A 1987 Winniebago Elandan WCP31RT restoration, repair, upgrade, and efficiency improvments

Good morning; 

     Pat has suggested that we talk about what we are doing with our older motor home Recreational Vehicle, and how that work is progressing.  I think that a 28 year old motor home RV qualifies for the term "classic" or perhaps "vintage,"  so it should meet the definition for "older," so it might fit in here. 

     I had not really intended to get a motor home RV back in the summer of 2013.  It just sort of happened.  It had belonged to a young lady I had worked with and flown with, and then she died suddenly.  There was no good reason for that; it just happened.  I bought the 1987 Winnebago WCP31RT motor home RV from her estate.  The price paid was quite reasonable, and not disrespectful.  I wanted to see that her family did get a fair amount for it, and I think that they did.  Once I had the batteries recharged out in the storage lot where it had been parked, then I could drive it out and move it for the coming work that needed to be done.  There was a lot of "stuff" inside it.  With that moved out, then the work of having the repairs made to the things that did not fair well over a winter or two could be done, and I could think then of driving it home, which I did in October of 2013. 

     Yeah, this actually was a case of my not really knowing what I was getting into.  However, I must also admit that with the help of some books, some other experienced motor home people, and the forums like The Good Old RVs, the Classic Winnebagos, and some others, it has been a rapid learning process, and a lot of work also.  I can always point out that this motor home has kept me off the streets and out of the bars, pubs, and taverns. 

     Still, I could see potential in this older motor home RV.  It has the rather common GM 454 cid V8 gasoline engine on the GM P37 motor home RV chassis.   It has a lot going for it.  For one thing, I like the way that it looks.  It has a more distinctive shape and style.  The Winnebago Elandan, the Itasca WindCruiser, the Southwind Eagle; all of these motor homes have a nice shape in common, and it has a drag coefficient down in the 0.31-34 range, which should really help with better fuel economy in comparison with the box shape of the more "modern" motor homes now with their drag coefficients in the 0.5 to 0.6 range.  And then there is the height.  My Elandan is 10.5 feet high on the top of the air conditioner covers.  The new modern motor homes are taking advantage of the raising of the maximum vehicle height to 13.5 feet to provide more room inside and also underneath for storage.  That vehicle height of 13.5 feet means that there is very little room left between the top of the roof and the overhead clearance height of 14.0 feet we often find on our roads.  There is no room left up there for us to put up things. 

     I am one of those people who will be putting things up there.  There are some radio antennas that are going onto the vent and air conditioner covers, and with that 3.0 feet of possible space over the air conditioner covers, there is lots of room for VHF and UHF antennas.  With the actual roof height of only 9.0 feet, there is 4.5 feet of space to play with.  That is enough for a full size 5/8ths wavelength vertical antenna for 2 Meters up there. 

     Then there are such things as the solar panels.  Well, if I have antennas, there are probably radios that go with them somewhere inside the motor home.  Those radios like to operate off electricity.  There is a fair amount of space on the roof for solar panels.  I have three fairly large ones up there now, and there are some additional smaller ones to be bought to fit into the available spaces between the vents, the air conditioners, the refrigerator condenser heat exchanger shaft, and other things. 

     Those solar panels?  They are a very low profile, and they are literally glued to the surface of the roof, but they can be pulled up off the roof if needed in the future.  Again, no holes to drill.  My goal is 300 to 350 Watts of solar panels on the roof.  In full sun I will be getting about 20 Amperes of current from them, but with the MPPT solar panel charge controller, I should be getting about 25 Amperes going back into the batteries and running the stuff in the motor home while parked in full sun light.  And then there is the portable wind generator that can be put up on its own tripod and mast, and plugged into the 12 VDC system. 

     Oh.  The refrigerator condenser heat exchanger shaft.  That is what I am using to get the cables from the solar panels and the antennas down inside the motor home.  It is easy to get out of the refrigerator shaft and into the galley area.  Then those cables can go to just about anywhere in the motor home that they must.  And it is all done without drilling any holes in the roof. 

     The main HF antenna for the ham radio short wave bands is mounted on a modified trailer hitch drawbar that slides into the 2 inch square tube receiver on the back for the main HF antenna when parked (that antenna is 28 feet tall), and the mobile antennas for operation while driving are mounted on a custom made square tube receiver rack that is just under the front bumper. 

     The radios are the main "modification" being made to the Elandan.  Yes, I am making a mobile communications station.  Then there are the other things being done to it to make it work better.  There is a different distributor for the ignition system that will replace the GM HEI system.  The new distributor works with a CDI box to improve the ignition system.  The Banks Engineering 49052 PowerPack has gone in, but it will be modified also to convert it into a true full dual exhaust system.  Then the last major change in Part One of the fuel efficiency improvement plan is the installation of the Gear Vendors 3D0475 OverDrive unit.  Later on, I might do Part Two; the replacement of the carburetor with a Throttle Body Fuel Injection system (TBI) with a closed loop Oxygen sensor feed back control system for more precise control of the air-fuel ratio over a wide range of driving conditions.  The goal in all of this is to improve the mid range engine torque characteristic and allow the engine to pull that taller gear ratio on a light throttle setting while cruising on level ground.  No, I do not really know what improvement this will provide, but it should be better, and the closer spacing of the transmission gear ratios will be useful when climbing hills and in other places.  And, yes, before you say it, I also realize that I will probably never get the Elandan to "pay back for" all these changes in my efforts to improve the fuel economy.  That is not my intention.  This is just a hobby.  It is not a business.  I am having fun with it and seeing what I can do with it.  And it is a lot less expensive than an airplane.  I have the empirical data to prove that one. 

     I did say that all this effort and money was being done without the expectation of it "paying for itself."  Actually, the main intention is to extend the cruising range with one filling of the gas tanks to the greatest distance that I can. 

     Most of the work done so far has been on the inside of the coach area.  There are so many little things that need to be done with a house that moves over our roadways.  And, I do not think that any of three previous owners really did all that much to maintain the coach part.  The engine and the drive line have been maintained very well.  It was the rest of the Elandan that seemed to just be used.   Of the 30 oak wood covers over the cabinets, drawers, bins, cupboards, closet doors, et cetera, 18 of them had to have their closing latch repaired.  And 14 had to have their wood pushed back together and be re-glued.  I discovered this when opening one overhead bin, and half the wood cover came away with the handle.  The simple small staples used to assemble the oak wood covers were not sufficient.  Taking them down and rebuilding them I think will help.  Then with so many other things in the coach, using a screwdriver to just re-tighten loose screws really helped.

     So often it seemed that there was something to be done, and while I was in there working on that, I saw something else that needed repair also. 

     Some of the inside lighting needed work, so it seems reasonable to make the conversion to LED lighting while doing the repairs anyway.  Yes, the conversion to LED lighting is more expensive to do, but I am not sure how to financially evaluate the really reduced drain on the batteries, and please remember that I am using the 12 VDC coach electrical system for operating the radios, so reducing the peripheral electrical loads on that 12 VDC electrical system is a significant point for me.  However, I must also admit that I have been sniffing the LED lights with the Anritsu MS-2711B Spectrum Analyzer to confirm that they do not make radio noise that I will hear on the radios.  Not all of them have passed this sniff test.  Oh, there will also be a conversion to LED lighting on the outside of the motor home RV too.  That should reduce the load on the engine starting battery and the alternator. 

     I had hoped to have the Atwood hot water heater replaced by now with their GHC6A-10E "three way" powered water heater for propane, 120 VAC, and the "MotorAid" coolant heat exchanger, but some other things required attention and funding.  (Earlier, didn't I say something about an airplane?)   I want to go with the "MotorAid" heat exchanger model so that I can add a solar hot water heating system to set up on the roof by the luggage rack when parked and heat the hot water that way, instead of with propane or electricity. 

     There are lots of things that can be done and ways to change things so that even a motor home RV is more efficient and uses less in the way of finite natural resources.  We can make a difference in the way that they work.  There are many passive solar techniques that will reduce our need for energy and the cost of paying for that energy.  We can show that these are not just an extravagance, but instead it really is a workable alternate lifestyle that is compatible with our world today, even with $4.00 per gallon gasoline.  There are many things we can do to make these large vehicles more efficient to live in and to move. 

          Enjoy; 

          Ralph, N7KGA 

          Latte Land, Washington 

Views: 502

Tags: Eladan, RV, Winniebago, power, solar

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Comment by Jimco_W001 on January 25, 2015 at 1:52am

You sure have some great plans for your motor home.I agree with Pat.Please post photos of your progress.Have you looked at Winnebago in the RV FORUMS?Thanks for joining us here at GORV's.

Comment by Pat Daly on January 24, 2015 at 11:14pm

Ralph, I am enjoying reading your blog very much and do hope you keep us up to date. Do add some photos from time to time... that little picture icon 2nd from left does it uploading from our computer to be added into your blog page here.  Thanks for sharing your very well thought out improvements. I wonder if you are a boeing engineer perhaps there in Latte Land.

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