in front of town founder Eugene Skinner’s cabin
(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.
(related article on a Toyota 4×4 van here)
I wonder if that is its first snow for the van with the Florida plate…otoh it may belong to someone from the extra-miler club whose goal is to set a wheel in each county in the United States.
I didn’t even notice the, uh, extreme antenna job on that last van til I checked the title. Ham radio, maybe? I see 4 cb antennas.
v v v v Beat me to it!
Somebody’s running serious HF gear. That one off the back bumper probably carries 80, 40, 20, 15 and 10 meter bands. Is there a law against running CW (‘Morse’ code) while driving? I’m guessing the ones off the D-pillar are 2meters and VHF (been so long since I’ve done anything with my license – N3CHT/4 – that I can’t remember all the bands anymore).
That is some serious hardware on the back bumper of the snow van. Ham radio antenna, and four more antennas. I’d love to know what he or she has hooked up to those wires.
I would expect to see a lot of Mazda MPVs around as well–this vehicle seems to have been adopted by the Latino population of LA out of all proportion to its initial popularity when new (maybe they were more popular in Mexico?). They seem to be the cost-conscious Latino mom’s equivalent of the ubiquitous working man’s ancient Toyota pickup.
In Chicagoland, the Nissan Quest/Mercury Villager are like gold to our working class Latino community. I see many Villager Nauticas, the top trim, with laddders on top of them. They are slowly dying out though, as salt, winter, ice, etc, killing off daily drivers here eventually.
I’ve noticed that the Quest/Villager is the van of choice here in Salt Lake too. Surprisingly given our winter weather, it doesn’t seem like too many are in danger of rusting away to nothingness anytime soon, they do seem to have a disproportionate amount of body damage…
And with the economy the way it is, there is no shortage of Toyota forklifts for sale for a spare engine!
You know with all this talk about Toyota Vans…… hmmmm
Man, if only they weren’t so old.
If only they didn’t rust so badly.
If only I lived near Eugene.
I wanted one SO badly…and the one I got was damaged goods. I loved it dearly; was ready to spend unreasonable amounts to fix it; but there was no part supply to be had. And I wasn’t so well off in those days, either.
Why, oh WHY can we not still buy such trucks?
Plenty of these vans and parts there of in NZ i think they are too old to be imported any more but those vans are everywhere.
i wish we could get the toyota hiace here. i drove old one in europe this summer. diesel, 5 spd. manual and full time awd. it’s amazing how much room that thing has inside.
The HiAce is awesome! First encountered them while teaching in Japan and I loved them. Big and spacious inside with great styling. They’d have crushed the competition here if they’d ever been imported or manufactured locally. Just that good.
Now that another decade has passed, I don’t see many Vans anymore but the HiAce (and other JDM equivalents) are more common now since they are old enough to import.
Could Someone please explain to Me WHY A MINIVAN? Why Do people Love Their Minivans?
In My case We are Choosing between a Smaller sedan – trying to find a UNDER $2-3000.,
A reliable To and From Work commute of 10 miles plus no more than 50 miles on the weekend.
Rather Than Say a 10 year old Focus, A Loaded 2002 Oldsmobile Silo , One owner, 110k miles great shape, which we otherwise have no use for the add;l space, though I SUSPECT IT MIGHT COME IN HANDY….
I say We Try The Minivan, Never having anything but a car between either of us.
It Gets 18 MPG… Any Suggestions? Or
Could You Provide answers as TO WHY WE MIGHT benefit from trying a Minivan.
Im Interesested in any opinions you’ve got. Thank you.
I will take a stab here. I like minivans for their utility. True, I have always had kind of a station wagon thing, and owned a full-sized Ford Club Wagon for a long time. I have kids, and vans are great for travel. They are smooth and quiet, reasonably powerful, and you can carry lots and lots of stuff in them.
My only gripe with them is the transverse engine/fwd configuration. Repair and maintenance is more expensive on these. Also, there are a lot of minivans out there with weak transmissions. I am old fashioned, and like rwd and a north-south engine, particularly in anything with any age on it. But there are not so many of those out there anymore (and no minivans other than the old Aerostar or Astro which you can read about on this site).
I am no expert on that generation of Silhouette, and will let others advise you there. If you look at a Gen1 Honda, a Gen3 Chrysler or a late model Sedona, I am your guy.
I don’t know about you but a minivan works for our family because with three kids you can separate them a bit. In a car they are all seated next to each other and tend to fight the entire time. With a van we can carry the whole family plus a friend or two (or extended family members). For long road trips they are fantastic. I can eek almost 30mpg out of ours on the highway. Commuting isn’t great of course with generally V6s engines but I have a small hatchback for that.
I’ll have a go here, also. A minivan, like a pickup truck, offers raw, naked utility – but, unlike either a car or that truck, it has, in some people’s minds, a negative image.
Not for the vehicle; but for its target market: Mothers with kids, got associated with the minivan early on. And somehow, mothers with kids, don’t want to be seen as mothers with kids – they all want to be Lara Croft, and be driving something that looks like it would take her out to a tomb to raid.
The image, today, is, to quote Henry Ford, bunk. I had a friend selling Chryslers and Plymouths for about ten years; and he told me that up until he got out of the field in 2008, the biggest customers for minivans were…
…older MEN. Men in their fifties and later; men with a lot of STUFF to trundle around. It’s a great utility car for people who have either kids or krap that have to be lugged about.
And – here’s a surprise – it needn’t be that uninteresting to drive. Granted, almost all of them come with automatics. But, the Toyota flat-front models here, and the later Chrysler boxes (from 1995 to 2007; before and after Daimler did its dirty work) were actually very good road cars. The driving position was great; road manners very good. Now, these things don’t handle like old Camaros; that’s not reasonable. But it’s on a level with the LH cars; perhaps a bit better for firmer springing.
Actually I will disagree here – I think a good one will handle BETTER than old Camaro’s…Having had an 05 Sienna and now an 06 Odyssey, they are both very comfortable, good to drive, great visibility, handle just fine and have plenty of power. And with the seats out or down, can haul pretty much anything.
A few years ago, Grassroots Motorsports magazine took an ’03?? Odyssey to a track and proceeded to lap it faster than an older sportscar, (I just canNOT remember what it was that it beat, but I was very humorously surprised).
Minivans are great, and not just for people with kids. Even the ones that are considered less reliable are good in that there are millions of them around and parts are cheap and easy to get.
My parents had pretty good experiences with that generation of GM minivan, a Silhouette that they leased and a Venture that they bought new. They only kept the Silhouette for 60k but didn’t have any problems, the Venture they kept until 120k, sold it to my sister, who sold it to the non-profit she worked for. It was running great when it was totaled while parked on the street, somewhere north of 180k. My mom’s husband has an ’02 with 190k or so, still runs fine.
The one glaring mechanical problem with these is the intake manifold and gaskets, can’t remember if it’s the upper or lower that usually goes. If the one you’re looking at hasn’t had them replaced, it will need them eventually. I don’t remember mileage being as low as 18, more like ~23/24 highway and ~19/20 city. I took quite a few cross country trips in the Venture, loaded high with all my crap on my many moves.
Oh, and utility really is a big factor here. You can fit 4×8 sheets flat on the floor of those vans, even the short wheelbase one. I did that many times. My mom’s husband took the seats out of his the day he got it and probably couldn’t tell you where they are now. He hauls around his lawn mower, snow blower and whatever he else needs to take care of his rental properties, works great for that.
We have an ’02 Venture with 163K on the odometer. The intake manifold gaskets were replaced around 65K. It has had a pretty normal repair record for a vehicle of that size – wheel bearings/hubs, brakes get dusty, A/C compressor was the biggie. GM gas gauge problem which we never fixed – not working; Current to rear vent windows went out a few years ago.
It is a really good people mover and has great utility. My buddy bought a top of the line Honda van shortly after I got the venture and had to do a $2,700 tranny job – 160K; so I think I did pretty well. Warner Bros model so the inside is probably on par with the Olds. 19/24 MPG – not great; 185 HP – not great; front seats are fine but the third row is uncomfortable for teens.
Van looks and runs fine at 163K; Great for hauling college stuff, buying from Home Depot, etc; third seat flips down easily; I hope to top 200K on this vehicle; Once you get over the minivan thing…just about to inherit a low mileage Pacifica – just compare the 15 mpg and the price of the tires…terrible
My brother owns a Toyota TownAce which many from Eugene would likely love to get their hands on. It is fwd, diesel and automatic. Imported from Japan of course they got it with 25k kms on it and have racked up many more.
Here’s the JDM SkyLite roof option that we got here in NZ:
And here’s the flush-light JDM Townace/Australian Tarago version. Our old family one was like this, except it had the enormous truck-like JDM rear-view mirrors. I always like the orange strip around the circumference of the headlights and grille.
I just recently finally got rid of my Toyota Van. It was an ’89 LE, 4wd. I owned it for 14 years, and not only was it my daily driver/commute vehicle, but it was also well used off-road. These vans had an extremely short wheelbase (about 6″ shorter than a 2-dr Tercel) and a very short body as well (only 1 foot longer than that Tercel), making them extremely maneuverable. The lack of suspension articulation and long front end overhang limited them somewhat off-road, but I still amazed alot of people with mine over the years. A good driver could go most places a 4wd pickup could go, and even run with Jeeps in mild off-road conditions.
No other vehicle ever built, before or since, offered everything that this vehicle did: comfortable seating with plenty of leg and headroom for 7 adults, Dual climate controls (front & rear heat & A/C), built in ice maker, tiny footprint (park it anywhere), super tight turning radius, unbeatable visibility while on or off-road, 20-25 mpg, room for full 4×8 sheets of plywood inside, surprisingly good off-road capabilities, good on-road manners, and Toyota’s legendary dependability…When I sold mine, it had nearly 400,000 miles on it, original engine, and everything still worked.
I still miss mine, and would someday love to own what is considered the “Holy Grail” of Toyota Vans; ’88 or ’89 panel (no windows) with the 5-speed and dual range transfer case. They are probably the most sought after variation, and command high prices in clean condition.
People either love these little vans or hate them, nothing in between. And for those of us that love them…nothing else will ever come close!
Here’s a related story here about a 4×4 Toyota van: https://www.curbsideclassic.com/curbside-classics-asian/cars-of-a-lifetime-1987-toyota-4×4-van-you-just-cant-kill-it-no-matter-how-hard-a-certain-somebody-tries/
Just found this site- looks like you missed the Toyota van that has been converted to a truck via sawzall and 2x4s. I usually spot it on Prairie Rd around Irving. The front is still maroon, the rest is plywood.
Chicagoland, hearing you on the Quest/Villager. I live in a very, very Hispanic neighborhood in Manhattan and those twins are by far the most common cars up here. See multiples on every block.
Re: the Toyota Van, I recall someone posting once (possibly here on CC) that they thought the Van looked like a duck. Once I saw it, I couldn’t unsee it.
Honestly I think the Toyota Van was one of the best vans from Toyota. I hated the Previa and the Sienna is to dang generic and uninspiring(the Camry of minivans??) The Toyota Van stood for working and hauling(it did not even have a name just Toyota Van in the USA)
The Latino community in my area ether drive mid 1990’s Accords(with manual trans), or Trailblazers
I though Eugene is also ground Zero for Volvo 240/740 and 940 wagons?
I had HiAces as work vans for some years and loved them except on the highway- at about 100 km per hour, if you were some distance behind a semi-trailer truck, the airflow from the truck would make the HiAce want to slalom all over the road!
BTW our local car dealer used to advertise the eight seater version as the “Catholic Pack”!
There is a blue one around here somwhere (Nova Scotia) its blue and is in amazing condition, which means it was probably imported from a place like oregan. Besides the blue one I hqvent seen another on the road since I dont remember when. When I lived in Vancouver B.C I spent alot of time rollin around in one with a friend of mine. Even out there these things where relativly rare on the road and usually if seen where driven by newish fagiean Canadians like my friend. My preferred one would be a fully loaded lx with the ice maker. Id take it in maroon with maroon interior or brown with brown interior.
Other than cooling issues (change the coolant regularly/flush the radiator) these vans are unlike anything else around. I’ve owned two (one of them three times) and want another someday. A little hairy at highway speeds but still quite fun to drive, especially around town. They remain the easiest vehicles to park I have ever driven, even easier than my 83 Tercel.
My best Toyota Van story was lugging a friend’s three piece band and members to Portland for a gig. Afterwards they volunteered my van to drive another band home, after we had loaded the three-piece in. So on top (literally) of a guitar half-stack, drumset, bass rig, four people, and 3 guitar cases, we added two more people and two more guitar cases, and a few more amps. I could barely squeeze 20 mph up some Portland streets, but we got them dropped off, and came home to Eugene. A few days later the harmonic balancer went.
I wound up buying an 85 Celica with over 300,000 miles as a replacement, and sold the van to a shadetree mechanic. About a year later, the Celica was in dire need of brake and suspension work, so I called Barney about it and wound up trading him the Celica for the Van, which he had repaired.
Love this! My parents bought an 84 Van LE (5MT) when I was 3 and I still have it. It’s definitely a garage queen….I only bring it out for a few hundred miles in the summers. Having lived its entire life in Cleveland, OH, it’s earned the right to be babied. I’m really attached to it and since it’s not worth a heck of a lot to anybody else, I’ll keep it as long as possible. My wife tolerates it and my kids like it. 7 yr old son already wants to drive it when he gets bigger 🙂
My dad is from Corvallis, but their car ownership followed a similar path. They replaced their VW bus with a 1984 Toyota Van LE automatic shortly after I was born. And then after that a first-gen Mazda MPV. The Toyota was the most reliable and long lived of them all. It never actually died – we sold it so some crazy Toyota van people outside of Eugene when the body and the interior became so dilapidated that the van wasn’t even acceptable for hauling wood. The auto transmission was near death, the brakes barely worked and the passenger door was glued shut, but the 250000+ mile motor would not stop.
The Mazda, already on its second engine, ate two transmissions in two years and was sold for $600 thereafter.
Had a very nice Town Ace during a military tour on Okinawa; 1.8 litre gas, fuel injected. Many could be had with the 2.2 litre diesel engine. Not sure if the US versions had this but the middle seats would swivel 180 degrees so that they could face the rear seats.
As with all the Toyotas I’ve had it was absolutely bullet proof and gave me zero problems.
Only concern I had was one shared with all these early forward control vans – there was only sheetmetal, and very little of it, between you and the Hino 10 ton dump truck coming at you in the opposite lane……if you did have a head-on crash, it wasn’t going to be pretty……..
I cannot help feeling that this is the direction minivans should have taken. I know. There were good reasons (reducing moving parts/flat floor etc) for the fwd. The fragile transmissions made me quit looking.
I needed to find a slant six short dodge van from the seventies. This is the closest I think you can get.
A buddy had the same silver box as in picture #3. We referred to it as the DeLore-a-van.
That last one – with the Florida plates and ham antennae – is my van. BWAHAHAHA! I’m famous! All seriousness aside, I collect old Toy vans; currently own four and am always looking for more. (Thanks to G. for pointing me to this page!) One of my others is painted in the colors of the Planet Express ship from “Futurama.” Another one I bought brand new in early ’89 and have owned ever since. That one has set wheels in 48 of the 50 states. (For my fellow hams, the big antenna is a screwdriver that covers 20-160 meters, the two on the rear gate are 6 meter FM and SSB, and the rest are for 2, 220, and 440 FM and SSB.) Older Toyota vans are simply the best thing on four wheels. B^) -73 de NW7TP dit dit dit dah dit dah
I’m partial to these “Space Vans” as well. Check out my ’89 TownAce TD 4×4 5-speed I daily drive down here in SoCal.
I absolutely LOVED my “Toaster Van” until someone borrowed it for a move and rear-ended a Suburban rendering it a total loss.. dang!d
If I’m, not mistaken, that last one festooned with antennas- it appears the owner has all three types of business up top- scanner, CB and Ham. A man after my own heart.
Wouldn’t mind having one of these, but they’ve seemingly all rusted away here in New England, haven’t seen one in quite a few years.
fixed “death of hippie” link – https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Death_of_hippie.jpg