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!
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My name is VankyPanky and have been vanning since 1974 and am fifty-eight years old. Have been to events in Ohio to Florida and California over the decades. Appreciate your excellent coverage though am concerned with the attrition rate due to the advanced age of most vanners. Have tried to encourage recruitment of younger vanners over the years and your article will help. Another concern is the exclusivity of a few van clubs that have become quite political and resort to bullying tactics unfortunately. Hopefully your excellent coverage will help address the concerns and make vanning again what it once was in the day. Thanks! Ron E. Duncan - Middlefield Ohio
This was a great read,Thanks for checking out t he van scene.We are strong but folks just forgot to cover the van scene.
For me a fat van is all about slots & rake. Gotta dig that rake man...
Great piece Mr G. "These were the sort of tough decisions that vanners had to make back then" ha ha do you have any Yorkshire blood in you? You're dry enough.
Great coverage, I've been vannin non stop since 1975, I started when I was 20y/o, I'm 57 now. What a great time. I host www.newenglandvancouncil.com and www.myneverendingstoryvan.com
Nice write-up and pics. However, this article and its comments are somewhat offensive to me. I am in my late twenties, a female and have been vanning my entire life. the lifestyle is alive and well. In fact, we have created a 'family' doing it. The vans are as beautiful as ever. And the people? Not 'aging hippies' as one person says. We are a group of people that do not care where you come from. we don't care what you look like or how much money you make. we are a family that gets together, enjoying our vans... All while having the best time you could imagine. Come join us at the van nationals. Or a smaller run near you. See what we're about. See for yourselves that vanning never died. Just don't bring a car when you come ;)
Great pics & a good article. We've been vanning for 20yrs now & have found a great group of people who love travelling & camping in their vans. Many great friendships made with people from all walks of life all across North America & even abroad. Another "family" if you will. The vanning lifestyle never left, it's just been cruising along with those that love it !! We put on Vanfest in Canada every June. It has become Canada's largest custom van & pick up truck show, just 2 hrs inside Ontario from either Detroit or Buffalo. This years 17th eVANt runs from June 6-9 near Alymer, Ont. Check out some pics from previous events & talk to anyone who has been there & you'll know why we do this !! If you can't make it to Vanfest 17 then check out the 41st National Truck In in Ohio July 10-14. Hundreds of custom vans only from all across North America. You won't meet a better bunch of fun people !! 2% Rules !!
Makes me want to go home and play Vigilante 8 on Playstation, there's a '70 Dodge Tradesman in there :)
Pretty big Van scene out here in Toronto, I've not been to it (yet) but Vanfest is supposed to be pretty crazy.
I also spotted this gem mid summer:http://www.stanceiseverything.com/wp-content/uploads/2012/05/van.jpghttp://www.stanceiseverything.com/wp-content/uploads/2012/05/chevy_van2.jpg
vanning is alive and well and coming back to a location near you! hop in and enjoy the ride.
Great coverage of the resurgence in custom old school vans. I have been a custom auto airbrush artists for 33 years now and remember well those awesome murals on the vans in the late 1970's and 1980's. I have one of my own that I just did a total build on called "DragonLord" you can view the photos on my facebook album step by step with over 900 hrs of airbrush and hand brush work telling the tale of Dragons and their creation. I've been taking the van on tour just went to Daytona Turkey Run and was one of only 2 vans out of 4800 cars on display. I can tell you that the DragonLord got the most comments and recently won best exterior for the mural work at a major vannin show. vannin customizing is back full swing and with the new technology better than ever.
NancyCinnamonBontreger ArtofEdBeardJr Hi Nancy, I would love to have you check out the van. I'm not sure how to post pics here I will have to read on that. but you can join my face book and see the complete 145 pics from start to finish build there. Its under ( Artof Ed Beard Jr. ) and there is no space between Art and of.In the mean time you can check out my main website and view a few pics of the process and a couple of video tours around the van. Let me know what you think.http://www.edbeardjr.com/automurals.htmlThanks
Great write up and pictorial. Vanning has not gone away. We have always been here. Been vanning since 1980. Still have my original '78 Dodge. We are also on the East Coast as well as in the central part of the country as well. Like Vannerhoward said, come join us at the 41st National Truck-In in Old Washington, OH in July 2012. Maybe you would like to check us out as well Mike Garrett.
That Street Van is amazing! Whomever is restoring that van must be a man of great class and style!!
Awesome coverage and great pics! Vanning is growing again, and we will be hosting the 41st National truck-In in Old Washington, Ohio this coming July.
Maybe we should go and hang out with the Vandaleros, most of those vans pictures are members of that club I think. Mike did you see a phantom 46/47 for pick up there? Gold with an alloy roof? Owned by an ex-pat friend of mine. Oh and for the record, I would happily roll any of those.
Speedhunters Bryn I probably did, but I can't be sure as the show is just immense. Haha.
I love those lines of the early chevys. (ex, blue velvet, above). despite essentially being a giant rectangle driving down the road, they manage to actually design some good visual flow. done right, a van can look good for sure. Mike Garrett has SH covered those crazy japanese vans (the ones with the wild body kits)?
ClaytonPayton I think Dino featured one a while back if I recall. I'd love to get out to one of those Japanese van events if I ever have the chance!
Funny vans led the SUV craze, then the crossovers, now back to the vans. Honestly i think you can make these old school version look good with some modern touches
I think some are cool but I can't get PEDOVAN out of my head. At least non of them say free candy on them....
@apex_DNA Lighten up chump. It was meant to be tongue in cheek. You need to acquire what 99% of society already has. It's called a sense of humor. Go take yer BS elsewhere.
Wicked post, just needs more wizards, warriors and naked girls on these vans lol...oh and crushed velvet interiors
GeoffreyCaruana Don't forget the murals that show the van itself parked in some majestic location haha.
oh my god that subaru! that's amazing, i wish i could have turned up at a 1970's vannin' meet with a goddamn sambar or something