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Old 06-01-2020, 10:29 PM   #1
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Join Date: Jun 2020
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1977 Ford Chateau Total Rebuild Need Advice

Hello everyone,

I'm brand new here and in need of advice! My husband and I recently acquired a 1977 Ford Chateau RV. It needs a complete rebuilt, lots of water damage, etc. We are gutting it and planning for the rebuild. Since neither of us are very familiar with RV rebuilds, any advice on our plan would be appreciated.

After gutting, we plan to take it in to make sure the alignment is all set, because we don't want to build only to have an alignment throw it all off later. Like I said, we are novices, so maybe that's not an issue. Advice here would be helpful.

Then we plan to replace the subfloor with 3/4" plywood, then R-12 insulation sheets, and vinyl planks. The RV has two metal rods going down the length of it to which the current subfloor is bolted, but currently the sides of the floor are not connected to the walls. Over time, the subfloor has bowed around the rods. Our concern is that if we don't frame out the bottom with studs, the floor will bend again quickly, but elsewhere we have read that plywood is plenty and 3/4" should be enough to avoid bowing. We have 24" overhang on each side. We want to avoid any extra weight and cost, but want to make sure it is built sturdy enough. We plan to seal the bottom with 1/8" extreme duty corrugated RV underbelly material.

Then we plan to straighten up the outer shell and replace the molding strips connecting the shell to make sure it is completely waterproof. (The previous owner used some spray foam to try and patch it up and it pushed the walls out of alignment.)

Then we will test out the current plumbing and electrical to replace anything that isn't working. We will likely replace most of the pipes since newer and lighter materials are available and since we had to cut through quite a few to gut the floor.

For the walls we want to use ClarkDietrich steel studs and tracks. I've been told that they are lighter and come with holes pre-drilled for plumbing and electrical which will save us a lot of headache. We also thought that attaching the track to the floor and then to the side wall would provide more stability to the floor.

We're planning to use R-12 insulation and 1/4" plywood for the walls. We'll either switch to 1/2" or fill in between the studs with 2X10s where we plan to hang cabinets.

Honestly we have no idea what to do with the ceiling, but probably more of the same as the walls. We will need to add a new fan and new lights. Any light recommendations? If we have the budget for it we would love to connect to solar, but we're not sure that will be the case or how early in the process we would need to decide.

We're hoping to salvage the current bathroom shell, but if that isn't doable we plan to use Parkland Plastics white matte wall panels to create a waterproof shower/bathroom area, and install a new toilet and shower.

The sink is still in good shape, but we're going to build a new kitchenette frame and counter top (I'm thinking butcher block) No stove because we plan to just plug in an infrared hotplate if needed, but we do want plenty of counter space here because this will likely be our workspace for a mini office if needed. We also want to add a mini fridge. What kind of electrical should we expect to be working with here?

We're then rebuilding seating and a dinette to bed feature, building a thin couch with storage underneath along the back, hanging cabinets along the two side walls and back wall, and then figuring out how to clean up the bunk over the driver's and passenger's seats. We'll also detail up front and get the vintage dashboard looking great again, but that's an issue for another day.

Clearly there is a lot of work to be done here. We are excited to learn along the way. We want to avoid going overboard due to both weight and budget concerns, but we certainly want to make sure to do a thorough enough job that it is in great condition going forward. If any of you could let us know if there are gaps or flaws in our plans, or could recommend better materials, your help would be much appreciated!
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Old 06-02-2020, 08:49 AM   #2
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Join Date: Apr 2016
Posts: 183
I just attempted this same thing and reached a break point, sold the carcass and got another one in better condition, so my advice;

SAFETY FIRST - If you are doing this work yourself, invest in a good 3-5 ton jack, strong jack stands, and proper ppe for yourself. You'll be working with strong chemicals and spinning tools, protecting your eyes, face and hands is crucial. Also, don't work beneath a vehicle unless it is on its own wheels on all 4 corners or is fully supported by stands and does not rock or wobble.

While you don't have to buy the most expensive tools, don't try to cheat your way around buying the right tool. If you need another extension or a weird sized wrench or just the right doodle to get in to a tight spot, go and buy one and don't frustrate yourself. Also, spend the money on a good torque wrench.

Start with getting the engine and chassis sorted out. If you are mechanically inclined & handy, you can do this yourself otherwise find either a mechanically handy & knowledgeable friend to go over it or spend the money on a mechanic. Trust me, if the engine, transmission, chassis (frame) suspension, brakes and chassis electrical systems are in bad shape, this is a bad RV to restore. Start by taking a pressure washer and some degreaser and cleaning the engine as thoroughly as you can. Wrap/cover the carburetor and distributor to prevent water intrusion and don't go hard with pressure washer. Check the engine oil and if its low, top it off but don't overfill it. Check the coolant in the radiator and top it off. Once it all dries out, make sure the engine starts and idles smoothly. Make sure it starts and idles when the engine is cold, let it idle for one full hour to completely heat up then shut it off and restart it 10 minutes later. Press the gas pedal a few times just to see if the throttle responds correctly or if it sticks or "hangs" and doesn't return to an idle speed. Monitor the engine frequently during this time to make sure it is not overheating, if it overheats shut it down!. Hot and cold starts can reveal different problems. Look for oil leaks no matter how small. Look for fuel leaks no matter how small. Look for coolant leaks no matter how small. If you are satisfied that the engine is in good running order, change the oil and filter and inspect the oil. Does it look old and black and smell slightly burnt? Black and burnt is good. Is it frothy and milky like a cappuccino? That indicates water has gotten in to the oil. Take a small magnet and drag it through the oil to see if it picks up any small metal fragments. Metal in oil is bad. Water in oil is bad. If you have the time, google Blackstone labs, they will send you an oil sampling kit that you can collect some of the oil that drains out of the engine and they will analyze it for anything and everything and can give you a good baseline for the condition of the inside of your engine. Is cheap, $20-25 or so and well worth it. If the basics of the engine are good, the rest of it is gravy. Belts, hoses, alternator, power steering pump and any other accessories can be replaced easily.
Look at any spot on the steel frame that looks rusty, and hit it as hard as you can with a hammer. If a little dust comes down, no big deal. If big flakes come down, that could be a problem. If you punch a hole in through the metal, that IS a huge problem.
Assume the suspension front and rear is worn out and budget accordingly. Not just shocks but bushings and steering dampers (if it has one) and ball joints and anything else that can wear out over time. While you are under there looking around, clean off any and every grease nipple you find and pump some fresh grease in to them.
Assume the brakes are shot and budget accordingly. DO NOT DRIVE ON BRAKES OF UNKNOWN CONDITION I cannot stress that enough. That being said, brakes are surprisingly easy to work on and I recommend that anyone who wants to work on their vehicle should learn how to do brake work. Plan on replacing any of the rubber lines on the brake system. They are only designed to last maybe 10 years and will give no warning when they fail.
Plan on replacing the calipers and pads on the fronts and take the discs to a machine shop to see if they can be salvaged/turned. If not, replace them. Plan on replacing the rear brake cylinders and shoes. While the wheels are off is a good time to inspect wheel bearings. All of these parts are relatively cheap and replacing them yourself will save a ton of money. Brake shops LOVE a customer that doesn't know how their brakes work or what is wrong with them. Don't be dismayed if any of the metal brake lines snap. Replacement metal tubing is available from any auto parts store and a hand held bending tool is all you need to bend up a new one. Takes a little time and patience but easy to do. Oh, and pop the lid on the brake master cylinder up front. Hopefully its still got fluid in it. If it is filled with white crystals, replace it with a rebuilt one.
Chassis electrical. While the engine was running, did all of the lights work? Headlights, taillights, side markers, turn signals, hazards, brake lights, headache lights? Press all the buttons and see what works and what doesn't. This isn't a death knell but its good to get a baseline of what operates or doesn't. Could be burned out bulbs, could be rat-chewed wires, time will tell. Also the horn, stereo, and see if the dash AC works. Do all the gauges work? Again, none of this means put a bullet in it, just good to know what's what.
Plan on replacing all of the rubber fuel lines you can find. Most will just have a simple clamp on either end and you can them replace fairly easily, but again they are not meant to last forever and a leaking fuel line can start a fire.
Check the transmission fluid. Top it off as necessary and once its running smoothly, drive it around and see if the transmission shifts smoothly. Consider replacing the transmission fluid. Frankly I hate doing transmission fluid changes and so this is one thing I will always take to a mechanic to do, but its not difficult and you are welcome to give it a shot. Now would also be a good time to go ahead and replace the rear differential fluid. Doesn't matter how many miles are on it, just replace the fluid. If the differential cover is leaking, replace the gasket as well. This is cheap insurance against potential expensive problems later on. If you choose to have a shop do the transmission fluid, they can also do the differential fluid change.
One caveat here, check the date codes on the tires and replace them ALL including the spare if they are over 5 years old. Like all rubber things, they don't last forever and a tire blow-out on an RV can be lethal. If you are just putting around the neighborhood checking out your systems, that's one thing but before you go anywhere at any kind of real speed, make sure your tires are good.
Lastly, while you are underneath looking at everything, check the condition of the tanks. Black water, grey water, propane and fuel. These items cannot be easily replaced nor repaired, at least not cheaply.
After that, work on the interior. The best advice I have here is to as gently as possible remove the pieces of the interior furnishings and cabinets so that you can use them as templates to rebuild them with better materials. There are plenty of options for rebuilding with real wood or plywood or light framing with luan. Unless you are redesigning it in which case strip away with abandon.
Others can speak to solar better than I can but if you have the generator, try to get it running. If nothing else, it will be more valuable when you go to sell it than if it is a locked up nasty piece of junk, plus its good practice to hone you mechanical skills.
3/4" plywood for the subfloor deck should be more than sufficient.
Good luck.
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