project cyber van
More pictures of my van here!
This is a Picture of my 1988 Chevrolet Astro van. It is 1 of only 1500 built with both the 5-speed transmission, and the 4.3 liter V6. This picture is about 3 years old, but not much has changed on the outside since then. Here's some OEM spec's on this model
ENGINE: 4.3 liter, 262cid, 90 degree V6, 160HP @ 4000 RPM, 240 lb/ft @ 2500 RPM
Well, here's the story of How I ended up with this unique little van.
I had just gotten a job with a big computer company, Unisys corp in 1994, and I was driving around a Honda Prelude that had some annoying problems, like overheating, draining the battery, etc. Well, when I turned the Air conditioner on during a hot August day, the belt let off an awful squeal, the engine labored, and broke. The mechanic said the compressor froze up. Well, I needed a car with a good AC since I had to wear preppy clothes to work and stuff. The other thing was that the trunk was so shallow I couldn't get a 15 inch monitor within. So I started buying Trading Post and Auto Trader magazines. About October or so, I was browsing though one, and in big letters "5-SPEED" appeared. I had to read the ad again to make sure the description didn't get transposed between a pickup truck or something.
I called the number, and sure enough it was one of those 5 speed models that was always shown in the brochures, but never on the road! He was asking $5800 for it, which was quite steep, especially for a ride with 100 grand on the dial. Upon driving the van, I found the transmission to be in desperate need of attention. 4th gear was essentially neutral, it howled and moaned in second and third, and shifting without grinding the gears was pretty much impossible. I offered the man $4K for it, and he took it! I was now the proud owner of a rare van with a busted tranny.
I drove the van around without a 4th gear for about a month till it was off to Short Pump Transmission to get a rebuild. They had a hard time locating a true Astro van version of this transmission, so they put together an S10 transmission to fit it. They needed a different input shaft and output shaft than the S10 transimission used. They had to buy the input shaft, since that was trashed, but were able to use the output shaft out the old one. After that, they installed a new clutch plate as well. The biggest thing to look out for on these transmissions, and even the 4 speed automatics, is the speedometer cable. Where it connects to the side of the tranny, it can leak out all the fluid. This is what the mechanic deduced happened to mine.
Since I've bought this van, I have done some modifications to some of the above componets as outlined below. Most of the upgrades and repairs to the Astro van are rather straightforward and easy, but some of them have some snags that can cause LOTS of headaches and frustration.
So, WHY DID I CHOOSE AN ASTRO VAN?
You may find it odd that a 28-year-old single guy would want a minivan. Most guys in my position in life are driving around little Japanese sports cars and stuff, but I have found this vehicle is the perfect ride to handle all the hobbies and stuff that I am into, and provide me with good, reliable transportation. I mean, how am I supposed to tow my sailboat to the beach with a Honda Civic, or go on a road trip with a bunch of friends in a Mazda Miata?!?! Well, the Astro can do BOTH of these tasks at the same time. (A road trip to the beach for a day of sailing…NO PROBLEM!)
My Father has owned Astro vans ever since they came out in 1985, and he has found them to be very versatile, hard-working vans that are very reliable. The van basically had all the attributes in a vehicle I needed for my own life.
Astro vans are:
Rear-wheel drive, which gives better handling when carrying loads, and I prefer the way RWD vehicles handle when cornering, and the fact that rear wheel drive vehicles are better on tires too.
Equipped with a big 4.3V6 engine based on Chevy's "small block V8" engine design, which is known for it's durability. This engine is basically a version of the popular 350 (5.7 liter) with two cylinders missing.
Built on a "truck" chassis with heavy-duty springs, and beefy underpinnings. The Astro van can tow up to 5000 pounds, and can carry as much cargo as a full-size pickup (2000-pound payload)
Rather small outside, and rather large inside. Making the van easy to park and maneuver, yet it's still fully capable of doing all sorts of truck stuff.
Easy, and inexpensive to maintain and service. Astro's use common everyday GM parts that are cheap and easy to find at any auto-parts shop. GM fuel injection systems are extremely simple and easy to work on too. Chevy engines are the engines of choice for hot-rodders, so there are many people out there familiar with them.
WHAT CAN YOU DO WITH AND ASTRO?!?!?
Well, I'm still answering that question…everyday, I find another thing this little van does well. Here's some of the common stuff you can find me doing with mine.
Hauling my boat, camper and other trailers around with ease.
Carrying lots of people in comfort, be it friends, Scout troop, family, etc.
Hauling lots of cargo around…. Anything I need, construction materials, AV equipment, vacation stuff…
Customizing it! Hey…it's a van, vans are easy and fun to customize.
CAMPING! There's enough room in the back for two people to sleep in sleeping bags
Handling non-paved roads. Astro's sit up tall, and there's also an AWD version.
Having fun driving…yes, a van that is fun to drive. The Astro's got good power and decent, responsive handling.
Now, this web page is beginning to sound like a Chevy ad right. I have no connection with them at all though. Just a satisfied owner!
Upgrades and customizing
Intake/fuel/exhaust system upgrades: PROJECT INTAKE
Audio system: WIRED FOR SOUND!
Electrical sysem upgrades: OPERATION CHARGE
April 8, 2000, bumper removal and refinish
September 2000, A Back Door In
Tools to service the Astro
Showing your Astro (or any other car/truck)
Servicing the Astro & Safari vans
Changing the spark plugs
Repairing broken door handles
That noisy fan...and servicing the fan's clutch
Axle ratio calculation
Common automotive lamp specifications
* tech tip* The same size "band" style oil filter wrench that fits the oil filter also fits the serpentine belt spring tensioner. Keep your oil filter wrench, and a spare belt inside your van for emergencies. Changing the belt can be quicker than be quicker than changing a tire!
Other Astro and vanning stuff on the net
There's all kinds of other cool internet sites out there of Astro / Safari Van enthusiast, like myself, including other neat vanning links. Check out these links below for other neat van stuff.
More pictures of other Astro vans here!
VANNIN.COM: The hub for vanning on the internet
ASTRO / SAFARI.NET: A whole web page with newsgroup devoted to these vans
Web pages other vanning enthuasists have put up