QOTD: The Van Life – What’s Your Van Preference?

That’s a picture of my Dad, a couple of years before he passed away, so around 1993 or so.  Pictured with him is his van, nicknamed “Finbar”.  He loved that van (I think) and my Mom and him traveled far and wide in it.  They’d always been inveterate campers and when my brother and I were smaller we often car-camped, here in the U.S. mostly in our used ’77 Pontiac Ventura at first.

Finbar eventually met his maker when one evening he somehow burst into flames while conveniently parked in front of our neighbor’s house instead of our own, leaving a huge burn mark in front of their house.  My brother and I had several “theories” about the fire but my Mom insisted there was absolutely nothing untoward about it, and “cars randomly burst into flames all the time”.  I was never a fan of Finbar, as I think I was too snobby in those days and found it embarrassing to be seen in a highly uncool metallic brown old Dodge van in the West Valley area of Los Angeles As a matter of fact I don’t think I ever went for a ride in Finbar and I know I never drove him.  Nowadays I’d love to check him out and would be all over it…

This picture is of my Dad, myself on the left and my younger brother on the right, likely around 1982 on some camping trip in the Pontiac.  If you look at the hats instead of focusing on all three us in our peak dork phase, you’ll note that I’m wearing a hat that says “Chevy Van” and my brother has one that says “Ford Van”.

I think we picked them up at a random gas station somewhere in the Mojave desert or thereabouts.  We somehow always picked the hottest possible places to go to at the hottest times of the year.  Having a van was wishful thinking at that point, the family budget didn’t allow for it.  Oddly, in hindsight I realize we’ve never had a van from either Chevy or Ford and my brother has never had any sort of van.

A year or two later my dad came home with this van, pictured here in my dorm parking lot when I took it to college for a couple of weeks while my ’79 Mazda 626 likely had blown another head gasket or similar.  It’s either a ’68 or a ’69 VW, and when we got it the front was completely caved in from having hit a telephone pole dead center, hence the very affordable price.  My dad sourced a front end from a ’69 or ’68 (in white, but the opposite year of the van itself) and set about carefully cutting the damaged front of our van off at the top of the A-pillar and under the doors all the way across the cab floor and then grafting the undamaged front end on.  He did a great job as once he painted it all the same factory beige color you couldn’t tell, the doors sealed like factory, and it never leaked.  This was all done in our driveway within a couple of weeks.

We had that van for about six or seven years and drove it all over the West Coast including up to Vancouver and the San Juan Islands.  It was never fast, it once blew a cylinder just outside Centralia, WA, making for a very long day while it was repaired, but it always got us wherever we were going and back.  My dad built two huge plywood boxes with carpeted and hinged lids on top that when put inside the van in place of the center bench made for a perfect sleeping platform while providing tons of storage.  The other big memory is the call for “Bungee!” whenever it needed to be in 4th gear to prevent it from popping out of gear.  The bungee hooked to the back of the base of the passenger seat and held the stick in 4th perfectly.  It was the passenger’s job (usually Mom) to fish the cord out and hook it on.

Those were the only two vans my Dad ever had, I’ll bet he would have loved something like Paul’s ProMaster Camper or any of the current minivans.

I myself have had two vans to date, well, minivans actually.  The first was this 2005 Toyota Sienna XLE, pictured at Bonneville Salt Flats that we purchased used and I’ve covered in a COAL.  It was a very good van, rarely if ever let us down and curiously perished in a fire as well, this time when our own house caught on fire and consumed the van.

My second van was this 2006 Honda Odyssey EX-L that we got after moving to Colorado, also used.  Another good van, there wasn’t much better or worse than the Toyota in my mind between them; the Toyota probably gets the nod between the two if I had to choose but that could be just because I wasn’t ready to give up the Toyota when it was destroyed.  Again, it’s been covered in a COAL but eventually it was time to let it go as well.  If we ever got another van, it would likely be a Kia or a Dodge Minivan, I think both are good vans and a great value, especially used.  I don’t think I’d ever get a fullsize van, I’m just not into camping enough and don’t haul enough that needs to be in an enclosed space.  But I am definitely a fan of vans nowadays and absolutely see the benefits.

What about you?  Do you have a van (or two) in the driveway?  Or would you ever consider getting one or if not, why not?  What’s your favorite?  Did we miss out not having a Chevy or Ford?