How Junkyard Life got their groove back. Alright. That’s it. We tried to tell you years ago that vanning was alive and well. Vanning: The mid-1970’s van customizing craze that exploded and seemingly disappeared. Now it's proven to be alive and well with van events and gatherings all over the country. Just as we said it was, or at least would be. More of a way of life than an automotive genre. We knew it the whole time and now we want in on the ground floor. How is this for a ground floor? A blank canvas, if you will.
Look what I found
Behold! A 1974 GMC Vandura! Jody and I heard about this GroovyVanDoovy from our fellow gearhead, Junkyard Life buddy, Jason. We knew somewhere in the far regions of the lost and forgotten fad world there had to be one short wheelbase Vandura left over. Jason’s lead turned out to be very true. There it sat – born in November of 1973, purchased new in 1974 by Eugene Hart, the brother of the gentleman who was kind enough to let the rascalian Junkyard Life guys into his yard for a look-see. Eugene purchased it during the infancy of the van explosion in the 1970’s. He needed a work truck, so he bought one. A base model, bare bones, a seemingly naked, spartan-equipped GMC Vandura.
Air conditioning? No.
Automatic transmission, at least, right? No again.
Carpeting? “That’s how they get you,” my dad would say. So, no.
Eugene welcomed this plain vanilla white, six cylinder, steel wheeled, manual shift “three on the tree” GMC van to the fleet. (note: the RPO codes did reveal an optional “auxiliary seat.” Was that a back seat or really just a passenger seat?) Then it hit him and the rest of the country. I must cruise!
This Vandura emerged from the paint shop in a deep maroon hue. Porthole windows were a huge part of the van craze. It had to be done. I know, I would have. It also received a custom grill, a roof rack and a rear ladder. The brother of the original owner tells us of several wheel and tire combinations that graced the Vandura through it’s prime. Jody and I would demand nothing less than some aluminum slotted mags. That would make us appear tougher than the car dorks that we are. It also got the mac daddy of 1970’s “must haves”– chrome side pipes! (author’s note: chrome side pipes actually came in second on Ron’s 1970’s “Must Have” list. They were second only to Marcia Brady.)
|This 1974 GMC Vandura has custom side pipes. My Grandmother would say “put this in your pipe and smoke it” or really more like “Put your foot on this pipe and burn the daylights out of it.”|
Far out, van!
Many van enthusiast went far out and groovy. That is – VERY far out and VERY groovy. The faint of heart or imagination need not apply. We are talking shag carpet. We are talking crushed velvet seats. We are talking mini-bar in reach of the hot tub or water bed. Only that’s not what we are talking about here. Judging from the outside visuals, we fully expected to be greeted and treated to shag town on the inside. However, it was all business inside this vintage 1970s van. No carpeting, paneling or anything synonymous with that era of vanning.
So, does this van need a melding of Junkyard Life meets Graceland on the inside? We are close to making a move on a van such as this. You wouldn’t want our decorating skills to go to waste, would you? We've been digging through our stash of 1970s car mags, which are loaded with vans, looking for inspiration. We're even dreaming about a trip to the Van Nationals. Stay tuned and check out our other vanning tributes we have coming soon!
— Junkyard Life
|Can we create our own custom van masterpiece out of this 1974 GMC Vandura?|
|No hut tub or shag carpet inside this 1974 GMC Vandura.|
|Peeling paint and flat tires do not help the resale value of a vintage 1970s van.|
|Stick shift van with easy access to the six banger engine.|
|Imagine flames, stripes, airbrushed dragons and slot mags on this 1970's van.|
|Side pipes were popular during the 1970s van explosion.|
|This six banger GMC Vandura had twin side pipes installed in the 1970s. The side pipe on the passenger's side has been removed. You can find it in the back.|
|An inline six cylinder engine powers this ’74 Vandura.|
|Money was made during this van customizing American obsession installing these small nautical style windows. Porthole windows weren’t very functional-most of them didn’t open.|
|1974 GMC Vandura emblem clings to this one-owner van.|
Vanning Fun Facts:
- The 1970’s take credit for the vanning craze, although vanners were customizing vans in the 1960’s when vans became a more popular production vehicle… think peace signs, flower power and sit ins.
- Vanning was a great pastime for young single folks, giving them self expression, places to go and other vanners to meet. Vanning was an early form of social media on four wheels.
- Vanning was also popular with families, thus cara”van”-ing to camp sites, beaches, lakes and rivers. With room to spare!
- Vanning became so popular that most manufacturers began to capitalize on the idea of making the vans with popular touches right from the factory. However, they didn’t sell well due to vanners wanting to make their own unique vans.
- Several Oldsmobile Vista Cruisers and Buick Sport Wagons lost their glass roofs to custom van builders. One older gentleman told us of a van shop in the 1970’s that had a row of Vista Cruiser wagons about to get chopped. This makes us sad.
- Hot Wheels produced several custom vans in the 1970’s including a few prototypes with company logos such as the Yamaha Motocross van that was made for promotional purposes before the idea was nixed.
- Hot Wheels built custom vans for regular production with awesome paint schemes and even custom body touches (see Vanning Fun Fact #5). We own several here at Junkyard Life.
- Several parents faced a point of contention when many they refused to let their daughters date a guy who drove a van. This cut the daughter’s dating options in half due to so many guys driving vans during the 1970s. My own grandmother put her foot down when my aunt wanted to go out with a vanner. When I asked about this, she bluntly stated, “That’s right. I wouldn’t, not happening.”
|A custom pink van was created for the ladies on the 1970s "Charlie's Angels" tv show.|
Paint, wheels, body mods and trick interiors were signature elements on some of the most imaginative customized vans of the 1970s. We dug out photos of some of the wildest show vans from the disco decade. Take a look at what we found in our old car magazine stash.
|This chopped 1971 Chevy custom van was voted Van of the Year at the 1974 NSVA. It featured a bed, tv and 430-cu. inch Buick engine.|
|Rompin' Stompin featured a Mercedes Benz front grill, fender flares, wild custom paint and radical body mods.|
|1977 Tradesman 200 custom van known as "Rhapsody in Blue."|
|The "Warlock" is a 1975 Chevrolet custom van features a top that has been chopped by seven inches.|
Nice try. The big three American automotive companies were caught snoozing at the wheel and wanted to capitalize on the fad. They offered custom (extra cost) features, made to order, straight from Detroit. However, vanners didn’t see that as a shortcut. Having a van like the next guy was a shameful crime when it came to self expression 70’s style. So the pre-made custom vans did not sell well. “Custom” and “factory” are contradictory terms. Vanners declared you can’t have it both ways.
|1975 Dodge van ad features beach scene with trippy paint on new Dodge van.|
|Vintage 1976 GMC cutom van ad featured wild paint to encourage you to buy their van and do-it-yourself.|
|Smug dude looks popular in this 1976 BF Goodrich tire ad that featured a 1970s custom van.|
|1977 Ford van ad features custom van.|
|1977 Dodge van ad featured custom paint, wheels.|
|Ford added custom paint, wheels on vans in their 1975 ads.|
Vans were BIG and everywhere
Vans were everywhere you looked in the mid-1970s. On the road, on TV, in magazines and even as toys. Aftermarket parts suppliers, such as Hurst and Edelbrock, enjoyed the van boom to sell their wares and advertisers were eager to jump on the "van" wagon, so to speak, too. "Hot Rod" magazine catered to the trend by creating a monthly van section in 1976. Check out these blasts from the past during the custom van hey day.
|Edelbrock poked fun at the van phenomenon in their ads during 1975.|
|Hurst ad from the 1970 featured shifters for vans.|
|"Hot Rod" magazine column by editor John Dianna focused on importance of vans in 1976.|
|1976 ad about learning van customizing.|
|1970s Hot Wheels collections are sure to include some vans. Remember the Super Vans, Vette Van and vans with Vista Cruiser roofs?|