~ ZZ ~
When I was asked to send in some pics and a small narrative of ZZ & the Tramper, I didn't know where to begin. Its easy enuf to brag/show off just by posting a pic here and there, but this was a bit different. As well, I was impressed by the winner of March's Van of The Month, SundanceUK. His write-up was well put together and informative, whereas I was simply going to bombard poor Justice with a crapload of pics and wish him luck LOLOL
But with the help of Libby, I've pieced together as brief a story as I could. So here goes;
I own an HVAC company along with my brother (took it over from Pop back in '86), and therefore have gone thru lots of vans as service vehicles throughout the last 25 yrs. When the Astro/Safari came out in 85, we bought one right away. Since then, we've gone thru an 85, 86, 89, 95, two 99's, a 02, 03, 04 and finally a 05' with awd (for our senior tech). Our company also purchased a 97' awd passenger van for my brother as a company vehicle. After my divorce in 2000 (and relatively penniless), I bought the 97' from the company for what we'll refer to as a “paltry and modest sum” *smile*. My brother went on to get himself a 01' awd Safari passenger van. They're great trucks and we usually keep ‘em ‘till they hit 200k km. At that point we trade ‘em in for new trucks.
A modest beginning;
The van was an LS ordered as per my brother's wishes, it was pretty well loaded except for the 3 rd seat. He had an Auburn installed out back thanks to my prodding, and loved it.Not being able to leave well enuf alone and needing to compensate for “shortcomings” in other areas *wink*, I looked for the widest wheel/tires I could stuff underneath. I settled on 295/50's on 16” x 8” wheels (these pics do not do the tires any justice whatsoever);
Then I got gutsier, wanting to go with the off-road look I'd been so used to most of my driving life. One thing led to another, 275/70's gave way to 325/60's on custom 15” x 10” wheels using Astro centers;
After awhile, I started to get fed-up of the lack of power. I was scared to try swapping an engine as I was worried that I'd make a mess of it. But then I started to research it more and more. I wasn't too crazy about going with a small-block though. It had already been done quite few times & as amazing as a SBC swap was, I wanted something “different”. But my hot-rodding experience when younger made me realize that whatever I did, it had to be dependable. Otherwise I'd get fed-up of it within 3-6 breakdowns. Nothing sucks more than the sinking feeling you get when your dollar-sucking vehicle breaks down….yet again. I promised myself that I would follow LS1AWD's & Lockjaw's lead, and build something truly dependable.
I settled on what I hadn't seen anybody in our circle of AstroSafari aficionados do yet, a big block swap. But I wanted a brand new engine with a warranty. I also wanted to go fast and have something “different”. I settled on a new Ramjet ZZ 502 crate engine c/w computer and harness.
I bought a 98' Astro awd for $2,700, pulled & re-furbed the frame with new steering/suspension and brakes and did all the trial fitting of motor mounts etc. on this frame so as to allow my girlfriend Libby to continue using my van to get to work and back. There were no busses out here in the boonies at that time, and it also allowed me to take my time doing the swap so as to “get it right”. Last thing I needed was to hear someone whining to get the truck back on the road. I started the swap sometime in April of 05'.
While doing the swap and using the cut-out section of the cab from the donor van, my buddy Jocelyn and I were able to use this cab to decide on how much body lift was necessary in order to allow for the necessary clearance of the Ramjet intake (not shown here) as well as other issues such as exhaust placement and oil pan clearance. Turned out I would have to make no mods whatsoever to the oil pan and achieve the necessary clearancing of the intake by using a minimum of 4.5” high body-lift spacers (we arrived at that conclusion by using high-tech pieces of wood LOL). The finished spacers were 5” high & built outta schedule 40 pipe c/w ¼” thick caps on one end, all welded securely to the sub frame which allowed for the use of stock body mount bolts. Steel spacers welded to the sub-frame (thanks to Mmead, by the way) made for an amazingly steady ride;
The exhaust was a different story. I refused to go with headers because my experience with them always resulted in leaky flanges and rusted-out pipes/collectors within 2 winters (I wanted a daily driver and Montreal uses salt on the roads as much as I drink beer). As well, I didn't want the heat from them burning up wires or causing weird smells. The used OEM stainless manifolds ran me about $600 c/w all the machining necessary to make ‘em fit (by re-orienting/re-locating the outlet flange) and flow better (by removing the restrictive EGR bungs), but it was for the best;
At the same time, I swapped out the OEM awd t-case for an NP-241 case out of a 1 ton pick-up. I wanted to be able to spin my tires in 2wd and was worried that the awd wouldn't be up to the task of handling 570 lb/ft of torque.Here's a pic of the donor cab coming in incredibly handy yet again, allowing me to prepare all the bracketry needed and figure out shifter placement;
When the day of the actual swap came, it was over in about 3-4 hrs. Meaning, the truck was already in the garage, was unbolted/disconnected where necessary and the re-furbed sub frame and engine were sitting in/under the truck within 4 hrs. It almost went too smoothly;
It looked like it was always meant to be there…….
A pic of the CompuShift tranny controller;
The truck was on the road within a month and a half after that. Lotsa minor fitting details with the electric fans, hoses etc.. As well, I had the truck flat-bedded to the exhaust shop and from then straight to the driveshaft shop for fitting of two new drive shafts. We started her up the following Saturday.
After a few months on the road of proving to me that she was reliable enuf for the trip, ZZ (as she's been affectionately baptized) was taken on a 2-week road trip of sorts throughout the U.S. I drove thru NY, PA, West Virginia , Kentucky (the dry state LOLOL) Tennessee & Georgia and finally ended up in Florida . I met fantastic people along the way, all members of this great site. I met up with Lockjaw, AstroGurl & e7ats, Mandi & Logan as well as 96'astro in Georgia , then went on to visit Midget's home in Fla. I'd never done this kind of road trip before, I've always been wary (cute l'il word for scared) to go anywhere new, especially by myself. Worried about breaking down somewhere etc…
Everyone who I met on the way down was great. They took me into their homes and showed me tremendous hospitality. It's an experience I'm grateful to have had the couillons to go thru with, and the memories will be with me forever. During that time, my only mechanical issues were a blown front cv joint in PA (the culprit for this problem was later traced to the wrong pass. side front diff support bracket being used by the previous owner of the donor van). I added a quart of oil once on my way down to Cape Coral in the gulf coast of Florida . I replaced the oil after I got there, then 6 days later I drove back in a record 29 hrs up thru the usual Kebecers route of Georgia , South & North Carolina etc. back to Montreal .
A much-needed paint job was finally done last year just before NECO 07'.
I was asked to maybe post a few pics and info on the Tramper as well, but that's a narrative for another day. There are simply too many details to add, and I think I've prolly pushed the limit on how many pics to post as it is. I'll just post a pic or two for now;
ZZ runs a GMPP ZZ502 Ramjet powering a P.A.T.C.-built Raptor 4L80E with a Compushift electronic, full adjustable controller. The power is then split up as the transplanted NP-241 t-case sees fit, either going only to the custom Ford 9” rear c/w 11” drums, or to the stock front diffy as well. The list of what works following the swap is;
All dash warning lights, gauges & buzzers
In short, it all works. In addition, this is my daily driver when it's looking' crappy out. Rather than drive my wimpy, Built-For-California SRT-8 Charger on such days, ZZ brings me to work, mostly when there's lotsa white stuff on the ground. It starts at temps down as low as -25*F. Not bad for a crate engine destined for a fancy show car to be driven in warm weather.
Oh, and she don't do too bad in the ¼ either, not for a 5000 lbs 4x4 with 31” A/T tires;
Finally, I'd like to thank everyone who helped me with this swap, including Jocelyn my “bodyguard”, Mattmobile & Neil LS1AWD. They helped me build a daily-driver, 1997 GMC Safari 4x4 with a 502 cu inch, 502 hp/570 lbs/ft Mustang freaker. As well, I wanna thank everyone who cheered me on during the swap, their words of encouragement pushed me on when I was feeling like I had possibly torn off more than I could chew.