Rusty Old Van will chronicle the build process of saving a 1985 4WD Ford E-350 cargo van and converting it into an off-road camping rig worthy of the most remote locations in North America. There’s hundreds of websites out there that detail conversions of more modern vans but very few that cover the process of rescuing an older van and turning it into a reliable go-anywhere camping rig that doesn’t require a trip to the stealership to change the blinker fluid. The site is segregated into the primary interest areas for most people: the drive train/mechanical build, body/camper conversion process and the eventual path to part-time vanlife.

Much like the van, this website is a work in progress. As we get things done on the van we’ll post updates here too.


At the moment the drivetrain consists of 1bbl carbureted 300 cubic inch (4.9 liter) inline six cylinder backed up by a C6 automatic trans. The plan is to rebuild the engine, switch to aftermarket multiport EFI, and a Ford ZF S5-42 5 speed manual transmission.


There are many 100s of sites out there with camper conversion ideas. Almost none of them cater to older vans. A favorite site of ours is, though their vans are new platforms. They have really figured out most of the conversion issues that are important to us. So you’ll see us referring to their helpful blog posts from time to time as we work through our conversion. Follow our cargo to camper van conversion progress.


The term “vanlife” conjures up visions of millenial, non-binary douchebags anxious about where they they will take their next dump. The stress of shitting for for one’s Instagram following is more than any human should have to endure! (Did I consume enough avocado to pull this off? Why did I let that chick talk me into being a vegan? This would be a lot easier if I had some tacos al pastor.) We’ll use the term frequently here because that’s what people search for but it’s done so reluctantly.


Mark & Steph, a couple living in the woods of Maine, decided they need more interior space than they have in their current camping rig: a 1980 BJ45 Land Cruiser Troop Carrier. Mark is a DIY kinda guy with slightly better than adequate mechanical and fabrication skills. After camping off-and-on for 10 years in the Troopy Steph knows what we need for functionality and creature comforts in the next camping rig.

Why start with an old van instead of something cool and trendy? Because Mark is old and he likes old vehicles that are easy to maintain and can be equipped to go anywhere we have the courage to go. $20k wisely spent on an old 4WD van will result in the vehicle we want. We will do most of the work ourselves. (Mark hates paying people to do things he’s capable of doing himself. It’s a tragic flaw of sorts.) $80k or more spent building out a new 4WD Sprinter or Transit wouldn’t get us the vehicle we want. It would certainly be a nice vehicle, but not something we would trust driving on a beach in Baja California 100 miles from the nearest village.

We’ve been planning the conversion for the past few months and the work will begin soon.


  • Not-so-rusty Old Van
    Not-so-rusty Old Van
    There’s been some recent progress on the van project after roughly a year’s hiatus. We bought another van. I saw this purple monster 91 E350 pop up on the 3rd Gen Ford Econoline Van marketplace for $600. It had a 351w/C6 combo in it that I wasn’t...
    Read more
  • Custom Pop-Top Design Ideas - 3rd Gen Ford Econline
    Custom Pop-Top Design Ideas – 3rd Gen Ford Econline
    Since there are no commercial sources for new camper pop-tops for the 1975-1991 Ford E-series vans we’ll need to design and fabricate our own. There are fiberglass tops available that can be modified to work but the cost to get one to me in the woods of...
    Read more
  • S5-42 Five Speed is Here
    S5-42 Five Speed is Here
    A boring post about car parts. Steph thinks I like to talk about car parts too frequently. Part of the puzzle of reworking a rusty old van is knowing which parts and tools will get the job done most efficiently and for the least amount of $$....
    Read more
1985 Ford Quadravan Off-road Camper Build April 15, 2020