(first posted 8/19/2013. The Previa took its place some years back, but there’s still a few soldiering on)
Stereotypes inevitably fail. Eugene is complex, and politically and culturally much more divided than its stereotypical image. There are really two Eugenes; it’s just that one half is much more colorful, exuberant, and lends itself to much easier to stereotyping. Ok, so why fight it? Ever since local boy Ken Kesey left San Francisco and moved back to his family farm just outside town in 1966 or so, and was shortly followed by a large hippie contingent after the SF scene imploded, the town has developed a rep. And the VW bus quickly became the iconic vehicle associated with it; until its limitations as a daily driver became too obvious; for most, anyway. Enter the Toyota Van: the worthy successor to the old VW bus, and the official van of Eugene.
Officially, the hippie movement died in 1967. Seems like many folks didn’t get the memo, and the word is still bandied around, for better or for worse. In reality, Eugene draws folks of all stripes who’ve decided that life in the slow lane beats sitting in traffic. Or is it the bike lane? It explains the remarkable number of two of the official Curbside Classics of Eugene: the Volvo 240 series, and the Toyota van. If you’re going to have the same car for decades, might as well pick well.
These Toyota vans are everywhere, and in every permutation, like this fairly rare windowless 4×4. It makes a fair amount of sense. Eugene folks generally don’t spend a lot of time driving, as in commuting. So comfort and amenities are typically not high on the list of priorities. A boxy vehicle to haul one’s stuff, that’s what’s in demand. Whether that’s the tools of the trade. like the blacksmith that forged our light fixtures, or the craftsperson to haul their booth and hand-made whatever to the Saturday Market.
But Eugene’s biggest draw is its proximity to the great Oregon outdoors. So vehicles that can do double duty are particularly popular: Nissan Sentra vans (Prairie), old Honda AWD Civic wagons, any Subaru, and of course camping-friendly vans, like this pop-top Toyota.
This is as close to a Westfalia VW bus as any Toyota van I’ve seen, although it’s not quite as roomy.
But all the basic comforts of home are there, depending on your definition.
Needless to say, the benefits of four wheels drive make that version particularly high in demand. As Michael Freeman pointed out, there’s just no other combination of versatility, four wheel drive and decent mileage available. I expect to see them around for a very long time yet.
Naturally, these kind of vehicles often end up in multiples. That’s a phenomena well known to all lovers of certain cars. Strength in numbers.
The variations on individualizing a box are almost unlimited.
And just to prove that the Toyota van phenomena isn’t just limited to a certain psychographic slice of Eugene, here’s one that gets washed regularly.
Eugen has of course had an influx of Latinos who also are escaping Los Angeles for something more tranquilo. And more than one seems to have made the trek up I-5 in a distinctively customized Toyota van. Trying to pigeon-hole the Toyota van is futile. And I’ve yet to encounter one with a psychedelic paint job. That’s for the true bearers of the VW bus flame.