Yes, some very interesting responses, indeed. Thanks!
Richinny, thanks for the reminder on the alternator. Very
high output alternators are not a problem, actually. All 3
major automakers have them, as do speed shops. Might take some adaption, that's not impossible.
Uwe and Royce, I spent the day driving a number of vans, of all makes. I noted the short ohangs of the GMC/Chevy vans, even on the 1971-1994 models. at
all lengths. I admit that I haven't owned a GM vehicle since they sold me 2 lemons (an '80 Citation and a '74
Vega), but perhaps I could forgive that after 27 years.
I drove a couple of the newer style solo, and one older one a friend owns (G30, 1983 model w/350) with a trailer attached (a car hauler, about 1500
lb as is, which we parked my 2850-lb Toyota Matrix on). The 350 in the '83
G30 lwb was much better as a towing engine than the
new 6.0, even empty, but my friend has rebuilt it with
a hotter cam, Edelbrock intake and specially rebuilt QJet, no computer, 4.11 gears, etc. The newer vans seemed geared too tall - perfect for cargo hauling, but they'll need regearing - the od automatics were nice, and they
are more stable than the admittedly-worn '83, which needs bushings and shocks. Nobody's
ever been inside the TH400 in the '83, with 290K miles.
He recommended that, regardless of which I choose, that
I go older, build the engine specially, and only use EFI if
I can change the operating parameters in the computer via laptop - not impossible.
Next, I tried Fords. A '93 E150 w/302 and a '99 E350 w/7.3 PSD, both lwb, short tails, both used to tow a
35' toy hauler - all owned by former boss. Obviously
the '99 was excellent in all ways - I also know that my old boss had a very hard time finding the PSD-equipped
van, and paid very dearly for it when he did. The '93 E150 was stable towing the trailer, good
control, but nowhere near enough power. The engine was
tired and needing replacement, but I'm not considering
even trying to do this job with a 302, anyway. Both vans
have over 300K miles on them, and have proved durable,
although the 302's shot and its transmission was rebuilt
Dodge time. I have a friend who maintains vans for a church transport. He swears by Dodges and has been telling me that I'm crazy to think of anything else.
His service has 2: a '96 extended length 350, and a '97
lwb normal tail 11-passenger 250, both 360s, both 4 speed od automatics, both 3.55 gears. We hitched a trailer up, about 2500lb, to each, and roadtested them.
They both have 100K miles appx. on them, and were well
maintained. They moved out and handled nearly identically, but on the highway, at about 50 mph,
you could feel an aerodynamic "holdback" with the extended one, compared to the short one. He confirmed for me that the
short one gets 17 highway, 13 city, 12 towing, while
the long one gets 13 highway, under 10 city, and 8 or
so with a trailer. I think the difference in weight has an
impact, but the aerodynamics of the longer van must
act as an aerodynamic brake, maybe? The 360s seemed
superior to the 350 or 6.0 Chevy.
I drove newer vans on lots - cargo vans exclusively. I am
skeptical of the Ford Triton engines, because I've heard
their longevity is not the best, and because they're much
more expensive to rebuild than the Chevy and Chrysler
V8s, and the 5.3 Triton is nowhere near the 360, either.
But I like the Ford's structure. Actually, all of them seem
structurally well up to heavy towing. I admit I've also
considered the notion of building a 454, 460, or 440 for
a van, or building a stroked smallblock to over 400 cubes (or using a built 400M Ford) and know that I'll be using an OD automatic with 3.73 or more gears. I will be avoiding the long overhang vans, for certain.
To answer another question: I don't know the size trailer
I will have yet, but don't plan to get into 30 footers - it's just for me, wife, and parrots; still, as noted here often,
too much tow rig is much better than inadequacy. I will be climbing hills with the rig - I often lobby Congress, there are some fairly high hills between here at DC, and going to Burning Man with it is also possible.
The search - and research on engine possibilities - will continue, but I know more after today about what I'll