Preparing the Camper for Transplant

Sorry, no video this time, too busy to make time for editing…

Time to get moving!

Now that the Tesla Model S drivetrain and suspension are working well, it’s time to get moving on the transmogrification. My mid July deadline for driving to TMC Connect in Monterey, California is coming up quickly and I still have many unknown problems looming. At this point I hope the Stretchla is running, has at least one seat and makes it down there and back, I have no expectations that it will be anywhere near “finished”. There’s nothing like a deadline to focus work!

Preparation of the Vanagon Body

In the above picture my friends Arthur and Debbie happened to be here when the sun warmed up the day, fortunately I was able to rope them into helping with the car wash.  The Vanagon body has a lot of parts attached to it that will not be needed in the Stretchla transmogrification. That’s a very good thing since the projected weight of it all worries me. In one of my earlier posts I cover the removal of the Stretch’s diesel engine and transaxle with Tony and Brandon. Now the time has come to strip out the rest of the parts that are not needed, as well as many parts that may or may not go back in once I’ve reviewed weight budgets.


Being rather large and made of steel, the Vanagon body is not light, especially since I added five feet to its length! The challenge is that I intend to use the original unmodified Model S air suspension, wheels and tires. The Tesla Model S is very light for a car with a 1300 lb battery pack since it is made mostly of aluminum. Car and Driver quotes the model S curb weight as 4,753 lbs and mine with some parts already removed weighs 4386 lbs. If I combine the GAWR (Gross Axle Weight Rating) of the front and rear, the Model S axles allow up to 6120 lbs. I expect to exceed that some, but I don’t want to take any one tire above the max 1653 lb tire rating. That would allow up to 6612 lbs total travel weight if I managed to balance the weight perfectly amongst the four corners. That’s only a 108% overload on the air struts and I feel comfortable with that.

How to keep it down to that weight? For one, I don’t intend to overload the van nearly as badly as I have in the past. At times in the last 14 years the Stretch has carried everything from over a ton of lead acid batteries, a piano, engines, copper piles, and once even a short trip with 16 people and 4 dogs. Over the years I’ve weighed it in various configurations coming in at 4790 to 7750 lbs depending on load and engine type.  At this time I don’t know the total weight of the parts that I plan to use from the Model S, but I can guess it’s a large part of the 4400 lbs that I’m starting with. Since weight is such an unknown at this time, I’m starting to keep records. The Stretch, less the fuel, engine, transaxle and related supporting parts weighed 4140 lbs last week. The engine and drivetrain removal parts are reported to have weighed about 650 lbs at a truck scale adding up to an empty curb weight of 4790.  In the pictures below you can see that I’ve removed about 1560 lbs (Stretch is now sitting at 2580 lbs) since that time and I’m keeping track of individual weights so I can decide which items will need a diet. The removed weights break down like this:

  • 299 lbs of general camping gear piled in over the years. That includes the jacks, tools, microwave and inverter.
  • 203 lbs of things that are probably not going back in including 70 lbs of stereo, 60 lbs of solar panel and the aluminum 40 gallon biodiesel tank.
  • 410 lbs of original Westfalia built-in camping gear not including the pop top, this may need a diet.
  • 153 lbs of things going back in like the sliding door and windshield.
  • 505 lbs of parts that are not going back in like the radiator, dashboard, brake and clutch pedal cluster, batteries, main fuel tank, and 37.8 lbs of wiring.

The Trouble With Projects

The trouble with working on a large project like this is that it’s very hard to know where to stop. I have a deadline looming, but despite that the more I take apart the van, the more I think this is the perfect time to clean it up and paint it. But if I did that, where would I stop? How good of a job would I do?

One thing I know for sure is that a $20K paint job is out of my budget, and spending months doing it myself is also not in the cards. On the other hand there are plenty of rust areas that I’d like to treat and I’d like to freshen up the look as well. I owned my last Stretch for about a decade feeling frustrated with the lack of paint until I finally I gave up the idea of perfect paint and spent one day with high quality house paint using a roller to give it a “twenty-foot” paint job. A “twenty-foot” paint job is the kind of paint that looks OK from twenty feet away but as you get closer you start to wonder why it looks a bit like house paint! I was very pleased with the result even if car snobs didn’t understand the appeal. Aside from being very cheap and easy to do, another advantage of such a low tech paint job is that it’s easy to fix when I make body mods like adding the planned fender flares. I’m thinking I may do something similar here as what I did on the old Stretch. First I’ll see if I can borrow the pressure washer from my friend Josiah to clean alkali playa dust off the underside and treat the surface rust the dust created, then I’ll have to see about the rest. Years ago I snapped a picture of a Vanagon with a red and white paint job I liked very much, maybe I’ll head over to the paint store and see if they still sell high quality oil based enamels…