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Thread: The "Tan Brick" aka my 1997 Express Cobra conversion

  1. #1
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    The "Tan Brick" aka my 1997 Express Cobra conversion

    This will be for the projects I am about to undertake on my Express. I have already done alot of work and improvements and have more planned.

    It has a lower mileage goodwrench 350 for an 8800+ gvw truck in it. ETec 170 heads, 215/220 comp cam, doug thorley tri-ys, and an 0411 swap. I upgraded the engine to use a 454 1-ton radiator and oil cooler setup. I have also upgraded to a Duramax fan and Trailblazer SS thermal fan clutch. Using a 180*F thermostat it runs 185*F nearly constant. I upgraded the charging system to a 200amp AD244 alternator. I plan to upgrade the engine oil cooler lines to braided stainless AN lines and fittings soon as the aftermarket replacement lines seep around the quick connects.








    I swapped a 4L80E and 3.73 geared GM 9.5" corporate 14-bolt under it a year ago. I put a transgo kit in it along with a nice cooler setup in series with the radiator cooler. The transmission shifts great but the pan and output shaft are leaking. When I did the 4L80E swap I had the driveshaft cut down, rebalanced and spicer solid u-joints added for peace of mind.



    I currently have G1500 front rotors, 6 on 5.5 to 5 on 5 wheel adapters on the back and stock wheels. I had Titan 20s and 265/50R20s on it, but it was eating me in gas when I was driving it 100 miles a day and I needed new tires, so I picked up the adapters and threw a cheap pair of front rotors on it along with the old rubber sitting in my garage. I love the way it drives and rides on 20s, but my city mileage drops a solid 2-3 mpg and its not much better on the highway even. Thats with the speedo recalibrated for the gears/taller tires too. It really needs 4.10s to be happy on the taller, heavier 20s . I am about to install new 1-ton leaf springs and coil springs. Perhaps the chevy lean will disappear when I do it.







    I have a few interior restoration and updates planned.

    I just ordered a pair of new wiper cowls and a pair of 2008+ dual glass mirrors. I saw the mirrors on a delivery van at work and had to scoop up a pair. The mirrors on my Titan are almost identical and I love the blind spot mirrors.



    I have a 3,000 watt power inverter already installed but plan to add a pair of deep cycle batteries to the outer passenger frame rail in diesel battery trays charged through an isolator to power the accessories seperate the starting battery. My sound system is all original and will soon recieve some much needed upgrades. I also need to remove a dead alarm/remote entry/remote start system and repair the harness damage. My front door panels were made of a crappy grade of plastic and will either get fiberglassed to repair or perhaps replaced with newer express parts. I plan to order a dashmat to protect the dash from further UV damage. The tint is also starting to age and I plan to limo tint the rear of the van with a ceramic tint to block as much heat as possible.

    The exterior vhynal strips are going to be erased and I am going to detail the whole van inside and out. I already restored all the lenses and they look practically new.

    I will soon be gutting the 24' 1960s travel trailer I plan to pull on the many long roadtrips I have planned.

    Made an order today and added to my wish list lol.

    First I am finishing my quiet, heavy duty exhaust system. I am done being loud while towing. Its just not fun to tow for 5 hours non-stop listening to the 350 breathe through headers, high flow metallic core cats and hooker aerochambers.

    Introduce the massive Walker 22865 "school bus" muffler. It had dual 2.5" inlets and a single 3" outlet, 36.25" long overall with a case 29.75 long and 8.38" diameter. Might hurt the power a touch but my sanity and hearing should be regained as well as less chance of having a podunk town cop pull me over for noise.



    I picked up a Flowmaster 2.5" on 5.5" radius 180" bend and a Flowmaster 3" 4-piece universal tailpipe. The whole exhaust will now be mandrel bent, aluminized steel. In buying parts I found the stock system was actually 3" after each cat and exhausted through a 2.75" tailpipe. Practically impossible to find a dual 3" in, 2.75" out muffler. I chose to bring the pipe size down to 2.5 in front of the cats when I installed the headers. Just do not feel a 350 needs dual 3" pipes and frankly puzzled why GM used the setup anyway. The stock system exited the manifolds at 2", immediately stepped up to 2.75", into the monster stock cats, out of each cat into a 3" pipe and into a di/so muffler and 2.75" tailpipe. Far from a great setup IMO.



    The junkyard 4L80E trans pan has been seeping since day 1 and finally I have decided to do something. Ordered a Mag Hy-tech 4.25" deep 4L80E pan that holds an extra 4 qts as well as an AC Delco filter kit with the good GM gasket. Also picked up a new output shaft and pitman shaft steering box seal. Bound and determined to stop any and all fluid leaks.



    Now for the wishful thinking, matching differential cover and while the cover is open 4.10s.


  2. #2
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    More of the wishlist is a Workhorse dash and cluster. I like the semitruck look and built-in dual din navigation setup.


  3. #3
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    Chris ,

    More info on the Duramax fan and Trailblazer clutch please ?

    Possible upgrade for my BBC tow rig ??

    Thanks

    TOM
    1994 3500 Dually , 502 (509) , 264HR , Edelbrock MPFI , PFI '7427
    2006 Forest river-Sierra 37' 5th wheel
    1999 Astro Van, L31 Vortec , 4x4 conversion
    1994 Pontiac Sunbird "Work ride"
    1993 K-3500 "Ex-diesel" 454/4L80E - '7427
    1992 454SS "Eh Stock" , Blower & '7427 swap .
    1992 S-10 434 SBC/Tremec - '7427
    1984 S-10 , SAS, 496/700R4/205 , D44/14BFF -'7427
    1980 Z-28 454/700R4
    1977 Olds 98 Regency 403/700R4

  4. #4
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    Last edited by Fast355; 11-10-2014 at 01:46 PM.

  5. #5
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    Not sure which year your big block is, but if it has the L31 style water pump with the smaller thread on fan clutch it will work.

    I had to do a little clearance of the fan shroud but it was relatively minor. The Duramax fan is about 1" larger diameter, but the blades are much wider and steeper pitched. With the Duramax fan my A/C blows ICE cubes even at idle on a 105*F day.

    You need an early model Duramax fan part# 1580690

    http://www.amazon.com/ACDelco-15-806...ywords=1580690

    If your engine is a L29 with spin on fan you can likely use this clutch. I had Napa cross the Hayden 2851 number and bought their equivalent.

    One word of warning this fan can get quite loud when the clutch kicks in (which is practically never) and you will notice atleast a 10 HP if not 15-20 HP loss when the clutch is engaged. That being said I noticed much less fan drag overall with the Duramax fan because it spins more time with the fan clutch unlocked than the stock fan setup.

    If your tow pig has the old 4 bolt flange to it, might be able to use an early 6.5 turbo diesel clutch. The diesel guys are just bolting these fans onto their factory clutches.

  6. #6
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    Nice

    Ordered up the blade and you are correct , I use the old 4 bolt mount with a Hayden Severe duty clutch , so I will probably just swap the blade out .

    Thanks for the info .

    Oh , You will absolutely LOVE the Mag Hytec stuff , I run their pan ('80E) and diff cover (14BFF) on my Dually and have for years , top quality stuff.

    Thanks again

    TOM
    1994 3500 Dually , 502 (509) , 264HR , Edelbrock MPFI , PFI '7427
    2006 Forest river-Sierra 37' 5th wheel
    1999 Astro Van, L31 Vortec , 4x4 conversion
    1994 Pontiac Sunbird "Work ride"
    1993 K-3500 "Ex-diesel" 454/4L80E - '7427
    1992 454SS "Eh Stock" , Blower & '7427 swap .
    1992 S-10 434 SBC/Tremec - '7427
    1984 S-10 , SAS, 496/700R4/205 , D44/14BFF -'7427
    1980 Z-28 454/700R4
    1977 Olds 98 Regency 403/700R4

  7. #7
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    Messed around a bit this week and got the Express tuned up and running right and about to take it to the shop that does my exhaust work either next week or the week after. Changed all kinds of fun parts like motor mounts, the transmission mount, fuel pump, front brake hoses, rotors, pads, rebuilt the calipers with new hardware and seals and finally removed the annoyingly loud exhaust to make way for the school bus muffler next week or two.

    Got a clip of it running right after a 60*F cold start after sitting for nearly 2 months.

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hygrGX24-dc

  8. #8
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    Finally got around to getting my exhaust setup, used the same shop I have for years. Ended up not using a few of the pieces I had bought as we found some substitutes that worked better. It is very quiet for a smallblock with long tube Tri-Y headers. I don't feel I lost any power and it runs strong all the way through the powerband.











    Last edited by Fast355; 12-30-2014 at 02:50 PM.

  9. #9
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    I have done some tuning for the new exhaust setup and it is drawing a bit more airflow in the low-midrange than before which frankly is surprising.

    I recently added a Tow/Haul button for the 0411 and created myself a normal driving map and a "HAUL @$$" mode. The normal driving map is in the stock shift point location and locks the converter at part throttle acceleration and WOT in 2nd through 4th gears. Normal acceleration is 1-2, 2 lock, 3rd (unlock during upshift followed by immediate relock), then 4th (unlock during upshift followed by immediate relock). Under normal driving the RPM stays in the 1,000-2,500 rpm range with full throttle operating between 3,500 and 5,000 rpm. I had to slightly tweak the spark map for the additional load as the knock sensor was picking up knock in the 2,500-4,500 rpm range under load. Last tank I got 13.7 MPG all city.

    Here is a WOT pull shifting at 5,000 rpm with WOT converter lockup in 2nd and 3rd.

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-6DZhPN7VHQ

  10. #10
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    Picked up a complete 1-ton suspension including a GM 10.5" full floating 14-bolt to rebuild and swap under this van from a 1999 G3500. I got the coil springs, lower control arms, forged upper control arms, spindles, 8 lug rotors, 8600 GVW calipers, steering linkages, and sway bar. I got the leaf springs, shackles, rear-end mounting plates, and u-bolts. I also snagged the hydroboost setup. Have been ordering parts to rebuild the suspension, regear the 10.5, and install a limited slip. I am planning on running a set of 2001-2008 GM HD truck 16" wheels and 31.5" LT tires when I convert the suspension over. I relocated and rewired my trailer brake controller and added a circuit to the 7-pin to charge a "house" battery on the trailer from the vans auxiliary "house" AGM battery on the frame which charges separate of the starting battery through an isolator.
    Last edited by Fast355; 05-14-2015 at 04:50 PM.

  11. #11
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    Started the Hydroboost conversion after work today. It bolts in with no modifications on the Express. No cutting or drilling. Just swap the booster, pedal and master cylinder and change the resivoir and fluid hoses. My junkyard pull is filthy but the whole engine compartmemt looked like that. Leaks everywhere. Will be cleaning the booster before I install it with new hoses.




  12. #12
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    I probably should have mentioned this before your swap. The Savana / Express HB Master Cylinder is "quick takeup" design. On our buses with 3 1/2 X 13 rear drums, several factors including this MC contribute to rear shoe overheating. We have gone a long way toward making the rear brakes on the '97-'02 buses last as long as they did on the 95 and down vehicles, and one experiment was using the older MC in the newer van. With the older cylinder the brakes apply quickly without the slow, lazy feeling that accompanies most quick takeup m/cyls. It requires a little more pedal effort but it's really not bad. Ultimately, anyone wh's driven for years appreciates the "direct" feeling provided by the older m/cyl.

    Additionally, if your van has "auto adjust" built into the park brake pedal, this mechanism works to keep tension on the park brake cable so the brake is always in adjustment. We've found this can prevent shoes from retracting fully when the brake is released. We switched long ago to a park brake pedal from a '99 K30 truck (others may be the same). If you decide to pursue this change I can provide a few more details.

    Finally, we've replaced the rear wheel cylinders with smaller diameter versions from a 3/4 ton van and tried to choose front pads that are a bit more agressive. This places more of the work to stop the vehicle on the front brakes. We get about 20k miles between pad swaps for these stop and go, in city vehicles. This may not seem optimal but a pad replacement can be done in 1/2 hr where a rear brake job including replacing drums can require 4 hrs or more.

    Anyway, keep up the good work.

  13. #13
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    Quote Originally Posted by 1project2many View Post
    I probably should have mentioned this before your swap. The Savana / Express HB Master Cylinder is "quick takeup" design. On our buses with 3 1/2 X 13 rear drums, several factors including this MC contribute to rear shoe overheating. We have gone a long way toward making the rear brakes on the '97-'02 buses last as long as they did on the 95 and down vehicles, and one experiment was using the older MC in the newer van. With the older cylinder the brakes apply quickly without the slow, lazy feeling that accompanies most quick takeup m/cyls. It requires a little more pedal effort but it's really not bad. Ultimately, anyone wh's driven for years appreciates the "direct" feeling provided by the older m/cyl.

    Additionally, if your van has "auto adjust" built into the park brake pedal, this mechanism works to keep tension on the park brake cable so the brake is always in adjustment. We've found this can prevent shoes from retracting fully when the brake is released. We switched long ago to a park brake pedal from a '99 K30 truck (others may be the same). If you decide to pursue this change I can provide a few more details.

    Finally, we've replaced the rear wheel cylinders with smaller diameter versions from a 3/4 ton van and tried to choose front pads that are a bit more agressive. This places more of the work to stop the vehicle on the front brakes. We get about 20k miles between pad swaps for these stop and go, in city vehicles. This may not seem optimal but a pad replacement can be done in 1/2 hr where a rear brake job including replacing drums can require 4 hrs or more.

    Anyway, keep up the good work.
    I appreciate the input, might end up having to talk with you on the 99' K30 pedal. I have not looked yet, but I seem to remember my parking brake pedal having a goofy contraption on top of it.

    Atleast initially I will be running the Hydroboost cylinder on the 1500 brakes (8,800 gvw front calipers/pads). I am sure the larger cylinder will make the brakes feel more direct as well. I noticed on the truck sites that the GMT400 truck guys tend to upgrade to larger GMT800 master cylinders to obtain a better pedal feel. On the vacuum booster setup I was running the larger 2003+ Express master cylinder from a van that had a vacuum booster.

    Are you using the wheel cylinders off the 13 x 2.5" brakes or the 11 x 3"? When I put the light duty 6 lug 3/4 ton 9.5" rear end in my Express I was able to reuse the 8.5" backing plates, brake shoes and wheel cylinders and merely changed the drums.

    13 x 3.5" is what I will be running in the rear with the 10.5" 14-bolt as well.

  14. #14
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    Quote Originally Posted by Fast355 View Post
    Are you using the wheel cylinders off the 13 x 2.5" brakes or the 11 x 3"? When I put the light duty 6 lug 3/4 ton 9.5" rear end in my Express I was able to reuse the 8.5" backing plates, brake shoes and wheel cylinders and merely changed the drums.

    13 x 3.5" is what I will be running in the rear with the 10.5" 14-bolt as well.
    Yes, the cylinders are from 13 X 2 1/2 brakes. 1 1/16" diameter cylinder. Carquest number EW79767. The original number is EW79768.

    You can tell if your park brake has the auto tensioner by looking for a single flat piece of metal resting against a clear piece of plastic below the pedal arm. When you apply the brake this piece moves away from the clear plastic and creates friction to hold the drum that pulls the cable.

    The full floating rear is a nice choice. If it's the one with slip on drums then the hubs are unique to that axle. The distance between the inner and outer hub bearings is smaller on the slip on axle and the wheel flange is located slightly closer to the inner wheel seal compared to most 14 bolts.

  15. #15
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    Quote Originally Posted by 1project2many View Post
    Yes, the cylinders are from 13 X 2 1/2 brakes. 1 1/16" diameter cylinder. Carquest number EW79767. The original number is EW79768.

    You can tell if your park brake has the auto tensioner by looking for a single flat piece of metal resting against a clear piece of plastic below the pedal arm. When you apply the brake this piece moves away from the clear plastic and creates friction to hold the drum that pulls the cable.

    The full floating rear is a nice choice. If it's the one with slip on drums then the hubs are unique to that axle. The distance between the inner and outer hub bearings is smaller on the slip on axle and the wheel flange is located slightly closer to the inner wheel seal compared to most 14 bolts.
    It has slip-on drums. My intentions are to run the really lightweight 16" alloy wheels from the newer HD trucks and a highway tread LT tire.



    I just got off work a little while ago and about to start installing the KYB Monomax shocks I ordered on Amazon for it.

    I couldn't turn down the opportunity to jump up to the 1-ton stuff. I got the whole used suspension for $350 and only payed $300 for the 10.5". Most places I couldn't pickup the forged upper control arms and spindles for what I paid for the whole suspension. I didn't even have to touch the stuff, they took it off, brought it too the shop, unloaded it in the floor and we chained up the rear axle to my cherry picker and unloaded that massive 10.5.
    Last edited by Fast355; 05-16-2015 at 04:31 PM.

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