Vanning. It swept the USA during the 1970s in an explosion of side pipes, murals, and velvet interiors before it disappeared just as fast as it began. For a long time after, custom vans were looked at as embarrassing pieces of the past rather than nostalgic classics. That is changing though. During the last several years, more and more 1970s style custom vans have been popping up at events and at this year’s Mooneyes X-Mas Party there was a separate area dedicated specifically to vintage vans.
The result was not a small smattering of vans, but sizable display with around 30 examples present. For those that were around during the peak of vanning in the ’70s it was nostalgic trip, and for the younger crowd it was a fine look at a movement that was long buried in automotive history.
While I can’t speak for the entire country, it appears that Southern California is becoming a hotspot of the vanning revival. There are even a few clubs dedicated just to vintage vans.
It was a difficult to tell which of the vans were actually customized during the ’70s and which ones were modern recreations, but either way all of the period elements could be seen. This Dodge has covered all the basics, graphics, sidepipes, porthole windows, custom wheels, and a few spoilers for good measure.
This Chevy meanwhile is sporting an aggressive set of fender flares and a big front air dam to match. Looks like it’s ready for the IMSA circuit, doesn’t it?
As an example of just how big the vanning craze got during the ’70s, Dodge actually released a factory custom version of its popular Tradesman Van known as the “Street Van”.
While they didn’t sell in huge numbers, the Street Van could be had with just about anything a van freak could want, including a plush interior, wide mag wheels, and wild graphics.
They were also identified by these awesome badges.
Having the right rear window design was crucial for your custom van. Some went with the classic porthole, while others went the diamond as seen on the Street Van.
The teardrop design was yet another popular choice along with the good old heart shape. These were the sort of tough decisions that vanners had to make back then.
Ask any vanner, any real vanner. They will all tell you the same thing. You can never have too many louvers…
The selection of vans also brought with them an array of vintage wheels to match. Some, like these finned jobs with Cooper Cobra tires looked like they’ve been mounted for quite some time.
The classic slotted mag wheel is another popular choice, not just on vans but for just about any car from the 1970s.
The same goes for the Cragar SS, which are usually fitted to vans in some very wide sizes both front and rear. This one also gets extra points for its Mickey Thompson Indy Profile tires.
The Keystone is another one of those cool old wheels that doesn’t pop up nearly as much it should.
For those looking to give their van a bit more of a Lowrider vibe, the Astro Supreme is another good choice.
This Chevy takes the Lowrider thing a bit further with wire wheels and a healthy amount of pinstriping.
Pinstriping is of course just the beginning when it comes to vans and paintjobs. At their wildest, they were less vehicles and more rolling canvases for elaborate murals. Are you the mysterious wizard type?
Or perhaps you are more into the flame-spitting dragon?
A proper custom van should also have its own name.
Only the best of the best could claim the elite” Vantasy” name. The same goes for the equally exclusive name, “Vantastic”.
You can sense the the increasing popularity of old vans when you see what they sell for these days. They are no Muscle Cars for sure, but sometimes it’s surprising to see how much early models like the Dodge A100 and Ford Econoline go for on Ebay or Craigslist.
I quite liked the look of this short wheelbase A100 with big and skinny Cragars. It’s simple by custom van standards, but very effective.
In most cases you can usually pick up on a few small differences between a modern build and survivor, but many of the vans like this Dodge look like they were came straight from the ’70s or early ’80s.
The National Street Van Association still exists, and based on their website they seem to be active as ever with a particularly strong presence in the UK.
Sometimes I’m highly disappointed that I didn’t get to experience the 1970s first hand…
Some of these custom vans grew to be quite large…
…in which case a double rear axle conversion is always a good choice. I’m not quite sure about the functional benefits, but it definitley makes for an unique look, and that’s what vanning was (is?) all about.
From the giant twin axle dodge to a tiny little Subaru mircovan. Vanning does not discriminate by size or place of birth!
In terms of both cars and fashion, it seems that everything eventually comes back into style. I can only see the vanning revival get bigger and bigger from here, so if you want an old van you better scoop it now before they hit Ferrari GTO price levels!
I live in Florida and have been vanning for 18yrs my husband over 20 yrs it never died just got smaller there are tons of hardcore vanners, you just gotta look we will be at van o rama in November put on by the Carlyle people we had over 30 vans last year, Lakeland Fl.
Good article , alot of cool photos of Vans and I recognize some of our parts. Jonathan www.trucknvans.com
My husband and I were also a part of the vanning community back in the 70's, We bought our 69 Chevy van as a family car.We live in Butler county and when we heard about Van Fair East at the Butler Fair Grounds in the mid 70's we just had to go. We never joined a club, went to a few other Nationals through the years but mainly used the van to camp and travel with our two girls. He passed away 13 years ago and I am just now going to sell, it. Don't want to, but I need the garage space. It is a stick and I nor my daughters will drive it. It is for sale on ebay this week, goes off Saturday, June 18th at 9:15. There is also a video of it running on YOUTube. thanks for the opportunity to post this. an old 2%er
I have a 1971 Chevy G30 van I need to sell. In 1987, it got a new 350 engine which currently has 42 K on it. It runs well and has been an attention-getter. Willing to send pictures of it to any interested party and detail its history, condition and service record.
I can be reached at email@example.com or 510-407-0794. I'm located in the San Francisco Bay Area.
You have to do three separate and different Google Searches:
1977 Ford van fender flares
1977 Ford van Spoiler
1977 Ford van portholes
harder to find the portholes, try these searches in Ebay and Amazon also. And try the wreckers. Good luck,
I am looking for someone to help me out with trying to find fender flares, Spoiler, road effects, port holes, etc as i am wanting to customize a 1977 Ford Van i just bought. I had a real nice 1975 Ford custom Van 25 years ago when i lived in Riverside Calif, but sold it before moving here to So, Oregon. I love vans, and i'm wanting to trick out the one i have now. I was also wondering if any of you know of a Van Club here in So, Oregon. Any information you can give me would be highly appreciated, Thank You, Ken Lee. Contact me at ,, firstname.lastname@example.org
@Timberwolf_777 I would honestly contact customvan.com. Kurk has a lot of the parts you are looking for and ships. If you need help with contacting him, let me know.
I agree. I've been vanning since 1972 and never knew a vanner that was a pedophile. yes we were young guys just like any other that loved young girls but they rode and joined voluntarily and many young ladies took advantage of ME LOL so please stop the BS I think some people are just jealous of our life style and fantastic vans. also by the way we were in style with long hair but working for a living to support a vanning life style which included many miles of traveling that most of your HIPPYS could never accomplish or have any interest in building such a machine with their own hands. yes we are still here with grand children of kids that were conceived in the back of a van. :-)
I have 73 ford econoline 300 I need to get rid of. If you know of anyone that might be interested please contact me at email@example.com
hello all. I am a 40 yr veteran of the van industry and am finally finding time to build my own. Having found a like new 1994 full size G-20 with 16,000 mi. , I am ready to start with all the plans stored in this old head. I am searching for a new or used pop top to begin my build. All the companies I contact will not sell top only , so ill probably end up with used. If anyone knows where I might find one , whether it is designed for this van or not , please let me know..I can modify one if neccasary. Thank you for any assistance......there may be a reward. I WILL TRAVEL ! maybe.
I'm thinking of selling my 77 Dodge B200 Street van (YH3) code. 61k miles, 318 auto.,ps.pb.AC, swivel, pwr. bench/bed,127"wb, sliding door, very solid barn find.$15.5 419 705 8172 Dennis
Go on FB and join the Van List group. Post it there. It would have to be turn key perfect if you expect 15k
I am new to the world of custom vanning - Back in 1980 I had a Ford Econline, Plain Jane - Today I have a 1962 Ford Econoline that I have painted the exterior graphics free-hand and am also doing the custom interior... I've made a table, seats, bed, dash, drapes, throw pillows and even plan to do custom paint on the interior walls and ceiling. I am having a blast working on it and would love to post photos as I move forward with my Medicine Van (Hippy) and even join a club if there is one in my area, New Mexico.
I've enjoyed browsing the internet and the pages of speedhunters which I found today. Thank - you!
@DennisConko Hello Dennis,
Yes, I am having a BLAST! as I stated and the question was - Are there any vanning groups or clubs, here in New Mexico?
The vanning Council of Councils meeting is the weekend of February 12 13 14 2016 in Austin Texas its a major event we sometmes call our winter nationals. Look it up on FB or google CofC2016 its closer to New Mexico then anyone else that is driving there. You will get all the info of vanning and vanners around you there
We have a 1974 Dodge Van B100 sportsmen, and we would like to change the rear wheels. We would like to get tires that are the fattest, biggest tires that will fit inside the wells and not rub. And we'd like to use 15" or 14" rims if possible or we can go larger. Does anyone know what size tire will work? Thank you, Ed
@DennisConko Thanks for the info Dennis
@reeder777reeder you want to use bf goodrich silvertown 285-15-70 available from summit on a ten inch wide rim. proper backspacing is critical. i can't remember what mine is but if you contact me i can give you more info. i always get comments on the van due to the rear tires and also cutting one coil off the front springs to give a very distinctive rake to the van.
I just picked up this '87 GMC. I know it's built a decade too late and it's roof is higher than the normal "Street Van" but I'm planning on customizing it more than it already is. Cragar mags being first on the list. Would it be allowed into most van events and appreciated or would I be frowned upon by the short coming I listed earlier?
Many of us never left the vanning lifestyle. Twin City Vans in Minnesota held our 40th annual truckin in June 2015.
I got my club colors right out of High School (86) and was told back then that the Vanning "movement" was dying. It has seen It's numbers fall off over the years. But the reality of it all is that Vanning became a bit of a cult following or that of hidden secret. Prior to the Internet allowing people to see what was available for your Vans, we were limited to rags like Truck-in and Hot Rod. They want only to sell you anything that their advertising pages had to offer. If there wasn't a shop that they could promote or a parts list of products that were endorsed by the particular rag, the van was not going to be in the rag, no matter how spectacular it was. Vanning is more about the individual view of what is cool. All the Vans at the Van Nationals this year in Altomont Illinois were different from the next. The ability for a Major league sponsor is non existent due to the odds of selling enough product to justify traveling across the country to show up to what they see as a gigantic party.
This thinking is why the rags like Truck-in only show trucks with more "Sponsor stickers" than paint. Whereas an internet site that allows an individual to post a photo album to how they hand crafted their Van will have a huge following of people who truly appreciate what they did despite the limited amount of sellable products.
In turn the big name magazines stopped showing Vans in their rag. People assume that what's in their rags is all that's out there. No Vans in the rag=Vans aren't around anymore or no one important is building one.
Sooner or later The big Rags will come around and say that they were involved with Vanning from the beginning. But Vanners that watched them disappear will never want to support them again. Sorry Truck-in, you have nothing in your rag that interests me. I'll see what's in the real world where real Americans build what they like not what you sell.
Ace of Spades van club
Many Chooie, I was 4-4-2, and I have NO CLUE was "rags" are.
Hey Chooie, I was 4-4-2, and I have NO IDEA what "rags" are.
Please enlighten a brother.
@Chooie Chooie it did die in some parts of the World. I ran a van shop for 13 years (started in 1975 )and finally had to change to Classic Cars to make ends meet. . ( South Western Kentucky )When We bought a van to go to the 43rd nationals this year we had to dive 150 miles down into Tennessee to fine a conversion van. I am 70 years old now and I for one am glade the movement is still out there. Here is a picture of our van ( Afternoon Delight). We had her up until 4 years ago when my health got really bad and could not take care of her and had to pass her on(being redone ) Also a picture of me in the 70's. Don't laugh to hard. Oh!!! my first Truck-in was the 2nd nationals in Bonners Springs Kansas. What a hoot!!!!! Keep-On-Truck-in !!!!
I've been a vanner since 1971 vanning never died you just had to know where to look. After all we are on our 44th annual van nationals.. come to Lakeland Florida July 4 5 6 7 8 2016.. you will see vanning at its best
@DennisConko OK Dennis tell me where do you look? Thanks Ed
You can go to vannationals.com or thenationaltruckinboard.com to find the history of all 43 previous national truckins. I was the Chairman for the 7th van Nationals in Cortland Ohio. We had 2480 vans thru the gate.
@DennisConko Memories! We used to party with Miami High Life and many other clubs I can't remember. We belonged to Southern Vans LTD out of Winter Haven. Some of the Florida truck-ins with 800-1000 vans and more were truly epic. We were at a couple of the Fiesta Key parties. I'm just glad I have lots of pictures to remember the weekends that my brain wasn't able to see through the adult beverage fog.
@shadowpcat @DennisConko we probably know each other. I was at those events myself. my first fiesta key was 83.. you should come to Lakeland Sun n Fun July 6 7 8 9 many Florida vanners are still involved we also have a great event at Beverly Beach camp town right on the Atlantic Flagler Beach just south of St. Augustine May 5 6 7 8
@DennisConko @shadowpcat We did our Florida vanning between 75 and 79 then moved to Wisconsin. Still did a few truckins then but it finally petered out in the early 80's. Spent more time on motorcycles. Still miss the great custom vans from the old days. I'll have to find the photo albums. Thought about coming down from Northern Michigan for your party in July for my birthday (7/4) but the last time I was in Florida in July it never got below a hundred degrees and most of the state was on fire. Yesterday the wife totaled our SUV so it might be time to get back into vans. Maybe I could recreate a Ford Denim Machine. I must have sent in a hundred entries when they were giving away a batch of those in 78. Maybe we can keep in touch. Pete
Had a 65' back in the mid 70's it caught on fire, and lost it. Found one on e-bay 2010, restored it, and cruising again.
I love this. I just got my 73 dodge and I am taking it back retro to the 70,s. We had lotsa fun in my buddy's van in high school back then and I can't wait to go back. Will get some pics posted later.
Hey Joe. Check out southeat van council (they are on the net).They can direct you to one in your area.I am in the Florida Van council and we all van a lot together.
There is a van event near you. Located in Cherokee NC October 2 3 4 at the camp grounds. There will be many Tennesee vanners there. Its called "GSVR" THE Great Southern Van Run.. I'll be there