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Sangria - 2005 Safari camper conversion

11511 Views 53 Replies 22 Participants Last post by  jimi_lee
Let's start at the beginning. This is before I ever owned a van; I spent my weekends and school breaks climbing which involves sleeping in parking lots, pull-in camp sites, and on the side of dirt roads in deserts (okay, Squamish is not a desert). This was when I was first introduced to camper conversions. There was interesting craftsmanship, but I honestly didn't get the point.

As I got older, I began to care less about fuel economy and less for sleeping in tents. This is when the idea of a camper conversion bit me like a bug. Within a couple months I sold my reliable 1997 Honda Accord and bought a 2000 Chevy Astro.

Justification came quick. I had moved on from climbing to back country skiing. When climbing Hood, Helen's, Mount Adams, ... we could pull up in the parking lot after work, crack a few beers, throw our sleeping bags down in the cargo area, and have a good night sleep. In the morning, we could casually wake up and cook breakfast. Everyone else pulled b/w 2-5 am after driving for several hours. Astro #1 ended too early when the engine lost power (running on 5 cylinders), transmission went out, steering needed replacing...

After van #1, I played with a 1995 AWD Ford Aerostar for a bit. It is the last Ford I will own. Although it ran well, its construction seemed inferior to Chevy and Honda and the interface was not intuitive. I basically used this vehicle to move from Oregon to New Mexico, then sold it.

My wife and I settled on being a single car household, but I never stopped checking craigslist. Then a low mileage, fleet-owned 2005 GMC Safari popped up in Colorado around Christmas. It was 3x what I paid for Astro #1 and 8x what I paid for the Aerostar, but the $$ would hopefully be justified by improved reliable compared to van #1. We bought it. It is named Sangria.

*I will try add installments to this build thread that correspond with the fits and spurts of productivity of actually building out the van. Currently I am on the second iteration, so there is some catching up to do.
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Okay, breathe. Made it through the intro post.

In the first few weeks with Sangria, I:

  • Replaced the shocks.
    Fixed the Heater/AC control unit (vent selector knob was cracked).
    Fixed the passenger side automatic window control.
    Other minor fixes which I am forgetting

Soon afterwards was my first road trip so I whipped up a quick sleeping platform from pallets that were laying around my yard. This added a lot of storage room and allowed me to test the layout. I also added some lights (cheap strand of LED lights from amazon: similar to this) and connected my auxiliary batter (rescued from van #1).

Here are a couple shots of van.

(Battery Install: Link to Battery; Link to Isolator)

(Make shift sleeping platform)

(Action shot)
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I apologize about the lack of "build" in the first couple posts. Trialing the bed placement/height/size, storing gear/clothing/food, and trying different approaches to cooking while living out of the van was pretty important to deciding the final layout.

Here is my floor installation:

1) Remove carpeting. The carpeting and underlying insulation were not well adhered in my van and I decided to keep the insulation and remove the carpeting.
2) Cut out sub-floor. For this I used 3/8" AC sanded plywood. I traced the carpet onto the plywood and cut with a jigsaw. Two 4'x8' sheets required.

4) Floor installation. For the flooring, I chose to use Pergo laminate flooring. This required every board from 2 boxes. Furring strips (slats from dismantled pallet) were installed with sheet metal screws and will be used for cedar paneling. They are REALLY attached.

Thanks for comments. Today is not turning out to be a productive day. So here is the next step of the build:

Cedar Panel install:

1) Install furring strips (as noted in the post on flooring). Didn't come out pretty, but no one will know once they are covered up with paneling.
2) Install cedar tongue-and-groove panels. I used a lot of cardboard making templates.

I wanted to be able to access behind the panels to install the wiring for electrical outlets. To do this, I put cut the tongue part off of the 3rd to top panel so that the top 2 boards would not be connected to the lower boards. The top 2 boards are attached together and backed by some scrap wood with glue. 2 hinges, which connect to some furring, allow the top boards to pivot open. When closed, the boards are held in place by some pegs mounted into the supports for the top board.

3) Attach top beam.

You can see some of the marine ports which I have installed (Link1, Link2, Link3)

(Guest Appearance of the pull-out bed, next post)
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Dragging my feet on the pull-out bed build. Turns out sewing cushions takes longer than I expected.

Today, I installed a way to open the dutch doors from the inside. Stole this idea from KennyJ (here), but due to photobucket...

Bought a push button momentary switch. I used a SPST 3-pin with NO (normally-open), C (common), and NC (normally closed) pins, but you could easily just use a 2-pin.

Soldered pigtails: 2 to the NO pin, 1 to the C (solder 2 if using a 2 pin) , and 1 to the NO.

Here is the finished product

Difficulty: 1 (of 5)
Tools required: Soldering iron, 10 mm wrench, wire stripper, 1/4" drill bit
Time: ~30 minutes
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Thanks Y'all. I really appreciate the compliments, especially since I have spent so much time looking at all of your vans for inspiration.

Here is the Bed Build. You can see the original pallet bed in an earlier post. Again, I started with pallets which I picked up from our pet store. Many of them were brand new, used only to deliver dog/cat food to the store that 1 time.

I picked up some new ones and some that had really nice character to the wood. The later were made from way denser wood which was a pain in a** unless holes were pre-drilled. Lesson 1: pallets are made from different types of wood, choose appropriately.

Pulling the pallets apart is a bit of a misnomer. I tried with pry bars but just broke the wood. Lesson 2: Better results with a sawzall!!!

No good shots of the build process. Basically, the bed is 2 pieces, the main section + the extending section. The main frame is a table w/4 legs and spaced slats. Long cross supports are 2x4"s, sides are 1x6"s from the pallets. The extending section has 2 legs (front) w/ spaced slats attached to each other by a 1x4" in the front and a 1x2" which sits under the slats of the main frame. Slats are 1x6" from pallets. There are guides on the side of the main frame to keep the extending section from falling through.

After I discovered that there was insufficient head room, I rethought the design. The main frame lost a leg (rear driver side leg) and is now supported by the tire well. All other legs lost 5". Additionally, I had to move the back cross support forward by 7" to avoid the tire well which shortened how much the bed extends by 7".

Finally finished the mattress. It is 2 layers of foam (Link to 3" high density upholstery foam + Link to 2" memory foam). The mattress itself is 2 pieces, a 24" x 75" piece which is the seat cushion in "couch-mode"; and a folding piece which consists of two 8.5" x 75" long pieces which are the backrest in "couch-mode". Lesson 3: Cut foam into pieces with a bread knife & successive gentle strokes. Will make a static-y mess.

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Adding interior lighting.
I wanted a "home" feel in terms of both the form and function of the interior lights; which meant adding additional lights (not reusing the stock dome lights) and being able to turn them on/off from multiple locations within the van. Of course the lights have to run off of 12VDC, be low-wattage, and have a low-profile so as to sit in the headliner.

-Low-Profile LED recessed Lights (consumes 3W for all 4 lights)(Link) - These turned out to be really nice quality lights.
-SPST rocker switch (x2) (Link)
-DPDT rocker switch (Link)
-Lots and lots of wire - rough estimate of 20' of red + 60' of black 12g stranded.

Here is the wiring Diagram:

The DPDT switch wiring is less complicated than it looks. A DPDT is just 2 SPST switches smashed together. A SPST switch has 3 pins (1, Common, & 2) and the switch controls whether 1 or 2 is connected to the common. The DPDT has 6 pins (Group A: 1A, Common-A, 2A; and Group B: 1B, Common-B, 2B). For this application, you just want to connect pins 1A & 2B together and then pins 2A & 1B together.

-Mocking up locations of lights and prepping wire:
-Lights are .5" thick, about the same thickness as the headliner. To install you cut a 2.4" diameter hole and the springs hold it in place. All lights and switches are connected with spade crimps.
-Used a large thick gage steel wire to pull the electrical wire through the headliner. Only had to partially remove headliner.
-3 switches. Any can turn on/off lights. First (SPST) is mounted by rear hatch. Second (DPDT) is behind driver seat next to bed. Third (SPST) is under front passenger seat belt by sliding door.

Difficulty: 2/5
-For wiring: Soldering Iron, Spade Crimps.
-For Installation: Utility knife (or 2.5" hole saw), 8' piece of thick wire + tape.
-For removing headliner Screwdrivers,
Cost: approximately $80
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Yep. Any switch will turn the lights on/off regardless of the position of the other switches.
"Things that go bump on the roof"
I have still been (slowly) working on Sangria, and this post will describe 3 projects: painting my roof white, a wind fairing for the roof rack, and an awning.

1) Painting the roof:
The goal was to help keep the rig cool while camped in the desert. To do so, I plasti-dipped the roof white. Thanks Copperfiremist for the tips. Pro-tip, Peel away masking tape while last coat of plasti-dip is still wet.

If any one is interested in this project, Plasti-dipping the roof requires 8 spray cans, masking tape, and lots of cardboard/paper. Cover everything you don't want plasti-dipped, then cover it again, then seal it with tape for a 3rd time. This #$%& gets everywhere.

2) Wind Fairing:
My roof rack whistled like a banshee. My wife requested that I fix this.

Supplies: 1/8" thick arcrylic sheet (Link), spray paint, aluminum bar stock, plasti-dip, and fittings. I later replaced the fittings with SS.
Cost: $60 (would be less without aesthetic touches)

Jigsaw acrylic sheet
Cut bar stock to length, drill some holes, and plasti-dip ends
Here is how it goes together
Bend bar stock to shape
Rattle can underside of acrylic sheet
Drum-roll please...

3) 8'x8' Awning
Supplies: 1.1 oz Silnylon (5 yards link, shock cord, tarp poles (link, I later had to replace the pins at the top with steal thread stock), 1/2" pvc pipe, 1/2" conduit, 5/8" wood dowel, 3" PVC pipe (5ft), 3" PVC pipe caps, SS fittings.
Cost: ~$120

Split 3" PVC tube in half
Fashion linkages
Assemble carrying linkages
Sew tarp. Center seam is a "felled" seam which is used in tent making because it is strong and keeps the waterproof properties.
PVC tube is connected to the rack with 2" SS 1/4"-20 screws and some more aluminum bar stock.
After a lot of trial and error and buying supplies I didn't use... here is what I came up with. The front x-bar is 2 pieces of 5' x 1/2" EMT conduit. A 5" piece of 5/8" wood dowel is shoved in the connecting ends of the conduit to hold it together. Side x-bars are 9' of 1/2" PVC pipe split in half. Similar to the conduit, the halves connect together over a 5" piece of 5/8" dowel.

Everything fits inside the 3" PVC
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90safari said:
Looks like a nice well thought out set up. I like that you tried to recycle the wood pallets into something.
Hey, Thanks for looking at the build and thanks for the comments. I did spend a lot (too) much time planning the layout, etc. But I was trained as a mechanical engineer, so I guess it is a bit of my thing. I just hope that posting some photos and instructions can help someone else plan their build, even if my contribution is a "what-not-to-do" thing.

90safari said:
Yes, the pallet wood is different, in that it's oak.
When I said the wood was different, I meant that of the (now) 7 pallets I have butchered, there have been atleast 2 different types of wood they were made from. The denser wood is definitely oak. It was nearly impossible to put the tacks through while installing the T&G and would split without pre-drilling holes. Other pallets were made from a much softer and lighter wood, which I suspect is pine. The head of wood screw could sink right through the 2x4 pieces.

90safari said:
I do have to ask if you laid down anything prior to adding the plywood floor? Not sure how well that pergo will last, as it swells when wet.
I laid 3/8" plywood down. Its good stuff. But no, I didn't install any waterproofing materials below or above and this may come back to bite me.

Honestly, I don't have a lot of experience with Pergo flooring. I live in the desert and take the van on overnight skiing, mountain biking, and camping trips. I keep towels inside and have waterproof rugs for the skis and bikes. The big problem I see is that it gets dusty and sandy inside, which is not a cleaning problem, but when things slide on top of the pergo + sand I expect the finish will dull. There was a picture of a dog on the packaging so it gots to be tough right :? .

90safari said:
I was also trying to figure out the awning set up, while watching you cut the 3" pipe in half. I see you decided to "clam shell" it, and use the inside for storage, versus just rolling the awning material up and sliding it inside.
Yep. True. Everything fits in a 3" pvc pipe, barely. It seems sturdy enough to support the weight when unfolded and when there is tension on the awning.

I chose this more complicated way due to aesthetics. My roof racks are not factory and end where the front of the awning begins and I didn't want the PVC to stick out that far (4 feet) past the wind fairing. Also, b/c this 4 feet would not be supported while driving, I worried about it vibrating and bouncing.

90safari said:
Also, I noticed you set up the rear lighting to have all 4 come on, versus just 1 or 2 lights. Any particular reason for going that route? I would think being able to just have 1 light on at a given time might be easier on the eyes late at night. ;)
Again, because of feel and aesthetics. The interior lights are bright, about as bright as sitting in my living room with the lights on. It would definitely be easier, and require less wiring, to have 2-3 switches controlling individual lights. But I wanted a living room type feel to the inside, where I didn't have to reach to 2-3 different spots in the van to turn off the lights for the night and I could turn them on from different entrances.

90safari said:
Nice Job. :cool: keep up the updates.

Again, Thanks so much for checking out the build.
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WinnieVan said:
Nice awning. I love it. I've been dreaming up a way to add some taughtness to my awning. Probably will end doing something like you.
I am about 75% happy with it. The 1/2" pvc pipe doesn't support itself, so even with the loop I sewed into the tarp the bow of the pvc dips groundward. Not enough to make me change the design yet, but it is in the back of my head to replace them with some 1/2" conduit which I already have. We will see how big of a problem it is in practice.

In Mech.E. we have a saying, "if it ain't broke, fix it until it is."
Small update and a question.

Added a backboard for the mantel which sits above the side wall next to the window. I call it my "don't-knock-the-phone-out-the-window" addition.

Now the question:
I am about to hit 120,000 miles. What is the GM scheduled maintenance at this mileage? In the name of preventative maintenance, anything else I should be looking at?
Double DIN + Backup Camera Install
Long time, no post. Sangria has been out enjoying the wilderness and I have lacked motivation to take on more projects. Planning a 3500 mile road trip solved the later problem.

During my previous road trips, I kept a small bluetooth speaker so that I could listen to podcasts. This project brought the rig into the early 2010's.

  • Sony XAV-AX100 - $268 (Ebay w/ 15% off coupon)[/*]
  • Pyle universal mount back up camera (link)[/*] - comes with 6m RCA video cable
  • GMC radio antenna converter (link)[/*]
  • 3ft RCA video cable extension (link)[/*]
  • 2x Galvanized 3"x5" tie (link[/*]
  • 16g wire[/*]
  • 16g spade crimps[/*]

  • Wiring the head unit: Honestly, the only hard part is finding the reverse signal so that the head unit knows when to switch video to the backup camera. It is a light green wire tucked in a massive bundle of cables leaving the fuse box located in the drivers foot well.
    In this photo, I have cut the wire and added spade crimps so i could easily insert a pigtail.
  • Mounting the head unit: I unscrewed the bottom plate from the stock unit. This is a nice tray which provides the snap-in part.

    The Sony head unit is about 2" narrower than the stock radio. I used the 3"x5" ties, bent in an L-shape and with mounting holes drilled, to mount the head unit to the stock tray.
    Vertically, the 4" tall head unit just barely squeezes below the heating/AC controls. About 1/2" of room needs to be cleared out of the dash paneling.
    I created a bezel thing to cover the messiness which resulted from switching to a narrower/taller head unit. This was made from 1/16" thick plastic (cut from the top of a rubbermaid container) and plasti-dipped black.
    Here it is all installed.
  • Back up camera: Like everyone else, I mounted the camera in the unused space on the license plate holder that is meant for a key hole.

    Wiring is simple; there are 3 leads coming from the camera, a +, a -, and the video. Pigtail the + into an accessory + wire like the thick orange wire in the tow-package bundle. Wiring the + to an accessory cable allows you to use the camera when you are not going in reverse. Pigtail the - to a ground. And yes, you will need ~23 feet of video cable to bring that back to the head unit.
    (no picture)
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Wow, It's been a year-and-a-half since I last updated this thread. I didn't even realize I got praise from the master DIY guide writer either (Thanks Wimpie).

Last year I bought a house, so working on the van got pushed to the 2nd tier of priorities.

I guess I haven't shown the cooking table-thingie. So, I wanted a stow-away cooking table-thingie that I could set the Coleman 2-burner on to cook while either inside the van or outside. Since I commonly strap bags/boxes/Rubbermaids of gear against the sides of the interior, the common hinged table just wouldn't work (or would block the window).

My solution was to slide a wood slab into a slot, kind of like those pull-out cutting boards that were in my parents' kitchen. For the tabletop, I got a cheap table off of CL, removed its base, cut it up, and refinished it.

I built "slot" out of pieces of 2x4 which I screwed into the tailgate door.

I took the opportunity to re-make the "panel" on the tailgate.

Here it is all installed.

There is some sort of fitting (which is similar to a keyhole fitting) mounted between those slots that allows the tabletop to hang flush with the door. No pictures of the tabletop I guess, but it is square with 2 tongues which slide into the 2 slots in the door.

Here it is in use:

Updates and future plans:
Canopy: Is anyone ever totally satisfied when their projects are "complete". I already replaced the clam-shell style pipe with an 8 ft 3" pvc pipe and screw-in pvc plug. The clam-shell got blown over in a mild wind. Also, the fabric (ripstop nylon) stretches when wet and built up a fantastic puddle above my head on one trip. I plan to remake the canopy with something like rubberized canvas.

Bed: The two cushions that form the bed when in bed-mode have a tendency to slide apart which leaves me falling into a hole during the night. Bought some velcro to make straps to fix that.

Interior: Remove passenger side panels and replace with shelving/storage.

Again, Thanks for all the kind comments.
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tonydobbs said:
How were you able to bolt the panels up to the back doors? Did you weld a nut to the metal?
Sheetmetal screws and countersunk washers, so that it would have that nice finished look. I hung the table top from it with interlocking flush-mount fittings like these (
SportsBoy said:
jimi_lee said:
Pigtail the + into an accessory + wire like the thick orange wire in the tow-package bundle. Wiring the + to an accessory cable allows you to use the camera when you are not going in reverse.

Hey Jimi - where did you get the info about the orange wire in the tow package being a switched power source? Mine is always hot... found that out here -

Hey SportsBoy,
I see from your thread that there has already been a lot of discussion.

Its been over a year since I installed that and I honestly don't remember where I got that information from. Here is a link ( to another AS post with a diagram of the tow wiring diagram with the orange (brown) wire labelled "Aux". I assumed that would mean that the voltage was tied to the engine being on.

I will test this later today and edit the post or add a new post.
jimi_lee said:
Pigtail the + into an accessory + wire like the thick orange wire in the tow-package bundle. Wiring the + to an accessory cable allows you to use the camera when you are not going in reverse.

SportsBoy said:
Hey Jimi - where did you get the info about the orange wire in the tow package being a switched power source? Mine is always hot... found that out here -
jimi_lee said:
Hey SportsBoy,
I see from your thread that there has already been a lot of discussion.

Its been over a year since I installed that and I honestly don't remember where I got that information from. Here is a link ( to another AS post with a diagram of the tow wiring diagram with the orange (brown) wire labelled "Aux". I assumed that would mean that the voltage was tied to the engine being on.

I will test this later today and edit the post or add a new post.
SportsBoy said:
I saw that exact same thread when I was trying to figure out whether the orange in the tow harness was switched or not - it made me think I was all set until I actually tested it with a multimeter and found it was always hot.
"Today" was a bit optimistic.

I did go back and test it. It is 100% hot 100% of the time confirming what you found and explaining why my battery is dead if I don't drive it at least 1 time every 2 weeks.

Just thought I would post that here for future reference (although it would be faster to just go outside with a multimeter than to find this post).
SportsBoy said:
Haha, well if you want to fix it, I used the switched red wire in the Radio harness.
I ended up using these "add-a-fuse" ... asin_title

That way, the camera can be on its own separate fuse. I also improved the wiring to the solenoids that charge my spare battery.
2 things:

Second: I get a clunk when driving over bumps that sounds like one or more bushings are worn. A friend also noticed. The sound is louder coming from the front passenger side. It is noticeable even when driving over bumps as small as frost heaves across a relatively new road. It is not super loud though.

In addition to what was replaced during the lift (subframe bushings), I've also replaced the sway bar bushings and end-links, idler arms, engine mounts, and front shocks. While doing the alignment, I asked the mechanic to take a look for tired bushings and he demonstrated that the lower bushing on the shock seemed quite soft when he pushed/bounced on the car. I now think they were just not torqued to spec, regardless they are replaced.

In my driveway, I can't replicate the clunk by rocking the vehicle. Nothing feels loose when I grab or lever on it (ball joints, tie rods, pitman, sway bar, etc). I laid under the van to feel the control arms and steering mechanism as my wife turned the wheels side-to-side and everything felt good. And when jacked, there is no play if I pry on the wheels side-to-side or up-and-down.

I can't figure it out. Maybe you can help?

I've taken a bunch of video of different bushings while rocking the car. Do these bushings look good to you?

Passenger Side LCA
Passenger Side UCA
Driver Side LCA
Passenger Side Swaybar endlink and lower shock mount:
Passenger Side Lower ball joint:


First (I wanted the help before the photo share and tell): Performed the Wimpie 2+1 lift. I didn't intend to do the +1 part, but the driver side sat about 1" higher than the passenger side. When I checked the torsion bars, the driver's side adjustment bolt was about 1" farther than the passenger. So I leveled it out and then got an alignment. Also, the S10 springs raised the back end so high it looked ridiculous.

I didn't get a lot of photos, but then half the people on this board have done this mod.

Front went smoothly, but slow. Trimming the fan shroud with the cut-off and grinding disks for the angle grinder.

Attaching the radiator hose so it doesn't get caught in the fan.

Jacking the front to lift the frame from subframe.

Jacking the rear to swap leaf springs.

Some issues with drilling a straight hole for the rear strut relocation.

I relocated the front bumper using some 1/4" thick x 1' wide steel bar stock. Similarly, made extended brackets for the rear brake lines. I also threw on a Hellwig rear sway bar.

All-in-all. This gave me 3" of lift in the front and about 4.5" in the rear.

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MechBob said:
This will be a test(about your noise), what do the front of the rear leaf springs bolt into? (only because I have run into this type of noise before)
The hanger???
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