This Sight is Continuously Evolving


 A short history

Pigpens Conversion to Fourwheelism


Pigpens Conversion took place more than 15 years ago.
I am writing this from memory so if I miss some things I’m sorry. The van has been used hard and often since it's conversion so there is a good collection of grease and grime on most of the parts which may make it hard to see some things for that I also apologies.

 I have no idea how many miles Pigpen has on it. When I bought it in 1984 or 5 it had a 230 in it and I think the odometer had around 32+ thousand on it. The engine was a rebuild and ran good. The guy I bought it from told me the engine had about 50k on it and the van had well over 100K maybe 200. He had bought it at the auction in Vallejo.
I wore that engine out in about 5 years and replaced it with a 250 that I built all stock except for a high flow oil pump and H E I. I ran that engine for over 130 k. It was still running ok but was getting tired and beginning to burn oil so before I went to Alaska I installed a crate 292 six cylinder engine but that is another story for another time.

Most of the parts for the 4X4 conversion came off a 1972 Chevy ton 4X4 pickup that had been rolled then decapitated and used for a ranch truck. It had been crashed into a tree and then finally the engine gave out. The owner decided to get rid of the truck so I offered him $350 for it and he accepted.
I didn’t even have a van yet but I knew what I wanted to do.
I had been thinking about a 4X4 van conversion ever since my first van back in 1967 it was a 1960 VW bus.
I have had other vans in the ensuing years. A 1962 Ford Econoline, a 1968 Chevy and a 72 ford 1 ton. Of all those vans I thought that the 68 Chevy was the best and the best to use for the conversion I had in mind.
Until I ran across that pickup I never had the money to do it or the place to do the work. Finding that old pickup made it all possible. Also I had just helped a friend build a big shop and he was willing to let me build the van there and help me with it.

It took a couple of months to find the right van. A 1968 Chevy, short wheel base, with a 3 speed and six cylinder engine. I wanted to keep it as simple and dependable as possible.
Finally I found Pigpen. 
He was pretty sad looking but he ran good and I was desperate. The owner had advertised the van for $1000.oo. I was so desperate that I wasn’t even going to bargain with him but during our conversation we discovered that he was a friend of my nephew. Also when he heard my plans for the van he thought it was such a great idea that he sold it to me for $700. What a guy!

 I drove the van around for about a month before I took it apart.

 The Conversion

 We parked the van in the middle of Bob’s shop and blocked it up about 3ft off the floor. Then we fired up a loader and turned the donor pickup on its side in the yard so we could get at the parts that we needed from it.
The engine in the pickup was a 350 V8 that was worn out. I gave that to Bob’s brother who wanted to put it in a 69 Toyota Land cruzer. The transmission was a turbo 350 which I didn’t need.
As it turned out the fellow that I bought the pickup from needed a turbo 350 trany, so I sold him the one from the pickup for $350. Therefore I got the pickup for free.

 Here is what we used from the Pickup.
New process 205 Blazer transfer case.
Cross member.
Front and rear axles.
Transfer case shift lever.
Miscellaneous hardware.

 I had to buy;

A Muncie 3 speed transmission. The Saginaw that comes on the van won’t adapt to the transfer case and the Muncie is a much stronger transmission than the Sag.
An adapter to adapt the transmission to the transfer case.
Wheels and tires. The wheels on the pickup were 16.” Too big. In order to get some clearance in the wheel wells for the tires I went to 15’s.
A brake balancing valve. The one on the pickup didn’t work.
5” lift blocks.
Miscellaneous hardware.

 Things I had to pay to have custom made.

Front and rear drive lines.

 What we did.

First we pulled all the running gear out from under the van and the pickup.

The next thing we had to do was move the spring mounting pads on the donor axles outward about 3” because the springs on the pickup mount closer together than the van’s and I wanted to use the van’s suspension.

This was easily done by setting the axles across two jack stands with a spirit level sitting on the pads and blocking up the pilot end of the differential so that the mounting pads are level fore and aft. Then just torch the pads off the axle housing and move them outward the appropriate amount. Then weld them back to the axle housing using the spirit level to keep them level. If you don’t jostle things too much this works like a charm.

On the passenger side front axle where the front differential is we had to make a pad and do a little grinding to capture the "U" bolt because the original is cast into the differential housing.

The original van (2 wheel drive) front axle has about a 2 or 3 inch drop in it so when we set the front springs down on the new front axle the front end of the van was 5 inches taller than the back so I had to install five inch lift blocks between the rear springs and the axle.

Once we had the axles in place we approached the transmission/transfer case. We had to have a cross member to mount them..
The original Saginaw transmission has a large eye cast into the top which is how it mounts to the frame.
The new setup has a “T” mount underneath. We modified the pickup’s cross member so we could hang it from the cross frame that the Saginaw had been mounted to. The picture should clear that up.

 The next thing to do was to build the linkage for the transfer case.

We located the shift lever for the 4 wheel drive under the drivers seat it goes through a hole in the side of the dog house where it connects to a long rod that we had to bend in several different directions to get to the transfer case. We tried it a couple of times before we got the linkage right. We had to weld a lot of gussets on the rod where the bends are to make it stronger.

The shifter on the transfer case is on the passenger side so I had to make a link that comes across the top if the transfer case where it is bolted so it can pivot. The other end is connected via a cleaves to the link from the shift lever.

The next thing was the steering.
what I ended up doing was taking the original drag link, cutting it and inserting the end into a piece of rod stock that I board a hole in each end of. Then I put the end of the pickup drag link into the other end of the rod and welded them together.

Of course we had to install new shocks, new brakes and break lines, a new clutch etc.
Finally after about a month the day came to roll the van out of the shop and see if it worked.
“It rolls ok in 2 wheel, let’s try 4 wheel”.
“Gawd! What’s that horrible banging and grinding sound?”
The front drive line is rubbing against the engine cross member.
So we pull the van back into the shop and remove the cross member and modify it to clear the front shaft. That cross member has since been modified again to accommodate the new 292 engine.


That’s about all there was to it. The conversion was fairly straight forward and went off very well. It is still working today pretty much the way it was installed. Of course there have been some minor adjustments along the way. I had to lower the transfer case a little to take some of the strain off the rear “U” joints. The rear drive shaft is only 15” long so alignment is pretty critical.


Here is a page with a description of the installation of a 292 engine in Pigpen








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