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Vanhacking
July 18, 2008 9:14 PM   Subscribe

In a time before the Prius, the custom conversion van ruled the roadways. Pushing the boundaries of the airbrush form, testing the limits of mobile interior design, featuring the latest in automatic pink leather bed, compact toaster, 8-track, and love machine technology, the 70s van was celebrated in song and cinema. You started with a factory model, new or used, and ended at a place limited onlyby your creativity, your budget, and your old lady's patience (NSFW). Ford could make you a man.If push came to shove, you could even live in your van. It was fantasy on wheels: van-tastic, man.

More from the 1977 movie Supervan.
Even more from that movie.
A van show clip from The Van.

George Barris rehabbed the Supervan for its 1977 movie appearance. The Guild of Automotive Restorers returned it to its former glory in 2003 - step by step photos here.

My closest personal connection to the world of conversion vans was through the Little Van Goes Design Kit, which let you use relief templates to customize your own fantasy van.
posted by Miko (43 comments total) 28 users marked this as a favorite

 
Ah, the 'Fuck Trucks' about which my parents told me!
posted by ericb at 9:18 PM on July 18, 2008


You can't kick off this post mentioning the Prius, get all the way to Barris (who's about two miles from my house, by the way) and not end the FPP with a link to this.
posted by davejay at 9:31 PM on July 18, 2008


I had a '93 Chevy Astro conversion van back in my Married, With Children days. Velour captain's chairs, bed in the back, wood accessories, payments forever. Peh. Meh.
posted by netbros at 9:33 PM on July 18, 2008


Nice! I didn't see that!
posted by Miko at 9:33 PM on July 18, 2008


This van interior is so awesome I'm speechless.

Custom vans with shaggy interiors were all over the neighborhood when I was a kid -- I can remember lots of times riding around in the back of some friend's dad's van, with his dad and some random buddy of his up front smoking dope. We'd lay on the bed and look out through the portholes, and roll from side to side when the stoned driver swerved. One van even had a built-in beer keg thing, with the hose running up front between the seats for convenient on-the-road beverage dispensing. It was really cool to my 8 year old eyes, and I always wished my parents were with-it enough to have a van like that.

Remember, kids: Don't come a-knockin' when this van's a-rockin'!
posted by Forktine at 9:51 PM on July 18, 2008


Little girl be on the lookout for a man, he's the driver of a woman chasing van!
posted by phirleh at 9:56 PM on July 18, 2008 [1 favorite]


Vantastic!

I have two on-the-road van experiences close to my heart. One was a ride from a guy named Scotty in New York (though I think he is now running a private taxi service in Key West) who outfitted his ride with a laser light show and bongo drums for every passenger. The other was a ride in a big blue molester van driven by a retired cop with swivel captain's chairs and lots of mood lighting. License plate was FINGERS.

Nice post, plenty to gawk at.
posted by peeedro at 10:27 PM on July 18, 2008 [1 favorite]


Ah, the 'Fuck Trucks' about which my parents told me!

Did they ever tell you exactly where you were conceived?
posted by longsleeves at 10:35 PM on July 18, 2008


And if money and time were unlimited, I would want one of these and a nice set of tools.
posted by peeedro at 10:38 PM on July 18, 2008


As a kid, we had a van like this one, complete with carpet and paneling. My dad also had a trike made from the backend of a VW. That was cooler, but harder to sleep in when camping.
posted by sleepy pete at 10:44 PM on July 18, 2008


I wonder if Barris would customize my ukulele...
posted by davejay at 11:36 PM on July 18, 2008


You know, I can smell those shaggy van interiors from here--Old Spice, weed, PVC and locker room.
posted by maxwelton at 12:45 AM on July 19, 2008


omg. best post ever
posted by joelf at 1:09 AM on July 19, 2008


Solar VW II concept.
posted by BrotherCaine at 1:13 AM on July 19, 2008 [3 favorites]


I had a sweet late 80's conversion Chevy van. Plush carpet. track lighting, fold out bed, but still, nowhere near as cool as these.
It made parents nervous, especially fathers, when I would cruise by and pick up their daughters for the evening. I can't say I blame 'em.
posted by chillmost at 1:55 AM on July 19, 2008


"ooh, a toaster!"

$7 paypal'd to whoever got that.

For serious yo!
posted by Senor Cardgage at 3:20 AM on July 19, 2008


And leave it to the Japanese to take a ridiculous Western pop culture concept and run away with it.
posted by Skeptic at 4:09 AM on July 19, 2008


You can't kick off this post mentioning the Prius, get all the way to Barris (who's about two miles from my house, by the way) and not end the FPP with a link to this.


I'm impressed davejay. I wouldn't have thought it would be possible to make the prius look uglier. Mission accomplished.
posted by mattoxic at 4:33 AM on July 19, 2008


We had a conversion van when I was in middle school. It was great because I could play Dragon Warrior on long car trips (or sprawl out reading on the bed in the back).
posted by drezdn at 5:56 AM on July 19, 2008


I so wanted one of these as a kid.
posted by Vindaloo at 6:27 AM on July 19, 2008


Oops, missed this one.

That solar VW is the stuff of dreams, BrotherCaine.
posted by Miko at 6:35 AM on July 19, 2008


We had a conversion van back in the 90's, and yes, it was most excellent. Captain chairs instead of bench seats, a nice size tv/vcr/Super Nintendo, space to stretch out...basically a lot of what drezdn said. It totally kicked the crap out of a mini-van. Course, it felt like you were driving a boat.
posted by Atreides at 6:37 AM on July 19, 2008


My parents had a conversion van when I was an adolescent/teenager; we used it to pull a trailer all the way out to Alberta and back to Sarnia one glorious summer. It had a bed and two seats in the back - all vinyl, so you stuck to them when it was hot and really felt the chill when it was cold - and had just enough room between the two front seats for a cooler, which did double duty as another seat for us kids. It also had speakers towards the back end, which meant that once you'd arrived at your destination you could open the back doors and blast your tunes while sitting on/leaning against the back edge of the bed. The only thing it didn't have was one of those cool little round or teardrop-shaped windows on one side.

I pretty much learned how to drive in that thing, although my aunt lent me her Honda Civic for my driver's license test so I wouldn't have to try and parallel park the thing, and it was a sad day for me when they sold it (although they bought an RV, which was awesome, too).
posted by The Card Cheat at 7:37 AM on July 19, 2008


This post is all right with me.
posted by sourwookie at 7:43 AM on July 19, 2008 [1 favorite]


There was a van like this in the city I just moved away from. It had a massive airbrush of Donald Duck on the side. Stay Classy Wichita.
posted by jlowen at 7:58 AM on July 19, 2008


And leave it to the Japanese to take a ridiculous Western pop culture concept and run away with it.

I hate to make generalizations, and I'm sure there are some reasonable, intelligent Japanese people, but I have to admit that there are days when I wonder if that entire island isn't completely fucking nuts.

[NOT JAPANESE-IST]
posted by Devils Rancher at 8:40 AM on July 19, 2008


It made parents nervous, especially fathers, when I would cruise by and pick up their daughters for the evening. I can't say I blame 'em.

A friend of a friend worked for an auto insurance company. He said that one of the older gentlemen who worked there would refer to such vans as "rolling fuck wagons."
posted by jason's_planet at 9:15 AM on July 19, 2008 [1 favorite]


No way mom, vans have *URRRGH AAACK* made a lot of progress in society...
posted by anthill at 9:23 AM on July 19, 2008


"Livin in a Van Down by the River" (Saturday Night Live)
posted by stbalbach at 9:53 AM on July 19, 2008


Pretty much my favorite cultural phenomenon. Which probably has something to do with spending summers with my dad as kid in the late 70's cruising around SoCal in his candyflake green Ford Van.My 8 year old self spent Countless hours trying to decipher the true meaning behind the sticker on the dashboard

I probably would have figured it out sooner, but it had a picture of a donkey smoking a cigarette. I knew donkey's were called asses, and I knew there was a difference between regular cigarettes, and "bad cigarettes" (although if they were so bad, why was dad and his friends always smoking them?) But the whole concept escaped me until a few years later, which didn't stop me from repeating it as much as possible, because it sounded cool, and kinda had a cuss word in it.

"Ass, Gas, or Grass...Nobody rides for free"

I still remember the day he traded in the van and bought a Cadillac. I was thoroughly and completely disappointed. Not to mention baffled. How could anyone go from a the coolest vehicle alive to a regular 4 door car? One that not only didn't have a refrigerator full of soda, we weren't even allowed to eat in, for fear of "messing it up". And he started wearing suits (uncool)instead of his usual no shirt under a leather vest look(very cool).

stupid grownups.

Although I look back now, and wish I had the Caddy, because it was a pretty sweet ride in it's own right,and also the first car I ever saw with a car alarm.
posted by billyfleetwood at 9:55 AM on July 19, 2008 [1 favorite]


One van even had a built-in beer keg thing, with the hose running up front between the seats for convenient on-the-road beverage dispensing. It was really cool to my 8 year old eyes

Fixed your post.

---

Great thread. I especially love the Van Dweller stuff. These caught my eye a little while ago but ever since a co-worker told me that the ladies in his social circle frequently used the tern "rape van" for any cargo van or even a camper with few windows, it's lost a little luster.
posted by BigSky at 10:22 AM on July 19, 2008


Vanhacking

I have on good authority that vanhacks will play a prominent role in HL2 Episode 3.
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 10:24 AM on July 19, 2008


i once read that matthew mcconaughey has (or at least had) a big ole conversion van that he used in his early career to drive back and forth between texas and LA. the rumor was that he'd drilled a hole through the floor and installed a funnel with a tube attached, so that he wouldn't have to stop to pee.

i know you were dying to know that. you're welcome!
posted by CitizenD at 10:54 AM on July 19, 2008


ladies in his social circle frequently used the tern "rape van" for any cargo van or even a camper with few windows

If you see the van rockin.. fast forward 30 years and it's the Brothel Bus.
posted by stbalbach at 1:30 PM on July 19, 2008


...refer to such vans as "rolling fuck wagons."

We called it the "shag wagon". I only got caught once by the police while naked inside with my lady friend.

Cop: What are you doin'? You can't park here.
Me: Uh....makin' out.
Cop: Oh. Um, uh..... *knowing wink* Get your clothes on and get outta here!
posted by chillmost at 3:37 PM on July 19, 2008


My first boyfriend had one of those and I have early memories of being driven to the Worcester Centrum to see... Rush maybe? ... hanging out in the back of it, on the bed, under the shag carpet ceiling, looking out the little porthole. I never really understood why his Russian immigrant parents had such a sweet ride, but by the time he got his license and could drive the thing around, we were no longer dating but had progressed into some sort of FWB arrangement. Ah that van!

By the time I had my own van [for moving to Seattle from the east coast in 1990] I just put the barebones removeable shelf bed in the back of it and some Bose speakers suspended from the ceiling, but it was getting late enough that 16MPG really grated, even if you could sleep comfortably in it. I've always liked that vandweller page.

This user appears to have a lot of nifty 70s nostalgia clips on YouTube. One more letter and this author would be someone we all know.
posted by jessamyn at 4:36 PM on July 19, 2008


There has to be a word (in German I'm guessing) for "something that you thought was the coolest thing ever as a kid, and now as an adult you're kind of embarrassed about it, but some deep little part of you still thinks it's pretty cool, and not in a hipster-ironic kind of way."
posted by gottabefunky at 6:11 PM on July 19, 2008 [6 favorites]


You could use this concept to make a killer video game... call it "Wagon Shagger" or something. You start off with a beat to hell old van, and a minimum wage job and spend your money on making your van look cooler until you're able to attract women to it, with various accessories increasing draw power.
posted by inthe80s at 6:29 PM on July 19, 2008


early memories of being driven to the Worcester Centrum to see... Rush maybe? ... hanging out in the back of it, on the bed, under the shag carpet ceiling, looking out the little porthole.

This is awesome and you should feel awesome, and, inspired, I'm listening to Tom Sawyer right now. His mind is not to rent to any god or government...
posted by TheOnlyCoolTim at 7:04 PM on July 19, 2008


One of my many regrets in life is not buying a co-worker's old zebra striped boogie van. The best part? When it's officially known as a '69 Econoline, it don't need a nickname...
posted by arto at 8:01 PM on July 19, 2008


You know, I look at that Prius upthread and I realize what I want in an electric car.

I want it to look like an absolute piece of shit! I want it to look like the unholy union of an AMC midsized and a 70's era Volvo with a dash of Corvair thrown in. And yet, I want it to have an irresistible something that made every guy who bought a red sports car when he turned 40 and his teenage son feel the need to beat it of the line. 0-60 in less that 4 seconds is a must.

This is close....
posted by Kid Charlemagne at 2:58 AM on July 20, 2008 [1 favorite]


I recently parked near a beautifully decked out Sprinter in the Whole Foods parking lot near my home. No amateur interior in this one. Although it has no side windows, I peered into the heavily tinted back windows and saw a large plasma/LCD TV, a lot of well-appointed leather seats, and a sleeping area. Oh yeah, it had a small glassed bookcase, full of books. Sounds weird but it was quite spectacular.
posted by bz at 5:49 PM on August 6, 2008 [1 favorite]


Oh, man, I'd love to have a car with a bookcase in it.
posted by box at 7:40 PM on August 6, 2008


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