Originally Posted by Jon in AZ
If all 10-12 seats are filled, towing will likely be very limited. But if it's not at full passenger capacity and you remove the extra seats to further reduce weight (the Transit seats are very modular), I think you might make it work. You’ll want the T350 version for greatest payload. Paired with the optional 3.5L Ecoboost engine, it should have power to spare. You’ll have to take a careful look at all the relevant weight ratings and estimate the weight of passengers, gear, and the loaded trailer.
The van could make up some of the sleeping spots lacking in a smaller molded trailer and eliminate the need for a tent. How many people are we talking about here?
If the Transit doesn’t pan out there is also the Chevy Express 3500 passenger van. Its maximum base tow rating (before you factor in passengers) is 9600#, so you’ve got more margin to work with. The 6.0L V8/6 speed automatic is very strong and surprisingly economical for a large van (around 18-19 mpg highway in our fully converted, raised roof van camper). Downsides of the Chevy include less seating flexibility and lack of head restraints for rear passengers.
Biggest obstacle of this plan right now might be the lack of full-size van inventory.
Thanks, Jon, for the helpful reply.
Family will total nine by new year. Little kids don't weigh a lot, but of course they have a way of growing. The Chevy/GMC would be a good tow-vehicle option, but lack of rear headrests is a deal killer. It's possible to get a conversion company to install better seats, but that would drive up costs. (I had a 1998 Chevy Express 2500 with interior modified by Glaval, including a 'fold and tumble' rear seat which gave me extra luggage if we didn't need the last row, sold
as 'Luxury Utility Van' [LUV]. Great van, but frame rusted out [from salt] and had to sell for nothing with body and drive train still in great shape.)
Another option is the Nissan NV3500, 10-passenger, and flexible seating, with V8 and good towing ability. No luggage space, though, and I read that Nissan is taking it off the American market.
Dodge (now 'Ram') offers a cargo van with windows
that can be customized with seats and passenger amenities. Then there's the Mercedes Sprinter, which is similar to the Transit. Word is that the Mercedes are buggy and expensive to repair.
So for a family bus, the Transit looks best. But the towing limits are a stumbling block. His best bet might be a light
hybrid trailer with expandable wings, but he is prone to mold allergies, so wants to avoid canvas.