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capturedbyrobots 08-27-2012 04:09 PM

Touring robot rock band challenge, please help.
Newb to the forums.
I have a rock band of robots (yes, real pneumatic robots) that tours the country. Been doing it in a short 19ft 72 dodge class C camper for the last 8yrs, yeah...ouch! Touring with vans before that for a total of 15yrs.
The gas is killing me these days at $4 a gallon. Most tours consist of about 10k miles, plus or minus. Travel at 60mph usually. So with a totally non aerodynamic camper, and a bunch of weight, I'm really just squirting out fuel to propel me forward.
I have a gear vendors unit, which I love, but this 360 and body style just can't give me the mpg I want. Looking for anything around 15plus if possible, or higher... That would double my mileage as of now.

The trick is, I'm cheap/poor as hell, but can really build some crazy stuff, and have all the time I need.
I'd be capable of stripping down the body of a vehicle and building something awesome in it's place, or doing engine swaps, etc.

Last time I weighed the robots and air compressors and amps, it was right around 1500lbs. Space to store them now is 8ft wide x 4ft and 6ft tall, though I could go lower. I ideally would like to be able to stand inside the vehicle, as I often have to use it as a dressing room, and I'd need a bed. I'm open to pop up if I can figure out a way to make it rigid (no tent style pop ups...too cold sometimes)

I'd rather have all the storage on the vehicle frame, pulling a trailer is tough for parking, and tolls....

I need something that is crazy reliable as well, haven't missed a gig with this camper ever. Ive done lots of roadside repairs, bit it just keeps going, and going, and fuel injected vans I had left me stranded a few times due to injector failure, sensor failures, etc..

So those are my issues.
Been thinking of going diesel, sprinters seem too expensive for me, but Im really just open to the most inexpensive, yet efficient,yet comfortable enough solution, I'd be open to adding a more aerodynamic box to a diesel pickup, or chopping and widening the body of an efficient van, whatever.

Oh, and I'd like to keep the length to 16ft if possible for parking and to fit in my driveway.

Geez, I'm demanding, huh?

Sorry for dumping all this info here, just been really thinking about it a lot. I really want to build the last touring vehicle I'll ever own. I figure you Eco geniuses could point me in the right direction, considering my insane needs.

Thanks a ton, I'll be studying the threads to see if I can find more answers there in the coming days.

Weather Spotter 08-27-2012 04:58 PM

do you have any instrumentation to give you MPG feedback?

next off read the wiki on mods:
Car MPG Efficiency Modifications Main - EcoModder
lots of ideas/ build threads, with your ability to build things this should give you a plan to follow.

Welcome to EM

capturedbyrobots 08-27-2012 05:41 PM

Well... cool!
I never thought about removing the fan, and swapping with electric.
I have no fan clutch, so I bet that's quite a bit of parasitic loss being that I'm usually at highway speeds. I bet I could pick up at least a few mpg by doing a few of those mods.

NachtRitter 08-27-2012 05:51 PM

Awesome! Would love to see a few pics (once you're allowed to post them)! Do you attend the Bay Area Maker Faire? I know my high school robotics team would be really interested in seeing what you've got going!

In any case, I'm biased toward Diesels so if you're willing to do an engine swap (and can find a good used diesel engine that will work with your drivetrain), then I'd go with that. As far as body modifications, there are a wide range that could help you streamline your camper brick enough to improve your FE significantly... from mild to wild... as most on this board will tell you, start with the rear (boat tail or something similar) and underside (belly pan) first and then improve airflow on the rest.

If you want to go all out, you could do something similar to the Texaco Doodlebug:

Obviously with smaller wheels/tires and maybe with rear skirts... :)

capturedbyrobots 08-27-2012 06:14 PM

Omg! I love the doodlebug!
If you want to see the bots, just look up my member id online with a dot com.

I don't have any methods of testing, no puter, no injection.
I know what I pay per 20ga, It gets me about 150 miles, approx.
Even a few mpg extra would be awesome for now, until I find a better donor or do a complete body swap.

MetroMPG 08-27-2012 06:44 PM


Originally Posted by capturedbyrobots (Post 324211)
Oh, and I'd like to keep the length to 16ft if possible for parking and to fit in my driveway.

Thanks a ton, I'll be studying the threads to see if I can find more answers there in the coming days.

Have you seen this thread?

You've probably done enough reading by now to know that the biggest savings are going to come by modifying the rear of a boxy vehicle - meaning tapering it down to reduce the size of the energy-sucking wake.

So if you need to keep to 16 ft, you'll need something foldable/collapsable.

Or start from scratch and do an entirely custom body, following as closely as possible the aerodynamic "template":

capturedbyrobots 08-27-2012 06:50 PM

Yeah, the boxiness would go. It's 19ft now, but a total redo is in order.
Body is sagging and bulging, and the rv body isn't so sturdy either, thank you very much, I'll be here all week...

I like the idea of that template. I could work on it all winter, and I'm touring next this coming spring, if the apocalypse doesn't take me first.

capturedbyrobots 08-27-2012 08:37 PM

So I've been reading and checking out various designs, templates, etc....
I'm thinking I could live with a body style similar to the dymaxion, or that doodle bug...though slightly taller if possible.
I could use the larger front driving area to convert to convertable sleeping quarters, since my overhead sleeper would disappear.
My question would be regarding the aerodynamics of those designs. Would you say that's a good design to attempt to copy? I'd never get it exact, but would work with what I had to attempt a conversion using the modified dodge van front...
Or replace the body if I could find an old airstream style body to mod to my needs and make that the new body.
I'd be cool with having a boat tail taper as well, maybe one which could hinge up and out of the way for easier parking.
Gosh, so many options....

freebeard 08-27-2012 10:20 PM

My reading is that the 8x4x6 block has the long dimension across the vehicle.

8' long, 4' high and 6' wide would be most aerodynamic (crosswinds); but enclose that in The Template and your up around 40' long (I'm guessing). Look at the M-B Boxfish

If you don't like canvas pop tops, look for the old Econoline top

The sides fold down and the top panels relax into the that frame that extends to the front and rear of the pop top.

freebeard 08-27-2012 10:46 PM

Oh, I forgot; about the Airstream:
Silver Streak on VW, but you get the idea.

And I see MetroMPG addressed the boat tail length. Consider the Rumpler Tropfenwagen:
Much easier to construct than the Dymaxion and it had a Cd of .28 (if you don't know what that is you will before you're done) in 1921.

MetroMPG 08-27-2012 10:50 PM

That Airstream VW is cool! But the back is all wrong (round = bad!)

freebeard 08-27-2012 11:11 PM

In my own defense what can I say....uhm. Doodlebug!

capturedbyrobots 08-27-2012 11:56 PM

I don't think I'll be able to get the totally optimal shape under my limitations. I would have to go with a truncated tail for sure, as I saw on those NASA studies. I'd really prefer to get the cargo width wise, as I have almost no room to stand when it's packed length wise.

As for a quick and dirty front end mod to start, if I were to cut the sleeper down and continue the windshield angle up to the roof, then disable the front doors and eliminate the flat body extensions by adding a sheet metal/lexan shell from the front of the van to the edge of the side walls extension. That would also add a cover to the front wheel wells... I'd also add an air dam, and try to improve the underside flow as much as possible. Duct tape coroplast? Right on!

I'll post a pict of the camper in a bit to get an idea of what I'm talking about.

I guess the main question I have is whether I will see any reasonable gains using this carb'd 360. I know it's a brick now, but if I improved the front aero and added a boat tail, could I even see significant gains over the course of a tour? I am very conservative while driving, try to accellerate at a slow rate, and coast as much as possible, and try not to brake unless needed.

capturedbyrobots 08-28-2012 12:41 AM

Well, Ah did a bit of photoshop, and she will get even uglier with these mods.
No tail in the pic yet, but it's a beginning idea of what I could possibly do. I'd probably skin it in galvanized sheet metal with adding curves at the corners to make it a little more slippery. But because of how bad the body is already, it would probably make more sense to just start over from scratch.

Maybe I'd be better off to just find an airstream to replace the whole body including front end. And then make a better tail.

The main reason I'm thinking of keeping this is that its out of smog, so a diesel swap would be easy, with just about any diesel I'd like and could fit.

I guess lower height is better for cd right? Like what should be the max running height I should shoot for if making a new body?

I'd be into making a pop up sleeper, but yeah, has to be hard top similar to either the a frame trailer, or that one you showed on the hot dog van.

capturedbyrobots 08-28-2012 01:04 AM

If I chopped out the windshield and doors, then pushed them out and welded em into place, this is what I came up with in photoshop.

NachtRitter 08-28-2012 01:24 AM

Ya, anything that will reduce frontal area will help... so if you have any way of reducing the height, you will reduce the amount of fuel needed to move your brick through the air.

I've seen some trailer campers that have an interesting popup concept... basically two hard shells which fit inside each other (kind of like plastic cups that fit together), and once you arrive at your spot you can crank the outer hard shell up to the point where you have standing room inside. The following pic is this same concept applied to a Sprinter camper:

Probably a bit complicated mechanically for a DIY project, but a cool idea for reducing the frontal area while driving while still having the space and the insulation for camping. You said you need at least 6 feet on the height of your cargo; so not sure if this could work for you.

capturedbyrobots 08-28-2012 01:37 AM

That could work for sure. I actually thought of doing something like that, but was missing one piece of the puzzle...
Is there a door that has to swing into place on the front end of the box to make it weathertight?

Btw, do you have any info on the way it raised up???

NachtRitter 08-28-2012 01:38 AM

I'm sure you've seen this thread as well, but in case you haven't:

MetroMPG 08-28-2012 11:43 AM

Yes, reduce frontal area if you can.

Also, don't forget while you're noodling designs that you want construction that avoids "sharp" corners on front edges. Rounded corners (radius of ~2 inches is enough) are far better (and harder to make :D ).

EDIT! Don't forget also that the "template" shows profile taper only, but taper should be applied to the sides as well, if possible, with rounded corner/transitions between the top & sides. Side taper is arguably more important than top taper (2 sides, only 1 top).

capturedbyrobots 08-28-2012 01:27 PM

my morning thoughts lead me towards the NASA study design with the truncated tail.
That got .28cd right? Or somewhere around that? That's awesome, right?
They didn't even cover the wheel wells, did they do a belly pan?
It only tapered starting at the beginning of the tail, but the front had those rounded nose for sure.
Now, "frontal area" defined.
Would you say that going for more of a rounded shape like the Modified flat face semi in the NASA pics would do that? Should I go for more of a pointy bullet design, or more round and bulbous, like the doodlebug/NASA rounded front?
From what I'm reading, the rear is more important as long as the front isn't crazy bricky.

capturedbyrobots 08-28-2012 01:37 PM

Btw, what do you think about the design of the Winnebago rialta or lesharo?
Would that be something I should attempt to emulate? I know the rear is wrong...
But as far as height and front/sides shaping...

freebeard 08-28-2012 03:19 PM


Btw, what do you think about the design of the Winnebago rialta or lesharo?
Would that be something I should attempt to emulate?

I took a pass through Photochop:

First, with the nose up, you get air rammed into the undercarriage. Drop the front. 2nd, skirts on the rear wheel wells.

You're dealing with wooden 2x2 and aluminum construction. Have you ever opened up the walls to see what tools you will need? Have you ever tried to remodeled a house while you are living in it? Prepare yourself.

I would limit the mods until you get a better vehicle. What I have shown is a longer radius cut into the wall behind the cab doors, the overhead and everything behind the rear wheels tapered in plan, and a radius on the top front.

Is there a door in the back? Your boat tail could turn into a porch.

capturedbyrobots 08-28-2012 03:40 PM

Well, I've been looking around and I might have found a smallish 1990 diesel f350 box truck with a rebuilt motor on the cheap. (under $2500) That would be a much better platform for mods than my camper here. To park it in front of my house, it has to be under the 10,000lb limit due to bull**** local laws, so if it is that might be a good option.
Then I could also convert to veggie as well...

Yeah, I've done tons of home remodeling, removed and built walls, framed windows, etc...
Lol, did a full remodel with a broken arm (got hit by a car)

But yeah, I guess I'm realizing that perhaps going with the smallest diesel box truck I can find would be an immediate doubling of my mpg at least. It would pay for itself in 1 tour if I pay less than 4k for it.

The truncated tail idea I had was to simply hinge 4 panels to the rear body.
They would fold against the body for parking and loading, then would latch together for driving.
Does there have to be a seal at the end of the chopped tail, or can it be open?

Btw, Thx again everyone for helping me figure out the best option for me here, with the minimum work/maximum results/least price.

capturedbyrobots 08-28-2012 04:33 PM

I found out that almost any box truck in CA is going to really cost me some serious coin in regards to commercial registration and insurance. I'm not about to give this crazy state $500 a year to drive my vehicle, especially because when I tour, I'm only in the state for a day or 2 at the most.
Ugh. Back to square one.
My city also has a law they just started enforcing which has put me on this crazy quest. No "motorhomes" on the street between 2-6am. Been here for 4 years and never had an issue until 2 months ago.
Thats why I wanted the length to be limited to 16ft, so it will fit in my driveway. I could get the box truck registered as an RV (loophole) but then I have to battle the city tickets again. :( Then chop it shorter for driveway parking? What a pain in my ass.

Between my city's parking on the street laws and the state registration laws I'm really just between a rock and a hard place.
I'll find a loophole somewhere eventually.

Weather Spotter 08-28-2012 06:09 PM

why stay in CA? If you go on tour a lot move states to one with better laws, or move out of the city. Find a place that is central to most of your tours to reduce driving. just some ideas but why not change more then your car.

freebeard 08-28-2012 06:27 PM

At your 11:40 post I was happy for you, the box van would be preferable to that 'house of cards' construction. Then at 12:33 I saw what a roller coaster your on.


Between my city's parking on the street laws and the state registration laws I'm really just between a rock and a hard place.
Can you say 'Californicated'?

This last weekend my brother and I went to the races (Electrathon, that is). One of the teams was carrying 2ea 6-7' long racers in this:

That's my brother in the yellow shirt (I should have Photoshopped that). The owner reported that when he did the stretch he lost about 2 mpg, so ~42 mpg.

Now a Metro is 12 1/2' long, so you could only stretch 3 1/2'. Maybe start with a Rabbit diesel pickup? Any way you go, you're trying to fit 8' of load into a 16' bag.

NachtRitter 08-28-2012 06:46 PM

1 Attachment(s)
Sounds like he's looking for a place to snooze in while that 8' load is in there, plus there's the driving area... so definitely need more than 8'. I was thinking about a Diesel VW as well, but a 1500lb load is quite a bit! And that's in addition to the driver & luggage & so on. Not sure how much an old Rabbit pickup can haul but my Jetta is only spec'd for ~900lbs load.

Sucks on the problems with the box van... wonder if there's any chance of finding a used E350 van (preferably Diesel, of course)... a bit smaller but still able to haul a good amount of stuff...

EDIT: This could be a fun one: Ford : E-Series Van XL Standard Cargo Van 2-Door in Ford | eBay Motors

A ways to go to get it though...

capturedbyrobots 08-28-2012 07:01 PM

I know, California has some bull**** laws.
Moving isn't an option. I go out about 1x or 2x a year for 6-8 weeks at a time.
Other than that I'm living the dream. This vehicle situation came up because of 2 things:

1.being raped by the gas pump more
and more and that has to change..7-8mpg is not acceptable with 10k miles a year. I could tour at $2-$3.50 a gallon. At $4 I'm dying

2. New ticket happy law enforcement popping me for $50 a ticket any night they feel like it.

I'm trying to get a meeting with the head of parking and traffic so I can tell him what's been happening, and maybe if I'm real nice I can have him help me attempt to follow these ridiculous laws. My camper is only 19ft now. That's the same length as an extended van. The law was surely put in place to stop homeless encampments and the big 40ft motorhomes being on the streets. Not to stop someone from parking their own slightly large vehicle in front of their own house.

I've been up against worse situations where I found a difficult solution. I don't give up when I'm up against a wall.
Touring with a rock band of humans sucks. I made robots because it was more economical, and easier to deal with. The human band members were dicks, they were mostly on hard drugs, moody, difficult, screw it.
I just made the robots...took years, but now I'm living the dream, and no one else gets paid! Pow!

capturedbyrobots 08-28-2012 07:15 PM

Yeah, a standard van with a high top is what I used to tour in. It really was a drag because of the load being lengthwise. And the wheel wells, hah how I hate wheelwells!
There was only about a 1ft area between the bench seat and the front seats. That was with a 19ft 89 dodge high top van. Rough touring...just not quite big enough. I need the width, and I know that kills Cd, but if I can load em at 8ft wide, I can have about 7ft of living space in my current configuration. I rarely get hotels, usually drive until tired often after a gig, then crash at the flying j or walmart, etc.... So comfort can really make or break the touring experience.

I really appreciate you smart fellas helping with cool ideas here.
I emailed with the diesel box truck guy, it was a former u haul with a rebuilt 6.0 diesel he thinks (I think it's a big 7.3). Do those big diesels get crappy mileage? He said reg was not bad, so I wonder if it's registered commercial or not???
I'll call him now.

capturedbyrobots 08-28-2012 07:40 PM

If I had a vehicle that was NOT registered as a "motorhome" I could have it as long as I like. Though for parking outside clubs the 19ft is a doable size.
I can't tell you how many times I just squeezed into a parking space in front of a club. I could possibly go to 20ft if i had to.
The 16ft limit is if i had to put a vehicle in my driveway if it's classified as a motorhome. Thus the ticket for being on the street between 2-6am.

Has anyone made a slideout for the rear to be extended while traveling?

capturedbyrobots 08-28-2012 08:03 PM

Btw, I love that metro! And I would totally be down for doing something like that once this main problem is solved. Are geos fwd? I would assume so, or that's a Very very long driveshaft.

Maybe a small shuttle bus wouldn't be considered commercial...they would be wide enough.

freebeard 08-28-2012 11:09 PM


The law was surely put in place to...
put a satisfied smirk on a bureaucrats face.

Way back when, I had a 1952 Silver Streak 23' travel trailer. I gutted it (replaced 40% of the floor and a bunch of metal in the frame) and went down to the DMV and told them it was now a utility travel. The registration dropped from X per foot of length to a flat $20. Give that a shot.

Could you mod the band members so they pack tighter?

Geo Metros are front wheel drive. So are Olds Toranados with a 2nd rear axle. =)

capturedbyrobots 08-28-2012 11:53 PM

The robots are streamlined about as small as they can get, I could get smaller amps, but that often makes the sound not as "big". We run through a house PA, but often it is extremely sub standard and only used for vocals, so large amps are needed.

Yeah, I'm going to try to get the classification changed for now at the DMV since I need a new front plate anyways (fell off). I don't have any rv type stuff in it anymore, no water/toilet/propane/AC/sink/cooking/etc. It's just a Large passenger van with it's bench seat.

If I got this legal I'd just keep it for now and then do a diesel swap, I could live with that. Otherwise, I am at a loss of what to do yet. Still trying to think it through.

freebeard 08-29-2012 02:49 AM

Never give up. Cut it down to a sleeper cab, and make the 8' wide box with swing-out legs like they put on big cranes. Then you can jack it up, drive the truck out from under it and drop it to the ground for unloading. Later on when you robotize the legs, it can waddle into the venue.

capturedbyrobots 08-29-2012 03:21 AM

Nice! I think unleashing a giant legged car crushing robot on my city might give me some hand in this situation. More hand is needed now!

capturedbyrobots 08-30-2012 12:42 AM

I've been thinking, and growing some balls. I'm getting really mad at my city and my state for putting me thru all this ****, so I'm going to do what I'm sure many others have done before me.
I'm gonna do something crazy they won't like, but there will be nothing they can do about it.

Yep, 95% sure I'm going to get rid of my camper body, just gonna chop it up and recycle the aluminum. Should take part of a day. Destruction is fun!

Then my plan is to shorten the frame to 16ft (pretty easy due to the small frame extensions in the rear). Then I'm going to remake the Subframe and body
in as much an aerodynamical way as I can while still keeping an 8ft (ish) width.
I'm going to do some Photoshop tonight or tomorrow and will post drawings.
It will have a fold up tail that will flatten to the body when Im parked for the night. Should I start a new thread for this?

Btw, I saw that trucker who almost doubled his mileage, and that's my goal here. Going to try to get from 7mpg to 13-14mpg.
Even if I don't succeed, any improvement will save me big time $$$.
Even if I only get 10% better economy, that's $800 in one tour.
I figure the materials should only cost me about $400 or less, since I find scrap steel and plywood all the time.
Planning on using galvanized steel sheet for the body, as for framing I'm torn whether to do wood or the metal studs, or maybe square steel tubing?
What do you think? I want to keep the body as light as possible.

Planning on making a nose cone spoiler of sorts, then sloping the old van front end following the windshield angle up to the roof then slightly sloping towards the back. I'll keep a sleeper style bed setup, but it will be a fold out design to allow standing when not needing the rest.

So waddya think? If I give it the fold up transformer tail, improve the front flow with no flat spots, and cover the wheel wells, skin the bottom, keep corners radiused to 2in at least, I should get this sucker being a much more aerodynamic brick.

The only downside I can think of is that I won't be able to get out of a gas station without answering a ton of questions. That might really be a drag.

I'm actually kind of busting about doing this. I've been looking for a new project.

freebeard 08-30-2012 02:19 AM


I'm gonna do something crazy they won't like, but there will be nothing they can do about it....Should I start a new thread for this?
Oh no, I've created a Monster! ;)

It's been just you and me in here for a while. Every time you post it bumps to the top of Introductions, but I don't know how many will see it there. OTOH the thread has been viewed 331 times. Maybe post in Aerodynamics?


What do you think?

So waddya think?
I don't know; right I'm tired––I stayed up 'til 4 am last night working on this:

capturedbyrobots 08-30-2012 03:49 AM

Ok, on my way. Great model btw!

Project thread:

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