Operation RESTORING BROWN: The Paintening

And we return again! In the intervening hiatus, I (obviously) finished everything up and already went to Dragon Con with it. Yes, that Dragon Con.

The one that’s 1,100 miles away, with a vanbeast that gets 10 miles of gallon when it feels like. So, how’s the company doing lately now that you subsidized the Texas economy with the seed round?!

Links to previous tales:

  1. Episode 1 – the initial teardown of the house of horrors
  2. Episode 2 – Welding and repairing the major roof seam holes
  3. Episode 3 – Wrapping up electrical loose ends, some times literally

When we last left off, I’d basically run out of excuses to not start repainting it, short of trying to install 4WD and a turbo 7.3 diesel. But the real story is during the last week of June, I started mentally preparing by getting some samples of automotive paint systems on eBay (where else… you wanted me to actually walk into a PPG or Sherwin Williams auto paint dealer?!)… and this bullshit:

Yeah, that’s not a tool you’re supposed to paint vehicles with. But I maintain that since vantruck is the size of a shed, so shall it be painted like a shed. I actually based this decision on some friends’ and internet strangers’ anecdotal experiences about improperly painting cars. I figured it can’t be too bad, and the prospect of buying enough equipment to feed a proper HVLP pneumatic sprayer was declared out of scope.

Plus, I’m a sucker for experimentation, and if this $89 device will return even reasonable results, it could be pretty valuable for anything else I feel like repainting.

So these things if you’ve not seen them are called “airless” paint guns – they’re not truly airless, but what it means is you don’t have to use a separate compressor and HVLP regulator. Instead, they’re basically Shopvacs run backwards – the centrifugal compressor in a vacuum cleaner to generate a lot of suction pressure also shoots out pressurized air, and this (on the order of 5-10psi or so) is fed into a traditional paint gun front end.

The first cancer buckets I received were from the ebay seller “autopaintpro”. Very pro, indeed, I’m sure (So pro their actual website is almost completely broken). With a little research, it seems like they, and several other online auto paint sellers, sell a rebranded Autobahn/CPS system.

This was when I found out that auto paint is actually very runny, almost watery in consistency. A lot of these airless sprayers are advertised as being able to spray unthinned house paints and coatings. I suspected this was going to get very interesting. By the way, the actual color I’m using for white is Ford YZ “Oxford White” and UA “Ebony Black”.

My first victim will be the sun visor, which is a pretty large plastic/fiberglass piece. I went over the accumulated grunge sections with a wire wheel and gave the painted upper surface a gentle sanding (which really just made a lot of the old deteriorated paint crumble off… Great!), then cleaned it all with acetone.


The bottom side will get the inaugural paint gun salute, since it’s the least visible!

And then… we fire.

Okay, full throttle on this paint gun… no, this paint-cannon is completely unusable – it’s far too aggressive for the runny auto paint, and I found this out too late so just had to start waving the thing like a madman to prevent the paint from accumulating – not too successfully.

The finish is pretty horrible – the large droplets just formed blobs and very coarse orange-peel.

That’s gonna be a yikes from me, but at least nobody’s really looking at this thing, right!?

The next day, I came back to do the clearcoat, which was also as watery-thin and hard to control. I didn’t have a good feel for the trigger/valve force yet so I kept going way too hard. This caused a lot of running in the clear coat and even some entrained air bubbles.

Well, after dumping almost the entire quart of paint kit into just this visor, I decided to take a few days break to mentally size up the situation, wrap up the electricals and last bits of bodywork, and most importantly…

…it was time to split the thing in half again.  I was going to handle the bed and cab in two separate painting events. As you can see, Centurion themselves didn’t even try to do the rear of the cab at all! Y’all people paid money for this?


Nor did Ford bother with the front of the bed, which is left bare galvanized steel. Because who’s gonna look there besides me!? What this meant, fortunately, was two more surfaces – especially broad vertical ones – I could mess up on and practice the sprayer upon – where nobody will ever know my shame.

I bribed some friends to give an all-around sanding to the cab and bed while I continued working on electricals and removal of the side steps. To properly treat spray the bottom edges of the cab, and if I wanted to remove the front fender flares to paint them correctly, those steps had to come off.

I had to resort to Advanced Fastener Removal countermeasures for all of the bolts holding the steps on. Years of galvanic corrosion at the stainless steel carriage bolt to aluminum step interface meant the square carriage holes were completely turned to dust. I ended up cutting flat-head drive spots into all of the carriage bolts so I could hold on to them with a flathead screwdriver while impact wrenching the nuts off on the underside.


The van seam was also fully cleaned up/sanded, and I began priming all of the “Bondo Lawns” and other repaired areas. My plan was to paint the seam trim piece separately and ensure this whole area has paint coverage before putting the trim back on. The way they did it originally, the trim was screwed in and just blasted over, leaving bare metal underneath which caused rust to build up.


The cab endcap itself had a few chips and holes from what looks like attachment points for accessories which haven’t been there for years, so I also went ahead and filled those in.

The front of the truck bed will serve as my next practice piece. I sprayed a few piece of plywood in the intervening days, to make sure I got a feel for how little trigger was needed to get spray patterns I saw in Youtube videos from real car painting enthusiasts.

The answer was ridiculous, like 25% trigger or less. I almost contemplated making a spacer so I couldn’t get too trigger happy!

The second sample of paint from eBay seller “mbiauto” arrived, and I get to see if they’re even remotely the same color! This is a “premixed” i.e. pre-thinned paint, advertised as ready-to-spray. You typically have mix it yourself – that is, the paint kit comes with a gallon of base coat color and a gallon of thinner. I allowed myself to get ripped off slightly for this value-added service since I’d probably go back to them for top-offs in case I run low.

This adventure’s getting much better. I was able to make it act much more like an overpowered spraypaint can and get much more uniform deposition.

I tried all of the ‘beam angles’ to get a feel for how the thing behaves. This pass was done using the nozzle shooting a horizontal line, and moving it up and down. You can still see some discrete stripes from only making one recent pass – this effect’s called “tiger striping” as I discovered.


Well, I’m now confident enough in my technique to make more “production” parts. It’s helpful to have so many little attachments you can remove and work on individually! I decided to paint the front fender flares next. To do this, they first had to be removed and cleaned up.

The same Advanced Fastener Removal techniques had to be busted out here, since these things are almost directly in the path of all road spray.

The bottom sides were very thick with road grunge, necessitating busting out the wire brush and the RED brake cleaner. This is a substance even I, grabber of unnatural substances, refuse to touch without gloves. I’m in fact surprised that “Wannabe California #3” (a.k.a. Massachusetts) hasn’t banned it outright yet. I’m literally thick-skinned and it’s the only chemical which has given me skin rashes.

Some more curious manufacturer’s marks found when all of the buildup had been scraped off!

I couldn’t really hang anything up here in Big Chuck’s Auto Body, so I decided to also paint my jackstands.

One of my mistakes with the visor was leaving it on the ground, where some of the excessive paint ended up pooling and really causing some bad ridging as it dried that I then had to go back over and sand off.

These came out a lot better. It probably helps that the fender surfaces are also slightly damaged and even a bit porous looking, helping the paint stick! Nonetheless I was able to blast both of them without dripping.

They’re supported by the inside attachment edge which (theoretically!) shouldn’t be visible once installed.

I then unloaded the last of this quart kit on the rear of the cab to practice the wide swaths that I’ll be doing soon. Now that I’m confident in the technique, I moved onto buttoning up all of the leftover bodywork kibbles and then… THE MASKENING.

Some of the door bottoms had been concerning me, and it would be pointless to paint over rust. I ground all of the surface remnants off – fortunately, discovering it is indeed all surface rust with minimal pitting. This area will probably see a lot more moisture in the future, so afterwards I applied a layer of POR-15 first before priming the area over.

All of the doors received some level of security with POR-15, as well as a few blasts of interior panel sealer up the rain drip holes. I also sanded and primed over a few more dents and spots showing some surface rust in the front sheet metal, where it doubtlessly had been collecting bugs and rocks for 30 years.


Also for the first time ever, I removed the front bumper, so I finally have a good look at the way it’s attached for when the “front cow destroying empennage” is designed.


With all of these remaining items finished, I began on the MOST. FRUSTRATING. MOST HORRIBLE. I’M NEVER DOING THIS AGAIN stage of painting: masking off areas.

This is the one step that really is going to make me never paint a car again. It was basically an entire day of work just to mask things, and manipulating drop cloths and cutting pieces to shape. By entire day, I really meant almost 3 evenings!

I went for a “partial door jamb” arrangement in the end, since there are a few areas which I primed over that should be covered, but I did not want to remove so much of the interior (even more!) to fully paint up to the door jambs. So it’s really the  extruded surface outline of the doors up to where interior trim pieces begin.


And then…



This is after the first pass – it’s not very white yet, and the stripes are massive and obvious.

Second pass. There’s now a much more even coat, though some spots are still a little light and the dark primer and previous color still show a little.

Final pass – really just hitting sections individually. It was hard to gauge spraying white on white in a white-walled shop with not all that good lighting, at night, so I know there’s imperfections, but hey… who am I paying to do this again? Oh, that’s right.

After a day of rest, it was MORE. MASKING TIME.  I got some help spotting the laying of the masking tape for the black window outline, since getting this off-kilter would have looked hilarious.

I ended up selecting the outline boundaries based on 3 criteria:

  • To follow existing body creases and lines, and
  • Utilize as many windowlines as possible, and
  • …..hide the rust repair job done on the windshield frame and roof rain gutters

Really the last one. So, the black outline is a lot less aggressive than one of the original concepts I posted here. This final layout uses all of the windows bottoms except the driver’s side conversion van windows (which will dip down) as guidelines, and incorporates the rain gutters entirely instead of stopping under them.

As I said before, I painted the ‘Frankenstein stitch’ van seam trim piece separately. With the black outline now about to go on, this is when I screwed it back on. I’ll just be masking around it in a contour.

The rest of the cab is now draped off with drop cloths, so it’s now time for….

when you go black, you don't go back, the followup album to no turning back b r o w n.

Yeah, so this entire other day of setup ended up just taking 15 minutes to spray. Hey, not bad looking so far!

The endcap curve was a little hard to get right, so I used some color-matching touchup spraypaint to make some little changes here.


The following day, I set up both fenders and the cab to hose down with clearcoat. I went completely overkill with the clear for sure, and it was very difficult to visualize when spraying. As a result, there are a couple of runs of clearcoat on the cab – but it’s very hard to see unless there is direct overhead sunlight to expose their refraction and shadow.

I made sure to stand up on my stepladder to absolutely drench the roof – I wanted this area to last a long time, and nobody will ever see the finish being rough. The roof was also where I ended up dumping the rest of the white base coat too.

Oh yeah, while I had black still hanging out in the paint cannon, I decided to actually spray the underside of the fender flares – otherwise they were an awkward raw resin color and would be very visible from the outside.

And after the great shedding of the masking tape and drop cloths… Not bad, honestly. Did I mention how I’m never doing this again!? In fact, at this point I decided that doing the bed was a canned enough exercise that I was going to tap out, and hand it off to my van salon. Imagine that, paying money to have a service done by professionals in the trade.

Up next: The great reassembly, and tales of other little kibbles that got left out of this main narrative!



Operation RESTORING BROWN Part III: An Electric Interlude

Its time for another installment of “Charles’s Moving Bondo-Castle”!

You might think the worst of it was performing the roof rail welding, but really this thing is far far from the “Point of Maximum Entropy” where your project is the most taken-apart and hopelessly scrambled possible. It would be a waste to just spraybomb over the welds and shove it all back together now, so with most of the exterior Bondo Castle building wrapping up, and with the interior taken apart, I needed to dive even deeper into the loosely-bound fiberglass chasm to remedy the demons that haunt Vantruck called “Aftermarket RV company wiring”.

There are few horrors on this beautiful Earth which approach the level of cocaine-addled depravity that is a 1980s RV builder trying to put lights together.

Past episodes index so far:

  1. Episode 1 – the initial teardown of the house of horrors
  2. Episode 2 – Welding and repairing the major roof seam holes

Let’s begin! Before anything else, there was more discovery to be done with the wiring.

Full disclaimer: A lot of these photos are put together as a narrative. Often times, while doing bodywork, I’m waiting for something to dry or cure before I can move on, and in that hold-state, I work on something else. In reality,  you see, these electronics operations were interleaved with sanding something or primering over something. I decided it was more clear to keep them separate events – as if I did a whole day only grinding old paint, then another whole day or so only doing wiring.  If you’re detail oriented, you might notice some things which are slightly out of order in the background!


I’ve never trusted the side handles on this thing enough to actually want to hang onto them for anything. That’s because I figured it was, like everything else, just put together with two #8 self-drilling sheet metal screws. But to prepare the cab for painting, they had to finally come off anyway.

The funny thing is, I’ve actually been here before. I previously used a small right-angle screwdriver-bit ratchet to get at the “Courtesy Lights” (as I now know what they’re called…. remember, they’re labeled “Hi I am a Van” Lights in my book) behind the handles.

Well now that I unsnap the decorative trim, I can see that they went to the effort of putting a rivet nut into the sheet metal. Wow, such high production value. It’s still thin body shell steel, but at least it’s a fully threaded 1/4-20 bolt!

My pleasant surprise was short-lived as I then discovered the Van Lights were “installed-in-place” . They ran the damn wire through a hole in the body and then added the light. It means I’d have to cut this off and start over later. Sigh, my disappointment curve takes another downward inflection.

The backing plate for the light was a chromed over piece of steel, but both were substantially rusted. I may just do the same treatment here as I did to the body steel, since it’s not like they do much useful reflecting – just rust conversion treatment, then primer, then maybe whatever Silver Metallic spraypaint is on the shelf.


Next up, I moved onto chopping off the “I am a over-80-inch-wide truck” DOT cab marker lights. I knew these held substantial rust underneath, and I ordered replacements since the lenses were all crazed and cloudy anyway.

With no interest in keeping these in good shape, I literally sliced through everything with the big 3D printer bed-scraping Instant Amputator 9000. I love these things, and own several – they do everything in my shop domain from opening packages to whizzing off stickers from surfaces to occasionally dividing up pizzas.

Yikes. I went through at some point last year and treated these areas, so they hadn’t grown much worse, but I definitely had to do something here.  Maybe a Most Correct Possible restoration will still cut out and replace this area, but I was just going to once again clean it up and Bondo Castle over it.


Wherever there was bubbled paint, I mass-erased it with a coarse flappy wheel, then “primed” the surface with a small amount of painted-on fiberglass resin, then laid out a layer of hairy Bondo.

I suppose it’s more of a Bondo Lawn. For durability, I purposefully left it a millimeter or so higher than the surrounding landscape post-sanding.

Same operation on the back. There used to be roof rails here at some point, beginning behind the visor and ending at the “endcap”, but they were removed many moons prior to me. I’d plugged the four holes with various forms of rubber stoppers, and I’ll do that again once things are cleaned up.

This is what the totality of the operation looks like, more or less. I was in the middle of addressing the airhorn fitting here. As the sections are cleaned up, I blast some primer over them.

Centurion’s MO with attaching anything was just fill the whole thing up with silicone  sealant and call it good. This probably works fine right up until the sealant dries up and cracks with age!

The airhorn is a Sparton branded one which seems to have some kind of standard fitting for that era – a single bolt front mount, and a combined rear air fitting plus mounting stud that I of course broke off the moment I tried to remove it. I ended up locating several similar ones on eBay, and ended up buying an identical-looking model.

For now, it’ll just get cleaned up and primered over like all of the other holes in the roof.

Moving on with fitting disassembly, this is the combined CB/FM antenna it came with. The CB part appears to be broken somewhere, and the FM part has never really worked. When I tried to unwind the nut, of course the whole thing just exploded on me. I had no particular desire to save this part, so ended up using a lot more force and just cranking the thing apart.

Of course, I dunno if the antenna wire was already broken/damaged or if I just blew it up completely. No matter, since I’m just going to plug this hole first and foremost.

There is a CB radio splitter device hidden under the dashboard which this cable runs to, via a wire grommet under the passenger side dashboard (it exits screen right and turns under). From there, it fans out to the head unit area as a standard FM antenna fitting, and the other branch was actually pulled up the A-pillar and ran to the console CB radio. There’s no reason for me to suspect that the latter two cables are bad, so I will be leaving them in place. In the undefined future, I’ll probably return to this and replace it with a modern NMO mounted antenna.


Having now traced all the wires I care to, I began the task of poking things with a multimeter and seeing what wires were hot or cold in what key positions, and back-tracing the remnants of the interior lighting wires and labelling them. My goal was to combine the original mess into two connectors – one inbound, providing vehicle power and dashboard buttons, and one outbound that sent this power to the lights and other hungry implements.

The overhead console got the complementary treatment. It was relatively easy to see what led where, so I focused more on integrating better wiring practices and replacing cheesy wiring jobs.

I had one rule going into this electrical refit:





I hate those things. Also called “quick splices” or similar, they just loosen up and corrode over time, and look like shit. They practically encourage shitty wiring practice, and one power line I yanked out had no less than four leeching off it.

A short evening of work and here it is.  It’s not well constrained, but just organized.

I also decided while doing this that the CB radio microphone will be hung on the console itself. Centurion made the questionable (hah) decision of routing a DIN microphone extension cable from the console, across the roof, down the A-pillar, then up under the dashboard to the meet the microphone which already has a 3 foot long springy-cord and whose mounting points I can’t even find any more.

Much of my time spent driving this thing is in fact trying to keep the microphone from being tangled in the steering wheel. So I was going to strip all of that out and just have the short cord dangle on a “button” style mic hanger.

As I had zero intention of actually hooking up the antenna now, the CB radio will, remain a visual fixture to complete the 80s-retromod aesthetic.

After doing both ends with the highest-value connectors this thing will ever experience (MetriPack-150 series connectors used in all of my megawatt-scale vaping rigs at the company!), I clicked everything together to make sure everything still worked and I didn’t, in fact, wire the starter to one of these.

Next up was a tuck and clean on the harness itself.

At this point, I was beginning to get lighting products in the mail. First up are the Truck-Lite model 25 “I am a giant-ass truck” lights. I ordered five, of course, not realizing each order was for two. So now I have enough for Mikuvan also! Say, is it illegal to wear “I am a giant-ass truck” lights if you are not one?!

However, far more interesting in terms of lighting was the…

Miku Blue and Miku Magenta LED strips I found on eBay. Short of RGB mixing, the color I substitute for Miku Blue is generally marketed as “Ice Blue” which appears physically to be white LEDs with phosphors that really skew their color temperature towards blue. Like taking a cool-white LED and making it even cooler (or, I suppose, “hotter” from a physics perspective).

I had no agenda for these reels, actually. They were found in my quest for other forms of LED lighting. I bought enough to make full-length underglows on the side steps (of course), but they are not weatherproof so I’d need to enclose them in a LED strip channel extrusion first or something.

Whatever. Something even MORE cool came in the mail too!

This is another happy accident while I was investigating RGBW 5-pin LED strips. It’s a Chinesium ‘touchscreen’ controller, by which they mean ‘touch sensitive colorful pictures’. The reason I found this was because I was specifically looking for NOT wireless/IR remote types, instead focusing on wired controllers.  The IR kind is by far the most commoditized, but I didn’t like the idea of a remote hanging around inside since that’s what’s in there now, and I always drop it.

Let’s take a quick look inside!

There must have been some kind of miscommunication or severe competency shortage in the design department, because it’s got no mounting features anywhere on the backside . Instead, you have to carefully pry it open being mindful of the tiny ribbon cable that connects the touch buttons to the main body. It’s literally in the instructions to use a tiny screwdriver to push the ribbon cable latches out before separating the halves.

If you don’t read that far in the manual, or you apply just too much force, you’ll rip the ribbon cable or connector right off. I do wonder how many of these have actually been installed by real people in something.

Oh, it gets even better. After you install it using the hidden mounting holes, then you get to somehow maneuver the tiny ribbon cable back into the connector and use a tiny poker tool to re-seat the latch. This is all officially sanctioned in the instructions. I managed to execute it with my surface mount device handling tweezers. Both of them. At once.

Yeah, no. It’s getting a piece of Dual-Lock gender-neutral justice Velcro slammed right on the housing. No elegance from me whenever I actually decide to implement it!

The gear inside is otherwise a generic 4-channel RGB+W controller. Common anode, four pull-me-down low-side FETs.

It definitely Doesn’t Not Work, so if you can stand the absolutely nonsensical mounting needs, I do recommend playing with one. The color wheel really only has 16 or so positions, not that your LED strips have enough current-to-color mapping calibration precision to duplicate it.

I only have one complaint here for the physical UI, which is it’s too easy to fat-finger a color as you turn it on and off, so it often wakes up in the Brown position. I didn’t even know LEDs could emit brown light, but here we are in 2019.

Alright! Back to work. I created a secondary harness specifically for the roof cabin lights and five cab lights. These were all previously ad-hoc wired with vampire clips. I separated them into their own bus with only one connection to the feeder wire coming out of the roof harness.

I also went ahead and routed a length of 5-pin RGBW LED strip cable the full length of the cab to the former exit spot of the Sex Lights. So not only do I have an on/off supply-level connection for the not-yet-designed (but which will be GLORIOUS) Next Generation Sex Lights™, but the option of using this RGBW controller up front if needed.

It’s fished through the same wiring run as the other interior roof lights – see the displaced fiberglass batting to the right. That gets re-secured over the wiring run once I decide I’m satisfied.

Oh, yeah – all of the lights that are going back in received “real” connectors that I can in theory reconnect and disconnect – if I do come back in here, it’ll be possible without wanting to level entire cities as retribution.


And the front roof wiring is finished – the (not yet replaced/cut off) “van lights”, cab light connections, and interior roof lamps all work. At this point, I’ve basically done everything I care to in terms of wiring rehabilitation and could have put the interior panels back together. I decided to leave that exercise until after the painting process just in case I thought of some other intelligent modification or change I wanted to make.


Third Brake Light & Bed Light Mod


Speaking of which! Here’s another quick diversion from the main project besides laying the foundation to add tasteless LED strips to everything. So one of my long time low-level peeves has been the “Leave this light on to accidentally drain your battery” light, also known as a bed light or cargo light.

There’s just so much of everything  on Vantruck, so much bulk and space-occupying visual styling, so much dual-wheel enabled highway manspreading. Then you get to the back of the cab and there’s this teeny little bed light.

It’s like those Greco-Roman styled Renaissance statues of extremely chiseled men with microscopic penises.  Not only was this thing extremely puny and dim, having only a type 194 socket bulb inside, but the attachment was just two drywall-esque construction screws into the ~3mm thick fiberglass van endcap. Meaning? It’s always been stripped. Every screw I try to use in here strips. I drilled the holes out a long time ago for the next size of drywall-esque screw that’s larger, and that held on for a while before that also just stripped out.

It’s really only been hanging on by the grace of Robot Jesus.

As one of the last things I can do before I’m just flat out of excuses for painting, I decided to do some customization here. In keeping with the general “hello for i am giant truck abomination” aesthetic, I’ve been buying samples of various semi truck and commercial truck lighting products off the likes of Iowa80, Raneys, and random eBay and Amazon searches for the same. My goal with this add-on was to make this assembly huge and obtrusive like the entire vantruck – I wasn’t about to buy some puny plastic Jeff Bezos Special here. I used custom semi truck taillight housings and trailer light bars as a mental guide.

An additional desire of mine was the ability to add a center brake light. I’m not a fan of the North American-specific combined turn signal and brake lights, especially prevalent on trucks here, since it can often be ambiguous if you’re turning or stopping or both.  Light trucks weren’t required to have center brake lights until 1994 in the US, so this would be a wire I’d have to run from the brake lighting circuit.


The foundation of the new bed light will be these triple trailer light brackets which accept a 6″ oval light that’s a standard size in the industry. You can get them either in old school incandescent or obnoxiously get-off-my-lawn bright LED! Guess which one I sprung for. Let’s say “bigger than in the picture” was my thought after getting these in and unboxed, despite the dimensions being clearly written in the item description.

Robots are always bigger in real life than in CAD, and to my chagrin and future degenerative eye disorders, circuit boards are always SMALLER.

Why did I get two? Well, they’re tail lights for your trailer, so they come in pairs, duh. This just means I can either have a backup or give one to Mikuvan too.

Quick in-place mockup to make sure it will definitely fit  and looks the way I think it will.  “Looks bigger in real life than in the product photo” often just leads to “Looks reasonably sized if not a bit smaller than expected” once the reference coordinate system changes, namely once placed next to Vantruck.

Hmm. Maybe I should have sprung for the 4″ round housing brackets.

TECHNOLOGY SPREAD TIME! I designed this 27″ wide spacer body in Autodesk Inventor to the profile of the stainless steel bracket, added mounting hole locations, and then split it into three dovetailed parts. They were knocked out on my Markfrog gallery and then epoxied together.

I decided to make this spacer instead of cutting a long slot into the van endcap to install the lights flush-style. It’s in my interest to modify and cut up the van endcap as little as I have to, I decided, since that’s not a part I can really replace. If I make any changes in the future, I’d have to patch over a 2 foot wide slot, the cutting of which would also introduce other unknown/don’t-wanna-known structural issues to that area.

Installing this setup with the spacer body would only necessitate drilling a few small holes. It might look just a little weirder than what I consider to be a smooth flush mounted setup.


The attachment method I decided to use here is known as a “well nut”, a rubber rivet nut, or as I’ll probably call it from now on, a wubbie-nut. They work like real rivet nuts, except you just tighten the fastening screw and the molded insert nut squishes out the rubber behind the panel being fastened. It’s a compliant, sealing, electrically insulating, and reversible method of attaching relatively light stuff to sheet metal. Since the fiberglass van cap is really only like 2.5 to 3mm thick, it won’t hold a thread at all, nor did I want to use any permanently installed rivet nuts or inserts.

This is what the assembly will look like. I actually don’t think it looks as off as I was anticipating.

The spacer body also allows all the wiring and connections to be done outside the endcap, so I only have to find space for three wires to exit the endcap at the location of the original bed light.

To make the brake light do what I want it to do, I had to tap the circuit upstream of where the brake light switch (which feeds power to the circuit when the pedal is depressed slightly) is connected to the turn signal interrupter (the blinky thing) since that’s where it splits up to the left and right sides. It turns out this wire was already tapped for the trailer brake controller, and I just had to do a bit of digging to locate the UGH, ANOTHER VAMPIRE CLIP they used to link up to said trailer brake controller.

I got peeved at the vampire clip, so I then spent an hour rewiring this area. My bonus brake light circuit got a proper twist and solder splice to this circuit, and I got rid of some more redundant wire, then wrapped the whole thing and constrained it. This photo is pretty much looking directly upwards from the driver floor.

So now we arrive at the week of July 4th, and I’ve exhausted almost everything I can do that’s not beginning to paint the damn thing. I’d seen this moment coming, and pregamed order a few samples of automotive paint systems and watching some videos on how to do it.

As usual, I’m about to try it in a way that is utterly moronic and advised against by pretty much everyone with actual knowledge of the subject matter, but since it’s just me fucking around in public and writing about it, the entertainment value takes precedence.

Welcome to the paintening.