Looks like it’s game over for this van. Or is it?
If this van looks familiar, that’s probably because it’s appeared here before (when it was featured in the QOTD for November 12, 2013). I didn’t have enough background to make a whole article out of it, so I inserted it there as an example of a “vehicular guilty pleasure” – a machine that I longed to own despite its many drawbacks.
This one involved more than just dreams and desires, though; I actually owned it for a time. $700 cash had convinced its previous owner (a gentleman in the somewhat nearby city of St. Cloud) to part with it, at which point I took it home and made it roadworthy.
Where had it been before that? Nobody seemed to know. The guy who sold it to me had bought it at a local auction; he’d recognized it as having belonged to a friend of his in years past, and decided he had to have it. There was a Colorado registration sticker in the windshield from 1977, which jived with the seller’s vague reference to it having been “out west” while in his buddy’s ownership. But other than that, it was a mystery.
Another big unknown centered on the body damage it had to the front and rear. Much speculation accompanied those dents. We never did find a definitive answer to what it hit, and/or what hit it… but I always wished I’d knew.
There was evidence of it having passed through many hands, many uses, and many phases of life. Perhaps moreso than most other vehicles I’d owned, this van held many secrets – and like any good confidant, it wasn’t about to start talking now.
Despite all the mysteries surrounding this van, there was no mystery as to its equipment. It was as straight-forward as can be: 90″ wheelbase, a 2-barrel 307 V8, and manual everything – including a “3 in the tree”. Combined with its forward-of-the-wheels seating and controls, driving it was an experience like no other.
Of course, I wasn’t content driving it in its rough state, and body parts were proving impossible to find. So after owning it for slightly more than a year, I accepted an offer and sold it. The buyer lived just up the road, in a small town called Mora (which also happens to have the nearest gas station, food, auto parts store, etc. to my office). As such, I got to see it around fairly often.
Two years passed. Initially the new owner had kept the van in his carport. More recently, though, he’d begun parking it on the street (his latest acquisition, a Type 14 Karmann Ghia, now lives under said roof).
I saw the van out there about three weeks ago and decided to take its picture. After all, this is Curbside Classic, yet somehow I’d managed to spend a year writing here without posting any vehicles that were actually parked at the curb. Here, finally, was a golden opportunity to redeem myself.
Little did I know, this would be the last time I’d see it in one piece.
You may recall me mentioning that I’m in the process of building a radio station. Long story short, that project ended up getting HUGE in a hurry – moreso that even my most over-the-top estimations. Things have come together well, as this work-in-progress studio picture can attest. (All this gear started out as other stations’ rejects just a few months ago. Countless hours of repair and restoration was needed to get it all working properly again.)
But all that low-cost awesomeness has still come at a price: my time. Every free minute I have (literally) has gone into this effort. As such, many other things have been sitting neglected. Even my daily driver had been left with a noisy AC compressor clutch for the past week, simply because I didn’t have time to mess with it.
(Side-note: Sorry, Jag fans! I haven’t forgotten about the XJ6… I just haven’t had time to do much with it, other than keep air in the tires and the grass cut beneath it. The Wisconsin junkyard was unable to find me a usable tank, and locating other candidates is a task that’s been perpetually languishing on my to-do list. Progress, soon!)
What does any of this have to do with our featured van? Hang in there – it’ll take a few steps, but there is a connection.
Thanks to some wangling by yours truly, the radio station is moving ever closer to absorbing a local digital news operation. We’re currently in the process of integrating its people and products with our own. (The latter needed a news department, and the former – a project I helped launch in past years – needed a little extra help to reach its full potential. Win-win? I’m hoping so.)
Of course, no good deed goes unpunished. For me, this has meant still more work – not just in things like merging websites and such, but also in picking up the slack whenever there’s too much going on.
Such was the case last week, when a big storm came through Mora. I’m no photojournalist, but I do know how to work a camera – so off I went to help document the damage.
There was no shortage of things to see. Trees were toppled everywhere. Most had merely dropped into yards and streets, causing hassles but not damaging anything. This family, however, was particularly unlucky – they lost their garage to a sizable oak that had been uprooted. It was not a pleasant sight.
But as I rounded the corner onto Morrison Street, my heart sank.
This was how I first saw it, before the sun came up.
Actually, that’s not quite correct. My first glimpse was of the rear of the van, at a distance. I could see it covered in branches and leaves, with the axle sitting at a funny angle, and the rear right corner stood up for reasons unknown. My mind refused to believe the most likely outcome.
I waded through the running water and mud, jumped over downed branches, and navigated all the other obstacles until I reached the van. Sure enough, it had been crushed – flattened diagonally by a downed tree.
Eventually crews arrived and cut away most of the tree, leaving only the section that was on the van itself. I snapped the picture seen above, and waited for daylight.
Once morning broke, the scene became clearer.
True, it was no longer my van – but still it was a heartbreaking sight.
There would be no coming back from this.
It had needed a windshield from the day I first saw it. Now? No longer a concern, I guess.
Complete and total destruction.
This is (was?) the left A-pillar.
I strongly doubt this seat will ever be occupied again.
We were the second media outlet to get a story out about the storm, and the first to break images of the flattened van – which would quickly become the “money shot” seen across the state. Websites, newspapers, and even TV news carried pictures of my former van. A television news anchor in Minneapolis spent a good 15 seconds debating on-air whether the vehicle in question was a car or a truck.
Once the story began to spread, a strange thing happened. Family, friends, and acquaintances began calling to tell me they saw “my” van in the news. A few strangers even asked me if I’d seen the crushed Chevy on TV or in the paper, knowing my appreciation for old vehicles but not realizing there was any connection. Everyone’s reactions were universally the same: what tragedy that it had been destroyed, too bad it was beyond salvation, etc.
Simultaneously, another strange thing happened. The van’s owner took a can of spray paint and wrote a message on the side and rear of the van. It read: “1969 CHEVY. LIKE NEW. MAKE OFFER!”
Hey – at least they had a sense of humor about their predicament. That’ll all buff right out… eh?
Though there really is no such thing as a happy ending for this story, I do hope that this van’s death won’t be entirely in vain. I’ve been in contact with the van’s owner, and will hopefully be hauling it back to the shop one of these days, so that its drivetrain and any other usable parts can be salvaged over the winter.
Here’s to you, Chevy Van – to 46 years of surviving, to a life well lived, to the few adventures I was there for and the many adventures I’ll never know. It shouldn’t have ended this way. But if I have anything to do with it, your remaining parts will help others live on.
That is one of the best ways to terminate a curbside classic!
Remember a while back when the Institute for Auto Safety, or whatever that group is called, collided head-on two Chevrolets, a 1959 Bel Air into a 2009, I think it was, a Malibu? Slow motion.
This van deserved a memorable ending – and it got one.
It would be like hearing that a 90 year old man died while skydiving with three nude Swedish porn stars.
Wow. I am so impressed!
“This van deserved a memorable ending – and it got one.”
+1. That’s a great way of looking at it.
It’s better than being crushed for having a too expensive mechanical failure topped with owner exasperation. It’s akin to skydiving w/ porn stars vs. being in a hospital bed surrounded by beeping machines as the body shuts down painfully – a fate which ‘I’ hope to avoid.
Holy shit! It’s a good thing no one was inside the van when the tree fell on top of it.
It looks like those Olds rallyes are still workable!
And somebody needs to liberate that necker knob as well (AKA suicide knob)
Oh my. Sad but true, every year storms, fires or some other calamity wipes out a handful of well-preserved, irreplaceable old cars.
And wow, these sure were not designed with a lot of roof strength. One of these would be a good vehicle to NOT be driving in a rollover accident.
My condolences, Keith. As per Minnesota tradition, the passing of a dear friend or loved one means just one thing……..
Hotdish. Lots of it.
Are those… TATER TOTS?!?!?
Yeah, I’m going to need that recipe, it’s cold and rainy out, that looks perfect for dinner.
I’ve never had that before, but I too am tempted…
Thank You! I will add it to the rotation…
Any website that has the gall to call it “tater tot casserole” immediately loses all credibility.
Here’s a more authentic recipe, and hopefully easier to follow. True to the spirit of the traditional Midwestern recipe, no definite times are given.
Brown 1 pound hamburger or other ground meat. Drain.
Microwave 1 bag frozen mixed vegetables (without lima beans, yuk).
Dump both into 9×13 pan and mix with 2 cans cream soup.
Top with frozen tater tots (best to get a big bag and save the rest for later). Line them up nicely to get the highest tater density.
Some people add shredded cheese, but I wouldn’t recommend it. Just drink milk when you eat it.
Bake at 350° until the tater tots are golden brown.
My stepmother lost a Camry in a similar fashion, to a gargantuan elm that came down in a storm. The car was about two feet high when I saw it. As in this case, it’s very fortunate no one was in the car when it happened. And I agree about the lack of rollover protection–the front-heavy nature of these is the most common criticism, but they also have the crushing resistance of an empty beer can, apparently!
Oh jeeze ;
That’s just too bad , not many of these left but I do spy scads of good parts….
E-Bay it piece by piece and make some serious coin there .
I used to own one , a ’68 (?) , 250 I6 and Three On The Tree , cost me all of $250 with new tires and current tags , dents in every panel thanks to it’s previous one owner .
I traded it away for a ’64 Malibu 4 door .
At least the van didn’t just quit running, get abandoned and then get scrapped; always better to burn out than to rust, IMHO.
Keith, have you considered making or having someone make new tanks for the Jaguar? Several (or many, I don’t know) years back, one of the car magazines had an article about making a new tank for some project car. I forget all of the details but essentially they took a huge piece of styrofoam, carved it into the appropriate shape, used this is a form to lay up several layers of fiber glass, and then used an acid to dissolve the foam. They then plumbed the tank and installed it into the car, and I assume that it worked. Don’t know if that would be feasible in your case.
Reminds me of a black day in Cleveland history, July 4, 1969. A massive storm struck the city and surrounding area early that evening, leaving 42 dead and massive destruction all over. Here’s one of the “money shots” from that storm:
I was 6, and remember that evening as though it was yesterday.
I was five and remember it vividly. Power lines, poles, and trees down all over my neighborhood. Pulled the electric meter housing and pole right off our house but the power stayed on.
Reminds me of seeing this; what was a rather nice LWB Aerostar Sport in period correct teal my neighbors had, that got taken out by a tree during a bad ice storm.
Da.mn! This is why I do not like parking near trees or lampposts which can be hard in Portland.
Ouch! . At least the body was in a slightly rough shape and not in pristine condition but it is hard to see an old friend suffer such a terrible faith, especially a classic survivor. Hopefully the van will live on as an organ donor.
Congratulations on the radio station! Looks like a nice control room/studio there, especially with all cast-offs. I suppose those are not hard to come by these days, as radio stations consolidate. Best of luck in making a go with it; sounds like you’re off to a good start.
I had tall a palm tree shed a frond once in Santa Monica; put a nasty little dent in the roof of my beloved Peugeot 404.
The giant maple in our back yard dropped a huge limb this summer, the full width of our back yard, right between the house and fence. Amazingly, zero damage except to one bean plant in the veggie garden. It’s rotted out, so the whole thing needs to go.
Thanks! Actually, it’s surprisingly difficult to find used broadcast gear if you don’t have friends in all the right places. (Fortunately I have a few, but there was still a lot of cold-calling and shoe leather involved after their basements and storerooms had been raided.)
There seems to be no window of opportunity between “too new to sell cheap” and “it’s vintage, so it must be worth $$$”.
Of course, the good news in that is any leftovers I’ve had can be thrown on eBay and sold for ridiculous prices, thus enabling me to buy other needed items for equally ridiculous prices 🙂
My 63 EH Holden Special was given to me after a tree landed on it crushing the front guards and bonnet, I fitted a second hand bonnet but couldnt source front guards in Sydney (a testimony to how popular EHs were and how easy they rust) so I beat and bogged the originals back into shape repainted the car did a valve grind and put it back on the road some 15 years after it was parked up.
That television news anchor in Minneapolis was experiencing 15 seconds of CC. Goodbye Chevy van.
That sucks, but at least no one was hurt. REALLY hate seeing this van bite the dust though. Call me a HUGE fan of the ’60s era snub nose vans/pickups…and the little styling cues on these Chevies such as the rhomboid door windows really just ‘pop’ to my eye.
Wow. Too bad it had to go, but it achieved a minor level of fame posthumously… A better fate than many, to be sure. Farewell, Van.
Keith, thanks for checking in. I was just thinking that it’s been a long time since I saw a junkyard report or an update on the Jag.
Excuse my ignorance, but can someone tell me what COAL stands for?
To a mechanical life well-lived!
I had the same year van in the GMC guise for $800…bought it right out of college, built a mattress platform, and my college buddy and I traveled around the country for 2 months before we had to step into adulthood, jobs, college loans, etc.
Unfortunately a drunk driver took it out in Florida one night; I do feel fortunate that no one was hurt, and that we were able to complete 80% of our journey.
Great history on your van, and congrats on the near completion of the station…
Talk about going out in a blaze of glory. It’s better to burn out than fade away. Looks like that van wont just buff out, it’s going to need a tube of touch up paint also. The radio station looks like it’s really coming along, best of luck with it. Easy to see why the Jag is on the back burner, you really have a full plate going on.