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Hi! and thanks for the hearty welcome in the newbies section. I introduced a question in the newbies section and someone suggested I post it elsewhere. Here is my situation I want to buy an 80's van and put a diesel engine in it. My ... JOIN NOW TO REMOVE TRACER

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Old 08-20-2008, 01:37 AM
Diesel Fan

Default Van Conversion

Hi! and thanks for the hearty welcome in the newbies section. I introduced a question in the newbies section and someone suggested I post it elsewhere. Here is my situation

I want to buy an 80's van and put a diesel engine in it. My purpose of the diesel is for better fuel economy and the ability to put svo (in some ratio) straight into the fuel tank. I have seen in posts on other forums that bulk veggie oil is about $2 a gallon - I haven't found this out personally yet though.

I have seen a number of 80's van conversions for sale on the cheap. They almost all have V8 engines. Some have V6 or inline 6's

I am not sure how to begin this process. I don't know if I should find a van first and then get an engine that will fit in it or find the engine and then get a van it will fit in. I do know that right now all kinds of these older vans are available and pretty cheap, whether they have a v8, v6 or inline 6. I have not bought anything yet so I thought I would run this out to you all first. Here are my questions:

1. A fully dressed V8 engine weighs about 700 pounds. I am trying to minimize changes to the vehicle (suspension, cutting the firewall, etc). Can I find a V6 diesel that will be the same size (or smaller) and the same weight (or lighter) than the V8 gas engine? From what I have read so far I am guessing that the inline 6's and V6's are both going to be much larger and heavier than their gas counterparts. I have also seen some inline 4's advertised but I don't know if they would have enough power.

2. To those of you who have had vans of this vintage can you recommend a brand that you feel would be easier to work with, i.e. Ford, Chevy, etc? I know that the Ford van has the larger hood - almost car-like up front - so the conversion process itself might be easier. I am not really a Ford fan though

3. How much power am I going to need? Ever 2 years I will be touring the U.S., driving about 10-12,000 miles in six months. I will be driving across Colorado and up and over other mountains. I hope to be able to cruise at 70 on flat land and at least 55 up the hills. I may tow a trailer but more than likely it will be a tent trailer, less than 3 feet tall. It doesn't have to be a thunderbolt but I do need to merge into rush hour traffic. I would like to carry 30 or more gallons of fuel so that I can be a little choosy about where I stop or so that I can take the less traveled roads.

4. Do turbo's improve mileage?

5. I am thinking it would be better to do a complete heart transplant, i.e. engine and tranny together. I want to have a 4 speed or 5 speed stick - preferably with an overdrive.

6. I have heard of gas inline 6's getting 20 mpg. My dream of all dreams is to be able to get 25 mpg ( or better).

7. I am willing to do some mods on the vehicle to improve mileage also - maybe lowering the whole vehicle 1", etc. I am also willing to change the rear end.

How should I begin?
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Old 08-20-2008, 02:12 AM
biged681985's Avatar
BOMBARDIER xbox is gay biged681985 bigedsdieselservice


my suggetion on an engine would be a 4bt cummins. which is the same as the 6bt/ but with out the 2 of the cylinders. it should have plenty of power for what ya plan on doing with it. they used them in tons of different applications. they used them in alot of box trucks.

biged681985's Sig:Big Ed's Diesel Service
2006 Dodge - race truck #smkypig
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Old 08-20-2008, 09:12 AM
stkdram55's Avatar


i was thinkin the same thing ed, you can get plenty of power from one of these and get good mileage too

stkdram55's Sig:
Just an Inline 6 Cylinder

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Old 08-20-2008, 01:00 PM
greasemonkey's Avatar
Diesel Bomber


I second (or third...) the 4bt. if you can find one the mercedes 2.5L/545rfe from the dodge sprinter would be an excellent choice, too. as for what van to use, I've done a fair amount of service work on some early 90's E350 vans and they were BEEFY, ooh, also an early 80's 250, I believe.

anyone know if there are chevy or ford diesel vans from the 80's?

if you're going to be in the 1/2-3/4 ton chassis, have you considered the suburbans? I know there are a lot of 80's 'burbs with a diesel going pretty cheap, I'd be more inclined to get one of those and toss a 4BT cummins in it and be happy with 25+mpg. I know a guy that got 35mpg with a 4BT in a chevy 1/2 ton truck with a 5 speed.

--oh yeah, you said you want to be traveling/touring around, I could see where the taller van interior would be more useful...just make sure it's got plenty of windows on the know, stay away from these kind -->

Click the image to open in full size.

greasemonkey's Sig:93 w250 club cab, NV4500, flat bed.
I have this condition, where I perceive OEM parts as insufficient and in need of aftermarket replacement; maybe that mindset just stems from the domestic vehicles that I've owned.

Last edited by greasemonkey; 08-20-2008 at 01:06 PM.
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Old 08-20-2008, 06:53 PM
biged681985's Avatar
BOMBARDIER xbox is gay biged681985 bigedsdieselservice


thats funny right there
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Old 08-23-2008, 10:34 AM
Diesel Fan


Thanks! I will start doing some research. About the turbo...what kinds of benefits will I get from having a turbo on an engine? and how about a 5 speed manual tranny that doesn't sing like a fat opera star?

Last edited by pengyou; 08-23-2008 at 11:22 AM.
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Old 08-23-2008, 02:02 PM
greasemonkey's Avatar
Diesel Bomber


you definitely want the turbo. technically, it increases the volumetric efficiency of the engine. practically, you can roll on the throttle a little in 4th/5th gear to maintain or accelerate instead of flooring it and/or downshifting. and it allows you to have a lot more power available, for the times you're pulling a grade or driving into a headwind.

as far as transmissions, the NV4500 is pretty much the one you want. the guy with the 1500 4bt that I know, I believe, had an NV3500, not sure if that'd be too light weight for a van/'burb, though. anyone know anything about the ZF 5 speeds? are they awesome like the ZF 6 speeds??
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Old 08-30-2008, 04:15 PM
Diesel Fan


15" or 16" tires - can I get away with 15"? I ask this because I have noticed that a lot of the 1/2 ton or more vans come with 16" tires. I would prefer the 15" because:

* the overall height of the vehicle will be lower (or should be 1/2" lower, and I am planning on dropping it another half inch or inch to improve drag)

* 15" tires are cheaper and there is a greater selection of them

* there are more great looking rims for a 15" wheel

What do you think?
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Old 09-09-2008, 12:57 AM
67Cowboy's Avatar
Diesel Fan

Default Diesel Swap

My $0.02; Chevy made great full size vans 80's- mid 90's with the 6.2 ; and even if you find one you want, the 6.2 and 6.5 fit right in place of the gas engine and even use the same motor mounts. I believe there are several how-to's on the board. Also if you know about the worlds fastest diesel pickup, Gale Banks' 222mph truck that not only did the Power Tour with the A/C running it also did the Baja 1,000 and instead of using 6or700 gallons of fuel they only used like 80 !!! Anyway Gale Banks cut his teeth on those 6.2 Chevys back in the 80's, he started out running adds in Western Horseman, Quarter Horse Journal, NCHAChatter for his original Turbo System that like doubled the horse power back then. Check out his website and message board and weekly Blog. they have a ton of parts and in my opinion for a guy who wants a VAN the old Chevy has the best options. I've found them on for a few hundred bucks !!!
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Old 09-14-2008, 08:12 PM
67Cowboy's Avatar
Diesel Fan


here is a photo of one of the vans that came with the 3.9 Liter.
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Van Conversion-dscn1606.jpg  
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