BRYON DORR May 24, 2023 Feature Stories
VanDiesel is Grant Korgan’s ultimate adventure van. With a name inspired by the impressive ability to overcome obstacles, and low vocal tones of actor Vin Diesel, this 4×4 van has been built through much love, positivity and sheer will. It has not been a smooth journey to this “van life” for Korgan, but many times, the best things in life come from the hardest of times. This adventure machine isn’t Korgan’s first dream van, but it is so good it might be his last.
It is so hard to narrow down exactly who Grant Korgan is in a few short words within this article. He is the single most stoked and positive person you’ll likely ever meet. He is a speaker, author, athlete and filmmaker. His world-record setting expeditions and adventures have proven his high-performance mindset principles time and again. One more thing: Grant Korgan also suffered a spinal cord injury.
“A NANO-SCIENTIST BY PROFESSION AND AN ATHLETE BY PASSION, KORGAN HAS ALWAYS PURSUED ADVENTURE, TESTED THE LIMITS OF POSSIBILITY AND SHARED POSITIVITY WITH ALL AROUND HIM.”
Korgan survived a massive snowmobile injury while filming a movie in the Sierra backcountry on March 5, 2010. The experience left him without any feeling or movement in the lower half of his body. However, the traumatic event hasn’t slowed him down in the least, but it has created a unique set of challenges and opportunities.
A nano-scientist by profession and an athlete by passion, Korgan has always pursued adventure, tested the limits of possibility and shared positivity with all around him. Korgan lives by his motto: “In life, it’s human to fall down—the magic happens when you get back up.”
An example of Korgan’s extreme mental strength taking him beyond what was considered possible is his January 2012 achievement of becoming the first person with a spinal cord injury to reach the geographic South Pole. Korgan says, “Regardless of ability (or perceived disability), we all have the power to push beyond our limitations and live a truly unbreakable life.”
You can witness Korgan’s South Pole achievement by checking out the documentary film The Push that chronicles the expedition. You can also learn about his mental strategies for a more positive and purpose-filled life through his book, Two Feet Back, as well as attend one of his many public speaking engagements around the globe. To find out more about all of the above, check out, grantkorgan.com and thepushison.com.
“YEARS LATER, KORGAN WAS STILL DREAMING ABOUT VAN LIFE, AND SPECIFICALLY WHAT THE BEST POSSIBLE ADVENTURE VAN WOULD LOOK LIKE. HIS ULTIMATE VAN WOULD BE A FORD E-350 EB 7.3L DIESEL VAN WITH LOW MILES, ZERO RUST AND A SPORTSMOBILE EB-50 INTERIOR AND PENTHOUSE POP-TOP.”
At the age of 18, while working as a valet parking attendant at an upscale hotel on the north shore of Lake Tahoe, Korgan watched a custom 4×4 adventure van roll into the valet. It was owned by a former San Francisco executive who regaled Korgan with stories of quitting his job in the city to explore the world by van. Mind blown, Korgan rode his bike back home that day and made a pact with himself to one day make his newfound van life dreams a reality.
After earning a degree in mechanical engineering, Korgan launched his first company. The new company was in the field of nano-mechanical research and filled the niche and needs of foreign and dream van, a 2000 Ford E-350 V10 hardtop with a custom interior, build out and an Advanced 4×4 converted driveline.
The year was 2010, and Korgan figured he’d make one more big push at work before he and his newlywed wife Shawna could hit the road for some non-work adventures in the new van. Those plans changed quickly, when after four days back home he ended up in the ICU without feeling or movement from his belly button down.
While in the hospital, Korgan’s mind kept dreaming about van life adventures. After 39 days in the hospital, it was time to see if the van was going to fit into Korgan’s new life. With PTs, OTs and various hospital staff surrounding him, he tried and tried to get into his adventure machine, sadly, without any success. Because it wasn’t practical at the time, and his finances were devastated from the medical bills, Korgan had to sell off his dream van.
“YOU MIGHT THINK THAT A LOT OF MODIFICATIONS WOULD BE REQUIRED FOR THIS BIG LIFTED VAN TO BE USEABLE AND DRIVEABLE BY A SPINAL CORD INJURED ATHLETE. YOU MIGHT BE RIGHT, IF YOU WERE NOT TALKING ABOUT GRANT KORGAN.”
Years later, Korgan was still dreaming about van life, and specifically what the best possible adventure van would look like. His ultimate van would be a Ford E350 EB, 7.3L diesel van with low miles, zero rust and a Sportsmobile EB-50 interior and Penthouse Pop-top. In a perfect world, this van would be 2WD, so he could dial in a custom 4×4 system from UJoint Offroad. Oh, and this “unicorn van” would also be factory silver in color.
Apparently, unicorns do exist! The Brock family, dear friends of Korgan, reached out to him about a Sportsmobile they were looking to sell. It just so happened it was exactly the “unicorn” Korgan had been dreaming up, all the way down to the color. While still not completely back on his feet financially or otherwise, Korgan knew this opportunity couldn’t be passed up. He worked hard to put the money together and make his van life dreams come true once again.
The Brock family Sportsmobile was a well-appointed adventure van and existed well on the grandparent end of the badass van scale. The first order of business was making a plan to take this home-on-wheels 2WD to the new heights of 4×4 van life awesomeness. Using social media, Korgan reached out to Bryon Dorr of Exploring Elements. He had followed Dorr’s overland exploits over the years, and knew he’d be able to help connect him with the right partners for this project. domestic experimental campaigns. Work at the company had Korgan on the road constantly. This travel dynamic eventually led to the purchase of his first Dorr’s first move was a call to Chris Steuber at U-Joint Offroad. Steuber specializes in taking van builds from mild to wild on a daily basis. He listened to Korgan’s story and quickly set into motion a sponsorship plan to help Korgan realize his 4×4 van dreams, including an introduction to a number of other key build partners.
The next step for Korgan was figuring out how and where to get his van upfitted with the 4×4 system and other adventure van accessories. UJoint Offroad is in North Carolina, and Korgan lives in the Reno/Tahoe area. Luckily, UJoint Offroad offers a full range of kits for DIY customers and local mechanics to complete these 4×4 van conversions.
A good friend of Korgan’s, Brian Thornhill, owns British 4×4 in Reno Nevada. Korgan mentioned one day that he’d like to use UJoint’s kit to truly upgrade his Sportsmobile. Korgan said, “If I had my old legs, I would love to do this whole thing as a home build project.” Thornhill replied, “If you really want to do it, we can use your legs for any part of it you want to do and we will use my legs and my shop to do all the rest.” Thornhill went on to quarterback the whole build.
The 4×4 conversion and 6-inch lift program from UJoint Offroad involves lots of custom parts and a host of key upgrades. It starts with a Dana 60 front axle and a Sterling 10.5 rear. Custom driveshafts were created to receive the power from the upgraded 4R100 transmission and NV271 transfer case. Suspension was upgraded with all new progressive leaf springs in the front and all new leaf packs in the back. Fox 2.0 remote reservoir shocks were used at all four corners, and key frame supports and xtures were custom welded throughout. Another key modification for the 4×4 conversion is shortening the fuel tank, as the new transfer case takes up additional room where the factory fuel tank lives.
Next up came all the finishing touches to take this van from mild to wild. A UJoint front winch bumper and Aluminess rear bumper with swing-outs was installed. Then the old school fiberglass running boards were replaced with new Aluminess nerf bars. A full turbo back Diamond Eye exhaust was installed, with stainless pre-turbo up-pipes. To complete the build, Korgan wrapped 35- inch Toyo Open Country R/T tires on 18-inch NV Method Race Wheels.
You might think that a lot of modifications would be required for this big lifted van to be useable and driveable by a spinal cord injured athlete. You might be right, if you were not talking about Grant Korgan. Because he’s so strong in his upper body and has regained some motor control in his lower body, there are no modifications needed. Korgan says he didn’t want the van to be modified to fit his life; he wanted to do the work to modify his body to fit his van life.
He drives completely with his right foot, but does have a back up, hand-actuated, push rod system clamped to the brake pedal. This is just in case his foot misses the brake pedal in an emergency, as he still has no feeling in his legs.
VanDiesel can now be spotted around the Reno/Tahoe area as Korgan’s daily driver. Korgan is also a Centurion Boats team rider, so the van is regularly used to tow wake boats on wakesurf and hydrofoil missions. VanDiesel’s adventure life doesn’t stop there. Korgan and his wife, Shawna, regularly use the van on ocean surf and snow skiing trips all up and down the west coast. When not out-and-about in VanDiesel, Korgan is flying around the globe finding new adventures or promoting his films, books and speaking engagements. He is driven by the love he has for his wife Shawna, his genuine mission to help others live their highest performing lives possible and having the mental strength to drive his body to the limits. Korgan has gone from paralysis to becoming the first spinal cord injured explorer to ski to the South Pole, to being able to walk on a set of canes and recently setting a new speed world record by paddling the circumference of Lake Tahoe in a one-man outrigger canoe.