Turning an old 1993 Ford E350 shuttle van into a Glamping Bus

In DIY, Lifestyle, Old E350 Ford van by LynnLeave a Comment

The Sturdy Sisters will be living the dream. We are going to turn this former church hauler, a 1993 Ford E350 handicap access van, into Grace-E our Glamping Bus extrodinaire. It will take a little work for sure but she has great “sturdy” bones.

We found her on Craigslist. They were asking $600 dollars for her and she was parked in a field about an hour away. The owner said that she had belonged to his grandfather. We later came to find out that she had been used to transport him back and forth to Seattle to get his chemo treatments when he had been diagnosed with brain cancer.

The price was fairly low because though she had been a strong runner, she had sat for a couple of years, now she wouldn’t make a sound. It was a question of electrical possibly because of the wheel chair lift door sensor etc. Me of course, being somewhat clueless wanted to take a look any way and besides we could always have her towed home. I called a towing company to find out how much it would cost. I was told it would be at least $350 plus tax, which made me gulp but I still wanted at least to check her out.

I grabbed my sister and the “Bearded One” and off we went. A long winding road later and we were there. We were smitten. At least the sister and I were. She was clean, or as clean as a 1993 van in a field could be, and sturdy looking, no dents or bruises, and her windows had been cleaned to a shine. Sure, her vinyl stripes were a little faded and crazed, the adhesive left behind when they had removed the church phone number, was now made completely readable by road dust and dirt, but we didn’t care. We were having visions of adventures, campouts and rondevous. The part about not running was completely out of my thought process, after all it was just a motor, right?

The one thing that was a little bothersome was the towing cost. We were further out than I had gotten the estimate for and  it was gonna be spendy. As the Universe would have it however, we just happened to have an old finicky,  dented and dinged up farm truck at home that the seller would be interested in. In the end he agreed to take 500 cash and the truck and managed to get the bus towed to our house.


It was in our eyes a miracle! The promise of great adventures to be had. We could now go where ever we’d like. We could see our selves on the beach snug and warm toasting the sunset. Here on our coastline it is generally cold, windy, and drizzly, so having a built in shelter would be marvelous. We can now look forward to going to the  Pioneer campout on the Clearwater River with our own porta-potty on board, a divine feature for a couple of women of a certain age. No more stumbling in the darkness trying to find the “blue room” along the river bar. And the glorious ambience she would provide! We are all about the presentation. We are true Glamper wannabes for sure. There shall be party lights, quaint tablecloths, throw pillows, candles, tiki torches and more. And the food and wine… Okay, back to reality.

These are definitely the possibilities. Meanwhile though, until she is up and running she looks grand sitting proudly in our driveway. Besides, I’m thinking she can always be used as a guest house. Hmm… an air B&B perchance.

We christened  her Grace due to her church hauling days, and call her Grace-E because the “Bearded One’s name is George, and every George has to have his Gracie.

We looked under the hood. We stared at the mass of wires, whats-its, and doohickies. We shut the hood.


The “Bearded One” bought and installed a new battery to replace one of the existing batteries that wouldn’t hold a charge and I ordered the appropriate Chilton’s manual from Amazon. We shut the hood.

There is no room under the hood of a 1993 e350. There is a doghouse in the cab which lets you see all of the parts that we don’t need to get to. In a handicap accessible van there are wires. A lot of them. Any one of which could be stopping the van from starting.


We managed to locate the starter way underneath. She will turn over (crank no start) if you jump the solenoid with a screwdriver. She will also turn over (crank no start) if you do the same on the starter relay. Alas,  She does not start nor run. The Chilton’s manual, which I thought would make things simple and plain is filled with poor quality black and white photos that show no details. In their defense however, they are reprints of the original manual of the day, and not as detailed as todays’ images.

That said, we closed the hood.

She had a really wonky ignition cylinder which the “Bearded One” changed out. The original had gotten loose and you had to jiggle it around to make the buzzer go off. Step by step we get a little closer. Sister Rhae, who is really good at puzzles is helping to untangle the mystery. I just wish you could find a simple photo diagram of what goes where and the process of diagnosis therein. There is a lot to be found about ford truck motors which have easy access, but very little delve into this scrunched together hard to get around engine.

In between bouts of staring at the engine compartment, the “Bearded One” has begun to clean Grace out. He tackled removing the cumbersome wheel chair lift all on his own. I still am not sure how he managed to get that thing out and hauled across the gravel to stand neat and tidy out of the way.

He’s since taken out all of the seats except for the bench seat that we plan on using for passenger seating and guest cot.

While Sister Rhae and the Bearded One puzzle through the “actually running bit” I am left to ponder and design the interior. Graph paper is my friend. I have measured GraceE from stem to stern and peruse Pinterest daily trying to come up with the best plan for our little oasis on wheels. I have roughly 75 square ft to work with.

In this square footage I’d like to include:

  • a porta-potty /changing area
  • a small kitchen with sink and fold away work space
  • a fridge unit (maybe bench top)
  • a full size sleeping area with “garage” storage underneath accessible through the back door

I’d also like to have drawer based storage instead of cupboards. We are to old for stooping and digging. I also think that drawers will provide much more usable space as well. Instead of the usual overhead storage I would like to use some of IKEA’s kitchen rod storage options with baskets, buckets and hooks that could be bungeed while traveling. One of my favorite things about GraceE is the light and airy window space. I think it will be well suited for here on the Olympic Peninsula where the weather is pretty temperate. Now if we were down in Arizona, all that glass might not be so practical.

Here is the plan I am leaning towards.

To be continued…

Update: Today  the “Bearded One” put on a new starter relay which means we’ve now achieved “crank” status. No more having to use a screw driver under the hood. A simple turn of the key is all that’s needed. Now to get spark to the engine. Step by step closer to the dream.


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