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2000 Astro Camperized Battle Van

97368 Views 506 Replies 60 Participants Last post by  TurnNburn
Hey all! I thought of instead of doing the standard intro where I say, "im a noob and I like turtles'', post some convoluted first post and then don't post again for 6 months because I wanted to show off how I changed my air filter. I thought I would make this as painless as possible and post my intro and my build thread in the same place.

Long story made medium length, I am a Master Technician at Nissan and have been a tech for about 10 years. Someone traded in an awd Astro and before the dealership gets to put them on the lot to sell I get to drive the cars and fix them up and whatnot. When I saw what I was driving in my head I was, "oh great... another crappy van''.

But by the time I was done I had 180 flipped my opinion of the van. And was impressed with the roominess, power, and AWD off-road capabilities. I have built MANY cars in my years of wrenching and so naturally, my mind started wondering...I stumbled across this site... and within 4 months my wife and I bought a bone stock 2000 awd Astro with leaking dutch door seals for a great deal.

Unbeknownst to either of us, we had both secretly dreamed of camperizing a van and driving down to central America (like 2 guys 1 van). And living in central Oregon offroading and Overlanding is very popular. So we sold our faithful Subaru outback and never looked back.

So let the upgrading and modifying begin:

Already done-
  • DIY 7'' lift- S-10 springs, adjustable rear shackles and adjustable rear spring hanger, 4-inch body lift, reindexed torsion bar keys, extended steering shaft, and extended rear brake line
  • 2-inch drive train lift
  • NP233c 4x4 transfer case swap with manual linkage
  • 31x10.5x15 BFG K02's
  • Rear U-Bolt flip kit
  • Nissan Titan Bilstein rear shocks with rear shock mounts relocated
  • Flipped control arm ball joints
  • Skip White distributor
  • MSD ignition coil
  • LED Headlights
  • LED light bar and light pods
  • All new Moog steering and suspension components
  • Red Head Steering gear
  • Eaton Detroit Truetrac
  • Custom front bumper
  • Custom rear bumper with swing-out spare tire carrier with 2 5-gallon jerry cans and full-size spare
  • 3 row all aluminum radiator with Equinox e-fan
  • Hellwig rear sway bar

  • LED interior lights
  • Bed platform
  • Cabinets/kitchenette with sink
  • Hardwood floors
  • Roof vent
  • Wood walls with reflectix and insulation
  • 12 gallons on board fresh water storage
  • 2 6v golf cart battery pack
  • 2000 watt 4000 peak pure sine wave inverter
  • Awning
  • Swivel seat
  • On board propane

There aren't a whole lot of before pictures(because everyone knows what a stock astro looks like). But here are what she has looked like through this transformation.


Consider yourself photo bombed, Lumpy style. Hope you enjoyed it. We have had our van on the road for about a year now and it's been a crazy trip. Let's keep those miles coming
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Welcome to the forum and great project! You may wish to look into some of the projects in the forum just for ideas.
I have an 89 Astro RS with a transplanted 5.7 TBI from a 92 silverado. I have kinda thought about switching gears and switch to a 93 or 94 AWD front frame and accessories.
I think I have read just about all of the posts that are relevant to what I am doing, and reread a bunch of the good builds over the months. I thank everyone for all of their hard work and R&D with good descriptions and part numbers and insight and imagination.

I am contemplating the idea of mounting my house batteries (2 6v) under the body like cargo crawler did. Depending on how and where that goes down I really want to stick a fresh water tank down there as well. iv done the measurements I am pretty confident I can get at least a 10 gallon tank, but I am shooting for a 15 gallon tank. Moving the water down there will inherently make the water hotter then I think I would want my drinking water, but would free up a lot of room in the van. I suppose depending on how much insulation I wrap around it it might not be a problem. but I plan on finding out.

I have the GU6 or 3.42 rear end which has made it a little doggy off the line with the bigger tires but has given us relatively "good" gas mileage on our long trips. As much as I would like to do some 4.11's or something like that I most likely wont be messing with the gears, minus installing a locker.

I told my wife I did the t-case swap because 2 wheel drive would give us better gas naturally i would love to v8 swap once I get the interior stuff dialed in using the mpg's excuse again.
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Actually, my V8 is giving me BETTER gas mileage than my worn V6 was getting in my 92!
So it's not that much of a stretch.

Those are some GREAT off-road camping photos of your van!
Very cool!
Even if I got the same mileage out of the v8 swap but with 80 or so more torque I would be stoked. but the extra mpg bump would be nice as well. On a 230 mile trip back from the coast it 17 miles per gallon, but typically it is getting about 15 on road trips( this was pre distributor, msd ignitor, new plugs and wires. haven't done a weekend in it yet since the upgrades). which I know is pretty good for what it is, still trying to wrap my head around that...

I just thought all of the build stuff had be weeellllll documented in all of the other DIYs, how to's and build threads that it seemed redundant to include what I had done. but most peoples vans haven't been where ours has so here comes the camping site photos. Unless someone wanted some pics of what I have done, I would be more then happy to show you.

Also we named her Misty, because between the mountain mist, ocean mist, river mist and so on, this van is getting wet.

And since we resealed the leaking dutch doors... that's ok!
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Here's one of my "camping" photos (literally before I set up campsite)...
...kind of the EXACT OPPOSITE of yours! lol
But I'd be happy to trade you just one time for dirt road and a nice mountain shot!

Sunshine Key, Florida
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Looking good TurnNburn, looking forward to seeing what's next.
Looks great. What did the DIY lift cost of ya don't mind? That's the height I'm looking for and it looks good. Trying to decide which type of lift to do.
-2" Tall x 3" Wide Body Lift Blocks, $3.00/ea x Qty 6 = $18.00 + $12.15 shipping = $30.15
- M12-1.75 x 150mm CL 12.9 DIN 912 Plain Socket Head Cap Screw, $3.92/ea x Qty 4 = $15.68 + $5 shipping $20.68
- M14-2.0 x 150mm CL 12.9 DIN 912 Plain Socket Head Cap Screw, $7.44/ea x Qty 2 = $14.88 + $5 shipping $19.88
- 1995-2004 Chevy / GMC S10, S15 Sonoma Pickup - Leaf Spring (Rear - 3/1 Leaves), $115.95/ea x Qty 2 = $231.90 + $39.39 shipping = $271.29
-KEY-X-ASTRO-30 ASTRO-LIFT-30 1985-2005 Torsion Keyways pr Small 1.5" $133.50 a pair+ $32.19 shipping=$165.69
-SHA-AS8400A Shackle Raise 2" 3.00" Wide Multi-Leaf $103.50 a pair + $34.25 shipping = $137.75

drum roll please............. about $635.44 not including rims and tires
...and the award for best "right-out-of-the-chute" intro goes to....

WOW, very impressive! Great photos too. Thank you very much for posting PNs for the DIY lift, very helpful.

OK, for the front bumper, depending on the look and functionality you are going for, I highly recommend going full size Jeep JK bumper. With a custom bracket (or some ghetto engineering like mine), you can mount a sweet Jeep stock or aftermarket front bumper and add things like winch, bush bar, etc.
Build up here: viewtopic.php?f=11&t=100130&hilit=+jeep#p991226
A tip of the hat to you good sir! My name is Blake, and you guys will be seeing a lot of me on this site.

I am a fiddler and a tinkerer at heart and I just cant leave well enough alone. And im not afraid to get dirty. All of which I think makes me a good tech.

LOTS of thread reading, cross referencing, comparing and deciding what was going to work for me lead me to pick those thing. But honestly, if I knew then what I know now, I would have done 3'' body lift with a longer steering shaft so I wouldn't have to crank on the torsion bar keys as much to get the lift I want. At full 6'' lift in the front the cv's bind up under hard exceleration when the front of the van lifts, and during sharp turns. I have since replaced what I assumed were the stock CV's as I suspected the worn out components weren't helping, but haven't lifted it back up to verify if that helped or not. I did my alignment a couple of weeks ago and am not looking forward to messing with the ride height again so soon. idealy I would like to do a sub frame drop, but for now I just lowered it till I stopped having problems, so its at about 5 inches of lift in the front.

I have contemplated the JK bumper swap. Looks pretty nice for a $50 bumper on craigslist, they are plentiful around here, or free if I waited long enough. but my metal fab friend is going to whip up something like an ARB bumper from scratch. But smaller overall size and complexity. KISS. As much as I want to do the front bumper first the rear bumper will take precedent, as of right now, we don't have a full size spare. So rear bumper is in the shop right now getting mocked up, and before it gets put on the car we are adding a swing out tire carrier/jerry can holder.
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LUCKY! Wish I had a metal fab friend dude guy..person thing going. Cool, welcome Blake, can't wait to see all your cool builds n adventures n stuff. PLEASE post build details n TONS o pictures n stuff so we can STEAL your ideas! muhhahahahaaaa

One thing to consider (which you probably already did)... when doing the rear tire, might want to add a way to open the rear glass without having to swing the tire out, real PITA. I've seen many ways of doing that, like tilt out n such, but since you are doing full custom rear bumper... might do a notch-out rear and drop the spare under the glass height, kinda like this...
notch bumper.jpg

Herbie also has a rad idea for the rear swing-outs here (to get the creative juices flowing)...

....can't wait for the next update....
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Thanks for the details on the lift. Wonder if I can find some of the items locally to make it even cheaper. Love how your van is looking. How does it ride?
He has built roll cages in my last 3 race cars, so over the years and many dollars, we became friends. Now I trade my mechanic skills for fab work, its a nice trade off that works for both of us. He doesn't have a drill press or lathe, but with a tube bender, a plasma torch and 220v welder we can do just about anything.

The ride before was garbage, 200k miles on the clock meant a lot of loose steering/suspension components. I replaced EVERYTHING steering/suspension related (except steering box) and it drives totally normal now. the reindexed keys are critical to maintaining stock ride quality, but if you use those then you have to flip your upper control arm ball joints or your alignment will be waaay off. To much positive camber, and affects travel of suspension components.

Is the seat for on-road use?
That is actually the frame/plateform for the bed. Hopefully tonight the fabbing and mechanical parts done and I will have it installed. It will make more sense tomorrow when I post it all done.
Very cool build man.

How did you seal the dutch doors? I have an ongoing water/dust problem. Did you tighten them somehow?

i took off the old seals and silicone/glued them back on. My top seal was the main culprit... looked something like this


It is riveted in place with i think 6 rivets. i just drilled them out. cleaned up that weather strip and glued it back on so that it could not leak past the back of the weather strip.

The big u-shaped seal on the perimeter of the doors were also pretty nasty so i did the same thing with that. removed it, cleaned all of the debris from the channels and glued it back on. in the future if i ever have to take them off again, i will be screwed, but for now, no leaks.

I also drilled some holes in the bottom and built up a "dam" to keep water out like noted in the bottom of this thread.

Me likey where this is going..................
VERY Cool!

OK, where to start...
Consider felt for covering the wood. OSB will hold on to felt with little to no glue on the surface, so bonus there. It's also very cheap at your local fabric store and looks good in a few different colors (I usually go dark grey).

I like the nesting table layout, very clever. Consider adding some storage to the small nesting table, hold blankets n pillows n stuff like that.

Digging the awning, a much simpler rendition of the design I came up with a while back, probably easier to use... DEFINITELY easier to build for sure... well done sir, hats off to ya.
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