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The Bat Van: Conquering SoCal With a 2002 Ford E-350 4x4

Posted in Features on November 19, 2018
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Long before people were strapping tents to the tops of their 4x4s and toting fridges in the bed of their pickups, if you wanted to live off the grid in something other than an RV, you bought a van. While high-top sleeper vans have long been replaced by the painfully practical minivan, the Ford E-series platforms have become the go-to for those looking to build a van for off-road adventures. Take Adolfo Zesati’s ’02 Ford E-350, for example. Living in Southern California, Adolfo has access to thousands of acres of prime wheeling and camping destinations.

When you factor in his love for outdoor adventures and surfing, it quickly makes sense why the fullsize Ford van fit his needs perfectly. While the all-black van (cleverly plated as “DBATVAN”) is fully outfitted to handle all of his people-hauling and outdoor requirements, it took a good bit of work to get it to this point. In fact, the van started off life as a basic, all-white service model fit with a V-10 engine. With so much work needed to get the van up to par, he decided to let the 4x4 van experts at Ujoint Offroad make his vision a reality.

Over the course of six months, the Ujoint team did just that. From a complete four-wheel-drive conversion to an assortment of armor, storage, and traction mods, this van was built to handle everything Adolfo planned to throw at it. We got to check out the build firsthand at the Flats Offroad Park in Marion, North Carolina, and were impressed with how easily it handled the dirt. Of course, it’s not every day you run across a van with ARB Air Lockers and beadlock wheels!

While an E-350 might not be as common of a build platform, this one definitely proves that when set up properly, it can make for an excellent all-purpose 4x4.

Since driving in Southern California can be a fast-paced affair, Adolfo opted to start with the powerful V-10 engine. Aside from a K&N intake and custom exhaust, the 6.8L was simply refreshed with basic service items.
Backing the 10-cylinder is a 4R100 transmission that got a full rebuild along with a heavy-duty billet torque converter. The fresh automatic is attached to a manual-shift NV271 transfer case that feeds 1350 CV series drivelines.
Secured via the Ujoint Offroad solid-axle leaf-spring conversion is a high-pinion Dana 60 front axle. The Stage 2 series front axle is fit with serviceable Dynatrac outers, F-550 brakes, and crossover steering. Inside, you’ll find a 4.56 gearset mated to an ARB Air Locker.
Out back, the factory semi-float Dana 60 still resides, but was upgraded with 35-spline axleshafts, along with a matching 4.56 gearset and ARB Air Locker. To meet the varying load-carrying demands, the 6-inch progressive leaf springs were paired with Ujoint’s overload airbag kit.
While the stock dash remains largely intact, there’s an assortment of gauges mounted below the wheel and along the driver-side door panel. These are tied into the van’s two sPOD switch panels, making for a clean and easy-to-access setup.
In the cargo area, a slide-down couch, along with two reclining seats from a Toyota Sienna, offer plenty of room to relax. The floor of the van was also stripped of any carpet and fit with a more durable Rhino Liner coating.
Dual Fox 2.0 remote-reservoir shocks work with the custom spring pack to provide room and damping force for the 35x12.50R17 Toyo A/T II tires. When harder trails are on the horizon, the van can safely dip into lower air pressure territory thanks to 17x9 Innov8 Racing beadlocks.
Hauling the fullsize spare, along with offering up extra storage and protection, is a tire carrier/bumper combo from Aluminess. To make for easy access to air on the trail, the van was fitted with front and rear quick-connect air fittings that are fed by an ARB Twin Air Compressor and 10-gallon tank.
Like the back, the front bumper is comprised of aluminum to keep weight down. It’s part of Ujoint’s latest winch series bumper line and is fitted with a Warn VR12-S and an assortment of lighting from Rigid Industries.
Thanks to a pair of Aluminess ladders, it’s easy to access the Ujoint roof rack. Attached to the full-length rack you’ll find 200 watts of solar panels, a Road Shower 4L for pressurized water on the go, and two awnings from Darche.

At a Glance

Vehicle: ’02 Ford E-350
Owner: Adolfo Zesati
Stomping grounds: Monrovia, California
Build Time: 6 months
Engine: 6.8L Ford V-10
Transmission: 4R100
Transfer case: NV271
Low range ratio: 2.72:1
Crawl ratio: 33.61:1
Front axle/differential: High-pinion Dana 60, Dynatrac outers, Warn hubs, 4.56 gears/ARB Air Locker
Rear axle/differential: Semi-float Dana 60, 35-spline axleshafts, 4.56 gears/ARB Air Locker
Front: Ujoint Offroad 4x4 conversion w/6-in progressive leaf springs, dual Fox 2.0 shocks
Rear: Ujoint Offroad 6-in progressive rear springs w/Fox 2.0 shocks and airbags
Steering: Ujoint Offroad crossover
Tires: 35x12.50R17 Toyo A/T II
Wheels: 17x9 Innov8 Racing beadlock
Armor: Ujoint Offroad front bumper, Aluminess rear bumper/tire carrier and steps
Cool stuff: Ujoint Offroad roof rack, onboard air, rear skid system, underfloor storage, Rigid Industries LED lighting, Warn VR12-S winch, Rhino Lined interior floor and rocker panels, dual sPODs, Deka 8A4D battery, Aluminess ladders, Darche awnings, Road Shower 4L

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