The Suspension/ Wheels/ Tires
After the engine this was one of the hardest systems to finalize, and one of the most important. From the beginning we knew we were going to be heavy. With the addition of skid plating, full expedition gear, and a chest full of spares, we were going to be carrying a lot of weight. Couple this with the need to handle rough roads for thousands of miles; we needed a bulletproof solution. Burley of Burley Motorsports was monumental in helping us get this right. Burley is a two time unlimited class desert racing champion, he knows how to prep for rough road conditions.
First we knew were going to go up to 16 inch wheels to give us more light and ground clearance. We decided on steel wheel vs. an alloy because steel would be more forgiving of bush repairs, you can always bang it back true, vs. an alloy, which is stronger, but when stressed, it cracks vs. bends and can’t easy be repaired. We went with a set of steel wheels and had them powder coated black. For tires we landed on BFG AT/KO’s based on a bunch of trans Africa trip reports.
The real challenging option was the suspension. There aren’t a lot of options for vanagons. First up was the stock suspension, which was way too soft for the weight of our rig when loaded. We initially purchased the GoWesty +2 Lift Springs and the adjustable Fox Shocks. We were really excited about this set-up based on the description and some of the early user reports, but once we installed it and had the van fully loaded, the spring in the set-up were simply too soft in the front. It sucks that it was impossible to get true spring rate specifications before purchase. In addition the Vanagon spring perches are an odd size, leaving spring options very limited vs. using a standard 2.5 inch spring, of which there are a ton of options. This was before Burl had finished his new Burley Motorsports adjustable spring kit that allows you to use a different diameter spring on the vanagon perches. But in hindsight, the exposed ram of the Fox shock worried me from day one with the dirt and grime that could potentially blow past or out one of the seals. We can’t afford to be on the road and try and deal with a RMA issue as some one the forums have had. So we sold our like new GW/Fox set-up and went searching for another solution.
We read every forum we could find and posts on syncro suspensions and went with Burley’s custom version 16’’ rear trailing arms, Burley’s front tubular upper control arms, these all pivot on Burley’s urethane bushings. We finally found the guys at gmb and their shock /spring set-up. This is the shock / spring set-up at the Tiger Bus used for their trip, and had been updated and advanced since then. We went over detailed specs of our rig and the team was confident their shocks/ springs could handle our weight and requirements. So with the decision made, we went through the slightly complex task of importing the parts from Germany (customs, duty, etc, installing it, and then testing it all out in Moab and Baja. Simply put, we LOVE the combo of the Burley suspension parts and the gmb springs and shocks. Its proven to handle our weight, provide excellent handling on and off road, and a comfortable ride. Highly recommended! But it’s not cheap. Burley now has his own shock brand that is currently in prototype testing but it was not ready when we did our build.
We did the no-brainer and had the front diff and transmission rebuilt by Daryl (RIP) with all of the goodies added. We added a front locker, but decided on an aggressive VC in the front diff instead of a solid shaft. We combed the threads on different perspectives, and spoke at length with a ton of different owners, and we decided that for us, an aggressive VC with a front locker would be what we needed. The axles were top shelf 930 kits front and rear from Burley Motorsports. The axle system needed to be able to handle the additional articulation and added abuse given to the suspension and drivetrain.
Interior Insulation/ Sound Proofing
To tackle sound and thermo insulation we researched a wide range of different products and decided on a hybrid approach. We sprayed the entire interior with Noxudil, it’s a spray in sound deadener, which also has anti rust properties. On top of this we when with a closed cell foam insulation that we sourced from a hot rod building company. It’s pretty thin but our test showed great results against radiant heat transfer. For areas where we were concerned about resonance we put down fatmat before sealing under the Noxudil, this included the footwells, rest hatch, doors, and upper dash. For the fiberglass top we had he roof spray foamed and then covered in a soft fabric. The only item left was the windows. They are by far the largest source of heat gain and loss. We ordered a full curtain set from SewFine. We tinted all of the side windows limo dark, the rear hatch and driver and passenger front windows a slightly lighter level, as there are limits in Illinois. I would have liked to go limo all around for the international travel and stealth camping. Thus far this has kept us pretty comfortable in the van. We have camped down to 28 degrees without heat and the top popped and we were comfortable with just a comforter.