Updated: Feb 6
Building the Optimal Weekender on a AWD Ford Transit
Why start with a AWD Transit Crew van? Safety, Price, Ease of Service, Drivability.
SAFETY- Only the Transit has full curtain air bags for rear passengers making it one of the safest vans for passengers in the market. It also has a factory DOT approved rear bench seat for 3 direct from factory. Factory DOT approved seating is the safest seating possibly as its fully crash tested. AWD allow you to transfer to slippery surfaces with out stopping giving you the most control when conditions suddenly get tricky, especially in the mountains. You do not have to stop and go in or out of AWD/4WD Mode. Often times this is not convenient when driving. The view as well out of the front driving position is superior compared to Promaster or Sprinter with greater visiblity.
PRICE-Similar build on a Sprinter for example is easily 10-15 more just for the van, It does take a bit more to build it out, but overall its less expensive to purchase and to service.
EASE of SERVICE-There just is a lot more Ford dealers out there and the Popularity of the EcoBoost engine in this van means many mechanics are familiar with the engine. The gas engine as well unlike the diesel will not have the smog issues that can potentially come up over time that can be really expensive to repair.
DRIVABLITY- No question having AWD is a big safety factory on slippery roads. The downside of the AWD Transit is it sits low to the ground, too low. In this build we address that by putting a Van Compass Suspension upgrade and BFG All Terrain Tires lifting it 3 inches and greatly improving ride handling. This is a huge upgrade allowing ease to drive in off road conditions, mud, dirt, sand, snow...can handle it all. The EcoBoost engine as well runs of gas instead of Diesel. Gas is easier to find as well this engine greatly out performs a Diesel at altitude and does not have the huge turbo lag that the diesels have.
HOW DID WE MAKE IT OPTIMAL WITHOUT GOING OVER THE TOP?
Our build philosophy when not restricted is to maximize the modifications with the most benefit for the dollar and make the van fully MODULAR by allowing flexibly seating, easy of bed removal so you can carry large cargo and use the van like a truck to optimize the utility of the van. You have a van right? Sometimes you need to use it as a van yes? This build incorporates a solid modular build foundation that maximizes functionality without going to far allowing for additional customization for a specific needs of the user. Adding fridge, sink, kitchenette, or even an outside shower can be done fairly easily as we kept the van as open and clean as possible to allow such modifications for personal needs.
WHAT DID WE DO?
We make the modular, we quiet it down and insulate and sound deaden, and we give you really good auxiliary power so you can run fridge, bike pumps, charge your computers, add water pump, and even ad an inverter if you need 110v power. You spend this kind of money and if you have a family you need many different uses out of the van. Most of our customers this is a Daily Driver so making a van like a Swiss Army Knife makes sense for the amount of money you are spending.
HOW MUCH DID IT COST?
Lets be blunt, vans are insanely expensive to build out with RV versions that are mass produced are now hitting $160-200k. This van alone is $70k with nothing done to it with the entire rear of the van sheet metal. Ordered with the right options such as the Ecoboost engine, Crew Option, Mid Roof option, safety packages, lighting, towing, and audio upgrades easily adds on top of the base price of a van. If you can even find a van and Ford canceling any orders for 2022 makes it very difficult and 2023 prices up 10-15%. Lets start with the van 70k+, top as equipped 28k+, 3k just to transport it to get the top done in Colorado not to mention carrying costs, insurances, taxes, $100k and nothing has been built inside of the van yet. Add build costs in parts and 150-200+ build hours (pro speed) its easy to see how quickly a build like this as simple as it seems ads up quickly taking no shortcuts in parts and materials. Add in lead time to just get the van and get on schedule for the Pop Top 8 months or more pre-booking and paying to get on the list to get the van (which will not show up on time) and schedule for top install costs add up and it can take 12+ months or longer to get a van built. Along with this, transporting the van thousands of miles for top install is another additional challenge to get the van completed. Building one starting today would easily take over 12 months and cost 140k + to get it done in even a best case. There are reasons vans like this can easily be close to 175k+ when done properly by a professional builder if not more. Even if you DIY this van, you still are in it at least 110-120k in the van/top/parts/specialty tools (if you know what to order 1st time around) and easily 500+ hours of labor, parts,research assuming you get it right the 1st time.
POP TOP-THE GAME CHANGER
This is what truly separates this van from all others. It allows you to actually sleep 4-5 Full Size People in this van WITH gear. In a van under 20 feet, there is not a way you can do this comfortably without usually doing major gear shifts to clear sleeping space or getting super frustrated trying to just get to you gear to just change clothes. Its a very expensive investment but it makes this van so that you will never outgrow it. The Pop Top is fully insulated, has a fan for ventilation, huge windows, screens, and insulated black out shades. It actually is as much sleeping space as below. Truly next level. Think of it as the difference between a studio apartment and a one bedroom for two people. The only reason really for the the most part don't do this is time and costs. Its a lot of work to get this done. Check out more in our blog section on Pop Tops. They are a must have especially if you are sleeping 3 or more or have a huge amount of gear that takes up the entire bottom of van. If you have a family you will never grow out of this van.
Just truly massive. You can actually sit up in this top! All fully automatic with replaceable bug screens if they become damaged.
INSULATION AND SOUND DEADENING
This is by far the area that most skimp on but in my opinion makes the a huge difference in enjoying the van on those long trip. First and foremost its quieter, cooler in the summer, and warmer in the winter. We just didn't slap on a few sound deadening strips and throw some wool insulation or (worse) some stuff from home depot. We used the highest quality sound deadening matt (DynaMatt Extreme) and used automotive specific insulation (3M Thinsulate) that not only insulates well (similar stuff is used in Patagonia jackets) but also has acoustic absorbing properties. (Our Blog on this goes into more detail) Not only do we use superior materials but we put it everywhere meticulously where it makes sense and we can. This painstaking process requires the entire van to be taken apart. We put in in ALL of the doors, walls, headliner, and in this van the floor as well. You see builds where they did this but took short cuts like not doiong the front doors or put patches of sound deadener. ITS A HUGE DIFFERENCE.
Dynamat is the black stuff you see on the wall. There is NO asphalt product. A lot of product say they are butyl when in fact they still have asphalt in the product, you can SMELL it! Dynamat Extreme is a superior product to any of the "cheap" brands out there. You pay for what you get. The entire inside of the van is actually taken apart to do this properly.
This van the floor was done as well
Closed cell foam on floor insulation, this has to be used because we had to keep the floor height down. This does as well have sound absorbing properties
3M Thinsulate Insulation used in all the walls, doors, and roof. Its not cheap but its a superior product. We make sure we stuff it in all the openings we can get to as well, not just cutting a few strips and putting them in.
The Transit Crew is a strange van, in the cargo area there is no floor, headliner, or upper rear panels. In addition, when we take the stock panels off sides we have to build new ones to replace those as they don't work very well with the mods we have to do. So basically the entire van has to be paneled out except for the doors and upper headliner.
3 seater and stock headliner, notice in back how its all bare metal.
Here we have preliminary finished panels as well as electrical wires have been ran. 9 different panels have to be made as well as the two floor panels. We bring up the rear floor to match the front floor that is raised 1.5 inches so it levels out to front floor.
The modular bed is made at a height that gives you clearance for upper bag storage as well at a height that is easy to get into. Its very large, 6' 1" wide x 71". You as well could add a rear panel in back where we have space for gear and fit someone up to 6 4". Of course the upper Pop top can sleep someone up to 6' 6" easily. The two panels remove quickly so you can "gut" the rear out to take larger cargo or to carry bikes. We can't on a mid roof make the bed high enough (~36-38") to clear bikes and still have it as an open area. You would not be able to "sit up" and relax and use the rear bed as a lounge area practically in this Mid Roof Height van. You gain a ton of storage below the bed, so when you do go to sleep for 4 people nothing needs to be moved out of the way for you to go to sleep or lounge. The bed as well is at a height you can comfortably sit on to dress as well as it clears all of the fridge/freezers out there as well. The rear cubbie has extra storage and houses the Lithium Heated Battery system.
Bed panels removed; takes about 30 seconds
We put a gap in towards the rear not only to give access to rear door handle but as well as provide a space for Ski's, Snowboards, fly rods...or tall items you want to have vertical.
We wanted to add a little cosmetic hit while at the same time keep it totally functional as we always focus on on functionality first. Interwoven vinyl flooring was used over the stock front floor as well as the rear floor we built. Super a durable, easy to clean, hides all kinds of dirt and mess as well ads a layer of sound deadening. Unlike other flooring it handles heat/cold well and does not expand/contract nearly as much.
UPPER REMOVABLE STORAGE
You can never have enough storage to keep you organized. These Van Wife bags remove instantly and are semi rigid and have carrying straps. We can fit 4 large ones up top to help organize gear. You could even put some of these below the bed with additional L track cargo D ring mounts. They are not in front as that is where the Air Bags are for rear passengers.
We opted to swap out the large 3 bench seat with a OEM Transit reclining 2 bench quick release seat. This allows for more room to dress, for gear, or a small cabinet. We still kept the original mounting rail for the original 3 bench seat so it can be swapped out as desired.
Everyone wants a dinette, however when you put one in back...where to you put your gear when you want to use it? All if your stuff is in the back. We have a great solution we put it in the front so you don't have to move a single thing by by building a custom bracket to hold a Lagun table mount and adding swivel seats you have an instant seating/eating area. Unlike a pedestal mount you can swing this table away to get out and there is no hole in your floor to trip over. This can as well be done with the 3 seater.
TIRES AND SUSPENSION
Everyone knows the Transit sits low...if you did not know you know now. We lifted it 1.5 inches, the maximum before you affect the front CV Joints (did not know that either huh?) and added +1 size BFG All Terrain tires that will make this van go anywhere very easily over stock. This also greatly improves the poor departure angle in the rear especially with the factory tow hitch we have. This gets the height of the van very similar to a stock 4WD Sprinter, a very practical height. We did not use a cheap kit with spacers in the front but swapped the coil springs for an improved ride, switch out the rear shocks, and changed out the rear shocks with gas charged Fox Shock. We also relocated the rear shock mount that sits stupid low so you don't take that out on a rock as well.
Rear shock, new bump stop, and lift block for rear
BFG Tires compared to stock.. We did not go to the "largest size" that would fit, we stayed to a size that allows for greater clearance in wheel wells (important for snow/mud/dirt), required NO cutting, and was a very common size to source in case you had to get replacements. Bigger is not always better for practicality use. You can see you gain a very significant foot printer never the less over stock.
We insulated and sound deaden the entire van so we will take advantage of that to make a 4 season camper. We added a Espar M2-B4L gas heater. Its costs more, but includes high altitude adjustment sensor and has a crazy 1800 BTU output rating. To have this run correctly at high altitude you cannot use a factory fuel pick up tube so a new one has to be added into the fuel tank. Of course this was done to make this install run correctly. Gas heaters (vs diesel) get really finicky at altitude. The Pop Top gets warm as well, but since its above it can be 6-8 degrees cooler than the bottom. This heater with the insulation enable the van to easily get into the 80's on a snowy day. Heater allow you to dry up as well in cold conditions when wet.
AUXILIARY POWER BANK, SOLAR, and Electrical
One of the most overlooked areas in a build as it can be the most intimidating in a build. We did not skimp on this area or take a short cut by using a pre-configured power bank like a Goal Zero for many reasons. Why? Those have poor voltage regulation that can affect the heater operation and you can't replace the battery or service it yourself easily and have limitations. They work great for a DIYer, but we want a robust system that is specific for a van, easily serviceable, would charge off solar AND the alternator. The 200 ah HEATED Lithium battery system with 200w of solar is way more than enough power to operate a fridge, fan, laptops, phones, heater for days even without charging. With solar 24/7 days a week no problem. We used a heated battery so you still can charge in cold temps as well so if you are skiing your solar panels are still charging the system. All of this is monitored by a Victron battery isolator and battery monitor via blue tooth app. There is no inverter for 110v on this system but can easily added. You don't need this to charge or run fridge, kitchenette, sink, computer, or phones.
An awning must be installed when the Pop Top goes on with custom made brackets this is nice to have on those sunny or raining days extending the living area or giving you a place to cook when raining outside. We use a non powered Fiamma - best awning in our opinion in the business. As always be cautious when using with windy conditions and stake it down. They can be like a big sail.
This wasn't put on for looks. :) Sure it cool, but we wanted a truly right sized full size spare and when you go larger than stock you can't fit it under the van An advantage of this is that it does free up space under the van for a water tank or other mods in that area if needed. Also helps in cleaning the top off which is why we did not just do a tire carrier.
Another area a lot of builds skimp on in fact some don't even put any ventilated windows their completed vans! We put 4 to get maximum use of not only the an but also if you have a nice breeze. Two in the front (slider door opposite slider door) We used AMA windows in front , they have nice big openings for both the screen and the window and extra large CRL slider windows in the back so you actually have a view to the outside! Popular small pill windows are nice but you get no view. If you are like me and camping in nice places, a view is nice!
We got like 200 hours and 8 month build time from ordering the van to completion into this build even thought it looks simple we did all of the significant foundation work for a very usable van. A fridge or sink goes into into it plug and play and add a porta-potty and you have a fully self contained van. We stopped with this foundation so that further customization can be done to fit particular individual needs. Fully optioned out when when ordered - 360 degree camera, blind spot, safety package, ecoboost engine, LED lighting, cruise control, towing package, upgraded audio, sat radio, navigation...all the right stuff very well equipped. Its truly is the ultimate weekender base build for a Transit with the focus to keep it simple and practical.
We built 2 of these and sold one of them right away as well as our demo Sprinter. Took this van on a 3k mile trip to Tofino BC - worked great. We will be selling this van late 2022 or 2023 once we get another Sprinter to build for the shop van. In the meantime will be adding on a water tank hopefully soon for outdoor showers at the beach.
One of the last things to make this build extra deluxe. Having on board water can be really nice! A 20 gallon outside water tank was installed. This can't fit on the passenger side due to the step so we put it on the drivers side next to the gas tank. It's bolt in (kinda) had to add an outlet for the vent and you need to use riv-nuts for mounting the tank. Then run lines to your water in/out and power with a switch. A good DIY project that will take you a full weekend and and a large riv-nut tool as well as a way to add that vent line/hole (we had to buy a pretty expensive tool to do this right) that will work with the larger inserts. You could run the water line through a hot water heater if you wanted to add hot water. (check out that thread in our blog) This system a shower hose quick connects to the in/out connections on the custom mounting plate.