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  • Custom Vans - Van-Tastic! - And Finally...

Custom Vans - Van-Tastic! - And Finally...

Carl Calvert
Dec 1, 2004
Photo 2/2   |   truckin Editors Note custom Van
If you've been carefully reading the pages of Truckin' over the past several months, you've obviously noticed the special coverage of Truckin's 30th Anniversary. With our first issue being published in 1974, Truckin' entered the truck enthusiast market in a big way and has been leading the charge ever since. As you are probably aware, much of the early editorial coverage of Truckin' centered around the hottest aftermarket vehicle of that time, vans. We've paid a lot of tribute over the past few issues to the van craze of the '70s and '80s, and these wild creations definitely look pretty strange today.
However, it's a sad fact that while vans were a key ingredient in Truckin's success story, only two of our present editors are old enough to remember or appreciate the craze: myself and Senior Tech Editor Bob Ryder. You may remember reading this column in the Aug. '04 issue of Truckin' where we published the photos of how the staff looked in 1974 (the first year of Truckin'), and Bob and myself were the only grownups in the bunch. At the time ('70s and '80s), vans were cool. When you stepped into a buddy's van, you were not just getting into his chosen transportation, you were entering his domain, his lifestyle, and his mystique. Much like today's truck enthusiasts modify their trucks to fit their lifestyles and individual tastes, the vans of those days went beyond that to become definite extensions of a van owner's personality.
Although I did not own a van personally, I had plenty of friends and acquaintances who did, and virtually all of them modified their van in some way to suit their personalities. There were wild murals, crazy carpeting and textiles, all sorts of beds (the sleeping kind) and seats, layers and layers of leather and suede, interior lighting, art dcor, wild rims, assorted paraphernalia, and over everything, there was the sweet lingering scent of incense and other burning substances.
I remember my first experience with a customized van. My friends and I were on a camping trip at Lake Berryessa in Central California (I believe the year was 1969), and we ran into some new friends who were a few years older than our group. We were invited over to their campsite, and lo' and behold, their current ride was a fully decked-out van, complete with day-glo paint, an accessorized interior, and a definite late-'60s ambience. I remember passing around a gallon jug of Red Mountain wine while watching an improvised light show our new friends had hooked up inside their van. We were listening to the hot new group at the time (the latest album from Creedence Clearwater Revival), and I was in the van mode - mellow, swaying to the beat, and happy to be with good friends. I was to witness another new experience that night as well - some of my newfound friends were passing around a hand-rolled cigarette (or so I thought), and the Creedence music was turned up another notch. However, like Bill Clinton, at the time I didn't inhale.
For good or bad, this was vanning in the old days. Creativity was high, along with some of the owners, and good times were to be had within the confines of these customized road warriors. As an interesting side note, my wife Ann had a good friend at work in the mid-'70s whose husband was the owner of Van's Unlimited in Costa Mesa, California. Van's Unlimited was one of the many hot van builders at the time in Southern California, and if you had the cash, you could order up a van fully suited to your individual tastes, as mild or wild as your imagination. I paid attention to these vans, because I knew the owner of the company, and took note of the different styles and subtleties of the van culture. Usually good taste was not high on the wish list of many of these van owners, but good times were a definite priority. With this in mind, the vans of the time were certainly over the top, with a wild mix of modifications that today seem ridiculous, or at best, outdated. During the time they were hot - customized vans ruled and certainly took a lion's share of the editorial in those old issues of Truckin'. However, those van days (or daze) can probably only be appreciated by older guys such as Bob and myself. Now, if I can only remember where I put that latest Creedence album...
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