2003 AWD Astro Build by JOR

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2003 AWD Astro Build by JOR

Postby Safarimeister [OP] » August 23rd 2020, 8:34pm

It's been a long long time coming. I have been a member of this forum since 2013. However, it wasn't until last September that I finally found an 03' Astro with 193K on it that was worthy of doing a build. It’s a crazy story about how I found it and picked it up. Some of you may recall this ad in the Classifieds last September:
https://www.astrosafari.com/viewtopic.php?f=68&t=140414

Over the past year, I have been getting to know my vehicle's strengths and weaknesses. Working many of the simple issues out and holding off on others until the build. I have changed out my main fluids many times, even installed a tranny pan with a drain plug, to easily flush out the dirty fluid.

Several of you may have seen my other posts, including the one looking for someone in MN to help me install my lift. I can change my oil and other basic stuff, but don't have space or experience to do the more difficult work that was needed.

However, even before I purchased my van, I have been routinely speaking and corresponding with Mike Collins of Journeys Offroad in Prescott, AZ. Mike was ALWAYS been helpful and willing to offer helpful advice, even though I had not yet even purchased anything from him. He is passionate about Astros and has personally been driving them since they first came out. My hope was to eventually just hold off on any work and have JOR do the work.

I eventually concluded, that if I want it done right, I needed to get it to JOR for Mike and his son Tom to complete all the work. Well, the "journey to Journey" started last week in Minnesota. I had to be in Arizona, which turned out to be the hottest week on record. I hopped in my 200K mileage Astro with fresh fluids and fingers crossed, putting in 2-13 hour days. She made it with no issues, other than running hotter than I would have liked from Payson to Scottsdale in the 117 heat.

After a year of speaking Mike, I finally met him and Tom at their shop in Prescott. Mike gave me a tour of the facility where they fabricate all the custom parts which they sell on online, i.e. bumpers, racks, shackles, etc… They have a very nice machine and welding shop, garage and warehouse for storing merchandise to be shipped out. They have some very cool stuff and if are into Astro/Safaris. Not to mention, a wealth of Astro knowledge.

The focus for my Astro was on the “mechanical items” first and foremost. Things that would have taken me years to do, are now getting done in a week, and more importantly, by a shop that knows all the little quirky issues with Astros and has the right parts.

Since Monday, Mike has been keeping me apprised of their progress by text and pics. I can post a few, but once they have it completed and I pick up, I will detail everything. However, to give you and idea, the Astro will get:

1) A 5” lift
2) 2-speed S10 transfer case & conversion Kit
3) ALL new front end parts
4) ALL new cooling system parts
5) New Shocks
6) Wheels (either stock Astro OR Hummer 3) I have the H3 wheels, but we need to check fitment before mounting all.
7) Tires (hopefully we can fit 245/75R16 on the H3 Rims without issues) etc…
8) Steering Gear Box
9) Rear Bump Stops ) Check out the old ones
10) Body Mounts
11) Tensioner and Idler Pulleys
12) Still deciding on the front bumper winch

I have included a picture of my rig the day I got it along with this week's in-progress shots.

The only thing I have not yet decided on is whether to install the hidden front-mounted winch. If anyone has an opinion on this, please do share.

BTW, I am ditching those black Safari rims if anyone in the Phoenix area has an interest in them with the 215 Hercules tires, let me know.
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Last edited by Safarimeister on August 24th 2020, 2:33am, edited 1 time in total.
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Re: 2003 Astro Build by JOR

Postby Wokka » August 23rd 2020, 11:41pm

I'll be watching this one. Luckily for you you are stateside, I can't get his gear for love nor money
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Re: 2003 AWD Astro Build by JOR

Postby SoccerMom4x4 » August 25th 2020, 4:19am

Have em SAS it
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Re: 2003 AWD Astro Build by Journeys

Postby Safarimeister [OP] » August 27th 2020, 5:24pm

Last year when Mike and I first spoke, I was leaning toward Jeep Dana 44 SAS that he did to his rig, but that was before I actually purchased my Astro. My Astro is pretty clean, but not quite up to my standards for doing the SAS. So for this Astro, these are all the suspension mods it will get. If I find a super clean, low mileage 03-05 Astro/ Safari, then I may have them do the SAS front end and perhaps dana rear end.

So here's the lastest. The only surprise so far was my ready to gernade :angry-extinguishflame: G80 rear diff. Costly part. Note to self, next time I am in a Upull it parts yard, get a G80 back up. I guess it would have been worse had it happened in the middle of New Mexico on way to Arizona. The pictures tell all. I honestly never heard anything too unusual in the rear end. I have had bad rear ends that growled very loud but didn't hear anything. Perhaps the sound of the whining idler bearing that drowned out any rear differential noise.

I also decided to move ahead with a winch. After a little research, I ended up getting the new APEX 12K winch from Harbor Freight. It will hopefully get hidden behind the front bumper. Nice unit, that competes well against the Warn Zeon. It has some great new features over the base ZXR winch, i.e. waterproof, Blue tooth remote control, 80' nylon rope etc... It costs a little more, but I believe is worth the extra $.

I am also having a Class III hitch installed. I am looking at Drawtite or Curt 5000lb 2".

The only item we are trying to figure out is the biggest tire to use. I have the H3 wheels, but given the 7mm offset difference, 12mm versus 14mm lugs, 100mm hole versus 78mm center hole, I am just not sure it is worth the hassle since I already have a nice set of Astro OEM rims that came off a Silverado.

We are trying to figure which of these will work with the 5" lift.
1) 245/70R16 at 29.5"
2) 245/75R16 at 30.47"
3) 235/85R16 at 31.73

If anyone has first-hand experience with any of these tire options with a 5" lift please feel free to share your comments.
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Re: 2003 AWD Astro Build by JOR

Postby Safarimeister [OP] » September 9th 2020, 1:53pm

Just a quick update with hopes to pick up the Van in the next few weeks. However, in the meantime, we ended up rebuilding the G80 rear end and changed out the the the ring and pinion with a GT4 versus GU6. This is a better fit given the bigger tires the Astro will get. In addition, I located a cast-iron front carrier with the GT4 internals. As long as all looks good, we'll change out the seals and bearings and install.

The only item we haven't yet figured out are the tires with the Hummer H3 rims. Will keep you posted.

If anyone knows where I can find a second row bucket seat base so I can install the front passenger swivel plate, I would be very grateful. So far, no luck a local parts yards.
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Re: 2003 AWD Astro Build by JOR

Postby markmitch » September 9th 2020, 3:50pm

Just curious here, what did the cast iron front diff come out of? Very nice build!
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Re: 2003 AWD Astro Build by JOR

Postby sixsix » September 9th 2020, 6:11pm

Very nice build - us "RWDers" cannot hardly appreciate your build.
But we can Sure Be Jealous - LOL - Any idea what killed the G80 before you got it?
... and what changes in driving habits might you make using it properly?

Cast Iron instead of Alum - Excellent. Nylon rope instead of Steel Cable... not so much. Altho, 12,000 lbs is just that!
Looking forward to the Rest - I will look up what those ratios are, for the diffs.

GT4 - 3.73
GU6 - 3.42



Just a note: :blah: :blah:
I can never remember - gotta remember... GT = Fast , 3.73 gears, like 4.11 are Fast.
OK, I think I have it. Thanks to all involved. LOL
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Re: 2003 AWD Astro Build by Journeys

Postby Wokka » September 10th 2020, 3:44pm

Safarimeister wrote:
The only item we are trying to figure out is the biggest tire to use. I have the H3 wheels, but given the 7mm offset difference, 12mm versus 14mm lugs, 100mm hole versus 78mm center hole, I am just not sure it is worth the hassle since I already have a nice set of Astro OEM rims that came off a Silverado.

We are trying to figure which of these will work with the 5" lift.
1) 245/70R16 at 29.5"
2) 245/75R16 at 30.47"
3) 235/85R16 at 31.73


Definitely watching this, especially if Mike thinks it could fit

Do you know the specs of the silverado rim?
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Re: 2003 AWD Astro Build by JOR

Postby AstroWill » September 10th 2020, 6:16pm

I remember that van! Tried to buy it but couldn't get there in time before the guy wanted to leave. I'm guessing that you got a great deal on it, as he was READY to leave.

I remember him being worried about the transmission, what ended up being the issue there?

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Re: 2003 AWD Astro Build by JOR

Postby Safarimeister [OP] » September 11th 2020, 3:22am

AstroWill wrote:I remember that van! Tried to buy it but couldn't get there in time before the guy wanted to leave. I'm guessing that you got a great deal on it, as he was READY to leave.

I remember him being worried about the transmission, what ended up being the issue there?


Crazy story. I have been on here since 2013 and living in Minnesota, I just couldn't bring myself to buying one of 1000 AWD Astor vans listed. The rust is always just too pervasive. Given the extent of the build I wanted to do, it would be a total waste on a crusty rust bucket.

I contacted Mike in late August of 2019 after having taken a trip to Telluride and driving a Jeep Rubicon over Imogene Pass. I wanted something like his white van initiallly with the solid axle, but have since changed my mind. We had been speaking on and off over a 3 week period about what to look for. I knew I wanted an 03' or newer.

Fast forward last September, I saw my Astro ad first in the Kansas City CL then on here. Damin Radford, the owner and a well-known artist who goes by "Milarky" in New Zealand had it for sale. He had been coming to the states for extended periods and purchased this van in Portland, but had it sitting for 2 years in San Diego before being able to return last summer. https://www.stuff.co.nz/taranaki-daily- ... er-milarky

He needed to get back to New Zealand in a hurry, but the tranny had been popping up codes. We agreed on a price and I ended up flying down on a morning last September 19th and driving it back with fingers crossed. The tranny fluid was "filthy". I have since drained 3 times and using seafoam tranny cleaner and changed the filter. So far, so good after 10,000 miles. The van has 201K now and made it down to PHX a few weeks ago. However, if you look at my rear end, you will see I was on borrowed time!

No delusions here, I know the engine and tranny have miles and could blow at any time, but I am prepared for that when it happens. I am currently looking into different options for building a 4.3 with better cam, crank and maybe heads.
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Re: 2003 AWD Astro Build by JOR

Postby Safarimeister [OP] » September 13th 2020, 11:30pm

More progress... just a few pics of the new front 3.73 carrier being freshened up by Mike and Tom.

The end is near.... :banana:
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Last edited by Safarimeister on September 14th 2020, 5:08am, edited 1 time in total.
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Re: 2003 AWD Astro Build by JOR

Postby AstroWill » September 14th 2020, 3:13am

Safarimeister wrote:Fast forward last September, I saw my Astro ad first in the Kansas City CL then on here. Damin Radford, the owner and a well-known artist who goes by "Milarky" in New Zealand had it for sale. He had been coming to the states for extended periods and purchased this van in Portland, but had it sitting for 2 years in San Diego before being able to return last summer. https://www.stuff.co.nz/taranaki-daily- ... er-milarky

He needed to get back to New Zealand in a hurry, but the tranny had been popping up codes. We agreed on a price and I ended up flying down on a morning last September 19th and driving it back with fingers crossed. The tranny fluid was "filthy". I have since drained 3 times and using seafoam tranny cleaner and changed the filter. So far, so good after 10,000 miles. The van has 201K now and made it down to PHX a few weeks ago. However, if you look at my rear end, you will see I was on borrowed time!

No delusions here, I know the engine and tranny have miles and could blow at any time, but I am prepared for that when it happens. I am currently looking into different options for building a 4.3 with better cam, crank and maybe heads.

Yep, that was him, seemed like a really nice guy and a straight shooter! Glad it worked out for everyone and that you didn't need a transmission.

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Re: 2003 AWD Astro Build by JOR

Postby Mastertechpat » September 14th 2020, 3:45am

Just curious whats a ballpark on JOR doing the solid front axle upgrade
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Re: 2003 AWD Astro Build by JOR

Postby backinabox » September 14th 2020, 7:07am

This is a great project, I love seeing people take their vehicles to someone with knowledge and talent, it takes a lot to do that and not go to a less expensive shop or attempt it ourselves... but I am surprised you want to stay with the G80...I myself don't like that Gov-Loc design it's very weak and way too easy to break ...but that's all of my critique ...oh just one more...my personal favorite wheel for a lifted awd is the Mickey Thompson Classic III and there's the ION 171 the same style with more size and offset options and a little more affordable...good luck with it...that is going to be a sweet van
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Re: 2003 AWD Astro Build by JOR

Postby Safarimeister [OP] » September 24th 2020, 4:04am

Here is the latest update on the build by Journeys. My Astro build is pretty much complete, but still in need of new tires. It has been aligned and according to Mike at JOR it drives great. So, I can't wait to pick it up in the new week or so.

Note: That is the newest Harbor Freight 12,000 lb winch behind the bumper. Journeys sells a very hefty mounting bracket that mounts behind the factory plastic bumper and Tom Collins has engineered a very eloquent and subtle installation which hardly looks noticeable.

I am contemplating taking the Imogene Pass from Telluride to Ouray on my way home. I did it last year in a Jeep Sahara, and am hoping the Astro is every bit as capable.
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Re: 2003 AWD Astro Build by JOR

Postby backinabox » September 24th 2020, 4:57am

Damn that sits nice ! Congrats...Enjoy your new ride height :thumbup:
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Re: 2003 AWD Astro Build by JOR

Postby Safarimeister [OP] » October 31st 2020, 2:14am

I just wanted to provide an final update on my build. With Covid and other matters my return to Arizona has been delayed. However, this past week I finally was able to fly back to Arizona to pick up my van from Journey’s Off Road in Prescott.

After having picked it up, I had a chance to drive it around Scottsdale for a few days to see just how it drove compared to before. First off, I am totally digging how it looks with the new height. The extra 5 inches gives the van an entirely new perspective and look. Second, I am loving how it drives. I didn’t notice the increased height until I started to drive around and look left and right. Then, when I would pull up to a stop light and was looking down at Rubicons and Suburbans, I was amazed.

I am also really glad I had the entire front suspension rebuilt. It’s hard to imagine, just how solid and stable it feels when going down the road and then when I come to a stop at a higher speeds, it just stays straight and true.

The 4WD conversion works exactly as advertised. When shifting into to 4Hi, it requires no special skills whatsoever. However, if anyone is going to install this, you should note that when shifting into 4Lo, you want put the van in Neutral, then pull the shifter back to 4Lo. Same process when going back to 2WD.

For those interested in my mileage. I drove the van about 100 highway miles and another 100 miles around Scottsdale all in 2WD and achieved 17.7 mpg.

I have included a few more pics, including one of my van next to a total “dealer” built Jeep Gladiator Mojave with much bigger tires than factory. This is a rig the dealer takes then does a bunch of add ons. I was still looking down at it! The suburban next to my van is a 3/4 ton 4X4. I also ran into another fellow member by chance in a van he recently purchased. It was another 2003 same color with barn doors.

I left the van in Scottsdale since I plan to return in December for an extended stay. I am really looking forward to taking it off-road in the higher elevations after I install my new off-road tires.

Finally, I BIG THANKS and "Shout-Out" to Mike and Tom Collins of Journey’s Off Road for fitting me in and doing the build on my Astro the right way! The wait was well worth it to have them do the work. Thank you JOR!
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Original Poster [OP]
Safarimeister
Fueling (5/8 tank)
Fueling (5/8 tank)
Years of Membership: Safarimeister has been a member for 7 full yearsSafarimeister has been a member for 7 full yearsSafarimeister has been a member for 7 full yearsSafarimeister has been a member for 7 full yearsSafarimeister has been a member for 7 full yearsSafarimeister has been a member for 7 full yearsSafarimeister has been a member for 7 full years
Posts: 67
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Joined: August 2013
Location: Minnetonka, MN
Gender: Male
Alias (AKA): Safarimeister
Van Model Year: 2003
Van Make/Model: Chevrolet Astro
Extra Info: 4WD G80 GT4 JOR5

Re: 2003 AWD Astro Build by JOR

Postby AstroWill » October 31st 2020, 9:33pm

I really like how clean that winch mount is, hidden behind the bumper is freaking awesome!

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AstroWill
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Re: 2003 AWD Astro Build by JOR

Postby sixsix » October 31st 2020, 10:18pm

Safarimeister wrote:I just wanted to provide an final update on my build. ...
The wait was well worth it to have them do the work. Thank you JOR!


Here's to hoping you like the 'work'. All I can think of is "Pretty Pennies" ...
- for work done the way it should be - just a shame to have to pay princely sums to get good mechanical work done by a mechanic.

No worries and the wallet is a bit easier to sit on ...
- while you look for clearance on the fender and that one tree...


Nice looking, Sharp Van!!
.

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Firing on 7 Cylinders (L5)
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Re: 2003 AWD Astro Build by JOR

Postby Safarimeister [OP] » November 1st 2020, 3:59am

AstroWill wrote:I really like how clean that winch mount is, hidden behind the bumper is freaking awesome!


Thanks, me too. It was the first Harbor Freight new APEX style 12K lb winch that Journeys has installed. However, it posed no issue fitting it into their custom winch bracket, albeit, according to Tom, it was a tight fit.
Original Poster [OP]
Safarimeister
Fueling (5/8 tank)
Fueling (5/8 tank)
Years of Membership: Safarimeister has been a member for 7 full yearsSafarimeister has been a member for 7 full yearsSafarimeister has been a member for 7 full yearsSafarimeister has been a member for 7 full yearsSafarimeister has been a member for 7 full yearsSafarimeister has been a member for 7 full yearsSafarimeister has been a member for 7 full years
Posts: 67
Topics: 21
Joined: August 2013
Location: Minnetonka, MN
Gender: Male
Alias (AKA): Safarimeister
Van Model Year: 2003
Van Make/Model: Chevrolet Astro
Extra Info: 4WD G80 GT4 JOR5

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