Project Tioga Part 1

A new motorhome is a wonderful, exciting adventure machine, but not everyone can afford to
buy new. For what, in truth, is probably a vast majority of motorhome owners, buying used
is the only affordable way to go. Those buyers usually find themselves faced with a coach
that needs a bit of work to bring it up to snuff, and that’s exactly what happened at
MotorHome headquarters. The coach in question is a 1993 Fleetwood Tioga Class C built on a
Ford E-350 chassis. The Tioga was previously owned by a corporation, which is to say it
didn’t have any one person to fuss over it and give it the tender loving care a motorhome
needs to stay in good condition. Does the phrase “rode hard and put up wet” bring an
accurate visual image to mind? The old Tioga was the perfect rig for an ongoing renovation
project. Our first step was a complete once-over of the motorhome’s hardware. There isn’t
much about the Tioga that doesn’t need attention, ranging from cleanup and adjustment all
the way to total component replacement. Fortunately, the body is mostly sound as a dollar,
with no leaks, sags or water related damage to speak of. The powertrain is likewise in good
shape, and with a healthy Ford 460-cid engine under the hood and an E4OD automatic
transmission that’s in good shape overall, the compact coach gets up and scoots pretty
well. On the other hand, the suspension system needs a total rework with new springs and
shock absorbers, the tires are an interesting mix of brands and dates of manufacture,
manufacture, the rear air bags are serving as little more than bump stops and need
replacement, and the coach needs help in the sway-bar department. Some of its appliances
function erratically or not at all, and the house battery all but wheezes when a 12-volt DC
device is switched on. Many of its accessories are bottom-end products, as were originally
suitable on this entry-level coach, so our plan includes upgrades as well as repairs. On
entering the coach, we’re hit smack in the face with that “used motorhome smell” that has
nothing to do with the holding tanks, but everything to do with too much use and not enough
cleaning. The upholstery will likely be totally replaced and updated, as will the carpet
and window coverings. To me, the odor is nostalgically reminiscent of my family’s trailer
when I was a kid in the 1960s, but not all of our company users view it quite the same way.
On the entertainment front, the coach has a quaint AM/FM cassette radio with — are you
ready? — a needle that must be moved across a row of station numbers to tune in the radio.
We haven’t seen one of these since we last drove a 1972 Buick. The radio will be dumped in
favor of a better CD- or satellite radio-equipped model and, likewise, some kind of
television and DVD system will be installed. Our list of to-do projects is impressive and
seemingly endless, and we think going through the process may give our readers a few good
ideas about upgrading their own used motorhomes. With a few new parts, an old motorhome’s
value may even be boosted at trade-in time when that new coach is finally in the picture.
Although the Tioga’s 460 is a spunky mill in stock trim, we opted to give it a bit of help
in the form of improved air-intake and exhaust hardware. Gale Banks Engineering offers a
wide variety of such performance-enhancement kits, and we opted to try the basic Stinger
kit for the Ford chassis. The Stinger is available to fit a variety of
gasoline-and-diesel-powered motorhomes and is a good first step toward unleashing an
engine’s potential. Stinger kit components will vary considerably, depending on the make
and model of coach being outfitted. Our 460-cid Stinger system, which retails for $576,
included a catback exhaust system of 312-inch stainless steel and a low-restriction, heat
shielded stainless-steel Dynaflow muffler plus all hardware. Banks also includes a new
Ram-Air system with Super-Scoop intake and TwinRam air-filter cover, a K&N lifetime air
filter and a 4 inch polished stainless exhaust tip. We ordered the kit for our short
138-inch-wheelbase chassis, but exhaust extensions are available for longer chassis as
well. The new exhaust pipe, besides being larger in general, is also mandrel-bent, which
eliminates narrow spots in the tube that restrict exhaust flow. If the engine’s going to
have improved exhaust, it also needs a better intake system if it’s going to breathe
properly all the way through. While the replacement air-intake system can’t work miracles,
the new Banks parts do eliminate some significant choke spots present in the stock intake
system. True to form, the intake parts simply screwed and slipped in place after the stock
hardware was removed. After oiling the cotton-gauze filter element per the instructions, we
installed the K&N air filter in place of the stock paper filter. The exhaust parts are
designed to hang from the stock hardware and couple directly to the stock catalytic
converter, so minimal modifications are necessary. It may be necessary to trim some pipe to
length to accommodate a different chassis’ specific exhaust routing. We also installed a
Banks Trans-Command shift-management computer. It monitors the engine output power and the
load on the transmission and delivers improved shift points and performance. The
TransCommand senses the load and raises the hydraulic oil pressure as needed. It keeps
lightly loaded gear changes firm, but smooth and easy, and shifts under heavy load are
crisp and decisive. The unit simply plugs into the transmission control harness for easy
installation. The TransCommand retails for $267. Initial driving impressions verify the
manufacturer’s claims, as our well-broken-in tranny feels tight and secure in its shifting,
with positive, but not harsh, gear changes under load or cruising. Our first road test
revealed some modest performance improvements. The 0-to-60-mph acceleration times went from
13.9 seconds down to 13.1 seconds, or a 5.7 percent decrease. Fuel economy bumped up from
8.9 mpg to 9.2 mpg, a modest 3.4 percent increase, but as we drive the coach more we’ll
have a more accurate overall average to report later. Banks also offers the complete
PowerPack system, the next step up from the Stinger, which includes Torque Tube headers.
Those who want even better potential results could opt for the PowerPack, because the
headers are far more efficient than the stock cast-steel exhaust manifolds. Synthetic
lubricants are proven performers in motorhome applications. There are many good brands on
the market; we chose Royal Purple synthetic lubricants for our engine, transmission and
rear-axle differential. The Royal Purple products, which employ the manufacturer’s
proprietary synthetic Synerlec additive technology, are said to offer improved lubrication
and corrosion protection, greater resistance to oil breakdown due to high operating
temperatures, and improved fuel economy. They remain fluid at much lower temperatures,
which is important if you live in a cold climate or partake in winter travel. We’ll let you
know more about the fuel-economy changes, if any, after we’ve put a few more miles on the
coach. Synthetics are significantly more expensive than petroleum-based oils, but the
improved lubrication and other benefits may outweigh the extra cost in the long run. Most
synthetics also offer longer oil-drain intervals (see each brand for specifics), but we
recommend the factory drain intervals be maintained on a vehicle that’s under warranty.
That is not a problem for our well-used Tioga. Installing the oil in the engine was a
simple drain-and-refill replacement. The 460 holds seven quarts, including the filter, for
a total retail cost of $40.74 at $5.82 per quart for the 10W30 oil. Royal Purple offers
engine oils ranging from 5W20 to 20W50, as well as SAE 30-, 40-and 50-weight
single-viscosity versions. Changing the oil in a transmission calls for a complete flush of
the old oil and refill with the new product, a job best left to the pros with specialized
equipment. The technicians drew the old ATF from the tranny and refilled it with Royal
Purple Max ATF, which is recommended for automatic transmissions requiring Ford Mercon or
GM Dexron III ATF. The total needed for the transmission job was approximately 16 quarts of
ATF at $7.46 per quart, for a total cost of $119.36. The rear-differential oil we selected
was Max Gear 80W-90 gear lube. Like the engine oil, installing this is a simple matter of
loosening or removing the rear-differential cover, draining the old oil and installing the
new Royal Purple product. The differential held roughly 512 quarts of lube at $8.67 per
quart, for a total of $52.02. Royal Purple synthetic oil is available at auto
parts-and-accessories stores nationwide. We had plans to add an improved aftermarket
transmission pan and a new differential cover, so it made sense to install the covers while
working on the synthetic-lubricant replacement. The replacement covers from PML are
sand-cast aluminum and offer higher fluid capacity, which is said to reduce the oil
temperature and, in turn, extend the oil service life. Anything that helps the oil stay in
better condition also has the potential for extending the life of the parts being
lubricated, and that’s a good thing for a coach that makes a lot of journeys. PML has
transmission and differential covers available to fit most motorhomes with Ford, GM and
Dodge transmissions, as well as selected Allison applications. Likewise, rear-differential
covers for many heavy-duty motorhome axles from Dana, Ford, GM and Chrysler are available
in natural as-cast aluminum, polished and black powder-coated finishes. Our transmission
received PML part no. 9323, designed for the Ford E4OD and 4R100 transmissions. The
replacement PML pan is rated at approximately 312 quarts of capacity over the stock pan,
and it’s fitted with a drain plug to make future trans-fluid changes easier and less messy.
PML lists the 9323 transmission pan at $295. The technician who installed the Royal Purple
Max ATF verified the higher capacity. PML’s part No. 9426 for the coach’s Dana 60/70 10
bolt axle was selected for the differential. It’s rated for a capacity approximately 0.8
quarts over stock and, like the transmission pan, it has a lower drain plug with a magnetic
debris collector, which makes for much easier oil changes later on. The PML covers also
look great and nicely dress up what are otherwise pedestrian looking, but functional,
items. The 9426 cover carries a $150 retail price tag. With the drivetrain suitably
protected and the engine breathing a bit easier, we’ll turn our attention to the chassis
and suspension next time. Even in its somewhat beat-up state, we really like our little
Tioga. Bringing it back up to snuff is going to be a fun project. Stay tuned!

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