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Trail’s End: Tiger’s Van

Posted in Features on January 6, 2019
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Photographers: Stuart A. Bourdon

While sifting through the Four Wheeler archives one night, something sprang forth from the pages, pouncing on us like a tiger on an unwitting gazelle. Something Taxi Fleet Yellow with big tires and off-road lights—Tiger’s van had us by the tail.

The van’s story appeared in the December 1989 issue of Four Wheeler, but its saga dates back even farther to when Tiger LeBrun visited the scrapyard. The year was 1973, and the National 4WD Center mechanic from York, Pennsylvania, had just salvaged a pair of 1/2-ton Dodge W100 axles and replaced the bearings, seals, and wheel studs. The axles sat dormant until 1982, when Tiger slapped down two Benjamin Franklins for a neglected ’65 Chevrolet 90 van, and then the project began.

Tiger was no stranger to 4x4 van conversions, but the Chevy’s mid-chassis–mounted 230ci six provided a couple challenges. First off, it was not a big enough powerplant for what Tiger had in his plans. In order to fit the desired 350ci V-8, Tiger needed to widen the engine compartment by 12 inches, which involved cutting the van’s floor to the framerails and boxing it again. Before setting the engine in place, however, it was bored 0.030 inches over and stroked 0.270 inch by Performance Auto Wholesalers.

A TH350 automatic transmission went in behind the engine, and power was then split up by a Jeep-sourced Dana 20 transfer case. Because the gearbox and T-case were so far behind the cab, Tiger installed a 10-foot cable between him and the B&M Quick Click shifter, as well as a 6-foot shifting rod for the T-case. The van’s new powertrain required new custom crossmembers, which allowed Tiger to position the whole assembly 6 inches below the standard engine height.

As the story tends to go with 4x4 projects, Tiger decided against the W100 axles and instead chose a Dana 44 frontend, geared to 3.92:1, and a Chrysler 8.75-inch rearend, filled with 3.91 gears and an Auburn limited slip. After trying a few different suspension setups, Tiger opted for Skyjacker 10-inch leaf springs on custom-built hangers in the front of the van. The rear got stock GM springs, extended hangers, Rancho heavy-duty add-a-leaves, and 48-inch traction bars. Each corner was also sprung with a pair of Rancho RS 7000 shocks on custom mounts.

Tiger’s van was big in nearly every way, including the 39-inch Interco Super Swampers and 15x8 Cragar wheels. If the monster rubber wasn’t enough of an attention grabber, the paintjob surely was. The Taxi Fleet Yellow was accented by a set of stripes perfectly fit for the ’80s, with turquoise, pink, white, and blue enamel emblazoned across the van’s panels. Extending from the front of the van, like a severe underbite, was a custom-built bumper and brushguard, which also served as a mounting point for three KC lights. Another quintet of KCs graced the van’s rooftop, sitting atop a Dick Cepek lightbar.

Tiger has continued to bring vans into the realm of four-wheel drive, joining Quigley Motor Company, which specializes in 4x4 van conversions. We have seen him in recent years piloting vans—transfer case and all—through the trails of Utah, and even on our sister magazine 4-Wheel & Off-Road’s Ultimate Adventure.

We want to see your 4x4 van conversions and hear your off-road van stories, so send us a note at editor@fourwheeler.com, and don’t forget to include a high-resolution image!

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