VanLife is hotter than ever, as the pandemic has made them the way to go, just about anywhere. I’m seeing more older camper vans from the ’70s, ’80s and ’90s back on the street and cleaned up, having been bought for shockingly high prices (I sold my Dodge Chinook too soon and too cheap).
VanLife was red hot in the ’70s too, and not just the classic shag-carpeting lined shag-mobiles. Camper vans like these two were a big thing, along with RVs of all kinds. It peaked in 1978, before the second energy crisis knocked the wind out of the whole industry. Not surprisingly, these are both from about ’77 or ’78, and look to be in pretty good shape yet.
They’re both based on the extended body Dodge Maxivan, and the Cobra in front even has a bed over the cab. As I know all too well, these are tough as nails, especially the drive train. We’ll probably be seeing them around for a few more decades.
Here’s my Dad and “Finbar”, sometime around 1993 I guess. Finbar looks like a 1977 model but I’m not positive, I’d guess my folks would have loved one of the camper models but that wasn’t in the budget back then, so they outfitted Finbar themselves.
I’m thinking that van may be more ’74-75. Dodge went with a clear turn signal lens starting in ’76.
I miss the thick straight line decals. Since the 90s all camper vans and RVs have swooshy decals like from a 90s disposable cup. Lets get back to the solid straight line decals.
Those swooshy decals are always fluoride teal and blue colored too.
I’ve watched a bunch of #VanLife rehab videos on YouTube about these 70s vans. Every single one is about rehabbing the living quarters. Not a single one talks about the mechanical bits. Those old vans may be “tough as nails”, but 40+ year old vehicles need love for the greasy bits.
I mentioned it last week but a friend of mine is now in a wheelchair and purchased a 95 GMC van that was the typical for the era conversion with a wheelchair lift. I’ve spent quite a few hours taking care of those mechanical basics. It had sat for at least a dozen years. When I got the fuel filter off what looked like mud came out the input side. Thankfully it was still clear on the output side, but it will get changed again and probably again before I let him take it on a trip outside of my area. Some of the spark plugs had such heavy deposits that I’m surprised a flame front could form and propagate. The plug wires appeared to be original and it wouldn’t surprise me if the cap and rotor were too.
Yeah I feel you Paul. I sold my Vanagon tin top about 8 years ago. I did ok (repairs aside) and sold it for $1000 more than I paid. In the last couple of years the prices have at least doubled. You used to be able to find an old camper van around here for $3-5k in good shape. With van life and expensive housing those days are long gone. I managed to get a good deal on a eurovan camper so I can’t complain, but I do feel sorry for the young guys that can’t pick up a cheap van and fix it up like I did in the nineties with my old vw busses. A Toyota Sienna with a roof top tent and slide out kitchen in the back would seem to be the modern equivalent of a cheap van to camp in.
You can’t pick up an iconic VW for cheap now, but you can turn any SUV into a mobile camper. In fact, the plainer and less obvious, the better. You’ve got it right: A Sienna, Quest, or even Previa would all make nice stealthy conversions.
Both those vans were shiny, new, and under warranty when this apposite book came out. I highly recommend it.
The further forward, “Cobra” van is a 1978 model with the rear two-thirds (4/5 really) of the ’79-94 models (including a dash that would run up to when they finally put airbags in) and the front clip that had been around since ’71, for one last year, and tied together with one-year-only front sidemarker lights.
I never understood why they did it like that.
In retrospect I have to wonder if it was that there was a problem with the tooling being ready in time for the launch,or they used up the retooling budget on the other things? Maybe they didn’t settle on the design in time?
I’d guess they wanted to spread out their engineering/ design resource expenditures over a couple of years. I think GM did the same thing with the Chevette soon after, a new nose one year,new taillights another year.
Did you know that the 2008 Ford Econoline has the same dashboard as the 2007, but the front fascia has the 2008 and newer design? In 2009 the Econoline got a revised dashboard with a glovebox.
Between the cost of living going up, lots of job loss, colleges closing, relationships ending, and medical workers self isolating to keep from getting others sick I’m not surprised to see more folks living in vehicles. Thanks for sharing the these two neat campers and stay safe Paul.