We don’t see snow in Eugene very often, but that did happen on December 27th, when we measured a good six inches at our house. It tends not to stick around too long, as these shots from the 28th attest.
We also don’t see these old-school Chevy vans very much either, although I have shot a few over the years. It’s been a while, and finding one in the snow was a treat, a late Christmas present.
The title is a bit stale; yes, these front heavy RWD vans weren’t exactly the greatest in the snow, but somehow folks managed to make it work, with a set of snow tires on the back and a couple of sand bags, concrete blocks or just a few friends to sit back there. And they do make a cozy home on a snowy day in a pinch.
The Chevy Van (and its stablemate, the GMC Handi-Van) arrived in 1964, to replace the ill-fated Corvan/Greenbrier. Now those were the ultimate snow-mobiles, with that heavy Corvair six out back. All-too obviously, these replacements were playing faithfully from the Ford Econoline playbook, which dominated the market for compact vans since its arrival in 1961. The one deviation was its standard 90 hp 153 cubic inch four; all the Econolines had sixes.
In 1967, these GM van twins got a bit of updating, enough so they’re called gen2 Chevy Vans. The front end was redesigned a bit, to eliminate that overly flat look, with the front bulging out a bit.
Also, a stretched 108″ wheelbase version, appropriately called the Chevy Van 108 or Sportvan 108, joined the 90″ wheelbase original.Dodge did the same thing to its A90, with the lwb A108.
This was a better way to stretch one of these than what Ford had done with its Supervan, adding a long tail behind the rear axle.
Just one year later, Ford trumped both GM and Dodge with its all-new gen2 Econoline, which now had the engine in front, and was a bigger, wider van all-round. This was the new Econoline playbook, one that GM and Dodge would take up with their new vans in 1971.
GM and Dodge would have to make do with vans that suddenly looked old fashioned. Oh well; they managed to sell them well enough.
The 153 four had given its coarse goodbyes by then, and the standard mill was the 230 six. Optional was the slightly bigger 250 six and the 307 V8, which replaced the 283 in 1969. Transmission was the typical three speed column shifted manual or the optional Powerglide, which was thankfully replaced by the three-speed THM-350 in 1969.
Accommodations for the driver and passenger were spartan, to say the least. A Custom Cab improved things…slightly, at least breaking up that monotonous and ubiquitous Chevy “Fawn Beige” interior. Or whatever it was called.
This veteran is sporting some fine patina, and a dashingly raked custom rear window, the tip off that this van was used to haul a shag rug lined interior and not bundles of newspaper. Ah, the stories that little window could tell…and the stories are still being made, as there was evidence of someone inhabiting this one, hence the lack of interior shots. I can just imagine it. Hopefully they were staying warm.
Since I couldn’t shoot the interior, I did spend a bit more digital film on its exterior. I can’t exactly account for the various shades seen here.
The owner-occupant’s bicycle is just peeking out behind the far side. That’s another vehicle with less than stellar capabilities in the snow; it was a good to to stay inside, including one’s Chevy Van 90.
This van is sporting the classic slot mags in the back too; don’t know what’s going on in front.
Heres my 69 90″ no door
52k original miles garage kept. I’m second owner of 7 months. Ready to show the usa a TRUE survivor
How barebones had to be a car in 1970 or thereabouts to put in a brochure the fact that it had directional lights? Many of those “standard items” were required by law, at least in passenger cars. Perhaps trucks didn’t apply to directionals?
What I’ve always thought was odd about these vans was the availability of the “No Door version that only had rear cargo doors and no side doors, available throughout their Gen1 and gen 2 production run. At the same time, Dodge made and 8 door, or “All Door” version of their A series vans that had doors on the rear and both sides.
A guy I worked with 40+ years ago had a ’68 that had originally been owned by Coca Cola, and had no side doors. I think it was the only one of these I ever saw without the doors. He cleaned it up and painted it a light blue; he loved it and I wouldn’t be surprised if he still has it.
These particular vans are the exact opposite of “front heavy”. The engine sits far back, between the front seats. The drive shaft is like super short on the 90″ WB. These have about the same load on front and rear wheels loaded or empty.
With the engine and passengers all sitting over the front axle and nothing but air over the real axle, and the body having more overhang n the front than the rear, your assertion that “These have about the same load on front and rear wheels loaded or empty” is obviously and logically not the case. Loaded yes; empty very much not.
Ford had to install 165 lb weight at the rear of their Econolines because the rear end tended to lift up under heavy braking when unloaded. This was in effect an early “recall”.
Was that a proto “road hugging weight”
I tried Googling the weight distribution, all I came up with was from the GM heritage center, weight on front axle 1590, rear axle 1135. I would imagine that these mid engine vans have a more equal front to rear distribution than the newer vans that all moved the drivetrain much further forward.
That’s almost 60% on the front wheels; far from an even balance.
The newer vans better, because the front wheels were pushed way forward; that has the effect of spreading the weight of the engine and front passengers more towards the middle/rear.
The GM heritage specs for the new ’71 van (swb) is 2033 front, 1787 rear, 3820 total. That’s now 53% of the empty weight on the front, a substantial improvement.
One question: How important in people’s minds was the whole four-versus-six cylinder thing in a light van like this back then? Sure the Chevy ‘only’ has a four as standard, but it’s (slightly) bigger than the Ford’s six.
One observation: Not what I would want to drive with snow on the ground!
They weren’t all that light. My guess (and it’s only a guess) is that the chassis was based on the 1/2 ton Chevy pickup. Re: weight distribution, these were quite front end heavy. Imagine a C10 pickup with the front seats moved forward to the middle of—and next to—the engine. I drove a ’67 108 cargo version in Colorado winters. Granted, it was 283/PG so the front was extra heavy but I had to be very careful in the mountains to keep it from getting stuck in the snow. It did scoot pretty well with that V8 though.
These vans were a unibody with a straight front axle, nothing the same was used between the C10 and van chassis wise.
You’re right of course. The loading floor was low, much lower than if it were a truck-based BOF. I drove the van for a TV repair shop back when that was still a thing and loading those monster TV/hi-fi combo units in and out of that van was much easier than in a pickup truck. I’m guessing that’s why they had a dropped straight front axle because IFS was too tall. As I recall the front seat was lower than in the Corvan they replaced, having owned a couple of Greenbriers before then.
My 67 shorty 🤓
The short wheelbase, long overhang boxy vans were very impressionable to many a kid who collected Hot Wheels in the late 60s and early 70s. To this day I can’t see one of these things without thinking Scooby Doo, where are you.
I had a 64 as my first vehicle. Go to parties and not risk a DUI by just crawling in the little bed a former owner had made of plywood and an old ( UT surprisingly clean bed. That old van had some great memories. Would love. To find one in restorable condition. I’m 50 now and those days are long gone ut the memories are as vivid as they happened last week! Thanks for the trip down memory lane.
.contact me if you ever wanna sell you little time capsule. I’m George and my @ is 828.506.5746. Thanks again, G