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Alpine's 1995 AWD Safari Adventurevan Build Thread

5310 Views 34 Replies 10 Participants Last post by  AlpineVan
Introductions are always awkward, but I'm Alpine and I live in the Sacramento Area. Been into cars for all my life, primarily GM and British makes which must mean I'm a glutton for self inflicted pain.

I had been daily driving and road tripping in a 2001 S10 for a long time (pictured), until I got a company truck.




So an opportunity came up to sell the truck and fill-in the blank with a dedicated road trip vehicle. Seeing as I had grown up riding in the back of Astrovans, I just had to get into the van game, so I found this one in Oregon where used vehicle prices aren't insanely inflated (I didn't even pay the sticker price shown). Comes to me with a minty fresh interior, lovely blue paint, AWD, and 120,000 miles.







So anyways, welcome to my build thread for my van. The general plan is to have a mildly offroad capable living room, with space to haul mountain bikes and camping gear, while towing a teardrop trailer. The constraints are to keep the van as original appearing as possible, by making any modifications seamless such as to appear factory-equipped.

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The first order of business is a set of all terrain tires. I had been running 29" A/T's on all my Chevy S10's for a long time, and it seems like the perfect tire size for regular driving and mild offroad use. According to blind research, 29"s simply do not fit on Astro/Safari vans without a lift.

My van needed tires....bad. I didn't have a lot of money to throw down on a lift kit (I just bought this thing!). I also I didn't want to shell out for a set of boring commuter tires to get me by, while I saved up for the lift kit.

Fortunately, my local tire shop came through and didn't mind test fitting a set of 29" Goodyear Wranglers for free. Turns out they fit, with minimal rubbing! So the deal was sealed, but boy is it a tight squeeze.

I did have to take care of what little rubbing was present. I lifted the torsion keys, trimmed back the rubber/composite inner fender liner, and took a sledge hammer to some of the metal portions of the inner fender well. I may post specific photos of what I did if you guys are interested.

But all in all, I've been on a few offroad trips and it only rubs under extremely strenuous situations, which is something I can live with.

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Sorry for the late reply, I hope you got your tires to fit. Here's a picture with some annotations of how I did mine...

-At the red arrow, I trimmed away that corner of sheetmetal, and hammered it out some more.
-The blue circle: I partially removed the rubber inner fender liner that normally goes here, and routed it behind the metal inner fender to gain every centimeter of clearance. It does make a difference. You can see I made a relief cut on the top of the rubber liner going down, so it'll fit behind the sheetmetal. It is attached with the same 2 OEM plastic retainers from behind.
-In the area of the orange arrow, I bent the metal inner fender backwards. This not only adds more clearance, but it tightens up the slack on the rubber inner fender that is now routed behind, preventing it from getting caught up by the tire. You can see there's still some tire rub on the rubber fender liner, so it isn't perfect.

Amazingly I didn't do anything on the front bumper for clearance.

I hope this helps!
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One of the things I really wanted to have with this van was a decent stereo, but I didn't want to compromise the classic look of the original headunit. I decided to go with a mini amplifier that does not require RCA inputs, but actually has its own AUX input that I can play my phone directly through. The original headunit also feeds the amp, so I can still play the radio and original tape deck (as if I ever would lol [but hey it still works so maybe!]).

In the below photos you can see where I installed the mini amp under the seat, and wired through the insulation so there wouldnt be a noticeable lump, and up to the head unit. I finished off the installation with a metal throttle kick plate to help tuck in the wires more securely. A full set of Rockford Fosgate component speakers in the doors and dashboard were also installed. The sound is simply lovely now.
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Thank you!

I've been enjoying this van so much. Between mountain biking trips, helping my mom even tows my autocross car (a B18 swapped honda civic wagon) like a CHAMP.



(My friends eclectic...taste in cars.)

Riiiiiight up until the dang spider injection went out.

The "doghouse" engine access setup in these vans is nice because....I bring all my tools in the cockpit, and do all my work INSIDE the van when its cold and rainy out! Keeping the interior clean while working isn't really that difficult if you remove the seats and watch where you put your grubby hands.

For good measure, I threw a bunch of other sensors at it with a new CPI spider injector. The IACV looked like it had seen better days.

Runs and idles better than any car I've owned, now.
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Brewtus said:
Alpine, we have similar stories! I started out with an S10 camper, too. I had a single cab long-bed, which was actually the worst vehicle to road trip in haha (I am 6'2" and there was 0 room to recline). The full length bed was nice for sleeping, anyway. I have included a couple photos of my old setup. The "camper" lid only weighed maybe 20 lbs, so it was a fuel efficient and stealthy option (in the closed position, at least).

The sledge hammers sure work great for fitting in over-sized tires haha. Do you live in Oregon? I live in Boise, ID and it seems we may have some similar interests (fixing, building, mountain biking, cars, taste in vehicles, and probably other stuff).
Those S10s are great trucks. They do exactly what you need, but exactly nothing more. Myself at 6'-0" my single cab was getting cramped for sure. But with the 4.3 V6 they can hustle since they weigh nothing.

I live in California, unfortunately. But I'd love to get out to ID, I've seen and heard great things about that state!
As with any good build thread, action pics are a must. Here's some photos from climbing the Sierra Buttes Trail.



It definitely needs 4-lo, as the engine was working hard to fight the 3.42 gears just to make the 29" tires turn. I won't dare to imagine how warm the transmission may have gotten after climbing nearly 4500ft in 8 miles.

At the locked gate, we hiked to the lookout. The final climb is a dizzying but wonderful experience. Even if it was smoky on that day.


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Oh heck where did I leave off .. its been a while and I've done a lot

I completely overhauled the front suspension and brakes. Things were very loose and sketchy.

Did a steel spring conversion, and the junkyard springs I found happened to have double helpers! At the time I figured I'd leave them on, and remove in pairs as needed. I've since removed one pair and now its perfect for towing my trailer while being reasonably sprung while empty.


Ride level improved a LOT as well, no more rear sag
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One of the things that really annoyed me about this particular van was the absolute scraper of a tow hitch that was on it.

It did not need to be this low, so I decided to tuck it behind the rear bumper.
Fortunately it was a fairly modular design with the bar being bolted separately from the brackets, so it came down to modifying (trimming) the brackets, and just bolting the bar back up.




Next up, cut a square hole in the bumper for the receiver ... Rockauto magnets are great for making a straight, rigid edge over curved surfaces


Departure angle has entered the chat :rockon:

Trailer still hooks up quite level as well

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Took a trip up to Oregon back in May for some van related goodies (stay tuned) and got to camp up in some lovely norcal and oregon country.







On the final night I camped in my buddy's side yard, helped him with some wrenching ....

... and picked up the goods :rockon:
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So what we have here is a Journey's Offroad hidden winch mount, and a badlands 12k winch ... both slightly used.


Also got an NP233C and conversion kit.

I'll be putting the T-case in later, but for now I'll talk about the winch and mount. It came with a front receiver that I felt needed to be welded on to be structural.


Not bad for my first welding project - WITH a $100 harbor freight flux core welder :roll:

The whole assembly sailed on, with new cable.

Trimming the bumper was the biggest headache of this whole project. I still don't like how it turned out. But it is what it is.


Now, I don't really trust the front receiver to carry cargo on the highway. But its great for maneuvering the trailer around! :dance:
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It's time to talk about the transfer case conversion ..... [I wont bore yall with the journey's offroad schpiel]


..... and how its seemingly IMPOSSIBLE to do on 1995 vans.

First of all, I had to get both driveshafts from a 1997-2005 van. The blessing in disguise is, this allowed me to put new U-joints in and paint them without taking my van out of service.

Oh and paint them funny colors :dance:

So once you're at the stage where you've painstakingly removed the AWD transfercase, and bench pressed the NP233C in, you realize something isnt right......

I took that photo on the bench but as you can see, THE NP233C DOES NOT FIT THE 1995 FACTORY ADAPTOR PLATE :banghead:

And this lip is in the way.

I may be young, but I'm still stubborn, and this was getting done TONIGHT. So the lip got cut out. ...

Test fit with the gasket .. feeler gauge dont lie!

And we're back in business.....except now the transfer case is hitting the floor beam. Does this van hate me?



You know what? I'm over it. It has 4x4 now, works great with no vibration. I just had to cut part of my floor beam out (I did paint the cuts, and I'll weld a plate back in there at some point I promise ...... :roll: )

So here's some photos of me trying to launch jet skis on a muddy lake shore! :dance:


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Haha that was a fun day. Everyone else at the lake was launching from the shore, but since we got there late, the only spots left were muddy.

We knew we were gonna get stuck, 100%. So we figured we'd go in one at a time. We have two rigs towing 4 skis, so the plan was to leave one rig out of the water to recover the other that'll get stuck unavoidably, and swap. That stuff was so sticky, 4lo and lockers on the 4runner was even a lost hope. But it turned out all good.

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Its been a while since I've updated this build, and to be honest I haven't done anything exciting to my van as far as changes. Just been driving it all over the place, as one should!

The transfer case swap has been performing great. I still need to get around to welding a patch to the floor brace that I had to cut out. However, I feel I have a ratio-gap between 4lo and 4hi. Where hi range isnt low enough, but lo range is too low. So I will be on the hunt for 3.73 axles to swap them in to fill that need.

I know I never talked about adding my Journeys Offroad Skid plate, though:

Unfortunately I don't have any install photos, as I was in a rush to get it in for an upcoming trip. Now .. Obviously I'm not paid to talk about products, but for $500 this was really good value for me. I don't think I could fabricate my own for equivalent cost (including my time). Some downsides are that it reduces the bellypan clearance kind of a lot, and so I'm looking into suspension lifts to compensate .. lol. I had to hammer my exhaust Y-pipe to clear the skid plate tube frame. But in the several months I've had it, it has paid off, just check out that gash!

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Immediately when I bought the van, the AC didn't work. I had the budget to pay a shop to diagnose and recharge it, but then it went out again. Waste of money, should have just done it myself. After digging in, it was clear the compressor was leaking. So I went ahead and did that for likely a fraction of the cost of a shop. Still blows cold.
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Lastly, I'll leave this thread with a couple nice photos of the van. Still going strong, and we make regular (about monthly) 800+ mile road trips with it.

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I recently bought a house, and moved all my junk with this van! Because F&^%&* a u-haul lol

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My catalytic converter has been going out, and because I live in California, I am about to be dumping a ton of money into this thing. Not just for the cat, but all the engine sensors and parts to ensure I dont blow up a new cat, as they're stuuupid expensive.
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I like the hidden winch mount. How do you access the clutch on the winch? Do you keep the remote plugged in all the time?
I just keep the winch in gear and I have a wireless remote for it.
Recently, the catalytic converter went out! Which really sucks as a california resident because our cats cost 2x as much.

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So this was about a $1,500 exhaust job, even though I welded it myself (no i didnt use that welder lol).

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Muffler was rusted anyway, so it was a perfect time to replace that. I added in a dismantling coupling, since I found it was a colossal pain to remove the exhaust as one piece. Hoping to improve serviceability.

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Nice candid shot of it on the driveway.
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The other weekend, I was browsing junkyard inventory and found an AWD panel Safari with 3.73 gears! I swear, we went from PJs to at the yard in like 15 minutes. My van has 3.42 gears which make it anemic at best with 30" all-terrains, so I've been looking for a cheap set of gears for ages..

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Being used to working on S10's and Blazers, these van diffs are super easy to remove in comparison. I guided my girlfriend through it while I removed the rear diff, and we had both ends out before the afternoon heat closed in.

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Don't forgot the CV stub shaft! Since my 1995 CV's are flanged, I don't have this part.
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Got some new CV's since the 2002+ use a splined connection at the diff. Also got a bunch of cooling goodies. Very excited about putting this together.

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Since the last post, my cooling system upgrades only took about a weekend. Still in the midst of the 3.73 swap which turned into a disaster. But I'll post up the cooling stuff anyway!

To start, let's compare sizes and remind ourselves why I'm doing this! Towing my trailer into the Sierras with all my gear in 95 degrees ambient has pushed engine temps into the 230's. Not what I like to call fun.
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I knew that I was going to bypass the oil cooler that built into the aftermarket radiator. I don't trust this design even from the factory, let alone in the aftermarket. So I will be fitting an auxiliary oil cooler run with AN lines. First step is to lay out positioning and trim the fan shroud to work. I'm being conservative with shroud trimming, since after all, the more holes I put into the shroud, the more paths air can escape around the radiator where I don't want it. (I want air to pass through the radiator not around it)
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Unfortunately I don't have any pics of the trans cooler, but that will be set up in the same way as the oil cooler. Instead of AN lines, they will be soft hoses with barb/clamp fittings.

The next step is to adapt the OEM hard oil cooler lines to AN. OEM hard oil cooler lines are 1/2" OD, which adapt to -8 AN. These adapter pieces are all standard off the shelf on Summit Racing or your local speed shop.
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Last step was to mount the radiator, which uses the same mounting locations as OEM. The new oil cooler mounts to the radiator with E-fan ties. Then, the braided AN lines can be routed to the OEM hard lines, which tie into the oil filter plate per factory. Take great care to route lines clear of the fan and pulleys!

Apologies for blurry photos.
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My only worry is how close my AN lines come to the main crank pulley. They're firmly positioned, so they won't vibrate or otherwise find their way to contacting the pulley. But if I have a belt failure, it will likely take out the oil lines. However, belt maintenance is a pretty standard thing, so that kind of failure should be avoided anyways.

And finally, test drive! Took the rig out to an old campsite in the Sierras that I used to hit that got burned out in a recent wildfire. Even in a barren landscape, there is beauty.
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Towing in 95 ambient, engine temps struggled to reach 210 degrees. I think it's running too cold now, I would like to see 210 regularly. So I may change up to a hotter thermostat.

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PS I just noticed I can change image sizes in posts, so I'm going through and reducing the sizes of my photos. Scrolling my own thread with pictures larger than my screen is .... X_X so I'm sure its less than enjoyable for yall too!
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