’t in it for the chassis except as a parts donor. It would crank, but not fire up. My friends said as long as it wasn’t seized, it will run. Guess I’ll find out soon how true that is??!

Whatever the case might be, it was loading time!

I had questions about whether an extended wheelbase van (138″) would even fit on a U-Haul car trailer. The Internet seemed convinced that the deck length of a U-Haul car trailer was 12 foot even – 144″. This was going to be a dice roll, since after accommodating for wheel size, it might barely not  fit at all, and would hang over the end. I made a few contingency plans for this, and picked up two sets of chains and chain binders on the way at a Harbor Freight.

I had a local friend meet me there, so we had 3 people to help load. And believe me, we needed all three. These things are almost 6,000 pounds, by far the biggest catch I’ve tried bringing home. The “gravity feed” only got the front wheels onto the trailer, and various arrangements of come-alongs and Ass Force were used to pull the front wheels against the stop.

At that point, the rear wheel centers were still a good two inches or so on the wrong side of the edge. To improve this loading scenario, we deflated the front tires and pulled the come-along further to compress them.

 

The final alignment – just barely inboard. Those two chain binders were used to smash this thing down as tightly as possible, because utter hilarity would result otherwise!

And so, there you have it, Internet: A 138″ wheelbase Econoline Super Van will, with some effort, fit on a U-Haul auto transport. Do NOT let them see it. This is a 1999 Honda Civic.

I set out from Richmond after lunchtime with everyone to celebrate this feat. This trailer and van setup pulled quite well, I must say. With the combined load being about 8,000 pounds – therefore running around 14,000 gross weight –  I could certainly entertain the thought of Murdervan and trailer being a comically large RV trailer, which vantrucks evolved to pull in their natural habitat.

There were a couple of times it tried to wiggle, more from “Top heavy and jiggly van” than weight distribution issues from my observation. Vantruck’s dually rear axle kept it so damped out that I didn’t even feel it the first time. The only sign was “Why is everyone keeping far away….”, looking in the rear view mirror , and seeing the thing sway side to side a few inches at steady state.

This was a riot pulling into rest stops and gas stations (MANY, MANY GAS STATIONS). By my estimate, I was getting high sevens for fuel economy, and this was trying to keep it under 65mph.

I overnighted outside of Greenville, SC in a hotel room since I didn’t get worthwhile sleep the night before (or really the night before that…), so I decided to force power down before something memeful happened on my behalf. I rolled back to the #RobotTrapHouse the next morning. Here began the fun of trying to stuff Murdervan into the yard.

I first tried to reverse up the gentle slope that leads from the street/driveway to the yard entrance. However, even having bypassed/locked out the surge brake that all these trailers come with (which largely prevent reversing, as the brakes will apply), Vantruck was just digging four trenches into the grass. So instead I decided to just head straight in, gathering steam on the street and driveway, and deal with whatever happened next. The whole van train just barely makes the entry turn to avoid the….

Yeah, nope – there was some Dynamic Landscaping involved to get the trailer to not catch on the chain link fence edge. Remember, I don’t own this place (…yet…), so I don’t just get to rip out trees and fences as I feel like to improve van access. The through-paved rear access road comes after the closing.

 

Unloading Murdervan was super simple. Just point the trailer vaguely where I wanted to land, release the chains and straps, and reinflate the front tires.

After the unload, we spent a good half hour trying to squeeze Vantruck and trailer out, and realized that the van train was simply too long to back out the same way. This should have theoretically worked out, but trees are largely one-way clutches when it comes to driving through them – I almost pulled one of the front fender flares off trying to position the way I came in.  And so, we decided to swap trucks – my friend’s crew cab short bed truck was only a little shorter than Vantruck, but more importantly, it had more wheel cut and was not a dually, so it was narrower. Gentle massaging and a few retries later, we had the trailer backed out of the yard.

Lesson learned – don’t do that again, not with vantruck. Only after the fact did we go “Hmm, maybe Mikuvan could have been the yard shuttle…”

And here she sits in the initial dropoff location, featuring a cameo from one of the neighborhood cats. If you put a bowl of food and water out, cat instances will spawn from the cloud. If you present a new yard ornament, cats will sleep on top of it. I call them the “Cats-as-a-service”, and there are four regulars that come around.

I put the batteries on charge and began reading up on debug and bootup procedures. Much of Murdervan’s “build reports”, so to speak, are largely going to feature diving into the IDI ecosystem, checking through things, and making repairs to improve functionality – the same steps that Vantruck went through which I called “deshittification”.

The story only really begins here.

Spoolbus

Keep in mind, just because I got one van, doesn’t mean I’m going to stop browsing. I’m continually on the hunt, as even if I don’t get something for myself, someone else might be interested and I can assist with the poor life decision (There will be posts about this, too!).  And so, not two weeks after the Murdervan mission, this absolute piece shows up in the Algorithm™:

 

 

Okay, back up a little here. This was one of the ads that I didn’t even get to hear back from before someone snatched it up, all the way back in early April.  Between then and mid-June, it made its way to south Georgia, only about 3 hours away. The second listing is long gone, and only through some serendipitous use of the Save button by someone else were we even able to find this original listing again.

So why did it show back up? Did someone give up on it because it was just too horrible? Inquiring minds, mostly mine, wanted to know. The photos showed the aftermarket Banks turbocharger system hiding right under the dashboard (seriously? that’s where they decided to put it?) and the updated listing showed some more photos of the interior (stripped out and ratty) and under the hood.

Whatever, diesel or not, this was going to be a good one to add to the collection. Single rear wheel Centurion vantrucks were extremely rare themselves, and not only that, the OEM Centurion bed appeared to be whole and intact. Even Vantruck itself came with damaged fiberglass that had to be repaired (then replaced outright when it was rear-ended). And the 80s stripes!

I had only a few words with the new seller before just offering $1K again and pickup the same weekend. That’s my usual M.O. – if I think something’s worth getting, I’d wait until the middle of the week, throw in a not-that-lowball offer, and offer almost immediate turnaround. Most people who sell such decrepit piles just want them out of the way and don’t want to deal with hagglers and noncommitment. I just offer to make it disappear.

And so on another bright moist day in the middle of June, I’m driving an hour away from I-75 in the southerly extents of Warner Robins, on little two lane state roads. This thing had made it all the way to a placed called Abbeville, Georgia, where you passed the church and gas station on the corner and that was about it.

I have to say, this was the easiest load ever. It drove onto the tow dolly under its own ignition and power thereafter! It just couldn’t stop except for the parking brake. The seller indicated it might need a new master cylinder or repaired brake lines, and indeed, the pedal just goes to the floor. He just ran out of time and energy to deal with it after wanting to make the repairs, and was in the middle of selling a portion of his fourteen other trucks. I was offered a mid 1990s F-350 dumptruck on the spot for $500.

This time I went for the tow dolly, as the extended wheelbase on these things (158″ typically) was just too long for the car trailer, even with shoving. With the rear wheel on the ground, I just had to remove the driveshaft. But it seems like swishing a 4.10:1 gearset around in heavy oil adds immense drag the same, as my fuel economy making it back home was somehow even worse than towing Murdervan.

How often do you see this vantruck on vantruck towing action? HOW OFTEN?

 

Spoolbus was a very well contained one-day trip. I set out from the Atlanta area before lunchtime and was back around 9:30 PM, taking 3 hours to get there and 4 to get back, moving slower and hitting some traffic on the return.

And it even drove itself into the back yard! I had one hand on the steering wheel and another holding the parking brake release lever open, using my left foot to modulate the parking brake to not run my own garage down.

And suddenly, there were two.

Great, what a start to the summer. At the point in time of this picture, I’d already gotten Murdervan operational, so it was an excellent reference to compare and contrast the differences between the 1991 7.3 IDI and the 1984 6.9 with aftermarket shenanigans.

Based on talking to the sellers and getting vehicle history reports, I know that Murdervan was a company shuttle in western North Carolina doing forestry work for most of its 197,000 miles (!) before being sold to a private buyer in Virginia, who I actually linked up with on Instagram and Facebook. That seller sold it eastward to Richmond, where Not Quite Charles Manson took possession for a while before I ended up with it.

Spoolbus has a murkier history, but had one owner all the way up to 2005 when the last title action was taken around Columbia, SC. Based on talking to the original ad’s lister (not the guy I picked it up from in Georgia), the previous owner to him was the original owner, and it was used to deliver RVs and boats all up and down the southeastern seacoast, mostly centered in Charleston. That explains the hefty amount of rust on the body, completely uncharacteristic of southern vehicles. Vantruck itself was a west coast surfmobile/beach van and it had plenty of cab rust the same, though in both cases, the frames are pretty immaculate.

For the next couple of weeks, you can expect lots of posts about me being a makeshift diesel mechanic! Spoolbus is going to be the “build target” for the next round of improvements and restoration, as I want to return its electric lemony goodness to its former glory and have a single-wheel Centurion example. This is likely going to be a 2021 onwards project, with the rest of 2020 being casual mechanicking to deshittify the absolutely terrific aftermarket wiring and other systems.

I call this the Three Econoline Problem.