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LeSafari - 1997 AWD Build

37816 Views 252 Replies 24 Participants Last post by  NoQuarter
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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181 - 200 of 253 Posts
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Where you can rent - ... ogram.html
All Industrial Tool Supply Dial Indicator -
Durasolid Clamshell diff bearing puller - ... 4902.l9144

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I was prepared to have to expand the pipe to get the muffler to fit, but then the most fortuitous thing ever to happen to me when working on this van happened - the muffler slid on over the old pipe no problem! Wow! Nothing this easy had ever happened before. I was so stoked.

The new muffler is smaller and lighter. I'm going to try to reuse the heat shield off the old muffler, if I can. I'm excited to see how much quieter it will be, considering the new one should be hole-free! (it better be)
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I would like to see a full pic of your replacement muffler please.
Good going on the rest of it!
Here you go dcsleeper -
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I was careful removing them because I was hoping to resuse them, but two of them were actually rusted through, so that was out.
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But, with the shackle bushings out, I'm now realizing that I can't find poly bushings like I want. Thread about my issues here - ... 8&t=145184

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Used screened play sand at first with it, then baking soda - both didn't really work because the gun kept clogging from moisture. I got a moisture dryer for the air line and some new media. Medium grit coal slag was super abrasive, but also kept clogging the gun. Finer slag worked well and didn't clog it - but I only have a 6 gallon pancake compressor, so I could only really use it effectively for like 20 seconds at a time. Anyways, spent a lot of time figuring it out and getting real dirty sandblasiting the axle housing and various metal components. A blast cabinet, or a bigger compressor would have been the bees knees for sure. All that sandblasting really sucked bigtime.
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With the axle housing out, I got to doing some mods on it - first was doing the "Lumpy shock mod" of improving ground clearance by cutting the shock mounts shorter. I cut them shorter than I wanted to though....
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So I kind of shafted myself there, but I think there is juuuust enough room for the shocks to fit in without hitting the axle. At least according to my measurements Not happy about how little meat is holding the shock on, but I think it will be ok. And if not, it should be easy to reinforce with a quick weld someday later on when I get a welder.

Then was prepping for ubolt conversion. I am making a new thread about that because I think is a way more people should do it.
Deets here - ... 4#p1574894
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Anyone who has seen a lot of axles have any comments^^ ?
Seems ok to me, but I know nothing about axle wear.

More to come...
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Great work on that axle. It's one of those jobs that has the potential for a lot of mission creep.

I had a leaky oil seal that ruined the brakes on one side. By the time I had finished I ended up removing the whole axle and replaced brakes, brake lines, axle shafts, bearings, all seals, bushes, wheel studs, spider gears and leaf springs.

Here are a couple of pics, just because we all like pics.

Can you see the wear on the splines in the last picture? That's what prompted me to change the bulk of the parts. I probably spent more in postage to the UK than the parts cost!

What I'm trying to say is that this is a job you only want to do once so it may be worth replacing as much as you can while your axle is off the van.

Wear on the end of the axle shaft is normal as this is where the bearing will sit. It may be possible to move new bearings along the tube a little to a point where there is no wear(I seem to recall that there is a method for doing this or was it by using undersize bearings?). There should be a minimum shaft diameter in the specs somewhere as well.

Check your splines carefully as well-I'm not sure what cause the wear on mine but it may be a common thing.

The worst job for me was getting the wheel studs into the new shafts. I broke my bench vice trying to squeeze them in. The local army reserve workshops pressed them in for me, still took a lot of effort though.

You have put a lot of work into your van, it's looking really good.

Good luck
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Thanks astrocurious - "mission creep" is a great way to put it haha. For me, it has been de-rusting and painting everything that has added tons of time to the job.

And I totally agree on only wanting to do it once!

They make a special bearing that sits in a different spot on the axle shaft, but I didn't get one of those - I think I'll be fine though.

I did check my splines, and they seem to look good (look like the top one in that pic). That bottom one looks whack.
Been kind of a while since my last update - I've spent lots of time on the van but haven't acomplished all that much.

I started a thread about my surprise difficulty finding polurethane shackle bushings that fit - deets here ... 6#p1576386

(Spoiler: I found a way to make some work.)

I disassembled the diff, making sure to keep things organized so I know which side they came out of and which direction.

Here are the bearings - looks like I was right in my guess that the front pinion bearing was the issue - it is like a coffee grinder when it turns and feels like it is filled with sand. Plus the obvious wear and pitting on the rollers and race. The others look pretty good (I think) but they are all getting replaced too.
I have only been able to compare the front pinion bearings, but I was pleased to find that the original on there were the same Koyo bearing and part number as the new ones in the kit - that will hopefully make it so using the original shims will give me a nice setup first time when reassembling.
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I got this bearing and seals kit from Summit -
HOWEVER there were issues with it. It is listed as fitting a 1997 GMC Safari for everything included, but the axle seals and bearings were too small. I bought this several months ago and only just got to needing it now. I called Summit and was on the phone for 2 hours trying to sort it out.
Thankfully, eventually they sorted it out and send me bearings and seals that would fit, and a label to send back the old ones - but it was quite the process.
Here are the ones that didn't fit -
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I spent a long time cleaning things up for when I brought them inside. But it wasn't time for paint yet.

Going out of order here.
More disassembly of the diff...
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Then the wheel bearings came out.
I got a slide hammer, bearing driver, axle bearing kit for the slide hammer, ball joint press, and add-on kit for the ball joint press all rented from Autozone.

To get the driver's side bearing out, I had to torch the housing around it for a while - it wasn't going anywhere before that, but came out really easily after.
One thing I will say is to tightened the nut on the axle bearing puller tool as tight as it can go, without removing the axle seal. Then both the bearing and seal came out when the bearing came free and it was pretty easy and fast - no need to pry the seal out separately.

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Then I replaced the ujoint in the driveshaft that I had ruined when trying to get the driveshaft separated from the yoke.
I looked up the best ways to do it on youtube and I liked the ball joint press plus light hammer tapping to seat and unseat the caps the best.
ChrisFix has probably the best vid on ujoints anywhere - ... l=ChrisFix

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I tried to do a good job cleaning out the channels where the snap rings sit - then I put a bunch of antiseize all around the new snap rings so they aren't too bad to remove in the future. They weren't too bad to take off, but one of the snap rings almost got stranded in there when the ends broke
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Then I tried to make the ujoint ubolts I got fit before going any farther.
I got these off RockAuto, which are listed for our vehicle. ... 5340&jsn=8

So I drilled out all the holes to 3/8"
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So that sucked. I then spent hours surfing the web looking for a bolt that would work. Seems like there aren't any. I went to 4 parts stores and got very little help besides that I could get custom ones made. The ~1.795" center to center just doesn't really exist with any other yoke it seems like. I wanted something off the shelf, not custom.

I looked at getting a new yoke, but it didn't seem like there was one for our van that was compatible with u bolts.

Soooo, defeated on the u bolt idea, I got some old ujoint straps I had and went to the hardware store to find socket cap screws that would fit.
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I don't have pics of the hardware at the moment, but though it's not what I had envisioned originally, it's still going to be way better than the straps and threaded bolts.
I got 8 mm grade 10 socket cap screws that will let me either break them with the socket side, or the nut on the pass-through side. And lockwashers.

After that, it was time to paint everything. Everything got cleaned up with a grinder and sandblasting - well, mostly clean. Then primer and a few coats of spray paint for some, and epoxy paint for other stuff. Came out pretty good, but I was doing it in the basement and it stunk up the whole house,even with the bulkhead door wide open and fans pointing outside. Tip: don't paint inside in the winter, even with ventilation.
Also, the basement is probably in the 50's most of the time, so not quite ideally warm for this stuff to dry - but better than below freezing outside (which is why I did it in the basement anyways).
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I also cleaned up and pained several sections under the van that were exposed - like under the leaf shackles and hangers, and under the exhaust.
Some pics -
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I had been worried that there wouldn't be enough room for the shocks to clear the axle housing, so I checked the fit.
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I also had a bad donut gasket on the passenger side of my y-pipe. I decided this was a good time to tackle that.
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Unfortunately, I found during reinstallation that I couldn't tighten one of the bolts on the passenger side all the way. I somehow didn't notice last time, but during the tranny job the torch must have damaged the stud when trying to loosen the nut. Now the nut tightens and then gets to a point where it just spins. This may have been the reason the donut went bad so fast in the first place. Add that stud to the list of things to fix - later though. I might replace the stud, or maybe just replace it with a bolt - I don't know. It's the lower stud, so I could get a wrench on the back side easily.

Then the new muffler went back in.
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New muffler, new flange gasket, new hardware. put some antiseize where the new muffler and tailpipe overlap, then clamped them together with an exhaust clamp. Got it all back together with extended exhaust hangers.

Started the van to test - and so quiet!!!!!
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Lotta' work there Blake - Thanks for the great pics n' Info.

I'm pooped just reading about it all...

:banana: :banana: :banana: :banana:
and yet you went back to stock on the exhaust? but why?
Why not?
Good work man!

markmitch said:
and yet you went back to stock on the exhaust? but why?
What is wrong with that?
Here are some pics of the exhaust, and a preview of what's to come in the last pic
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For the diff setup, I relied heavily on this video and the follow-up from Ericthecarguy -

Not really going step by step here, since there are so many better resources on the web for that.
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Then I cleaned and lubed the axles, slid those in, then put together the spider gears and slid in the pinion lock shaft and tightened the bolt. Then the cover bolts and it was good! At least, I thought and very much hoped it was.
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Then it went outside to go in the van!
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I relied heavily on this brake video -
I had the customary frustration of trying to get those springs on for a long time, but not the worst thing I've had to deal with. I got a couple things wrong but fixed them. Biggest of which had to do with the brake shoe adjuster, or star wheel as it seems to be commonly called.

I mixed up all the brake stuff that had to be reused, and I didn't even know the starwheels were side specific. Turns out, the drivers side one is left hand threaded, and the passenger side is normal right hand threaded (meaning righty tighty).
So, I put them on the wrong side, which would have meant that they would loosen over time by the auto adjuster, rather than tighten as the brakes wear. So, I switched them to be on the right side. You can kind of tell if they are wrong by looking at how the adjustment lever would turn the "star" and making sure that that direction expands the threads, rather than screwing them in tighter.
I also put both of the springs above the starwheel on upside down. They needed to be rotated 180 degrees so the hook on the end didn't contact the starwheel as it turns.
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It took a long time to realize what I had done wrong regarding the starwheel and adjuster spring, but it was very easy to fix without having to undo everything thankfully!

Bled the rear brakes, put in dot 3 that was older than I'd liked, and the rear passenger bleeder screw is rounded. I should replace that and do a bleed with newer fluid sometime - but for now it feels totally fine braking on the road.

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Took it for a nervous testdrive - and it was quiet and smooth! I noticed all the noises from the poptop, but none from the rear now! Put about 50 miles on it and it is all good - looking like this might have been a success!!!!!
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Great Work, looks good, but now you have to work on the front and wheels and tires and... and...

LOL, thanks for the great Pic set, too!!
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