Thursday, August 25, 2011

Cutting Corners.. revisited

instead of adding these comments as edits to the original post, I decided to just start a new post.

I was given a full refund on the original door that I ordered and (bonus!) got to keep the door! so if anyone with a later model Astro/Safari wants a chrome fuel door cover, make me an offer! lol

Now, the other one I found at that looked correct, wasn't.... this is the pic they showed,
but the one I received was just like the other one, with the corner cut off.  urrrg.... So I have sent them an email explaining that what they sold me isn't the same as what they were advertising and that I want a full refund, including the shipping... so again.. we wait.  seeing as there as no "contact us" info on their website, and the paypal address was an AOL address... I'm guessing I won't be hearing back from them.  I'll give them till the end of the business day Friday before filing a claim with paypal.

Wednesday, August 24, 2011


The rubber "boot" that covers the bottom of my shifter in the van has been in rough shape for a while.. dry rot set in ages ago.
Last week on a whim I decided to see if they actually sold replacement boots for it, and imagine that, they do!

so I ordered one from Amazon (love that site) and it arrived today, and I installed it.  Most people probably wouldn't even notice the difference, but I do, and that's all that matters.

Sunday, August 21, 2011

As the Music fades....

the current head unit on my van stereo a Kenwood Excelon Z828, has been in service for 9 years and has been a kick ass stereo.  It has some issues that have developed over time due to age and wear, the latch that holds the detachable face plate in place is broken, and you have to jury rig it every time, and every now and again the face plate fails to work.. won't display anything, can't turn it on, etc.. usually re-seating it fixes it.
it hasn't done this to me in a while, but decided to start acting up again this week.  Minor annoyance, but something I want to get resolved.  I really don't want to have to buy a new head unit, this one does everything I need and I like it (that and I finally broke down and bought the direct Ipod control unit for it).
I'm hoping this one keeps working through the winter to give me time to save up some money.

I'm currently considering a Kenwood Excelon KDC-X995 (yes, I like Kenwood Excelon units!)
it's a good price, has all the features I want, and looks nice.. and maybe by spring time it will have an even better price!

EDIT... I tore the dash apart this afernoon... had a bad ground wire on the stereo. soldered it back together and it all works...

imagine that.. lol

Friday, August 19, 2011

cutting corners....

I see trucks all the time with the chrome fuel door covers, and always thought that would look kinda cool on my van.  I haven't seen a lot of Astros with them.  
The other day I was poking around on eBay for random van stuff, and to my surprise, there is a chrome fuel door listed, and the info says it will fit my van, great!  I buy it.

Today, my shiny new piece of van bling shows up, and I notice something as soon as I open it... it isn't for my year van.  it is for the 95 up models.  From 85-94, the fuel door was released via a cable by your feet in the van.  Over time GMC discovered these cables break, and you can't get the fuel door open, so they cut the corner off and removed the cable so you just had to flip it open by hand.  If you look in this picture, you can see that the corner is cut, but still see my fuel door under it... minor detail to some people, but I'm a little OCD about things like that, and that is enough of a detail to bug me... so I probably won't be using this piece of bling on the van.

The people that sold it had no idea there was any difference in the fuel doors, and said no one has ever said anything to them.  They asked me for pics.. hopefully they can come up with the correct one, or refund me.
I'll keep you posted!

EDIT 1 - still waiting for them to figure out what they are doing, but in the mean time I found one that was the correct shape in the picture, ordered it, hope it is correct!
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What's in a name?

Many vanners name their vans... mine has gone through a couple.

When I first bought it, my first vanity plate for it was KAOTIC.. I had a thing for chaos and thought the van was perfect for that.  I had mulled over several names, never coming up with one I really liked.. I almost went with "Dark Passions".. (you can actually still see where I had written that on the paint on the rear window) -but that plan ended up on the back burner when a strange turn events gave the van it's own name.

At one point, many moons ago, I was a step-dad, and one day at a fair, I won this little alien doll in a black robe, which ended up riding shotgun in the van.  So along comes the next show, and I leave the doll on the seat.
The next thing I know, I start finding more alien stuff in the van, or being given to me... and combined with the comments I heard about my van looking like a spaceship when all my lights were on.. AREA 51 became the name/theme.  That plate was already taken, so I went with UFOVAN. I ran with that plate and theme for several years.
now comes the monkey wrench in my vannin life... I got laid off.
When this happened I moved to Maine, and got the plate VANNIN, and then the van sat for a year.
Over the next several years, I wasn't able to attend many events, and was basically concerned with just keeping the van running. I ended up removing a lot of my lights, as I couldn't afford to replace them all, the van became "a van" again... and it wasn't seen a whole lot... becoming the ghost of what it was.  As time went on and I wasn't showing it, I decided to retire the whole alien theme.  The past couple of years I have settled on calling it "the Grey Ghost", as it has been in primer since 1996.
I figure until I paint it, this will be it's name, and I think it is a fitting name.

Once I paint it.. I'll have to give the van time to name itself again.

Who knows.. maybe I will paint it grey?

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

where were you when the lights went out?

so.. this van has been the best vehicle I have ever owned.. only had to have it towed home once, and that was due to a short and running out of fuses before I figured out the problem!

well, on the way home from the van nats this summer I was bragging about just how great it has been to me.
I should have kept my mouth shut.
after driving 1800 miles round trip, I'm 20 miles from home, it's 10:30 at night... and I suddenly realize I have no dash/tail lights...

GREAT!  I can't figure out what is going on, I have been driving for 14 hours, I'm tired.. I want to go home.
I run with it.. I ride the brakes enough to trigger the brake lights and just keep going.
it worked, because the state trooper that past me shortly thereafter didn't bat an eye.

The next day, after a good nights sleep, I go look, blown fuse. easy enough, I replace it, everything works.
job well done.

A week later, I drive it to a friends house, and when I leave, (after dark) I get a mile away and POP! fuse goes.
and every fuse I tried immediately popped as well. so.. again with the brake lights for the 13 miles home.

the next day I start tearing into the wiring, and am able to trace the short to the back of the van, and then it stops blowing the fuse.  I figure it must have been something lose, and all the jiggling of wires resolved it... as I wasn't able to get it to short again after that.  I drove the van for a week with no shorts (talking about the wiring, I was wearing shorts you perv).. I'm thinking I'm all set and start putting things back together.

3 days before I am supposed to drive to Connecticut, the fuse starts popping again. Thankfully I had a slow day at work and was able to really tear into the wiring, and was finally able to trace the short to its cause.
when I had the plate box removed from the rear door, they just left the wire for the plate light hanging in the door, and after 15(?) years it finally chafed through and was shorting... got rid of that entire run or wire and presto! no more shorting out.

since I had torn the wiring apart so much, I figured this was a good time to do a little clean up and change a few things around.  I added a dedicated accessory fuse box to the rear batteries, and started moving all the toys in the van from the main battery to that. Stereo, lights, etc.  I also cleaned up all the wiring in around the rear doors that was such a disaster for years and got it all put in a loom and wire tied and secured.  I'm actually not embarrassed to have the rear doors open any more!

this past weekend I ran lights and fans all weekend and had no issues with power, and the starting battery was 100% the entire time.

I still have a lot of wiring cleanup to do.. next part will be the wiring in the overhead console... then under the dash.. and then under the hood.. but as do these in this order, it will make each next step a little easier.

something old, something new...

While I was at the nats, I acquired a new hood!  so the old hood with the scoop on it has been retired to the parts bin in the basement, and the van is now sporting a new (old) louvered hood.. took me a little to get used it after having the hood scoop for 10plus years....

and this past weekend, at Super Somer in CT, I picked up a chrome stealth grill.  These pics don't do it justice.. it was quite the change after the van having the original grill for 21 years... but the more I look at this, the more I like it!

I also picked up a set of dutch doors to replace the barn doors on the back.. I need a bit more hardware before tackling this project.

I have been trying to find a solid, no window slider to complete my gull wing with, and finally found one.. but it is a 20 hour round trip to get... trying to work out the logistics of meeting it's current curator at a van run somewhere, or getting someone else to vanner express it for me.

there will be some major changes going on over the next year if I can get these new parts all installed!  I can't wait!
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switching things up

so.. I decided I didn't like having the solenoid for the batteries on the ignition switch...
it allows the batteries to connect before the system starts charging, and if I had drained the rear batteries running the stereo, they would equalize with the front battery and kill it before I got started!

so I created a special switch to take care of it.

my only complaint so far... the green light is way too friggin bright at night!  small piece of electrical tape takes care of that for now, and I want to add an amber light that comes on when the engine is on, but the switch isn't, and will go out when you enable the solenoid, just as a reminder to turn the system on.

2011 - new ambition...

So.. after a few years of just keeping the van running, I decided it was time to start upgrading again.

I needed new batteries, so I replaced the optima under the hood with a new one, but then replaced the single optima that was under the bed with 2 Exide Orbitals.

I also installed a solenoid to keep the front and rear batteries isolated when the van isn't running. Posted by Picasa

the story thus far.....

I bought this van in December of 1994, my car had just died and this was available for a great price for the shape it was in. It was a 1990, had been my dad's company vehicle since new, power everything, factory mirror tint on the windows (slider and rear), cloth bucket seats, alarm, AC, no rust, and no body damage. It also had one of those utility packages, ya know, shelves and a metal wall behind the seats and all. It had 119,000 miles on it but it didn't leak anywhere, wasn't burning any oil, and ran beautiful.

My first plan for it was to haul my motorcycle and use as a van. I didn't know anything about the van movement at the time.
A friend of mine, Bryce Phillips, who had a cool van told me about some people he had met and talked me into going to Ice Hole Madness I, where I met the people who would later become Rock Pile Vanz%.
Since I have owned the van, I have worked on it a lot, I love modifying it and going cruising and such. It hasn't been on the road during winter for several years, and hopefully will never see another winter. I'm saving for paint now, more money than I can currently afford, so I continue to play around with more body mods and lights and other toys.

Previous work history....

Newest Entries are on the top

  • 2010 - after several years of performance issues, I finally figured out the problem and replaced the fuel pump, runs like a new van again!
  • July 27, 2009 - Replaced the cat's eye lights on the rollpan with LED versions..
  • July - 2009 - have started researching LED replacements for a lot of my lights and putting my light show back in working order.
  • May - 2009 - Time for a new Exhaust, the hooker Maxi-flow I installed so many years ago finally rusted out, and the tailpipes were getting thin. I switched to an Areoflow muffler, has a much better note to it, little louder, nice sound going down the road.
  • April - 2008 - Had to replace the radiator, can't complain too much, it lasted almost 20 years
  • April - 2007 I bought a 200amp alternator, replaced both the Optima Yellow tops (they were way overdue) and bought a 240 Stinger battery isolator. I'm trying to figure out the best place to mount this beast.. it is HUGE!. looking at either underneath, tucked up by a frame rail, or under the hood on top of the radiator shroud... I also got about 25 feet of 1/0 guage cable and am going to replace all the 4 guage that I have been using.
  • 2006 - slow summer.. I sanded it all down and primer-bombed it again, then it has major issues with the power steering and was in and out of the garage repeatedly till it ended up with all the hoses replaced and a new pump installed.
  • May - 2005 - I pulled the van out of the garage to wash the crud off of it and clean it up after sitting outdoors all winter and started noticing lots of little things that needed work, so what started out as a bath has ended up being a bunch of minor body work and other odd ball things. Once I get it re-primered, I'm going to borrow an air compressor and paint gun and my neighbor is going to help me paint it. This is only going to be a temp paint job till I can afford to have the bodywork done right at a a shop, so I am just going to do something simple for now... still debating on the color right now.
  • April - 2005 - I just moved into a new place that actually has a big enough garage for me to park the van in and be able to work on it... so after sitting outside for the past 2 winters, I am taking care of some much needed TLC. The very first thing I had to do to even get IN the garage was remove the Venturi vent that has been on it for so many years. I borrowed a saws-all from a friend and enlarged the hole where the vent was and installed a sunroof that I have been wanting to install for ages, now the van clears the low door and is inside :-)
    I have started stripping everything off of it and fixing bubbles in the fiberglass, sanding spots where I had some surface rust showing, and just doing a lot of minor body work. unfortunately at this time, I still can't afford to pain it, so it is still going to be prime grey... I should just wet sand the primer and clear coat it! ;-)

    I have a lot of little things that I need to do, and am just glad I finally have a place to work on it where I don't have to make sure I have it all back together by the end of the day!
  • 03/30/2004 - I took the van out for its first road trip since parking it for the winter. I installed a new temp sending unit, new MAP sensor, cap & rotor and some Morroso blue max 8mm plug wires. She starts and runs a lot better now, and ran awesome driving it to Rhode Island and back (200 miles of highway each way). I'm hoping for good weather this weekend so I can start cleaning it and doing some other work to it. She sat all last winter and summer, with only one trip last year, and then again all winter, so it is time to start paying some attention to her :-)
  • 10/05/2003 - After a long stretch of NOTHING... due to financial problems, getting laid off (ergo the financial issues) etc, I finally did something new.. I changed the headlights to the APC crystal clear lenses, that use the H3 bulbs... (pictures coming soon) man do they look sharp :-). Just a hint for anyone else who wants to install these, the headlight buckets aren't deep enough, I had to cut the hole an extra inch bigger all the way around. The van has been parked for a year and needs a LOT of cleaning and TLC, first thing I did was give it an oil change (Amsoil of course) and lube the chasis. I need to do plug wires, cap & rotor, clean the air filter and some other things, but that is going to be put off till spring. I'm only driving it for the next month before it goes back into storage for the winter. at 1/4 million miles, she still cranks easy and fires up nice and smooth (original engine and tranny, no re-builds) god I love this van :-)
  • 4/20/2002 - Installed new head unit, Kenwood Excelon Z828
    I also added 12" red neon tubes in the wheel wells.
  • 6/20/2001 - removed the plate speakers from the doors and installed MBQuart 6x9s
  • 5/26/2001 - installed captains chairs with swivel bases
  • 5/24/2001 - installed Edelbrock TES headers
  • 4/10/2001 - installed the B&M upshift valve that allows cruising in 4th gear at more than 3/4 throttle, also changed the fluid and filter while I was at it. Installed MSD 6A ignition box and MSD blaster coil (replaced my Accell)
  • 4/09/2001 - I changed the tail lights on the roll pan, found some nice looking oval ones. also did a lot of tune up oriented stuff, oil (Amsoil HP 10xW40) and filter, fuel filter and oxygen sensor.
  • 4/07/2001 - got the van out of storage today, needs a lot of cleaning and such, but had some work done to it over the winter. I left the van with Hank at Custom Fiberglass in CT over the winter and had him make and intall custom fender flares, shaved the rear door and frenced the plate in the roll pan, new visor and a wiper cowling, and I also installed Euro tail lights. To open the rear door, I took the linkage from the old handle and cut it, and flipped it around so it points up, I drilled a hole in the door and put the linkage through that, and put a push button on it like an old car door lock. Just press the button, door is open, you just leave the window open so you can to it from the outside ;-)

  • 7/27/2000 - Installed a second Optima in the van, used an isoloator but it died after about 15 minutes so they are wired in parrallel at the momment.
  • 7/15/2000 - I won 4 trophies at the 28th Van-Natz. 2nd place sound off, 2nd place early Chevy mini street van, 2nd place mini van intereior light show and 1st place mini van exterior light show.
  • 6/29/2000 - Installed a new siren underneath the van and a "wolf whistle" under the hood.
  • 6/25/2000 - I won 1st place for mini-vans at "Woodstock" by CMVA, and Best Overall light show!
  • 6/20/2000 - Installed green neon lights under the seats and tied them into a "music box".
  • 6/13/2000 - Installed a Steel Horse "Shelf-it" kit, got rid of the visor's completely, added some surface mount aircraft style lights on either end of it.
  • 6/12/2000 - Finally got rid of the vacuum operated air compressor (does that sound like an oxymoron or what?) and replaced it with a Hadley 150psi electric compressor. It also has a 20' hose for filling up the tires.
  • 6/09/2000 - I installed a FastChip Stage 2 computer chip. Acceleration is better, throttle response is better, idle is smoother and highway driving is nice. I'm happy with it.
  • 5/29/2000 - I won 1st place for mini-vans at Lost Memorial Day Weekend in NY, and to my total surprise, 2nd place for exterior light show!
  • 4/14/2000 - Installed 2 1 farad lightning caps for the stereo.
  • 4/12/2000 - Upgraded my battery to a Optima yellow top.
  • 3/25/2000 - Improved my door panels, no more tan.
  • 3/22/2000 - Installed a B&M megashifter.
  • 3/09/2000 - Finished dash trim.... now all black instead of tan.
  • 3/4/2000 - Got her out of storage, installed a new starter. Started working on converting remainder of trim inside from tan to black. Replaced OEM air cleaner housing with a chrome one.
  • 2/24/2000 - Installed "clear corners" on the front and also installed a "lumi-logo", light up chevy emblem
  • 2/20/2000 - Modified the instrument cluster.
  • 1/1/2000 - I couldn't resist, I took her out for a spin today! Roads were dry and basically clean.

  • 12/26/99 - Installed Grant GT challenger series dual plane steering wheel.
  • 12/01/99 -Parked it for the winter :-( But this year it is in my own garage. Not enough room to work on the outside of it much, but I can get inside and work on it.
  • 10/08/99 - Upgraded the sub finally, I have two 10" JL W0s in a sealed box and two 10" JL W3s in a ported box. My mirrors are definitely shaking ;-)
  • 10/03/99 - Added some speakers to the front doors. I now have 4 6x9s in the back, 2 6.5s in the dash and 2 4x6 component speakers in the front doors.
  • 9/29/99 - Finally installed some lights I had bought at the natz.... little blue trim lights. Added them around the doors inside the cab.
  • 9/25/99 - Installed EMT style strobes in the turn signals.
  • 9/05/99 - I won a 1st place "trophy" for Chevy Minis at Fall Out. (I was the only one.... hehehe)
  • 8/13/99 - Bought another set of MB Quart 6x9s for the back of the van.
  • 8/07/99 - I won a 2nd place trophy for Minis at Boogie Bash.
  • 7/31/99 - Finally took the time to paint my visor and air damn, actually primer instead of the plastic color they were out of the box. Looks better. I have also been working on the interior, finally have most of it done. Lots of black carpet. Really starting to come together. I am hoping to be able to use my webcam sometime soon to get some inside photos of the van. Stay tuned!
  • 7/23/99 - Bought and installed a fiberglass hood scoop from Hank at Custom Fiberglass
  • 7/22/99 - Had the Colonel do some more etching for me... something on each of the door windows on the front.
  • 7/08/99 - Replaced my amps... bought a PPI PC4800 and a PPI PC1800, they look and sound sweet. Just need a new sub now.
  • 6/27/99 - I won a 2nd place trophy for the "under construction" class at the Phuckrwee run.
  • 6/23/99 - I spent a little money on some stereo equipment... I figured it was time for an upgrade ;-)

    I installed a Kenwood Excelon PS-909 in dash CD Receiver, replaced my front and rear speakers with MB Quartz, and upgraded my crossover from a Coustic XM3 to a XM5e. You really can hear the difference :-) I also got my 10 disc changer repaired and it is basically brand new on the inside.

    My old Kenwood deck (KRC 860) and the changer (KCD 601) are for sale. I want to get the new Kenwood Excelon CD changer.
  • 5/30/99 - Had some glass etching done.... click to see. Also won my 2nd trophy at Lost Memorial Day Weekend in NY. (second place, minis)
  • 4/30/99 - I installed new shocks all way around, Gabriel Sport Riders.
  • 4/10/99 - Took off the west coast mirrors and installed the same style as are on full size Chevy vans. Also did some minor body work here and there on it.
  • 4/09/99 - Got rid of the fiberglass leaf springs and had steel ones installed, also added a rear anti-sway bar. Handles SOooo much better now.
  • 4/03/99 - Bought and installed some more lights for the light show, mostly strobes.
  • 3/27/99 - Got it out of storage and put new tires on it. BF Goodrich Radial T/A's. 245/60R15 on the front and 275/60R15 on the back. I also installed the new amp, sounds good now =)
  • 3/99 - I bought a new amp, Rockford Fosgate Punch 600a4. Now I finally have a little power ;-) I have also been making calls on prices for things when I get it out of storage. I need to rebuild the rear suspension.
  • 2/99 - I bought some kewl lights from Spencer's for it, I got 2 of those round lightning disks (green). Can't wait to install them.
  • 12/98 - Put it away for the winter.
  • 10/98 - Had to buy a new battery.
  • 6/06/98 - Replaced the handle on the sunroof with a new one. Doesn't leak any more :-)
  • 5/30/98 - Had a sunroof for over 2 years and finally got around to installing it.
    It leaks. Not from the installation, but from where the glass seals... the handle is broke so it doesn't shut tight enough. Couldn't find anyone who deals in VELM sunroofs around here, finally found a place in Ohio. Now I have to wait for it to be shipped.
  • 5/23/98 - I removed most of the interior (bed and front/rear walls). I left the panelling on the walls to cover the insulation as I start a complete re-wire of the whole thing. Also came up with a theme finally, "AREA 51". I have been carrying an Alien Doll that I won at a fair around in it for the past year and was even setting the doll up on the seat in shows. So I figure I'll go with it. I bought some more stuff to add to the theme and hope to have some pics up soon. I'm going to retire the KAOTIC plate this year and try and get AREA51 or something UFO/Alien related for a plate.
  • 4/98 -I had to replace the clutch on the cooling fan.
  • 8/97 - Added air damn, new fog lights followed shortly. Removed the Hellas
  • 6/97 - Had a sub made using two JL 10's
  • 10/96 - Added a Deflect-a-Sheild lighted visor.
  • 9/96 - Added purple and turquois neon on under side. I now have green all the way around tied into the stereo on one switch, and the other has the purple and turquoise tied in together. Purple on the front and rear, and the turquoise on the sides. I also added another turquoise in the air intake between the grill and the bumper. I also have various lights inside.
  • 8/96 - Had roll pan made/welded in.
  • 7/96 - Removed rear Bumper, added first set of neon (green) and installed dual exhaust.
  • 6/96 - Bought new rims. 15x8 AR-23's.
  • 4/96 - Primered the whole van.
  • 4/96 - Installed B&M Stage 2 Shift Kit
  • 3/96 - Bought a PPI Amp and 2 Kicker D-50 speakers for the back of the van.
  • 2/96 - Installed Air Horns, Venturi Vent and bought new tires, (245/60R15 RWL) Tires went on a set of white wagon wheels that Bryce gave me.
  • 10/95 - Bought a box of stereo stuff from a friend, Got a Sub out of the deal and a few other goodies.
  • 8/95 - Slider mechanism disintegrated, (there is a good story behind this, buy me a beer and I'll tell it to you...) hinged the slider for gull wing conversion. Tried several struts to hold it open, finally found some but the brackets weren't strong enough. Need to do some creative welding one of these days.
  • 7/95 - Removed the contractor interior and put in my own floor and carpeting. Also began work on bed.
  • 5/95 - Installed Hella fog lamps on bumper.
  • 4/95 - Installed cab lights.
  • 3/95 - Installed Kenwood Stereo and Alpine Speakers in dash.
  • 1/95 - Added a cheap cassette deck. Installed Accell Coil, Bosch Plugs and Amsoil HP Air filter. Also converted whole van to Amsoil (oil, tranny and rear-end)
  • 12/94 - Bought the Van


I have been maintaining a history of the work on my van for many years... not really a true blog, but it worked.

I decided it's time to catch up with the times and create a true blog dedicated to my van.

so... let's begin.. again....