98 Astro 4x4
5.7L Vortec, flowmaster cat back, 3:73, G-80, NP231C, Dual Electric Flex-a-lite 11inch fans, 1 3/8 core radiator, Tru-Cool trans cooler, professional rebuilt tranny w/corvette servo, 4+inch Overland Lift w/shock relocation tabs, Helwig rear sway bar, 31x10.50's, 11inch rear drums, RocWorks custom offroad bumpers, 2x Roof fan vents, bed, sink, marine battery switch/deep cycle aux power, thumpin' sound system.


Ladies and Gentlemen,
Thank you for the kind and mighty honor of VAN OF THE MONTH!
I have been lurking this site for roughly a year and a half and could not have dreamed of the advice learned here nor the obsession with van modification I would inherit. In fact, I would never have purchased a “mini van” if not for your hard work and innovations, which showed me the Light. I borrowed much information from these forums and owe a HUGE THANK YOU!!.

I believe that our vehicles are extensions of our personalities. They enable us to achieve feats not otherwise possible or practical (with herd animals for example…speed, travel, mobile shelter), and to express our individuality if this is the chosen medium. This being said, meet my van (my man) Trouble! He earned his name from being exactly that, every step of the way.

He’s a 98 AWD LS. I’ve had him since March 08, with 81,000 mi. I should have known something was up when I went to sign the title and it had 5 other owners listed, but, at that point I had spent a month searching for 3:73’s and the G80 and my 1990 4-Runner (230k mi) was about to need a clutch (and too small for the ladyfriend and I to sleep in). My test drive was alone, which was good because I really got after it! I floored him (good take off), slammed on the brakes (ABS worked), drove him through a field (AWD worked), some ditches (gov-lock worked), did donuts (front and reverse: gov-lock worked) After about 45 minutes of punishment the check engine light came on and I drove it back. It was an O2 sensor, which they fixed. With credit card in hand I was not turning back. You see, I had a plan for this van…

This was my second year of a Doctoral program in Physical Therapy. I was going to use my student loan money allotted for rent to pay off the van and modify him, while I lived out of him during several clinical rotations. (I spent 2 months in him in Delta, CO and 3 months in Tucson, AZ).

Learn as I go, that was my vision. Unfortunately, I had to study every night as well. I had 2 months to lift him and turn him into a camper in preparation to “move in”. An hour here 5 hours there, and occasionally, insomnia from over-studying afforded me some night hours in the driveway.

Enter Trouble: I started with the lift. Torsion keys were manufactured wrong…twice!! Dan at Overland Vans thought I was a nut-job, until he realized his guy’s mistake. The front tires rubbed tons during this process. Also, the first time I mounted the springs, they were backwards and it took hours to figure that error out. Threw a screwdriver against the side of the house and my girlfriend walked home.

Test drive to Moab for a rock climbing trip with a very squirrelly front end through snowy passes, but the love came creeping in! Gutted the interior which was very roomy, but not homey. Found a full size electric bench/bed on craigslist (full size ford I think). Drilled bolt holes through it and floor only to find they were too close to the unibody and had to have tabs fabricated to move holes more laterally. (I have no welding capability). Also had the shock relocation tabs done at this time. The shelves and gravity fed sink went in with few problems. They are simple and quite functional so at least I have something in this van that doesn’t run the risk of breaking.

Wired the bed and an 11 inch, as well as a 6 inch vent fan to a deep cycle Yellow Top battery in the rear corner. Gotta love chopping holes in the roof. Added in my 15yr old double burner (ugly green) coleman stove. All electrics worked well but the solar panel I bought was too weak. Installed an isolator (took me 8 hours as a rookie!), but had never worked with wire connections before so the van died…several times…in Denver and on the road. Very frustrating. Got ripped off at a Meineke who did my alignment, whom I trusted to help diagnose my electrical problem. They said alternator and I said OK, since I was on the road and without tools. This cost me a day being late to my first clinical rotation, but it wasn’t the alternator…it was my connections.

Off to my first clinical rotation. That very night, with just under a ¼ tank of gas, Trouble stalled on the highway…conveniently rolled to a stop at a construction zone at. A guy said fuel pump. My stomach sank. This van was going to be the death of me! They had a few gallons of gas in a tank that they gave me (along with some grief at 11pm), which brought me to the station. Filled it and no problems with that anymore. I “moved in” to the Delta County Memorial Hospital parking lot, and had to ask permission from the hospital CEO. That was a funny conversation! “Hi, I’m the new physical therapy student, mind if I park my white van in the corner of the back parking lot for 2 months?”

I got stuck offroad in Delta while “testing” the suspension on a steep hill and realized I needed low-range. A friend helped me install the NP231C transfer case and shifter (80’s suburban) that we found in a junkyard that I’m sure was the playing ground for hundreds of vampires at night: scary, eerie feeling place! Now I was “capable” offroad, and rather than damage the stock bumpers first, I sold them and had custom bumpers made by RocWorks in Montrose, CO. Keep in mind, now I was living in this thing, so I slept in the van, then rode my bike 20mi to Delta to work at the hospital so the guys could fab the bumpers with the van present. Had to do this for each bumper! At the same time, an older-gal colleague of mind was working on sewing the truly classic….leopard print curtains!

The van died again soon thereafter. I checked the wiring. Meineke had done a poor job of splicing some of my wires, which were now hanging on by a thread, but at least they did a good job of taking my $300 for a remanufactured alternator and labor. I removed the isolator in the HomeDepot parking lot and installed a marine battery switch (which had been sitting on the shelf of the local auto parts store for 10 years. I thought it was the isolator, but it was really my poor connections. I was under the impression that needle nose pliers were all I needed for crimping. Rookie. I very thoroughly did everything by the book this time, including heat shrink tubing over properly crimped butt connectors…and not a problem since.

5 former owners…hmmmm….could it have been the rod knock?! What did I know about engine sounds?! After that 2-month clinical rotation, I came back to Denver for my last year of school. Since I would be driving cross-country several times and living in the van for 3 months or more, I decided to have the engine dealt with. Say what?! Not worth trying to fix the “deep rod knock” in the 4.3? OK, I’ll trust you Mr. GM Master Tech…do you wanna do a V8 swap in your backyard for a $1000 or so cheaper than bringing it to you at Chevy? Awesome! Sourced the parts (thanks to and and handed them over. It took him weeks because of his schedule, which was good for me because I really needed to study. (I had restless nights thinking about the van though!)

He calls me…its done…he just smoked some other truck off the line at a stoplight. I giggled like a little girl! For a week actually…every time I romped on it….burned through 2 tanks just hauling tail around the city.
Meanwhile, and all during this time, my girlfriend, peers and the faculty that were privy to my quest…all thought I was out of my mind obsessed. Which I was.

Test drive in the mountains towing a 1200lb pop-up at 75mph. Overheated everywhere: guess I shouldn’t have turned the engine off at that pullout! Hmmm, lets see what those guys have to say. OK, a 1 3/8 radiator core. I found an old timer radiator guy in Denver who loved the van and was eager to help put my tanks on the core (which he had brought to his shop from a friend down the street). This guy was classic. $430 classic! But with the duel 11inch flex-a-lite’s, my van can now haul uphill at 80mph, fully loaded with the trailer too and the temp  doesn’t climb way up.

On to Tucson for 3 months in the van, again in the hospital parking lot. True offroad test at Redington Pass, where Trouble performed far better as a pseudo-rockcrawler than I could have hoped for. Banged the rear diff and had to flatten the cover and re-seal.

On to Oregon. I noticed a cracked drivers side tank. I had it fixed while I changed the thermostat, then took off (girlfriend as shotgun at this point). After waking up at a truck stop in California and having some old lady with 5 teeth point under the van, my girlfriend and I drove to a tiny town and pulled the radiator (together..very sweet) since the seal on the new tank was leaking. A shop pressed it up correctly and we put it back in (quickly because of threats from a man who spoke very little English…”no park here! I tow you!) and away we went. The Tucson shop refunded my labor cost.

2 months and no problems. Then the water pump started leaking from the weep holes. Snow, rain, no garage…changed it. Good. But what about that scary pull when ½ the van is on snow/slush and other on exposed pavement. Alignment? Sure, but you should change these idler arms sir. OK. I went to carquest and got the cheapies. Went back to the shop who told me the arms were bad. Sure enough, there was much play right out of the box. I went back, put the Moog’s in right there in the parking lot and got it aligned. Still pulled. Must be the ball joints. Thankfully, Meineke had already taken care of the knock outs and the rivets about a year before. Bought Moog’s, went to install at a friend/patient’s house. (not living in the van do to the cold at that point.) What’s this, the bearing pins fall everywhere and there’s some welded looking chunk in there. Wonder if this was my pull. Got a ride to carquest, bought a new axle assembly, installed it, and made it to work at 1pm. Good thing I was a student at the time. Soon got it realigned and put the BFG AT’s 31x10.50 on. Drives nice, but no other opportunity to test pull in snowy conditions. Did notice it still wanting to drive itself a bit too much on the way back to Denver. Tightened the steering box screw and much better now.

Graduated. Studying for boards and needing a distraction. Already did the 1-ton caliper upgrade months earlier so time for the 11inch drums. 10 junk yards no have. 11th did. Super rusty but whatever. New spring kit, lots of wire brushing and break cleaner, new shoes. Drive to boulder to use a friend’s driveway. Drain rear diff but my wrenches don’t work on the pinion shaft lock bolt. Use his car to 3 car parts stores and no one has 5/16 6- point wrench. Have to put it all back together. No biggy, reused diff fluid.

2 days later and armed with the proper wrench, I drive back to Boulder. Tear it ALL apart, remove the old drums only to realize the backing plates don’t fit. The holes don’t match up! Ego is very hurt at this point, especially because this is our only vehicle. I drink, spend the night and put it back together in the morning.

Back to the junk yard to find the proper backing plates. This time I measured. Found em’, cleaned em’, mounted em’. Brakes work very well right now.

**This Just In** 3 days before moving to Berkeley CA (Aug 2008), the tranny wouldn’t shift into 3rd or 4th. Well…Trouble…I’d expect nothing less. A reputable tranny shop said it needed a rebuild, but I couldn’t afford him so I found a company that does a bunch of these and bought one. The rebuilt 4L60E has a corvette servo and some other upgrades. Never having swapped a tranny before, I decided it would be a good challenge and save me some money. It took me 16hours, with my girlfriend helping me for 12!! Huge!! But then it wouldn’t shift into gear!!! Did I mis-stab the torque converter or screw up the park-neutral switch?! I had it towed to the rebuild shop, who told me I probably mis-stabbed the TC…but I was soooooooo careful with that step and really felt something else was wrong. Another day goes by (now 3 days behind schedule and the U-Haul trailer is added up) and they go to drain the pan. “You’ll never believe this Gabe, but the filter is cracked and no fluid is making its way through”. Ha! I knew it! I did everything right! They fixed it and we were on our way. The delay was a bummer, but the satisfaction of getting the job done was oh-so-sweet.

Phew!! There we have it. A brief history of my van, an inanimate object that loves to teach me lessons in planning, patience, acceptance, letting go, stress management, joy, happiness, pride, comfort and content. I have lived in it for a total of 6 months at this point and more trips are to come. My girlfriend, her dog and 3-10 people a day seem to love it almost as much as I do. I get more Rockstar-hand-gestures than a Rockstar/Superhero wanna-be should be allowed to see per day! It’s all about the van, my man, TROUBLE.