Special Delivery: This Vintage Step Van Overlander Is a Ford F-150 Underneath
It's nicknamed Chris Farley, and yes, you can live in this van down by the river.
Unless you've been living under a rock, you're probably aware of the uptick in popularity of two specific automotive subcultures: overlanding and vans. Those two go hand in hand, though the folks who choose a full-size van over something like a Toyota 4Runner are still far and few between. This story, however, isn't about going with the flow, but about driving off the beaten path in something unique.
Meet Buck Jones, a man who moved to Los Angeles, California with aspirations of becoming a comedian, but instead built one of the most badass overlanding concoctions we've ever seen: a 1966 Grumman Olson carefully crafted overtop of a 2017 Ford F-150. Or as Jones calls it, the most capable Grumman ever made.
Grumman is best known for building the LLV that's used by the United States Postal Service to deliver your mail (for now). The company also built various planes, boats, and submarines, however.
To kick off the build, Jones started with a Grumman Olson, essentially the older brother of today's brown UPS trucks. Grumman slapped these trucks on GM-sourced frames in the '60s, which posed a bit of a conundrum for an overlanding build.
First, the front axle of the factory Grumman was only three inches off the ground, which would limit the van's actual usefulness when off-roading. Second, the GM chassis was rear-wheel drive—Jones wanted four-wheel drive—so when combined with the original clearance issue, it made sense to seek out a different platform to build this incredible machine on.
Instead of ditching the idea altogether, it was decided that the Olson could be used if it were transplanted to a different chassis. Jones measured the wheelbase and determined it to be within an inch of a single cab Ford F-150. He found a 2017-built example for sale in Jackson, Mississippi for $9,000 and immediately began calling shops to source a fabricator for the project.
Jones said that finding a builder to actually complete the task was difficult. Most shops handling prolific overland builds have been packed full of work due to the increasing popularity of the automotive subculture, and many of the builders Jones contacted reportedly told him that the build simply wouldn't work due to the extreme differences in the platforms. Eventually, he came across a fabrication shop in Chino Valley, Arizona called Likuid Creations who jumped on the unique idea for a build.
Four months later, Jones' dream van was ready to roll.
The Grumman/Ford mash-up now moves under its own power and looks incredibly badass doing so. In addition to mating the Olson body to the F-150 frame, Likuid also completed a number of other fabrication tasks that not only add functionality but also quite a bit of aggressiveness to the look of the 55-year-old truck.
At the front, a brand new modern-style bumper was constructed. Likuid also built a brush guard that protects the aftermarket Mishimoto radiator, and Jones later added the grille from an F-150 Raptor to complete the look. A custom light bar was fitted to the top of the vehicle, as was a rack (with grab handles) that spanned the entire length of the roof. Custom fabricated slider bars continue down the side of the vehicle, complementing the Fuel Beast wheels wrapped in BF Goodrich all-terrain tires.
You might also notice that the vehicle sits quite a bit higher than it would from the factory. Thanks to the modern F-150 platform, the builders were able to fit a modern suspension underneath of the 6,300-pound behemoth. A set of Fox 2.5 performance series shocks hold up the van with oversized springs, and to account for the excess weight when fully loaded, a set of helper airbags were also mixed-in.
The rear is Jones' favorite part of the build: the folding spare tire carrier. In addition to its main function, the carrier can function as both a ramp and a table, enabling him to set a grille on top of it and have a barbecue... or whatever other activities one might need a table for during an expedition.
From the factory, many of these Olsons were equipped with a platform-matching Chevrolet 292, a straight-six pushrod motor that produced somewhere in the neighborhood of 150 horsepower. The new 3.5-liter Ford V6 improved on efficiencies quite a bit, pumping out 282 ponies and, despite weighing over three tons, is still able to achieve around 18 mpg. That's extremely close to the 2017 F-150's EPA rating despite the van having aerodynamic properties more similar to a cinderblock than a modern pickup.
As for the interior, Jones says that's something he's about 95 percent done with. Up front, the old Grumman feels a lot like a modern F-150, as the dashboard and seats were taken from the donor truck and transplanted into the van. When the original tour of the van was given back in May, he had rather ambitious plans, so we're excited to see what the final product looks like.
Jones says he plans to add a queen-size bed, a small kitchen area with a refrigerator and sink, mounts for his 12-foot kayaks, surfboards, paddleboards, fishing gear, snowboards, as well as three mountain bikes. He also has a recirculating shower and basic bathroom he built, which will be interesting to see how that's worked in.
From what we can see, the final product is being kept tight-lipped until it's finished, though there have been a few teaser photos posted online, including one showcasing the empty cargo area with Van Gogh's Starry Night painted on the ceiling.
As an avid outdoorsman, Jones plans to travel the Americas with his beloved build—from Alaska to Chile and everywhere in between.
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