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LeSafari - 1997 AWD Build

37817 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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161 - 180 of 253 Posts
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So that is how it sits now.
Unfortunately, it's going to have to come off and be redone. But, since I don't have to do all the stuff with the roof of the van, and the solution I have should be somewhat simple, I'm hoping it won't take too long. We'll see.
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Sorry I never got back to you, I was in Sanford, Maine close to the NH border.
The top came off for pretty much a complete redesign.
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I replaced all the mounts with these guys, which I could fit now that i was changing the frame desiign. I had wanted to go with these earlier, but knew I didn't have the clearance for them. ... UTF8&psc=1
1/2" bore pillow block mounted bearings

These are what I have in the tubes - ... 93EALw_wcB
VXB bearing with 1/2" integrated axle.

I had a really hard time figuring out what to put in the ends of the tubes to mount them. I ended up going with those vxb bearings with axles, but I'm sure there is a better way.
Maybe threaded end caps like this? ... 7-1%2F2X13

Or maybe I could have tapped a bearing after pressing it in there, or something else. I dunno.

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This allowed me to put the top exactly where I wanted it (which was further towards the rear of the van than it had been before). This has given me a nice seal all around.
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So, since my last update I did some little things to make the top sit flush with the roof of the van. Then it was on to the lifting mechanism.
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This is the actuator I got btw... 400 lbs x2, 24" extension. If I had to do it again, I'd get ones with 750+ pound lift strength though. You'll see why in a bit. ... -actuators
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So I took a piece of unistrut I got at Lowes and cut it in half so I had 2 five-foot sections. This ended up being the perfect length.

I had saved the leftover pieces of metal from cutting up the L shaped strut brackets, the trolley, and the u-shaped channel. Those ended up being perfect for mounting the strut to the ceiling of the top. I used the bolts holding down the roof rails to secure the track when I was done with it.
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Then this is how it turned out with it mounted on there
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One thing is that the actuators have a hard time doing the first couple inches of the lift because the angle of the mechanism inside doesn't give them any help lifting at all. I had to do it that way and knew it might happen.

It can still lift it on it's own, but it lifts unevenly and clearly the actuators are struggling badly. This is why higher strength actuators would have been good. I just give it a little assist for the first few inches and then it's all good on its own.

I have a remote synced up to the actuators that lifts them simultaneously - it is this unit from Firgelli (where I got the actuators and brackets) - ... rol-system

I'll go more into the remote and such later on.

Oh - also, a convenient thing is that the actuators use the full 24" length - I didn't have to get any sort of limiting switch. Like I said, it is crazy high though - I could have gone with an 18" actuator it seems - and gone shorter one the "long" portions of the hinge arms.
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I struggled so much (and am still struggling) with the way I'd latch the roof down. There just isn't any easy way to do it that isn't intrusive or involves too much work.

This is what I have for now -


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Impressive engineering effort and great pictures!

I had no idea those actuators were that inexpensive. Thanks for the link. I might have a use for them with a different project.
Rod J
Hella work! Good job!

When satellite was popular the actuators were often on the surplus market for 29 bux. But that was a while ago.
Blake, this thing looks great! I am so excited to look through all of the photos. I imagine cutting the hole in the roof was exciting! Can't wait to see where you go with it.
Wow - That is some job on the Lift and Hold Down.
Wonderful Imagination - Great work - Fab Pics.

Thanks a Lot - Future High Top folks will be Thanking you also !
Thanks gents - it's been a lot of work, but I'm looking forward to when it is done!

Yesterday I replaced the radiator cap with a pressure release one from Autozone - the other one was leaking.
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Looks like the Autozone pop top was much easier to install. Great work on your write up and pictures.
tungtide said:
Looks like the Autozone pop top was much easier to install. Great work on your write up and pictures.
Haha, true true

So this has been happening this week - ... 8#p1572848

Seems like that will be drawing to a close as soon as I go to the junkyard next.

As far as current events, today the van took a trip up a long, steep, snowy, and icy forest service road to a trailhead. I got a flashing ses right as I pulled into the parking spot, so I figured I'd deal with it after the hike.
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When I got back to the van I used my obd2 reader to see I was getting a cylinder 3 misfire, and the van was running bad.
Oil looked fine.
Doghouse off, plugs and distributor looked fine.
So it was a good thing I had all my tools with me.
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I got the wheel off and popped the skirt in the wheel well to find this -
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Once I got that reseated, the van was fine.
I was dreading having a flashing ses on the top of a mountain way up off the main road, but it only took me like 20 minutes to get it figured out and fixed.
It really felt good to be able to diagnose and fix the problem on my own so quickly - in a place where help was not coming soon.
Even though the van can be a pain sometimes, I'm really grateful for the skills I am learning in the process - being able to do what I did today is absolute verification of that.

Also, the van slayed the road up - only one other car had driven up in the past two days since the last snow, and a group was walking up the road after having parked their subies way farther down where it said "road unmaintained from this point on" or something to that tune.
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Nice going, Great Fix, sporty !
I made a trip to a couple junkyards, here are my finds.
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I soldered, heat shrinked, taped, and loomed the plug for the a/c pressure switch on the accumulator, and installed the jy switch.
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Then I got to work on the rear end. I took the plunge on finally fixing the roaring that has been getting progressively worse over time. It had been making me nervous that the rear is going to blow up catastrophically when driving.
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I had some issues with undoing the ebrake connector bracket thingy. I undid it so I could drill a hole on the ebrake line bracket for the 2" lift I will be installing eventually.

Instead of repeating what I already posted, here is where I posted about it in another thread - ... 2#p1573372
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The last thing to do before taking the rear end out (I had also disconnected the brake line and shocks of course) was the driveshaft.
What. A. Pain.
It took freakin forever and was pure evil.
So I was looking for a different way to bolt the driveshaft and found driveshaft u bolts. I posted about getting the driveshaft off and some info about the driveshaft ubolts here - ... 8#p1573698

So, as you can see in that thread, it was a pain, but I eventually got the driveshaft and the rear end separated.
And then it was out!!
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Once the rear waas out, it was on the the springs, hangers, and shackles.
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