A High School Amateur's Storm Chase Vehicle

Feb 19, 2018
49
15
6
Dunlap Illinois
I am a total amature high school student who is planning a chasing trip this season, so I probably need all the help I can get here.

Other than being a storm spotter, I am a car guy, so I have some opinions on what an Ideal chase vehicle would be.

My Ideal chase vehicle would be a 5 speed 4 door Jeep Cherokee XJ with the 242 I6 (4.0L). They get good gas mileage, are rock solid reliable, and parts are super cheap.

My actual chase vehicle is quite a bit different though. It is a 1995 Chevrolet Suburban C1500 with a TBI 350 and TH700R4 Automagical Transmission.
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It also has over 330,000 miles on it on the original engine and trans (Yes, the trans has never been rebuilt).
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Despite this, it runs very well and the trans shifts like brand new.
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My biggest issue is that it gets pretty shitty gas mileage (12-15 mpg highway).

So I have another vehicle I am thinking of setting up for chasing, the issue is that many may not see it as ideal.

I have a 1974 GMC C1500 that has at least 340,000 miles on it (can't know for sure since it has a 5 digit odometer) on it's original 250 inline 6 and 3 speed saginaw transmission.
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Might seem like a bad idea for a chase vehicle, but hear me out:
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-It would be great for a slide in camper (would pay for itself by saving on hotels).

- Square bodies are tough as nails, and last forever, it has all new brakes, lines master cylinder, and wheel cylinders.
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-I got a an saginaw 3spd OD transmission ready to swap into it (bolts right up).

-Gets decent gas mileage with the inline 6.

-I have a new Camshaft and high compression Cylinderhead that I am going to put on it for Hot Rod Power Tour this year (Using the head from a 194 i6 I got for $35)

-And I already daily the thing.

Any of you drive interesting cause vehicles? Any of you car guys?
 
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J. Mike Sheard

Enthusiast
May 7, 2019
6
11
1
Kentucky
Where will the chasing trip be? because if you plan to take that all the way to the plains that could be taking some sort of risk.
Even though you did say it runs fine, but it is an older vehicle and you just never know.
 
Feb 19, 2018
49
15
6
Dunlap Illinois
Where will the chasing trip be? because if you plan to take that all the way to the plains that could be taking some sort of risk.
Even though you did say it runs fine, but it is an older vehicle and you just never know.
I don't actually know where I am going yet, (depends on the weather) but I do know that I am taking one of these vehicles. The way I see it, is that no matter what goes wrong mechanically, I could probably fix it for under $200.Old cars are simple like that, I have a whole spare engine for the yellow one.

Some bailing wire, a welder, and some ingenuity can go a long way.
 
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Feb 19, 2018
49
15
6
Dunlap Illinois
Mechanically, I got the truck pretty much sorted out, but there are still a few other things I need to sort out.

1. Install a Saginaw 3 speed Overdrive Transmission (for better fuel economy on the highway).
2. Get some sort of tow behind or truck bed camper (I am not paying for hotels).
3. Install a muffler (the straight pipe gets annoying).
4. Replace cab mounts (mine are old, cracked and creak a lot).
5. Install roll bar (just in case).
6. Service rear differential (Who knows how long it has been).

I also want to mess with the paint scheme a bit (The truck has been repainted countless times) maybe 2 tone it.

When I replaced the hood, I painted yellow stripes on it in order to match the rest of the truck.

What do you think of a 2 tone?
 
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Nate M.

EF0
May 16, 2019
18
53
1
Neosho Mo
I speak from experience to know its attractive to get wrapped up in the vehicle and gear stuff (features, aesthetics, etc) and not focus on the meteorological parts of chasing. I would recommend chasing all you can locally (you get great storms in IL) and really get a feel for what you want out of a vehicle and make the purchase before you drive all the way to Oklahoma, break down and likely miss storms. Even if its easy to get parts or fix, it's still something you don't want to mess with and I think most guys here would agree. That's so frustrating. When I got started I had a worn out 95 pickup, and made myself a rule that I wouldn't travel out of tow range, and I wanted to photograph a few tornadoes before I made the investment in a real chase vehicle. I hope you get something awesome soon. We've all been in your shoes, just make good decisions and be safe.
 
Feb 19, 2018
49
15
6
Dunlap Illinois
I understand what you are saying, and I do tend to get wrapped up with things like this. The thing is, though, I trust this truck, and I drive it hundreds of miles a week. From the moment I got my drivers license, I have been chasing, and I have driven as far as Arkansas to chase. I've also had many automotive related hi-jinks with my various vehicles.

I am basically saying that I'm willing to take the risk.

Hell, I already drive it 2-3 hundred miles a week, why not go across the country?
 

James K

EF3
Mar 26, 2019
240
94
6
Colorado
That 74 GMC looks more like something that should be restored & kept as a classic ... safely away from storms & hail .lol.
 
Feb 19, 2018
49
15
6
Dunlap Illinois
That 74 GMC looks more like something that should be restored & kept as a classic ... safely away from storms & hail .lol.
I bought this thing to drive, not to restore (yet) and it has seen a lot of action over the years:

This picture shows how rough the body actually is (Notice the Riveted sheet metal repairing the rust holes).
20190709_160114.jpg
I probably won't restore it any time soon.
 

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B. Dean Berry

Staff member
May 25, 2014
340
136
11
I'd still err on the side of caution. Your Burban is plenty good enough for chasing, and could be kept on the road forever. Restore that C series. GM square bodies have been shooting up in price, and getting that thing straight can literally be the start of a retirement plan if you do it right.
 
Feb 19, 2018
49
15
6
Dunlap Illinois
I'd still err on the side of caution. Your Burban is plenty good enough for chasing, and could be kept on the road forever. Restore that C series. GM square bodies have been shooting up in price, and getting that thing straight can literally be the start of a retirement plan if you do it right.
Yea, I will be cautious.

I just don't have that faith in my Burb's transmission.

It has been acting up a bit in the last week or so, and I think it is finally going to kick the bucket soon.

When it does finally goes, I might do a manual swap on it. I got a friend with a totally rusted out 5speed '93 Silverado WT, so I could buy it take all the parts and swap them into my suburban.

I would not need to invent my own clutch linkage or anything.

If I did that, then I probably would take the 'Burb Storm Chasing again.
 
Sep 7, 2013
604
427
21
Strasburg, CO
Not sure if this matters, but an automatic is a chasers friend. I used to chase with a 5-speed. Since switching to auto, I feel like I have 2 extra hands. Everything is so easy now.
 

Nate M.

EF0
May 16, 2019
18
53
1
Neosho Mo
Not sure if this matters, but an automatic is a chasers friend. I used to chase with a 5-speed. Since switching to auto, I feel like I have 2 extra hands. Everything is so easy now.
I also meant to chime in on this. A manual transmission is a nightmare for chasing and I would even argue it’s a safety risk. It’s easy to get lost in the moment and forget to set the brake, along with just being in and out of the vehicle too much to mess with it. I guarantee you I’d forget to either set the brake or release it and then burn something up. Less things to tinker with in the field is always best.
 
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James K

EF3
Mar 26, 2019
240
94
6
Colorado
Jack R. Jester said:
I bought this thing to drive, not to restore (yet) and it has seen a lot of action over the years:
This picture shows how rough the body actually is (Notice the Riveted sheet metal repairing the rust holes).
Looked pretty 'clean' in that original pic. There'd deff be allot of work in restoring it seeing the closer pic. Maybe a project best kept til after you've graduated from highschool/college, & have a garage of your own to keep/work on it in?

And amazing .. rolled onto its side & still not all bad! I'd assume if you do that with a modern truck, it'd be totaled??
 
Feb 19, 2018
49
15
6
Dunlap Illinois
I just drove 2 hours and picked up a topper for my truck yesterday. It's going to become my home during that week.
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It is not the prettiest thing in the world, but for $50 it was a good deal.

Once I install a bed and some other comfort items, it'll beat any one star motel I could afford.
 
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Todd Lemery

Staff member
Supporter
Jun 2, 2014
547
543
21
54
Menominee, MI
Jack, do you have a set time for when you will be chasing or do you have the freedom to go when Mother Nature tells you?
Love the truck. It brings back memories of one I used to have. I think it’s still on the road
 
Feb 19, 2018
49
15
6
Dunlap Illinois
Jack, do you have a set time for when you will be chasing or do you have the freedom to go when Mother Nature tells you?
Love the truck. It brings back memories of one I used to have. I think it’s still on the road
I am hoping to go soon after I graduate, May 9th. I also will be taking the truck on Hot Rod Power Tour in early June.

Here is a crude drawing I made up of what I want to build.
20200127_131201.jpg
I know that you guys look down on the use of Marine Radars while chasing, but I just happen to have picked up a Furuno 1720 radome and display unit for $50 at a flea market recently, and it even works.

If anything it will at least look cool even if I don't use it.
 
Feb 19, 2018
49
15
6
Dunlap Illinois
It's not that anyone "looks down" on marine radar, as they are great chase tools when on a boat :) It's just that using one on land is illegal.
Yea, but the coast gaurd are the ones who enforce it, not the FCC.
(the coast gaurd is not going to drive to tornado alley)

I've heard of people using them, and being seen as just showing off (which is pretty much what I'd be doing).

When I saw this complete but untested unit for $50, I couldn't pass it up.
 
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I also meant to chime in on this. A manual transmission is a nightmare for chasing and I would even argue it’s a safety risk. It’s easy to get lost in the moment and forget to set the brake, along with just being in and out of the vehicle too much to mess with it. I guarantee you I’d forget to either set the brake or release it and then burn something up. Less things to tinker with in the field is always best.
Interesting to read. In the EU a manual transmission is still pretty much default. I too drive a manual and after so many miles you don't have to think about it anymore. So, I'd say that if chasing with a manual on the crowded roads of the EU is quite doable, it's no issue on the empty highways of Tornado Alley, even when it's a stressfull situation. And even in a case of a chaser convergence,
I still consider Tornado Alley highways empty
. ;-)
 
Feb 19, 2018
49
15
6
Dunlap Illinois
Interesting to read. In the EU a manual transmission is still pretty much default. I too drive a manual and after so many miles you don't have to think about it anymore. So, I'd say that if chasing with a manual on the crowded roads of the EU is quite doable, it's no issue on the empty highways of Tornado Alley, even when it's a stressfull situation. And even in a case of a chaser convergence,
I still consider Tornado Alley highways empty
. ;-)
Though my '74 has no power steering, and no power clutch, I have become an absolute master at driving it.

I have taken it out on a few chases, and have had I issues in the heat of the moment.

The only real issue I've had is my shift linkage jamming up. It'll get stuck in gear, and I have to pop the hood and move the linkage back manually.

It's was a pain in the ass, but I have now fixed the problem.
 
Sep 7, 2013
604
427
21
Strasburg, CO
Interesting to read. In the EU a manual transmission is still pretty much default. I too drive a manual and after so many miles you don't have to think about it anymore. So, I'd say that if chasing with a manual on the crowded roads of the EU is quite doable, it's no issue on the empty highways of Tornado Alley, even when it's a stressfull situation. And even in a case of a chaser convergence,
I still consider Tornado Alley highways empty
. ;-)
Well...in EU traffic you aren't holding a camera in one hand the whole time. ;)