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1997 AWD GMC Safari
871 Posts
Discussion Starter · #1 ·
Putting this at the top while I can still edit - a google doc organizing my plans for the van, to grow and evolve over time:

What could be more helpful for organizing my thoughts and plans for this van than a build thread!? And I can share ideas and pictures and stuff too I guess...

Was looking for a work vehicle last spring and realized that if I played my cards right I could get a work van and a camper van in one vehicle. Started looking at what was available and was drawn to the engine reliability (knowing zero about cars in general at that point) of Astro/Safari's. Plus my uncle had previously owned two that went past 250k, and he loved them.

Found one in NH in a sketchy no picture ad and after the owner sent me a picture and I saw that it wasn't a complete POS, I went to check it out. It had a leak underneath, crap tires, and needed new fluids and a wheel bearing, but NO RUST and only 118k so I snagged it for $1000 and drove it home.
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1997 AWD GMC Safari
871 Posts
Discussion Starter · #4 ·
After getting it home, it was time to start learning how to do work on cars.

Went to O'Reilly's and looked around for like 3 hours and talked to the guys behind the desk for a while - spent like $500 dollars and went home to get started.

- Changed filter and oil to synthetic
- Changed transmission fluid, new gasket and filter - that's where the leak was - I couldn't believe how difficult it was to get the little cap from the top of the transmission filter out of the filter hole thinger
- Flushed PS fluid
- Brake bleed + flush
- new rear wiper
- new rear wheel cylinders (one broke while I was trying to undo the brake line)
- new front rotors
- new radiator cap

All the fluids were black, so glad I did this. Took a long time though because I had no clue what I was doing, but part of that was painting the rotors and calipers.

Still had a whirring from the front of the van at this point, but everything else seemed swell, tires passed inspection at my sketchy local garage, and I was ready to use it for the summer.

1997 AWD GMC Safari
871 Posts
Discussion Starter · #5 ·
I didn't know how to drain the coolant at this point, so a month later I had Hogan tire do a flush and put new fluid in (used the new dex-cool)

Soon after the van wasn't starting. I couldn't figure out why, I called AAA and the guy tested the battery and said it was alright, it must be another problem. Symptoms pointed to a junk battery (jumping it helped, but it still didn't start), but I trusted the guy. Couldn't figure it out and eventually got it towed to AutoDyne in Beverly (recommend this shop - have had other work done there, and it's one of the 4 shops within 20 minutes where the guy on the phone speaks plain english and explains what is going on clearly - huge for someone who has no clue what they are doing.) Turns out it was a junk battery, and so I got a nice new Interstate put in there.
May I just say that the way our batteries are pretty annoying - the tiny terminals make it hard to jump, and it's harder than it should be to get to that negative terminal (oh well, everything is like that on these, isn't it?)

Anyways, after that my girlfriend and I decided we were going on a road trip to Nova Scotia before school started, so we had to make sure the van was up to it before we left. My dad's neighbor is always fixing cars for extra money on the side, and said to take it over to have it checked out. This turned out to be a much bigger project than we'd thought...

1997 AWD GMC Safari
871 Posts
Discussion Starter · #6 ·
At the beginning of August I started stripping the inside of the van - took it from passenger to fully stripped. The carpet underlay was nasty and wet - glad to get that out for sure. Stripping the inside also helped reduce nasty smoking smell - still need to do something about that in the present day.

My neighbor showed me how to grease the chassis, and looked things over and said it was overall in good shape, it just needed a new diff mounting bolt (one was missing) that he put in. I also replaced the lift gate struts, which couldn't hold up the liftgate anymore. I used a video from ScottysDetailing (I think) on youtube that was really helpful, but it was easy. Went to NH a couple days later and stripped more stuff while I was there.

I ground off the protruding metal for the trim clips and scissor jack holder thing, took out the rear a/c (the a/c already didn't work - came with a bypass pulley), and the rear heat. I just left the a/c pipes (I hope to remove all the lines for it front and back someday) and capped the rear heater lines with spray foam (lol - found out later why that was dumb - keep in mind I still knew pretty much nothing at this point)

So, after I made everything as bare as possible, I painted the ground spots and anywhere the paint was compromised, and started putting reflectix everywhere and using sprayfoam for all the cavities. I couldn't believe how much spray foam the thing took - like 10 cans.

Next the floor got a 1/2 in layer of plywood, with some laminate, and screwed some trim from Home Depot along the edge at the back doors and slider.
This is the only picture I have of the whole process lol, I'm not a big picture taker, and was too busy working anyway.
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The next morning it wouldn't start. Got it towed back to my neighbor's for free with my gf's AAA (whew!), and a more thorough inspection showed more and more things that needed to be done. The plugs, wires, cap, rotor, and coil were all original - turns out the coil was bad - but replaced them all. Then it started - but coolant was leaking - from where? The "cap" I made for the rear heater lines - I didn't realize the cooling system was under any pressure... genius. Went to Autozone and got a connector and hose clamped the lines together - super lucky this happened in a driveway and not somewhere else I might not have noticed it for a while.

Three gaskets on the exhause (flange before the cat and two donuts on the y-pipe) were leaking and replaced - I didn't do a whole lot of that work ,but geez that sucks when all the bolts shear even when you heat them red hot. Replaced a couple fuses (didn't know it would be that easy to make the 12v charger and power locks work again!). Replaced the front passenger hub, that got rid of the whirring sound, and realized there was some play in the serp belt pulleys.

The idler pulley was bad, replaced that,then realized the tensioner pulley was installed backwards.... don't know how, neighbor was in disbelief. The 3/8 in hole for the belt removal tool was facing the engine instead of the clutch fan... so fixed that.

Did some electrical tests, alternator wasn't doing a great job charging the battery, so did that as a precaution - ouch. When doing that realized the water pump was corroded and leaking, so did that.

Was a day late leaving for the trip at this point, and just wanted to go - we were having another problem with starting though. When it sat overnight, it needed starter fluid to start. Neighbor said this was likely the fuel pump going. We (gf and I) decided to leave and risk it.

1997 AWD GMC Safari
871 Posts
Discussion Starter · #7 ·
Trip to Nova Scotia was rad - hit everywhere along the way, tried to surf as much as possible, but didn't score anything past waist high for a day - sad. Lost most of our pictures when gf's phone died a bit after the trip, but have some left.

Hopewell Rocks New Brunswick is wicked cool - tides are insane in the whole area
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Surfed a bit here and then stayed the night in the little pull off parking lot, just a bit north of Yarmouth. Couldn't believe for the whole trip how few people there were at the beaches in August - they were all empty!
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Found an old family property no one had kept up for 20 years
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Met the distant relatives across the street
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Took a free ferry to PEI
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Poison ivy from Nova Scotia reared it's head (I'm super allergic)
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So I needed to get some medicine, and it was hundreds in Canada, so we went home a couple days early.
Paid the $43 toll off the island - they're sneaks, it's free to get on by car or by ferry, but costly to get off - and headed home.
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Drove through Saint John on the way there and back - cool city, really cool coastline all around it.
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Hit way more places along the way, but lost the pictures :((( and this is getting long anyways - would recommend the NB coast and all of NS, PEI was mostly a farm and not too much to do, but I was also dying the entire time I was there, and the toll price peeved me. Plus I'm not into relaxing really, I like to do stuff- if relaxing is your thing, I'm sure you'd like it more than me.
Extra PEI one for fun


Premium Member
6,797 Posts
Very cool story thanks for sharing, I live in California but I was born in Maine and raised till the age of 12 in Beverly Mass then we moved back to Maine. I suggest you remove the plastic panels on the bottom of your van next spring/summer and check there for rust being in that part of the country and if there is no rust clean it good and spray it with bedliner or something to prevent it from happening in the future. Use a good fuel pump no cheapies ok. Markmitch

1997 AWD GMC Safari
871 Posts
Discussion Starter · #9 ·
The trip is when the van got its unofficial name - in the spirit of the Acadian (French descent) areas we were passing through, the van started being called "Le Safari". It's fun enough to say with a french accent, so it's stuck since.

It wasn't all good in NS though - our tires suck, and we had to have two patches done because of the frequently bad roads. Luckily I brought a 12v compressor, and both times they happened close enough to a tire shop to get them fixed. One we got really lucky on - we were pretty much in the middle of nowhere on a Sunday and were only 3 miles from the only open shop within 2 hours.

Also, when we got to Kejimikujik NP, parked, and turned the van off, and next time it wouldn't start. The fuel pump had finally gone. We stayed overnight in the lot, and the next morning had Canadian AAA come and tow us an hour to the nearest town, Shelburne. Buchanan's in Shelburne has a great family running it - had to wait until the next day to get a pump, so we bummed around a bit - hitchiked to town, stayed in an ice cream shop with wifi for half the day, and hitchhiked back (the shop was 15 mins outside town by car). The van was up on a lift so we couldn't sleep in the back, so we slept on the ground across the street under a couple pines.

Worst sleep of my life. Mosquitos were thick, and it was hot - so either I cinched my sleeping bag up so just my nose was showing - and still got bit there, and ROASTED, or opened it up and was attacked and eventually got cold. It was also windy af and it misted a bit, so the tarp above us was necessary, but blowing around constantly and snapping and coming untied and all that. I don't react to mosquito bites thankfully, but it still sucked a lot. Whew.

So, next morning they got the part, put it in, and by noon we were able to continue heading North to Halifax. The fix cost us two days, but only $411 usd, so not bad at all honestly - though the lost time prevented us from making it Cape Breton Island in the north - next time!

An hour before home on the return drive something funny started happening with the van on the highway.

A couple weeks later, it was getting weirder, and one day there was a crunching and grinding sound when I reversed, and the shift from 1-2 wasn't really working. Crap. A whirring from the rear diff has also started at the offset of the trip, and had gotten louder. Local shop said I needed a rebuild tranny and rear end ,and I had a misfire. Crap.

Didn't have the money to do this at all, and thought the van was donezo. Kind of ignored it for a couple months and then tried to see what else I could do and if it would be worth it. Had the van checked out at another mechanic, he said it was in good shape overall other than the issues. Had an engine compression test done that had all cylinders holding 180lbs pressure.
Got my oil analyzed by Blackstone and found there's coolant in the oil -
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I, like them, suspected intake manifold gasket was the problem - coolant appeared to be dripping down the backside of the engine. Oil was not a milkshake, looked normal.

So, I needed IM gaskets and a tranny asap.

Found the thread on there about rebuilding your own tranny, and all the IM gasket threads and started researching. Priced it out and it was going to be like $800 for the tranny job and tools and a couple other things. Too much for spending all the time rebuilding. So, started looking on craigslist and found some promising leads, eventually I got a remanufactured 4l60e out of a 1998 Yukon with 8,000 miles for $500. That's where I am with that now.

Other threads showed me that the real diff isn't terribly pressing, and that I can just swap the whole thing out for a couple hundred bucks sometime, which is nice - so that's on the back burner.

IM gasket research also involved trying to figure out what other stuff to do while in there - because the van really hadn't been serviced much in its 20 years. Eventually, I ordered a bunch of parts and took the plunge.

4,434 Posts
Wow man you scored, even with all the extra work, sheshould be sturdy AF now. Can't remember if 97 is 136 or the BW case, but if np136 remember to use Autotrak2 (Smurf blood) in your xfer case, no additives, 2 bottles.

LIM is just really involved, not too difficult, just keep bolts organized and labeled and you'll be fine. I upgraded my fuel injection manifold (spider) when i had mine open, noticeably better running.

1997 AWD GMC Safari
871 Posts
Discussion Starter · #11 ·
After a crapton of learning, I felt like I could do the IM gaskets, and eventually do the tranny with the help of a lift at my dad's freind's house.

For the IM gasket job -

From Amazon I got:
Vacuum hose (one running over the engine was toast) - ACDelco 15-30578
MAP Sensor (broke mine taking it off the plenum.. grr) - cheapo OE 09359409
PCV hose - ACDelco 93441238
Dorman 47007 EGR Gasket
Ignition Control Module - Standard Motor Products LX381T
Temperature Sensor - ACDelco 213-928
MPFI Spider - Standard Motor Products FJ503

From RockAuto:
180 degree thermostat - sorry Leeann - ACDELCO12T31D
Upper and Lower rad hoses - delco 26314X and 24342L
Bypass hose - delco 14155S
Knock Sensor - ACDELCO(213-94)
PCV Valve - ACDELCO19303069
Air intake sensor - DELPHI TS10072
Intake Manifold bolts - FEL-PRO ES72224
IM Gasket set - FEL-PRO MS98002T

Plus got a skip white distributor

It was a battle, but IM gasket job is done. Learned a lot along the way, and faced plenty of frustration too.
This thread was gold: viewtopic.php?f=43&t=98353

Here's the summary I posted in there:

"Those PDFs were hugely helpful for me doing the IM gasket over the past week. A couple things to add from my experience:

- No rear bolt on my 97's alternator
- Getting the alternator back on was also hella difficult - lots of whacking and prying with a hammer and prys and screwdrivers eventually got it, but dang it took forever.
- Clutch fan sucks (awd doesn't have the nice convenient cross member underneath) - tool from autozone to hold it wouldn't work either for some reason. A big fricken screwdriver between the bolts eventually did the trick
-I actually couldn't figure out how to get the lower fan shroud off for a while. Just stick a flathead in each of the three holes/clips at the bottom and pry gently to free it
- Deep sockets are a must, medium and short are needed in different situations too - super conveniient
- Some of the things you're scared to yank on really do need to be yanked - I was scared to, but really had to lay into (or pry because of the crappy angle) the harness on top of the plenum/spider and the plenum (had to pry and push down hard on the top of the spider) to pop it off
- Cleaning stuff took fracking forever - needed like 8 cans of carb cleaner and a table that can get really dirty
- A razor scraper was really handy, but having the polishing disc thingy others have used would probably be a good investment
- Definitely have another person help you set the IM back on - it's heavy, and awkward, and the RTV smears even with a person helping
- Use bungees to pull AC hoses out of the way for sure
- There is fuel in the spider, if you turn it upside down it will leak out - same with coolant in the IM
- I marked the distributor, got a new skip white one, marked it in the same spot and popped it in easily
- Watch out for the A/C compressor - that was the worst part. With AWD's the bolt on the driver's side bottom (the one way back there) was inaccessible other than by reaching in and around at a certain angle from the top with the socket and putting it on the bolt (13 or 14mm, can't remember which), then getting the ratchet in there and fitting it on. All is totally by feel, you can't see the thing. Loosen it JUST A BIT after the ones on the front are off - little by little until the IM bolt is accessible, I wouldn't go any farther than that. Do it too much like me and it falls off and you'll have a lot of fun feeling around and trying to figure out how to get it back on correctly so all the other bolts will go in right.
- Rent a fuel pressure tester at your local auto parts store and after you put the spider back on, also put the gas lines back in, connect the battery, and prime the fuel pump with the tester in and check that it holds pressure and there aren't leaks anywhere on the spider. TRUST ME the slight annoyance of putting on the fuel lines just to take them off again is worth not having to disassemble later

I got really lucky I think - no seized bolts, not a lot of rust, no bolts broke off, didn't have to torch anything - but did break my MAP and pulled off the line of the back of the alternator and had the A/C debacle, so..."

Took some pictures along the way to if I needed help remembering how things went together - I could have used them as a reference once or twice putting it back together if my phone wasn't dead, but overall putting it together just makes sense and things go where they'd logically go. I Didn't have the bolt that held the throttle cable bracket to the throttle body, but that and the cap to the schrader valve on the fuel lines is the only thing I haven't found yet.
Pics aren't great, but there's too much text in this thread for sure:
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Opened up the work area and gave myself some heat
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Didn't know what this thing I was pointing at was - I had 4 rando o-rings from the gasket set - two I didn't need for the fuel lines into the spider (because it was a new spider), one for the MAP (I think), but I broke it and had to get a new one anyways, so didn't need that, and then didn't know where the 4th o-ring went. There was one on the backside of this thing that looked like it would have fit, but I had not clue what it was or how to take it off.

Once it was back together, and I pushed it out of the garage and put the driver's seat back in (don't forget the seatbelt clicker thing until after the rest is bolted down (like I did)).

Started it up and it was LOUD, and smoking, and just didn't seem right. I was scared and turned it off and was confused. changed the oil like I was going to. Turned it on again and smoke was pouring out the exhaust (It was like 15 degrees, so it was partially from the cold). The engine bay started to smoke a little too. I left it on for a while and tried to figure out what was up, but wasn't sure.

I turned it off, changed the oil again, and went to the internet. Didn't get an exact answer, but got some ideas. Plugged in my scan tool, and turned it on and saw on my phone it was idling at 4000 rpm. Whoa. So trying to fix this super high idle I pulled on the throttle twisty thing and it revved, then tried to push it the other way and the idle got a bit lower. Pushed hard the other way and something gave way a bit and the driver's pedal jerked and it was down to 2200 rpm without me touching it. Turned off the car, and from the front felt that the cruise cable was tight - undid it, started it again, and YES! it was quiet and smooth and I was stoked - it was at like 900rpm at idle - not sure if that's ideal, but I'm happy for now.

All the parts that weren't broken I saved to have in the van for later trips if things go wrong.

This is where I'm at now - going to figure out what's up with the cruise cable, then find time to do the tranny. I've already prepared by getting parts though.

For the tranny job I got -

Magnetic Oil Plug - Needa Parts 653096
Transmission drain plug kit - B&M 80250

Flexplate - ATP Z166
Timing Cover - ATP103073
Transfer case gasket - FEL-PRO 72769
Oil Pan gasket - FEL-PRO OS30680R
2 Piece rear main seal - FEL-PRO BS40656
Transmission mount - WESTAR EM2839
Motor mounts - WESTAR EM2436
Delco fuel filter - ACDELCO GF652

Plus the used tranny from craigslist of course.

Going to do all this and hopefully eliminate the chance of any leaks on the bottom side of the engine for a long time (timing cover is already leaking a bit I found). Excited to finish this stage and be able to drive it for a few months with NOTHING GOING WRONG (knock on wood).

I don't know where this picture is coming from or how it got here... but if it's here, I hope you enjoy lol!


1997 AWD GMC Safari
871 Posts
Discussion Starter · #13 ·
Just wrote this whole thing up, then right before submitting it I refreshed the page by accident and it was lost :screaming: :banghead:
Here it goes again.

Once the transmission stuff is done, hopefully I'll drive it for a while with no problems. Evenually, I have a lot of things I want to do to it. This will be over a long period of time though, because it's going to cost a lot, and take a bunch of $$$ once it's done.

What I Plan to do:
- Posi rear diff - might rebuild with a posi, or find a used axle assembly - depends on the availability and price of 3.42's nearby when I start looking - will do wheel bearings at the same time

- 2" lift with blocks and s-10 springs

- ^with that, new bumpstops, bilstein shocks (with shock mount readjust ... &start=160), subframe bushings, move o2 sensor out of the way - and lots of trimming

- ^with that, new LT235/75/15 tires, trying to figure out if this will give a good amount of room for flex for off road driving. I have zero interest in going higher than a 2" lift, so I'd consider smaller tires if necessary. Looking at something around the aggressiveness of Firestone desination A/T's - the majority of driving in this will be highway tbh, but I want to get off the beaten track whenever possible - so I'm trying to find a compromise between mpg and grip. No interest in rock crawling or mud pits - those scare me (long story), just mild/medium off road driving I'd say

- Undercoat chassis, remove cladding, bedline where it was, add in cargo van cladding behind front wheels, bedline bumpers

- Clean, claybar, and wax paint and windows -

- Rear mounted wheel, maybe on a custom bumper. Also rear mounted propane, jerry cans for gas, and trash box - I like Herbie's setup -

- Camper conversion - including ventilation, solar, bed, kitchen, toolbox where spare was (like this guy, room for toys, etc - also want it to be as light as possible - might use stuff like this

- Swivel seat or seats depending on how the interior works out

- AstroWill's AUX jack -

- Oil cooler delete - ... ler+delete

- Transmission cooler -

- Transmission temp gauge

- Efan and 1" radiator - probably will put in a new heater core at the same time so I don't have to worry about coolant issues for a long time

- Brake pedal cover delete -

- rear heater hoses delete and heater valves delete, plus adding manual shutoff ball valves to the heater core lines -

- opening rear side windows (or window, depending on the inside conversion)

- opening rear window

- button or handle on inside and outside of rear door (I hate having to go next to the steering wheel to open it every time)

- LED lights everwhere

- Exterior water tanks (maybe one on roof in the form of a road shower, and another on the underside by the frame somehere, like under the slider like others have done

- tint windows - 20% front, 5% middle (slider and opposite), 5% rear, 2.5% or blackout rear sides - want sun protection, and to prevent people from looking inside - not too worried about getting a ticket once in 5 years for being a bit too dark, just don't want to be denied access to anywhere (planning to do the panamerican someday) or anything like that, so still have some more research to do

- Skidplate -

- New Serpentine belt

What I might do:
- Recessed dash - it would be so nice to make working on the engine easier - would be a lot of work and figuring things out, and I'd want it to look nice, so we'll see -

- Mudflaps or something like this for protection - ... 0904450922

- SLT trim van wheels, 15" - paint and protect them

- Removable air dam for highway driving

- Refinish headlights

- remote starter

- backup camera - so I don't hit people with this beast

- Leather seats

- Opening windshield - old vans like this have me inspired to make all the windows open -

- Poptop - love the look of this, if I did this I could fit bikes and boards and all my toys inside - I'd rather keep them inside to protect them and keep them low profile. If we did a poptop, we'd do a couch on the lower level to sleep on when stealth is needed

1997 AWD GMC Safari
871 Posts
Discussion Starter · #14 ·
nonhog said:
Looks like you got a deal! Way to go!
I'm planning on work/camper combo also, my build thread is pretty mild (AKA boring) but some of the builds on here are really cool and thought provoking. Have fun with your build!
Thanks nonhog! It's going to be somewhat modular, probably bolts on the floor or something to allow me to take everything out in an hour or something. That's the hope at least.
markmitch said:
Very cool story thanks for sharing, I live in California but I was born in Maine and raised till the age of 12 in Beverly Mass then we moved back to Maine. I suggest you remove the plastic panels on the bottom of your van next spring/summer and check there for rust being in that part of the country and if there is no rust clean it good and spray it with bedliner or something to prevent it from happening in the future. Use a good fuel pump no cheapies ok. Markmitch
For sure, it's on the list Mark. Beverly is the place to be these days, lots of growth and development going on - about time for me to get out!
I think I'm lucky and don't have rot under there, but we'll see!
Where were you in Maine?
Wimpazz said:
Wow man you scored, even with all the extra work, sheshould be sturdy AF now. Can't remember if 97 is 136 or the BW case, but if np136 remember to use Autotrak2 (Smurf blood) in your xfer case, no additives, 2 bottles.

LIM is just really involved, not too difficult, just keep bolts organized and labeled and you'll be fine. I upgraded my fuel injection manifold (spider) when i had mine open, noticeably better running.
Yeah, I'll be mad if this isn't sturdy after all this haha. I'm pretty sure it's the BorgWarner - yay, it's atf so one less fluid to carry on trips!
Yeah, I put bolts on a piece of cardboard and labeled them when taking everything apart, if I hadn't.... yeah, that would have been bad, it was still confusing as is!

WinnieVan said:
Wow that poison oak reaction is no joke!

Good job on the van! Well on your way...
Yeah, it was worst on my hands, but was all over my body. I've gotten it really bad my whole life - no mosquito bite reaction is the tradeoff though.

1997 AWD GMC Safari
871 Posts
Discussion Starter · #15 ·
So yeah, that took forever (pictures are tedious as anything), but now we're up to date, I've been meaning to do that for a while!

I'll have plenty of updates and questions here over the coming months and years, stay tuned - and let me know what you think of my hairbrained mod ideas.

1,121 Posts
I think most of your planned mods are doable, but the dash recess and "pop out" (tilt out) windshield might be the trickiest to pull off.
Sorry to hear about everything that's gone wrong/bad so far, but soon you should be good to go for quite some time. Break downs are bad enough, but the poison ivy just plain sucks.
It's a nice looking van though, but like you said, it really hasn't had any maintenance done to it over the years, and you're the 1 left trying to bring it back to current. I don't know how many vehicles I've bought like that over the years, and it can get both time consuming and expensive.
Keep at, Love the pics. :cool:

1997 AWD GMC Safari
871 Posts
Discussion Starter · #17 ·
Alright, school has been death this semester, so it's been a while since I've done a bunch of stuff (like, 2 months). So, unfortunately I can't be as thorough as if it just happened. But I'll try to give a good idea of what I did from what I remember.

The tranny stuff needed fixing, I had bought an almost new one on cl and eventually found a place where I could use a lift to replace it. The gist of it is that it took way longer than expected, I ran into a zillion problems, and I would say a 2nd person helping out is almost mandatory the entire time. If I was doing it again, I'd know what was going on more of course, but would still want another person.

I was very very fortunate to be able to use a lift at a shop thanks to a connection of my dad's. I brought it in early on a thursday morning, and didn't end up rolling it (not driving it) out of these by the next Tuesday, after putting in 12-15 hr days for 6 days. Brings back bad memories lol

Before that, I installed a B&M drain plug in the transmission pan (the tranny conveniently had a spot where it could easily go). I used the white nylon crush washer thingy that comes with it and is used to make the seal between the outer nut and the pan, but I would definitely go copper next time. I felt like I couldn't really tighten it as much as I wanted because the white washer crushed too much, and the whole thing isn't locked in place. ie when tightening the inner (smaller) drain bolt, once it starts to snug down a bit, it turns the whole thing because I couldn't tighten it enough.

Anyways, I'll change that out in however long it takes me to get to 20k on the tranny.
And I got pics, oh yeahhh (very bad because I have a ziploc on my phone whenever I'm working on stuff):
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1997 AWD GMC Safari
871 Posts
Discussion Starter · #18 ·
Very few pics of the big job - was too busy cursing my decisions and/or having a dead phone.

Went into the shop, unloaded all the tools (did have access to almost everything I could need at the shop luckily enough though) and unloaded the fluids and parts I had bought. Got it in the air.

First mistake was removing the rear driveshaft yoke. Those bolts suck. no room to get a socket on there, not enough room for a ratcheting wrench, so had to go oldschool. But before that I screwed up and got a one-way ratcheting wrench stuck in there and had to grind the bolt in half. Nice. I got a short socket that had a hex on the end so it could be turned by a wrench - I then proceeded to ratchet until it got jammed and I had no way out. I just wasn't paying attention I guess.

Next was torsion bars - I had a hard time actually figuring out how to do them from my reading online, so I kind of went into it blind. I had seen that using clamps to unload the torsion keys was something people did, so I tried that - I bent two clamps.
All I had to do, for those uninitiated like me, was to get the front wheels off the ground so the torsion bars weren't loaded. then I just undid the bolts and took it apart (I labeled the tbars left/right, front/back, and made marks on the back of them to line them up when putting them back in. BUT i didn't count the turns when I undid the bolts, dumb. So I had to kind of try to do a diy alignment thing later and it isn't really right still.

So, don't forget to count your turns when undoing the tbar bolts.

The plastic thinger where the bolts are holding the wires on the back of the starter broke into several pieces when I was taking it off - so a new starter from oreillys with a lifetime warranty went in too - yay for extra costs.

4 of 6 nuts at the front flanges of the y pipe were effed and needed to be pretty much melted off. Very glad there was an acetylene torch there. One of the studs was damaged through, and later had to get a die (dye) that was the right thread and fix it (and pray that it worked - having to put in a new stud would have sucked. I think the die was 10mm 1.5, or something like that.

The cross member was 18mm on the bottom, and a nut and washer on top of the frame that needed to be grabbed.

Taking off the front driveshaft was dumb. You need etork 12 and 14 for the style I have - some newer models have a splined end that slips in, like the rear driveshaft. I was trying to do it without removing the bolts. Also mark both ends of the driveshafts before taking them off.

The connectors by (what I'm assuming is) the shift linkage are definitely glued on - hit them with a heat gun for a while and try every now and again to wiggle them out gently - eventually they will come.

Don't forget to undo the bracket attached to the gas lines above the tranny. Almost screwed myself there.
Make sure the engine is supported before taking off the cross member btw. lowering the tranny/engine down a bit to get to the top bellhousing bolts is v nice.

We took off the tranny with the transfer case connected - seemed easier than taking them apart first.

With the tranny out, I swapped the trailhousings, and connected the transfer case with the gasket in between. Filled the transfer case with atf. Leaked a bunch of it out later lol. Would recommend filling later.

Took off the flexplate and tried for a while to get the rear main seal out. Many mistakes were made. The gist of it is this (important for anyone looking to change out rms or timing cover any time) - the oil pan must come off to get the timing cover on right, as well as the rear main seal. I did not realize this. I do not know how. It led to much languishing and gnashing of teeth.

Oil pan came off twice during this job due to stupidity - to take it off, undo all the bolts on the outside, and the sneaky nuts under the rubber plugs where the bellhousing meets the oil pan.
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Then pry the diff towards the front so it gets far enough away so the oil pan can drop. This is not easy. I also made sure the engine was at 6 o'clock like was mentioned by wiley/coursemoto somewhere - not sure if it was necessary for me to do though.

Timing cover is easy, if you know what is going on (hint - I didn't). Oil pan needs to be dropped, 6 bolts need to come out, loaner harmonic balancer tool needs to be used to take the balancer off first. I screwed it up and ended up replacing the same cover with a bunch of rtv. Ah, decisions. Put a new shaft seal on though to replace the leaking one.

Crankshaft position sensor and bracket are easy to take off, I didn't do the o-ring but will if it leaks at all.

I deleted the oil cooler and lines - using the how-to on here it was pretty easy - viewtopic.php?f=43&t=95458. EXCEPT one of the flipping bolts was torqued on like crazy and after trying to get it off for a while (air ratchet and electric impact) it stripped. It is a torx bit, but it's not very deep. Ack.

I read online that a latex glove put over the bit can give it the grip it needs. I tried that and eventually broke it loose - wooooooo! That was a much-needed success. Cut the lines in a couple places and got them out. I cut them right next to the connection to the radiator (held on by a little pop clip thing btw, just need a pick to get it off), and put rtv in the ends and smooshed them and bent them (maybe it was just one of them, who knows it's been a while) with a vise.
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Was nice to definitively finish something!

Also did a bunch of stuff with the cooling system while I was under the hood, but I'll go into that later.

So, the rear main seal is 2 pieces. I forgot to put the 2nd piece on the first time. After the tranny was on I realized. That was the first time the tranny came back off (t was fully bolted on). That was a morale killer for sure. Sped trying to put thigns back together, probably led to the following issue.

So, eventually things went back together and I had a real big screwup, detailed here - viewtopic.php?f=70&t=131706

Had a joyous time with that. Once everything was back together, and the exhaust had new nuts (with washers this time) and a rethreaded stud, and the oil pan was off and on a second time (with extra rtv squirted in to *I am praying* stop any leaks) and all the rear main seal was in, and the new starter was in, and I guessed at how much the tbar bolts had to be screwed in, and the rear driveshaft yoke had a new bolt, and all new fluids were in, and the o2 sensor cable that got caught in the bellhousing and sheared apart (forgot to mention that one) was fixed, and probably other stuff, it was ready to start.

And it started (after connecting that batter of course)!

Then it wouldn't move.

And the lower rad hose blew (I think I forgot to tighten the new hose clamp I put on there) and I lost all the new coolant.

So, in defeat, it was pushed out of the shop, and I tried to figure out what to do with it next.

1997 AWD GMC Safari
871 Posts
Discussion Starter · #19 ·
There are probably a bunch of typos and mistakes and stuff I forgot to mention or half-mentioned in there, but I'm rushing and didn't proofread it so, meh

1997 AWD GMC Safari
871 Posts
Discussion Starter · #20 ·
Ah shoot, just wrote all this and lost it somehow, frick.

Ok, the gist is that:
- I had a ton of problems getting the thing towed to a legit garage tranny mechanic several people recommened to me. Left me with a blown boot on my drivers side cv axle.
- After a month, geico finally gave me money for it.
- Geico is good though and it wasn't really their fault.
- Cost $1600 to get it fixed and it almost overheated on the test drive because I forgot to tell the guy that it didn't have coolant in it.
- Now it's back and I'm waiting for a time when I'm available and it's not raining to put in the new front driveshaft
- I just ordered parts to put in new cv axles and seals

Towing was a nightmare, oh my gosh. It sucks having problems with things when you simply don't have time to deal with them.
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