CC Capsule: 1978 Dodge Trans Van – 440 Powered?

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(first posted 11/17/2013)    With an enlarged fiberglass body behind the cab of a full-sized van, the 1971 Chinook defined the Class B motor home. It got off to a bit of a slow start, due to the energy crisis, but sometime around 1976 the RV market had once again exploded, as is its wont during times of economic expansion and stable or dropping fuel prices. Thus, a raft of Chinook competitors sprung up in the late 1970s, the Trans Van being perhaps the most significant one. Chinook survived until recently; however, Trans Van, like so many other competitors, did not. Since Trans Vans are getting a bit hard to come by anymore, I was rather happy to recently see this well-cared-for example–and its two big exhausts hint at what’s under the hood.

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The Trans Van didn’t have the raised center roof section of the Chinook, so it wasn’t nearly as user-friendly when it came to genuine camping and such. Instead, the Trans Van was closer to a cross between a conversion van and a camper, and its sales pitch relied more on bold graphics. Eventually, the brand developed a bit of a hillbilly rep.

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This rear entry was a hallmark of the Chinook (as well as most of its imitators), as it allowed unbroken space in the front part of the cabin for seating/sleeping areas. The bath was conveniently located in the very back, just to the left of the entry door. This allowed a lower floor back there, which made entering the john a bit less onerous.

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I’m guessing at the exact year of this one, but since it has the same vintage front end as my ’77 Chinook, and since the new front end came along in 1979, we’ll split the difference.

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I can’t be certain of what’s under the hood either, but I’m going to guess it’s the 440. This one is sporting two mighty big exhausts, one on each side. And the 440 became popular in these chassis around 1978 or thereabouts, as the energy crisis faded from memory and folks were sure that gas would stay at 55¢ a gallon forever. Needless to say, these 440 powered Chinooks and Trans Vans were the hot rods of the RV world at the time. As appealing as all that torque is, I’m quite glad my Chinook still had the 360. Except every once in a while…

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