There are little hidden treasures of automotive culture wherever you look in Japan. Sometimes they’re right in front of your eyes and you don’t even notice them. This Citroën H Van is a good example; I must have probably seen this van three times, if not more, sitting outside either the Liberty Walk shop or the LB Works garage.
With so many crazy widebody exotics and Kato’s kyusha rides sitting around the place, the little van was something my brain just didn’t acknowledge. It happens, trust me. But then, after seeing it sitting in the back of some of my shots, I made a mental note that next time I would be back down in Nagoya, I would at least have to do a little spotlight on it.
You can probably call these H Vans the French version of the VW Kombi; I know it’s a rather loose comparison, but you get what I’m saying. They’re a little bit bigger, were mainly built for commercial use and didn’t even come close to matching the popularity of the rear-engine Vee-Dubs. But it’s precisely this that makes Liberty’s H Van so special: its rarity. You hardly see these things in Europe, let alone in Japan, and this one has been given the Kato touch with a full flat-green coat of paint, air suspension and wire mesh wheels that look like they came off Snoop Dogg’s Coupe de Ville!
The story behind the van is pretty simple: it was once used by a mobile food vendor and once up for sale, Kato-san came across it and bought it straight away seeing the potential in it. Once customized, it was used a few times at Liberty Walk events and meets, as it’s great for carrying stuff around in style. Unfortunately, with all the projects Kato has been up to these last couple of years, the Citroën hauler has been left sitting in front of the LB Works workshop awaiting its much needed overhaul to bring it back up to usable condition.
I just find these sort of vehicles to be little glimpses of a bygone area, when vehicles were put together with so much simplicity and curious touches. Like a lot of cars back in the days, the H Van is equipped with suicide doors, which actually make it so easy to swing your body into the driver’s seat.
Check out the door handles. If they were all polished up, they wouldn’t look out of place in a period home and those hinges as are agricultural as they come. It’s these small details that help give these older vehicles character, and there are plenty more to be found in the interior.
The H Van was a little part-borrowing exercise, so most of what you see in there was taken from other Citroën production cars like the Traction Avant – things that included its engine and transmission. The engine sits right in between the passengers and drives the front wheels. The air suspension controls are laid out on the passenger side of the dashboard and lift only the front wheels; the rear just sits plain low.
The rear opens up with a main gate that swings upwards and a pair of little doors below it – perfect for what the van was used for in one of its previous lives! In fact it still has a ventilation opening next to the high-mount French number plate. For the time being, it’s doubled up as a little storage unit, most of the cargo space taken up with a variety of things from old tyres to boxes and spare parts.
The corrugated panels are what really make the H Van instantly recognizable, a then easy and cheap way to make a flat sheet of metal more rigid without added strengthening. It’s probably the last vehicle you would expect to find in Japan, or at Liberty Walk for that matter, but its charm and potential were obviously too much for Kato-san to resist. Let’s hope it’s put back on the road soon; it’s already got the overfenders and the right sort of stance so it can really wear the LB Works name with pride!
Dino Dalle Carbonare