Thoroughly reworked from the hoary, 1970s-era Sportvan popular with housepainters and electricians, the Express (alongside its identical GMC Savana stablemate) was significantly reworked for 1996. It rode on a new platform and packed improved, Vortec-branded engines inside the more crisply folded sheetmetal -- though we have to stop short of calling the Express handsome. And, as is the case with most full-size vans, product cycles are long (GM still offers this van on an updated version of the same basic platform) and amenities can be downright Spartan, if you want them to be.

Riding on a 10-inch-longer wheelbase, the Express was 14 inches longer than its predecessor in the basic half- and 3/4-ton guise. The longest model, with a one-ton rating, a whopping 155-inch wheelbase, and spanning an impressive 239 inches bumper to bumper, provides room for up to 15 passengers. That's handy if you manage a fast-pitch softball team, for example. The various permutations of seating arrangements, wheelbases, number and placement of windows"in short, all the varietal requirements of a vehicle in this class -- make discussion here impossible. But let's say this: The two most common iterations were full-passenger vans, the kind that take you to the Ramada from the airport, and commercial vans, empty inside except for your tools. Half-, 3/4- and one-ton examples were built throughout the Express' long run -- and still are today.

New engines for 1996 included a trio of Vortec engines: The now-familiar 4.3-liter V-6 was rated at 195 horsepower, the 5.0-liter V-8 packed 220 horsepower, and the evergreen 5.7-liter V-8 managed 250 horsepower. The only transmission was a four-speed automatic. Bad luck for the hippies who longed for a straight-six with a three-on-the-tree trans. For 2003, Chevy upped the ante with bigger, more powerful engines. The 4.3-liter V-6 was up to 200 horsepower, and the 5.3-liter V-8 put down 285 horsepower for the half-ton Express. The 2500 model (3/4-ton) received a 4.8-liter V-8 (285 horsepower) and the brawny 6.0-liter V-8 (300 horsepower). All-wheel drive became available this same year, for the 1500 and 2500 models. In 2006, Chevy began to offer the Duramax diesel V-8 in the heavy-duty models.

Research into the maintenance needs of the Express/Savana is complicated by the facts of its workaday life; fleet vehicles are by nature beat upon and uncared for. Even so, a few common threads are apparent: The interior furnishings of even the civilian models are subpar, per owners, and the braking system is prone to high wear rates. Early Expresses were subject to a variety of engine- and chassis-related electrical gremlins. The later vehicles have proved more reliable, as the General slowly improved its quality control. In simple terms, buy the newest one you can afford and avoid ex-fleet vehicles unless the budget absolutely dictates it.


1996-2008 CHEVROLET EXPRESS
Body type 3-door full-size van
Drivetrain Front engine, RWD/4WD
Airbags Dual front
Engines 4.3L/195-200-hp OHV V-6; 4.8L/285-hp OHV V-8; 5.3L/285-300-hp OHV V-8; 5.7L/250-hp OHV V-8; 6.0L/300-345-hp OHV V-8; 6.6L/250-hp OHV turbodiesel V-8
Brakes, f/r Disc/drum, ABS (disc/disc 2003-on)
Price range, whlsl/ret (IntelliChoice) $2028/$4127 (1996 G10 1500); $15,523/$21,073 (2008 3500 Passenger)
Recalls Too many to list; see www.intellichoice.com.
NHTSA frontal impact rating, driver/pass 5 stars/5 stars (first tested 2005 model year)