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Thread: 1998 G20 Van/Toy Hauler/Camping/Storm Chasing/etc. super-vehicle

  1. #1
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    1998 G20 Van/Toy Hauler/Camping/Storm Chasing/etc. super-vehicle

    I just found this part of the forum and so will settle in here to post updates on my project listed elsewhere. As I take new pics, I will also post them here.

    In the meantime, let's recap what I have done so far. This vehicle is to serve as kind of an all-purpose utility for a variety of things I enjoy doing. As such, my additions and alterations will continually change to reflect how I can see myself using the van at various times. It has been and will continue to be equipped to do just about anything I can dream of doing in a vehicle. That means as I gain an interest in a new pursuit which requires transportation or technology once I get to where I am going, then the van will most likely receive a modification.





    Here is where I currently am:

    1. Toy Hauler/mobile garage

    Directly behind the driver and front passenger seats has been gutted all the way to the back cargo doors. I left one metal storage unit in place. There is a thick rubber mat with about an inch of insulation below it covering the entire cargo area floor. Mounted just behind the center console cabinet is an electric winch with a wired remote control. Using the winch and an foldable ramp, I can self-load any motorcycle or similar vehicle up to about 1000 pounds. The cargo area is big enough to hold an estimated maximum of 4 dirtbikes or 2 sport bikes. Helmets and riding gear are stored in the metal cabinet or hang on the outside of it. All tools and related battery chargers along with extra parts, fluids, and adjustment equipment are also kept in the cabinet.





    2. Camping vehicle

    All the camping gear I own is stored in the metal cabinet as well. There is still room left for supplies, food, additional gear as needed. I also installed an external power outlet to plug into at campsites or other locations where electricity is available. Then is simply becomes a matter of unplugging my power strip from the 400 watt power inverter and plugging it into a side side socket internally.




    3. Vanputerization

    The computer is a Dell Optiplex GX270, Celeron 2Ghz, 1 GB of RAM, with 3 hard drives: 2 at 40 GB each, and 1 at 60 GB. Elsewhere on this forum I listed their sizes incorrectly because I didn't the computer online at that time.

    The computer is mounted next to the winch and bolted to the front metal cabinet. The rubber mat and insulation absorb a lot of the shock one would expect from driving and the placement allows me to make changes relatively easily. It has an onboard CD-RW/DVD, 802.11g WiFi, Gigabit ethernet, stock video and sound. The monitor is a 15" touch panel LCD, mounted at the front of the metal cabinet directly in front of the dash. It can swivel to face either seat and angles up or down quite well. I am currently using the stock keyboard and optical mouse on the rest of the surface area of the center metal cabinet.



    Mounted on top of the van directly over the computer is a Hawking WiFi antenna. The metal of the van is quite prohibitive of WiFi signals from inside and so I had to go exterior.



    In the back of the van, facing internally is a webcam to keep an eye on the secured bike or bikes. This can give me immediate feedback on whether an adjustment needs to be made on rough roads.







    Planned work in the coming weekends:

    Since much of time and energy thus far has been spent customizing the van to do as I ask it to, the groundwork is now laid for many of the future modifications I wish to make. One in particular was suggested to me tonight and I have already placed a bid on eBay to accomplish it. Details further below:


    1. Increase vanputer integration

    Since my vehicle is OBD2 compliant, the next step will be to find an appropriate scanner to interface with the computer. Additionally, I want to utilize some sort of biometrics for access control to the vehicle and computer functions. I have a Magtek card scanner which holds promise of accomplishing that, but I need to work out how to make it control vehicle ignition and so on.

    2. Audio systems

    I am not the audiophile others on this forum are. Yet, I do want the option of playing my 11,000+ mp3 files. This means I need to relace the stock stereo and speakers with an upgraded system. It doesn't have to thump, but only sound good to me as I drive to parts unknown. Running the computer and my XM radio through it then becomes easy.

    3. GPS system

    I already have an Axiom A2 GPS. It is an older model and one used for active tracking with an onboard analog cellular phone. I am working with the manufacturer to retrofit just the GPS board to interface with my computer in realtime.

    4. Active radar system

    There are multiple uses for this type of thing, but I can see the most immediate use chasing storms that run over my part of the US during the summer months. Having some way of seeing that kind of activity from my vehicle would be fun and useful.

    5. Roof-mounted telescope

    This was actually suggested by my girlfriend tonight when we encountered a sky watching manual at a bookstore. It took me all of about 10 minutes to work out the engineering of mounting the telescope on the roof, interfacing it to the computer, motorizing the mount, attaching a camera to the eyepiece to also interface with the computer, and enclosing it in a weatherproof housing that can open and deploy the telescope from inside the vehicle. If my bidding on eBay tonight is successful then I already have the telescope, motorized mount, and computer interface on the way. This also has storm-chasing applications in being able to see high activity from afar and get a good recording of it.

    6. Power system

    The first thing I am doing is building a switchable interface box between external and internal power sources. No more plugging and unplugging inside the van. I simply plug the vehicle in outside and hit a switch to change over to external power.

    I also want to get to the point where I can keep the computer up and running nearly all the time. This means installing some sort of continuous charging system and solar seems the way to go. I can now install a solar array on top of the vehicle for about $300 which will provide enough continuous charge to keep my battery topped off while the computer and a few minor systems remain active.

    7. Environmental systems

    Because of the storm chasing and other reasons, I am going to add an array of temperature, humidity, and barometric sensors which can all interface to the computer. Additionally, I am retrofitting a couple of webcams to grant infrared and night vision capabilities. A heat sensing camera would also be nice and I am currently looking for good ways to accomplish this.

    8. Better bike loading

    I want to further automate loading and unloading the motorcycles. The idea I see in my head is to drive the bike onto a small platform. Wheel locks automatically engage. The bike is raised into the van and I can then slide it over to a mounting position in order to bring the platform back out for another bike.

    9. Prettify everything

    I follow a strict function over form philosophy. I don't think a lot about something is going to look so much as how well it work for what it is intended to do. That said, I do realize the vehicle holds promise for some corporate sponsorship to get some of plans in motion. This means I will need to clean up my work quite a bit and possible pay some attention to interior/exterior design.

  2. #2
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    sweet. Can you do knight-rider style launches out of the van with that bike?
    Is this where the witty comment goes?
    97 Black pearl Mazda Miata MX-5 Carpc V2? maybee..

  3. #3
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    Quote Originally Posted by Stealth97
    sweet. Can you do knight-rider style launches out of the van with that bike?

    You are only about the 20th person who has asked me that, both online and in real life!!

    I don't think I would try it on my street bike since the suspension wouldn't appreciate it. I could possibly do a powered offload with the ramp in place, but that hits the front tire pretty hard still.

    On a dirtbike is another matter and I imagine that very thing will be tried next weekend. The problem is head clearance. I briefly toyed with the idea of cutting the roof back, hinging it, installing motorized lifting, and securing the whole thing through one switch. That would eliminate the winch altogether since I could power up and down the ramp while on the bike. The engineering seemed a little daunting so I left it on the back burner.

  4. #4
    Low Bitrate madmartigan's Avatar
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    I used to own a van like that and used a laptop connected to my HU with a simple headphone to RCA cable. Worked great and the large size monitor did a fine job as a display. Too bad it wasn't touch sensitive... Oh well, get what you pay for I suppose.
    Dont tell me to shut up, I'm Rick James ******!!!

  5. #5
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    I actually had a laptop in mind from the very beginning. The touch screen aspect was an issue as well as the expansion possibilities. A van, unlike a car and especially my van, provides nearly unlimited space to install cool stuff. So I basically said to hell with it and decided to make this thing as massive and massively computerized as possible.

  6. #6
    Low Bitrate c4shm0ney's Avatar
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    Sweet van, all you need now is to cruise around with your buddies from the war working as mercs for hire while dodging the MP's.
    01 Metro LSI
    79hp 41MPG Highway
    Check my progress
    http://www.mp3car.com/vbulletin/worklogs/51295-01-metro-lsi-4-door.html

  7. #7
    Low Bitrate madmartigan's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Ragle
    I actually had a laptop in mind from the very beginning. The touch screen aspect was an issue as well as the expansion possibilities. A van, unlike a car and especially my van, provides nearly unlimited space to install cool stuff. So I basically said to hell with it and decided to make this thing as massive and massively computerized as possible.
    They are HUGE inside and out. Also may I say a smooooth ride too. Still, nice install you have there!
    Dont tell me to shut up, I'm Rick James ******!!!

  8. #8
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    Quote Originally Posted by c4shm0ney
    Sweet van, all you need now is to cruise around with your buddies from the war working as mercs for hire while dodging the MP's.


    Not old enough to have fought in any kind of war, but that's a cool thought nonetheless. Military implications aside, this vehicle is shaping up to be a childhood dream. I grew up with a television right in front of me at nearly all times I wasn't sleeping or in school. I had my friends from the A-Team, Dukes of Hazzard, Airwolf, and Knight Rider constantly giving me images of these cool vehicles that could do any damn thing you wanted them to do.


    Quote Originally Posted by madmartigan
    They are HUGE inside and out. Also may I say a smooooth ride too. Still, nice install you have there!

    Thanks a lot! My girlfriend and I just stood behind it and looked inside the other day. She made some great suggestions and I am already at work on implementing them. Among others, a tiny water heater can go into a corner, electric hot plate just in case a camp fire can't be started, and coffee maker. On that last one, I don't know why I hadn't thought of it before. Coffee is essential around here and I so used that as an excuse to go out and pick up a new thermal carafe Mr. Coffee. The old one is going in the van!

  9. #9
    Low Bitrate madmartigan's Avatar
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    I do agree that the G20 long van is fantastic for camping. No tent required! And when you add extras such as some of the comforts of home, it is even better. I recently got my old laptop up and running again, I cant wait to put it in my 93 MPV and have that functionality once again.
    Dont tell me to shut up, I'm Rick James ******!!!

  10. #10
    Maximum Bitrate TimmyM's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Ragle
    6. Power system

    The first thing I am doing is building a switchable interface box between external and internal power sources. No more plugging and unplugging inside the van. I simply plug the vehicle in outside and hit a switch to change over to external power.
    Keep us posted on this. I would love to do the same thing. I have a 20' step van that will have a computer soon. I'm also wiring it for 110 through out. I'd like it be on the inverter while i'm driving but switch to shore power once i'm at a job site or at home.

    I didn't see where you mentioned it but I might suggest you add an air compressor. there are some 12v one's around. Personally I plan on running it underneath the body along the frame with outlets inside in a few places then at least one at each side for filling tires and one under the hood.

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