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The Chevrolet / GMC Van

Vans November 6, 2017

Chevrolet GMC Van

From 1964 to 1995, the Chevrolet GMC van (along with its competitors the Ford E-Series and the Dodge Ram van) was a popular choice for all sorts of vocational workers, such as plumbers, florists, and caterers. Its size and options, along with the inexpensive upkeep made it a practical choice for many small businesses during this period. It succeeded the Chevrolet Greenbriar Sportswagon, later to be replaced itself by the Chevrolet Express/GMC Savana.

The Chevrolet/GMC van was a compact van with a forward engine design and a standard four-cylinder engine, and the choice between a 3-speed manual transmission or a 2-speed automatic transmission, as well as optional additions including a passenger seat and heating. Its boxy shape and flat windshield became a classic look for vans in the 1960’s and 1970’s, though as those decades passed, the Chevy/GMC was renovated to have a more modern look.

With production taking place in Quebec, Canada and Ohio and Michigan in the United States, the Chevy/GMC van made its rounds across North America, and became a popular van to convert with the likes of Curtis and Starcraft. Throughout the years, manufacturers also added onto the van, either to keep up with regulations or to modernize the vehicle.

The Chevrolet/GMC van not only became popular with the general public because of its versatility and capabilities, it garnered fame by appearing on the A-Team series. A 1983 version of the van was utilized on the show, customized to meet the characters’ needs. The 1983 van came with a 6.2 diesel engine, a revised grille, automatic overdrive, and a new steering wheel design.

In 1990, the van became the last van to be upgraded to 15-passenger capabilities, after the Dodge Ram Wagon and Ford Econoline did so in the 1970’s. It had to extend its wheelbase to do so, jumping up to 146 inches. This size was kept for the remainder of its five years in production. There was talk of an electric van from GMC, but because of safety concerns and the high cost of production, it was scrapped and never revisited.

As with all good things, the life of the Chevrolet/GMC had to come to an end. Though it was succeeded by the GMC Savana, the van continues to be fondly remembered by many people because of the nostalgia associated with its use. Fortunately, there are still people who have preserved their love of the GMC van by restoring vintage vans — replacing the windshields, repainting and reupholstering, and changing out various machine parts.

If you’re interested in joining a community of other people who enjoy vintage vans as much as you do, you can join online groups on Facebook, Ebay and Pinterest, as well as groups like the Vintage Chevy Van Club. There are a host of fans, around the world, who love celebrating these excellent vehicles, and they will be happy for you to join them in preserving these nostalgic vans. If you are interested, you can also purchase your own van and use these groups and forums in asking for help in rebuilding a van.

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Volkswagen Bus (Type 2)

Vans November 3, 2017

Can you name another vehicle that has been embroiled in politics for over fifty years? The Volkswagen Bus, also called the “minibus”, the “hippie van”, and the “VW Bus”, has, oddly enough, been part of The Chicken War since 1964. You think I’m joking? Keep reading.

The Chicken War began in 1964, when President Lyndon B. Johnson imposed a 25% tax on various models of the Volkswagen Bus. Why? At first it appeared that France and Germany’s tariff on chicken imported from the U.S. was to blame, but it was later revealed that instead of retaliating against Europe’s tariffs, President Johnson wanted to prevent the United Auto Workers from striking. The UAW pressed the President to do something about the large amount of automobiles arriving in the United States via Germany.

The Chicken Tax came into effect shortly after, and is still, in 2017, going strong. After 1971, the market appeared to dry up and light trucks and vans were no longer imported from Germany to the U.S. If you manage to find a Volkswagen that arrived pre-1971, it most likely has all its legal documents in order and has had a tariff paid.

Of course, people still love the VW Bus, and it is known all around the world by a variety of nicknames, including Bulli (Germany), Combi (Mexico), Breadloaf (Portugal), Rye Bread (Denmark), and the Volksie Bus (South Africa). With fans on nearly every continent, the Volkswagen Bus has maintained its loyal following because of its unique look, its varied uses (tour buses in the Alps, taxis in Peru, family camper vans in the U.S. and Australia, etc.), and now, its nostalgic credentials.

When the Volkswagen first arrived on the market, it was a light commercial vehicle with an RR layout. It was available as a pick-up, van, commercial vehicle, and camper, and later ambulances, hearses, fire engines, police vans, rail-going draisines, and even ice cream vans. It was produced in Germany, Argentina, Mexico, Brazil, and Australia, competing with several American, European, and Japanese vehicles, such as the Ford Econoline, Citroen H, and the Nissan Caravan.

Though the Volkswagen Type 2 was used as a commercial vehicle, most people have seen it utilized as a family camper van, such as the Westfalia conversion, but what you may not know is that there were deluxe versions of the Type 2, such as the Sunroof Deluxe, which sports a total of 23 windows, several of which were on the roof, hence its title of “Sunroof Deluxe”. The two-tone luxury camper vehicle had two pivoting doors and was painted in a two-tone scheme. Though the original purpose was as a touring bus in the Alps, it was used in a myriad of settings in the U.S. and Europe, though its run was tragically short-lived.

The Volkswagen Bus (Type 2) was discontinued in 2013, after heightened safety regulations made it impossible for the Brazilian factories to stay open. It was truly the end of an era, but not the end of the Volkswagen Bus, which was succeeded by the T3. With many people returning to the past, reliving the glory days and indulging in nostalgia, I would not be surprised if there were a reintroduction to the design at some point in the near future.

 

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The Sky’s the Limit (and Beyond) with the ASTRO Van

Vans October 9, 2017

The Sky's the Limit (and Beyond) with the ASTRO Van

Between the years 1995 and 2005, the Chevy Astro Van (also called the GMC Safari) carried passengers and cargo all around the U.S., often competing for work against minivans like the Dodge Caravan and Plymouth Voyager, as well as vehicles like the Dodge Durango and Honda Pilot, though it carries 8 passengers, placing it between the minivan and the full-size van.

Assembled in the Baltimore Assembly plant in Maryland for the entirety of its production run, the Chevy Astro Van was a 3-door, front engine, rear wheel/all wheel drive vehicle. It came with a 4-speed automatic, 4-speed manual, or 5-speed automatic transmission. In 1990, the Chevy Astro was the first mini-van in the United States to begin using all wheel drive, and though it provided better handling, there was a loss in fuel economy (17 mpg as opposed to 20 or 21 mpg that the rear-wheel drive option received).

Later on it was produced with multi-point fuel injection, a HydroBoost hydraulic assist brake booster, and anti-lock control. The Chevy Astros that came with fabric seats were also protected by Scotchguard, and the air conditioning system was made CFC-free. In addition to the original color choices, in 1994 three more options became available: Indigo Blue Metallic, Light Quasar Blue Metallic, and Medium Quasar Blue Metallic.

From 1985 to 1994, the first generation of the Chevy Astro Van had either a 2.5L Tech IV I4 engine (98 hp), or a 4.3L 4300 V6 engine (165 or 200 hp) with a wheelbase of 111 inches. It measured between 176.8 to 187.9 inches long. The second generation Chevy Astro had a 4.3L V6 engine (190 hp), with a wheelbase between 111 and 111.2. It measured 189.8 inches long.

With the size of the Chevy Astro, and its rear-wheel drive capabilities, it became a popular option, especially in the late 80’s, for families who wanted to tow their camper to a favorite weekend vacation spot. It was capable of towing around 5,000 lbs, which meant loading up with a camper, equipment, supplies, and a few extra people was easy. The all-wheel drive option meant it could be driven even in extreme weather conditions, although of course that meant more regular visits to the gas station. Families weren’t the only ones to flock to the Chevy Astro, as many companies purchased the commercial version for towing and toting large amounts of merchandise.

While the Chevy Astro did not perform well in the initial highway testing (the structural failure resulted in a broken leg for the crash dummy), it managed to dramatically improve its rating over the years until it received a 3-and-4 star (driver and passenger, respectively) rating. It received a 5-star rating every year for its side impact safety. In 2007, the Insurance Institute of Highway Safety disclosed that between the years of 2002 and 2005, the Chevy Astro had the least amount of killed drivers in passenger vehicles in the United States.

After twenty years of being on the road, the Chevy Astro Van was retired and succeeded by the Chevrolet Traverse, GMC Acadia, and the Chevrolet City Express.

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Dodge Ram Van, Record Breaking and Always Cool

Vans October 6, 2017

When you think about vehicles that break records, what comes to mind? Sports cars, racecars, and concept cars? Probably not the Dodge Ram Van, but surprisingly, it does hold a record — one to be proud of, in fact. Despite two redesigns of the original vehicle, the Dodge Ram Van holds a record as one of the longest used vehicle platforms in the US. Over three decades as a staple in the 70’s, 80’s, and 90’s American family is something to celebrate.

Though the plant that put these vans together is now gone (Ontario, Canada’s Pillette Road Truck Assembly was responsible for producing these nostalgia-inducing vehicles), the Dodge Ram Van lives on, particularly for those of us who recall with fondness the many hours spent inside it as we traveled from one side of the country to the other. I remember long, sunny afternoons in the very back seat, playing card games with friends and siblings. There were late nights where I fell asleep as my grandparents drove us home. There were TVs, VHS players, and plenty of space to keep us occupied for the duration of the ride.

It was a popular vehicle to convert to a cab-over motorhome in the 1970’s, as well as RV and ambulance conversions later on. Despite its popularity with group homes, church groups, and the like, it was unfortunately surpassed by the Ford company in the 1990’s. It didn’t survive much longer after that, gracefully retiring in 2003.

It’s all due to Dodge, however, that we even had this type of van to begin with. Their Maxiwagon and other large vans arrived in 1971, paving the way for Ford (which introduced its 15-passenger van seven years later) and GM (which waited until 1990 to offer its own version). Dodge’s van was available as three options, Sportsman (which included passenger seating and side windows), Tradesman (which lacked both options of the Sportsman), and the Street van, which turned out to be the least popular. The most desired version was the Tradesman, as it was the best option to customize.

Through the years, the Dodge Ram Van went from a 3.7L engine to a 7.2L V8 engine, from a three-speed automatic to a five-speed manual, and grew from 178.9 inches long to 231.2 inches. The outside was not re-designed too much until the overhaul of 1998, which included an engine move, modern dashboard and door panel designs, and sideview mirror breakaway units.

If you’re wanting to reminisce about your memories contained in the Dodge Ram Van, you might want to watch a little indie film called Napoleon Dynamite. That’s right — Uncle Rico’s orange van is a Dodge Tradesman Santana conversion van. The van is currently residing in Texas, where it is used at private and corporate events to raise money for Michael J. Fox’s Parkinsons Research Foundation. You can follow its page on Facebook and hire it for your own 80’s themed party. What better way to remember the glory days and one of the funniest films of all time than co-hosting a party with one of the most beloved vehicles in American history?

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    From 1964 to 1995, the Chevrolet GMC van (along with its competitors the Ford E-Series and the Dodge Ram van) was a popular choice for all sorts of vocational workers, such as plumbers, florists, and caterers. Its size and options, along with the inexpensive upkeep made it a practical choice for many small businesses during […]