My Car Quest

September 17, 2021

Remember Custom Vans From the 1970s?

by Mike Gulett –

I remember the 1970s fondly because I was young and having fun. One of the fun times was owning and driving a custom 1978 Chevy Van that was customized for comfort. I bought it new from a Chevrolet dealer in San Diego who had it customized so I did not need to do anything except drive it and have fun.

It had a refrigerator, a sink, kitchen cabinets, carpet (not shag) and a bench seat in the back that converted into a bed. It was comfortable and could be used for camping, surfing or going on trips with a few friends.

In this Chevy Van we would drive from San Diego to Baja California with friends for lobster and beer at Puerto Nuevo stopping on the way home at the Rosarito Beach Hotel for another beer or perhaps a margarita. This was when Puerto Nuevo was just a wide spot on the side of the road with maybe five houses that opened their front rooms to serve fresh caught lobster, tortillas, beans and Mexican beer. It has grown to be a big tourists destination now.

1978 Chevy Van and Rebecca Fuller

Rebecca and the Chevy Van in the desert east of San Diego near the Salton Sea – July 3, 1978 – photo by Mike Gulett

Later we relocated from San Diego to Colorado and drove this van there and what a beautiful trip that was. We drove it to go skiing at Vail with friends and had a keg of beer in the back. The van handled the snow pretty well as long as the driver was careful and used chains when called for as in the photo below. During this first Vail trip we were on Interstate 70 heading west, there was fresh packed snow on the road and the car in the lane next to us came sliding by – going backwards. I let off the gas and allowed him to pass unhindered and watched as this backward going car straightened itself out and continued on without any damage to it or to us.

1978 Chevy Van in the snow

In the snow in Ft. Collins, Colorado during the winter of 1979 – photo by Mike Gulett

The car manufacturers really got behind this trend toward vans because the muscle car time was apparently at an end (look at the two advertisements below from Ford and Dodge for proof of that). They needed something to get younger buyers interested in new cars and a custom van seemed to be the ticket, at least for a few years. It certainly worked on me. And there were things you could do in these vans that could not be done in a sports car or GT car made by Porsche, Lamborghini or Ferrari – like have your keg of beer in the back along with a few of your closest friends.

Ford van ad - 1976

Ford Van Advertisement – 1976

Today vans are used mainly for work instead of play like the ’70s and there are not as many companies that customize vans for fun stuff. But there are many businesses selling van storage units like van drawers at Rolacase.

I miss the 1970s sometimes – how about you?

Let us know what you think in the Comments.

 

 

Dodge van ad - 1976

Dodge Van Advertisement – 1976

Summary
Remember Custom Vans From the 1970s?
Article Name
Remember Custom Vans From the 1970s?
Description
I remember the 1970s fondly because I was young and having fun. One of the fun times was owning and driving a custom 1978 Chevy Van that was customized for comfort.
Author

Comments

  1. Jack Nelson says

    Rosarita Beach in the Early 80’s was The Spot.!
    I felt that ‘ol nostalgic pang when read of your stopping at the RBH….ahhh, youth!

    Will you be covering Monterey?
    Best & thanks

    Jack
    Southampton, NY

  2. Remember the Good Times Van. I think they customized Ford Chevy or Dodge. Back in the day I worked for International Harvester and the guy who owned good times attempted to buy the International Scout line and foundry to make Good Times Scouts. The deal never got done and Scout died.

  3. I was a vanner. Poor, overworked, and free every 6th weekend. When I “stepped forward” and sold the van it had a cabinet door plastered with over 140 dash plaques from all of the events I had gone to. I am glad I was a part of the van movement, but there were a lot of changes going on then and the lifestyle just kind of killed itself. The big runs, like King City in California were a kind of mecca, but the local events were just as fun. Seemed like every time we went into British Columbia, the beer distributors were on strike! Mostly, we need to recognize that there were a lot of innovations us vanners insisted on for ourselves that finally made it into the general flow of gadgets all of us couldn’t live without today. But all of that was 50 years ago. I’m not sure I would want to see many of us doing what we did then, now…

  4. Lennox McNeely says

    Our big van trip–myself and three Aussies left Whistler Canada May 8,1970 to Ski in Portillo and surf on the way down. While partying before leaving we met 3 attractive gals from Edmonton so of coarse we had to head 900 miles North–our vehicle a 1966 Ford Econoline 6 cylinder–one chap would sit on the engine between the driver and navigator and one behind –it was a former bread truck. Sleeping was 2 layers in the back and often drove
    through the night. A side trip to Venezuela for surfing and meeting a beautiful airline stewardess from Peru here
    again delayed us. The van took us over the Aticona pass-15,889 feet — we had to deflate the poor tyres on the way up–those tyres must have been retreaded 3 times by then. After the highlands of Peru and Bolivia it was down
    the coast to Santiago Chile and up to Portillo where we found the ski resort had just closed.Undeterred we pressed on to Buenos Aires thru a railway tunnel and up to Rio to surf and sell our boards. From there back to Chile to ship
    the Van batch to Texas–5 months and one week. The van made it up to Montreal in time for Xmas. Later we did a 180 spin on the Autoroute to the Laurentians where we finally got to Ski 9 months after we had set out.
    We all in our mid 70’s and still kicking and in touch. A van which was the adventure of our lives.

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