This year we had the pleasure of partnering with Ford Motor Company and Polvoorde Racing to build the most evolved and over-the-top Ford Transit conversion known to date. The first stop for this build was the 2019 SEMA Show in Las Vegas, NV. Not only was the invitation exciting, but to be chosen as the first van conversion company to work on the 2020 Ford Transit AWD chassis was a great honor. Competitive off-road racer Christopher Polvoorde and the Polvoorde Racing Team worked directly with Outside Van designer Jeff Roberts to custom design a conversion to keep up with Chris’s extreme and adventurous lifestyle. The overall goal was to build a go-anywhere Ford Transit to travel off-grid while providing all the amenities for on-grid living. Although exciting, extreme builds like this come with a list of challenges. Take a look behind the scenes as we give a view into how our Engineering team prepared for the arrival of the chassis and turned this challenge into a great opportunity to show our abilities.
Our normal custom build timeframe averages three months with more evolved designs averaging around four. In order to get this beast of a conversion finalized and to SEMA in time, the Outside Van team had approximately 36 days from when the chassis arrived at our HQ. Not only was the timeframe expedited but the team was aiming to design and implement never-seen-before parts into the build.
When an automotive manufacturer releases a new model, van conversion engineering departments have to hit the reset button. The chassis evolution and advancement impact the parts, layout, and conversion of the vehicle. In order to turn this build around in our six week timeframe, the engineering team needed to finalize up to 80% of the their work prior to the chassis arriving at Outside Van. The first major challenge was assembling the 3-D files. The team laid out the full interior and exterior conversion, along with ensuring that the floors, infrastructure, bed systems, front bumpers, safari rack, and ladders were all manufactured and on-site for immediate fitting and installation once the chassis arrived. The parts for this build were designed and released strategically to align with our tight production schedule.
Challenging design requirements can lead to the most innovative products. It opens a door of creative freedom when you approach a challenge that you haven’t encountered before. Some of the unique parts for this build included a new bunk system, S-Pod Bantam for exterior lighting, dual heat vent locations, front bumper, and safari rack. The battery rack and Infrastructure sheet metal were some of the first parts designed. Next came the floor and infrastructure, with each part being designed, manufactured and finished to be available when it was needed in the build.
Another major challenge we faced was designing an infrastructure kit to support four cot-style bunks and the three-panel bed system, with a single bunk underneath the three-panel bed system. That required designing a bunk that could support itself without straps attached to the ceiling due to the three-panel bed location above. In addition, two of the bunks needed to be able to move outside the van, attaching to the two side ladders. We achieved this task by designing legs that could fold into the bunk for storage. The quick-release, adjustable legs allow the bunks to move inside and outside of the van, adjusting to the height requirements of both configurations. This was the first time we have designed interior cot-style bunks to be used on both the interior and the exterior of a vehicle. Christopher wanted to have the flexibility to sleep under the stars while adventuring so we implemented our external bunk design to give him the closest to a hammock feel. When designing the ladder rungs to hold the cots on the outside of the van it presented few design challenges. First, the hardware used inside also had to be used on the outside ladder rungs. Second, it had to be simple to use and safe. The solution was a sheet metal rung that Mac Versa Track could bolt to with ease. This approach offered us the flexibility to look at the bigger picture and the opportunity to use a universal ladder rung to support other accessories, like bike mounts, gas storage, shovels, axes, jacks, etc. This design approach gave us a place to install a bolt on a grip-plate to the top of the rung. Form and function were achieved from a single design innovation.
As you can see, the 2020 Transit AWD received a nice facelift that incorporated several new cosmetic and design features. Ford’s designers gave the bumper and grille a more aggressive look and an array of new sensors presenting our team with a challenge when designing the new front bumper. Those new sensors forced us to make sure the tube work of our bumper and lights cleared all of these sensor zones. With that tube bumper, we also were able to incorporate a skid plate that helps protect the intercooler below the bumper, and included four new RIGID 360 lights for on and off-road Adventures. We also manufactured a custom safari rack that holds a Zamp 130W solar panel, 50” lightbar and a plethora of Yakima products to hold Chris’s gear. This vehicle was designed as the ultimate off-road adventure vehicle so external gear storage was essential.
Sticking to the short timeframe, all our parts were manufactured on site and ready to install when the chassis arrived from Ford. At this time our production team took the reins as they spent day and night piecing together the build. For the next 36 days they worked their way through the new chassis and as they discovered design challenges and found creative solutions. With one day until the van was being picked up, the Outside Van team went “all hands of deck” and finalized the last details. The build was well perceived at the 2019 SEMA Show and we couldn’t be more happy with the final result. We truly appreciate the challenge of building on the new 2020 Ford Transit AWD chassis and having the opportunity to develop new features that drive our creativity as a brand. A gracious thank you to Ford Motor Company and Polvoorde Racing for trusting us and having faith in our team.
*Tracks and suspension were modified and installed by a 3rd party. For show only. Lift will be designed in the future.