Fullsize Sport Vans - Van Reflections

Bob Ryder
Jan 1, 2004
Photo 2/2   |   The Promotions Trans Am Van was a '77 Ford E-150 that toured the IASCA Show Car Circuit for three years. Automotive concept artist Harry Bradley created the sketches and Dick Dean built it. Dean sectioned it a total of 6-1/2 inches.
Let's roll back the year-o-meter to the early '70s. Being the elder statesman on the Truckin' staff, I have been appointed to reminisce about those youthful glory days decades ago. I had finished my stint in college after receiving my California teaching credential, began my teaching career, and slipped the life-long commitment ring on my wife's finger - 29 years, so far. Drag and off-road racing was my recreation; horsepower has always been in my blood, ever since I was eyeball to a headlight.
At this time, the Big Three in Detroit were rolling some butt-ugly automobiles off their assembly lines. Ford was just getting out from under the Pinto inferno and was proudly producing its Fairmont. Chevrolet was building the Vega and the Monza. The gasoline crisis smothered the musclecar era; people of the United States were forced to ration gasoline. Gasoline lines were blocks long, and customers had to obey the odd/even days determined by the last number on their license plate. The gasoline crisis was just that, a crisis. Who was fooling who? Disco was happening; Debbie Does Dallas was keeping the football jocks happy; Linda Lovelace was still doing her porn thing; Saturday Night Live was still new; Ding Dongs were the antidote for the stoner's munchies; Dan Haggerty, Grizzly Adams, was the earthy wilderness man on TV; Robert Blake was the leading star of Baretta; Lieutenant Theo Kojak (the late Tony Savalas) was sucking on Tootsie Pop suckers; Steven Spielberg's movie, Jaws, was terrifying beach-goers; and Tiki gods were cool.
To answer the invasion of the Volkswagen vans and pickups in the late '50s, the domestic fullsize vans were introduced in 1961, when Ford launched its E100 Econoline-series van. Chevrolet unveiled the Corvair 95 truck the same year, which featured a Rampside pickup. Late in 1963, Corvair introduced the Greenbrier Corvan and Sport Wagon. The Corvair vans lasted through 1967. In 1964, Chevrolet and GMC rolled out their first fullsize vans. Dodge entered the van market last, in 1964.
Also during the mid '70s, a new publication entered the magazine wars. Our founder, the late Tom McMullen, noticed a trend that had become the latest craze - vans. Truckin' magazine was born; the title was taken from the ol' van phrase, "Keep On Truckin'.
Van mania became the latest customizing fad. Quenching the need for a new identity, longhaired males cruised in these shag wagons, making parents nervous everywhere. Any boyfriend that rolled up in one wouldn't last. Bumper stickers read, "If This Van's Rockin', Don't Bother Knockin'," or "Your Daughter Could Be In Here." Vans attracted both young and old. Clubs were formed and Van-O-Ramas became happenings attended by thousands. Fullsize vans were the hot trend of the '70s. Unfortunately, their brief celebrated existence was terminated by the gas crisis of the mid-'70s. The van world maintained a strong heartbeat only to go into cardiac arrest, creating a weakened faint pulse before going flatline. But some die-hard enthusiasts and clubs have survived over the years, saying the van craze has been comatose for the past 30 years, and will make a comeback.
For the past year, I had been thinking of what could be the next trend for the truck industry. As an editor of Truckin', ideas are continuously revolving around in my mind like the multiple colors and shapes of a kaleidoscope. During one of those pre-sleep REM modes, one neuron connected with another, lit the fuse, and it exploded - vans, fullsize vans from the past. But, the resurrection or rebirth would be presented in a more sport-van style. You talk about cheap - some people just want them taken out of their yards. Remember when station wagons didn't even get a second look. Now they're the hottest trend. Using today's aftermarket innovation and technology, the current truck aftermarket products would be a simple crossover, shared by both the early and late-model fullsize vans: airbag suspensions, wheels, tires, billet trim, interior accessories, audio/video equipment, body mods, and paint. Today's audio sound and DVD manufacturers would go wild. Early and late-model fullsize vans slammed and tucking 20s would present them with a market they have never seen before. In their reincarnation, these current sport vans would not resemble their ancestors from decades ago.
During a recent cruise from SoCal to Paso Robles, California, for the West Coast Kustoms Show 'n' Shine, I had the privilege to hook up with Steve Stanford, one of the most talented rendering artists on the planet. Stanford's ability to take a suggested idea, foresee that image in his multidimensional mind, and transpose it onto paper is mind-blowing. He sketches anything that prowls the asphalt jungle.His captivating personality is just as pure as his handiwork. While sitting around indulging in some nutrition and refreshments, we discussed some of his past amazing drawings and what he is pursuing in his studio presently. During our casual conversation, I shared with him my van idea. As soon as I mentioned vans, his eyes lit up like he had just grabbed a live coil wire. As we began discussing vans and reminiscing of decades ago, it was amazing to us how it captivated the whole lifestyle and culture of the '70s. Van mania exploded, creating a whole new category of customizing. Builders would have a new means of expressing their creativity. Aftermarket manufacturers would have a new/old trend to peddle their latest innovative products.
OK, are you ready to revive that era from our past? They say timing is the secret to success and good things just keep coming back for more. Well, after pitching our idea and showing the Steve Stanford sport van sketches to many of the well-known custom builders and aftermarket manufacturers, it was unanimous. The timing was perfect to relight the flame that raged the custom transportation culture during the early '70s. After laying dormant for the past 30 years, we feel it is time to bring back the fullsize domestic van craze. Awakening this mighty giant will shake the world with every footstep of its new innovation, technology, and current styling licks. We will not be excavating the tombs of vans from the past, but taking the initial fullsize vans' spirit and soul, then adapting and molding them into today's image of styling and taste.
Stay tuned for more Steve Stanford renderings, featuring newstalgic early model fullsize van pickups, new late-model fullsize vans, and even a look into Stanford's crystal ball, in upcoming issues of Truckin' magazine. The flashback of the Van-Mania era would not be possible without the time capsule photography of Bob McClurg. Known for his famous drag racing, custom car, hot-rod truck, and van photos over the past 35 years, McClurg is still cranking out features and tech articles for many of the leading magazines today. He goes back to the early days as a staff editor of some of Tom McMullen's earliest publications.
Fullsize Sport Van Criteria
1. Must be a fullsize, shortbox van (no side windows)
2. Solid one color or subtle paint scheme
3. Simple and subtle body mods
4. Suspension lowered on airbags and slammed
5. 20-inch-plus wheels and tires (lowered)
6. Suspension lifted 6 inches or more
7. 33- to 50-inch tires on 17- to 20-inch wheels
8. Interior leather
9. Audio/video and DVD
10. Engine mods
11. Exhaust
12. Van accessories
- OF



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