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…


23 thoughts on “Preparing the Camper for Transplant

  1. Hammerite would be a good paint – eats rust and dries hard like enamel. Often used on rust-happy cars in the UK. Not sure if they sell it in the US, though. Great to read your updates, Otmar.

  2. Thank you for a new episode in the Stretchla story. In Gizmag’s story about model S crash testing they wrote that the battery weights 1000 lbs. Somewhere else (Wikipedia?) I read 1200 lbs. And you wrote that the battery weighted 1300 lbs. If that is what you measured, did you drain it or was it filled with coolant?

    • Thanks for the info Eldar,
      The NHTSA crashed a S60, maybe the smaller battery was lighter? I have not read that report in detail.
      I got my number from Car and Driver, but at 1323 lbs the number is too close to a round number (600kg) to trust it. I’ll have to weigh the car before and after I pull the battery.

  3. Maybe the more you use the Tesla battery pack, it gains weight with added electrons ;- }
    Bob Schneeveis turned me on to rustoleums’ Hammertone paints. Shows virtually NO brushstrokes so one can use the much more affordable gallon can over a ton of rattlecans. Best dries SHINEY. I have no idea how much it weighs dried though….

  4. Thanks everyone for the paint input!

    KO, I remember Bob’s attraction to Hammertone (thanks for the brand reminder!). I wasn’t a big fan of the look, but it may just be that silver color he chooses. It looks good on his vehicles, but not what I imagine for mine. I’ll have to give it another look. And I’ll be sure to check the battery weight when it’s full. 😉

    I also got a private message with this link where Glenn is using Monstaliner bedliner as final paint:
    I like this a lot as well. The texture is rougher than my old house paint van but the sheen looks similar.

    I’ve heard that waxing a car can provide a noticeable aerodynamic gain so I don’t expect that I’ll go with the rougher bedliner look, but seeing how good Glenn’s Vanagon turned out renews my hope for house paint.

    • Fun stuff! I wonder what would critical areas and sizes for dimples at 62 mph?
      I certainly do want to try out deturbulators, I think they show a lot of promise for such a dirty vehicle. A friend has some extras I may try out.
      I hear the film only lasts a year or so, but they are working on it.

  5. Otmar,i have been following this project since learning about it from EVTV.
    I have a few paint suggestions.
    For rusty steel just remove the loose scale with a wire brush and apply SEM Rust Mort with a brush,roller or my favorite,the trusty squirt bottle.
    It converts the rust to a primer which takes fillers and enamels quite well.
    Be sure to use a high quality Seam Sealer for all sheet metal butt joints and body seams such as 3M’s Urethane 0836x series.
    Tintable truck bed liner also available from SEM make a great military style undercoat for under the vehicle,be sure to mask off any moving parts though,the stuff is tenacious.
    A good industrial enamel need not be expensive,Van SIckles makes a great equipment paint that has the option of using hardeners for a Base Coat finish you can buff up to a high shine for a cheaper than rattle can price.
    Color selection is somewhat limited however.
    DuPont has a value line called Nason with the option of Base Coat /Clear Coat and is available at most O’Rielly’s or your local Dupont Refinish retail store.
    Here is a link to a site with the manufacturers paint codes;
    I hope this helps.
    Good luck and happy trails.

    • Hi John, Thanks for the comments, glad to have you onboard.

      SEM Rust Mort looks just like my favorite, OSPHO.

      I need to take it easy on the underside for now since it needs a lot of modifications, but for now I do want to clean it up one step before taking the sawzall to it. 🙂

      I’ll order up the seam sealer, it’s great to have a number to order!

      I don’t mind the price of shiny paint, it’s the cost in time and/or money of the bodywork needed and the lack of repairability after it’s painted. Due to the hundred(s) of hours of prep work it would require in addition to building a spray booth that has me thinking it makes sense for me to stick with roll on low gloss options. On the other hand if I had endless free labor of an experienced body worker it sure would be nice to have it shiny.

  6. Hi Otmar,
    Have you concidered Maaco Auto Painter. I see that there is one in Eugene. They charge in the neighborhood of $500.

    • I suppose Maaco could be an option, they certainly are a good deal for applying the final coat of paint. But you only get what you prep for, in this case I could spend months getting the body ready to look good with shiny paint so they could spray it for cheap, or I could have a very irregular shiny paint job. As I see it, Maaco would put me right back to the cost issue of time or money for a glossy job.

  7. Hey Otmar, Tyler from Queen’s Chopstick. Finally got the time to get over here. Will you be inserting the touch screen and its capabilities into the Stretchla?

    • Welcome Tyler!
      Of course I’ll put in the dashboard with the screen, wouldn’t miss that! 🙂

  8. I just love spray bedliner. We paint everything with it. Paint it black and it will disappear. But more importantly, like Rustoleam textured paints, the texture hides paint flaws.

    I just received a photo of a Model S that had been painted with PLASTIDIP – the flat black. It looked like a stealth fighter and rather PROTECTS the original paint job. And you can peel it off anytime you like if you want to paint it later.

    Black probably isn’t the best choice for a desert horny toad’s ride. Solar gain is a bit of an issue. But I MUST point out that PLASTIDIP is available in a very bright YELLOW color.

    I’ve got DOKKA back from the painter UNFINISHED. He had a divorce and a blown air compressor the same week. Maybe I’ll do that in yellow plastidip myself.

    I don’t know what I’m talking about. However, in aircraft and submarines, an irregular surface that sets up microturbulence actually REDUCES DRAG. So I suspect the bedliner actually might reduce drag on STRETCHLA.

    Jack Rickard

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