Curbside Classic: 1969 Chevy Sportvan 108 – The Mystery Of the Red, White and Blue Bowtie

This very nice outwardly stock Chevy Sportvan has been appearing at this spot in my neighborhood from time to time lately, and I finally got a chance to get some pictures. It strikes me as a particularly clean machine, a box on wheels of the VW Microbus philosophy, but front engine, rear drive and bigger, Detroit style. Even though I’ve never been interested in vans, mini or otherwise, I’m quite taken by this one, mainly because of its clarity of design. Pinning down the exact year is an interesting and unfinished problem, and leads us to that front bowtie badge, which is a bit mysterious.

See what I mean, it’s a simple box on wheels, nicely proportioned with some creases just where you’d expect them. Lots of window glass all around for great vision from inside. This could be a three-row people mover for eight with plenty of luggage space.

Over here we get a look at the double curbside doors, which open into a big space for stuff if the back seats are gone. It’s tall enough for a flat floor too, which has to be a good thing for loading.

The previous generation of these Chevy vans replaced the Corvair-based rear-engined Greenbriar van, which was a true echo of the VW Microbus. From 1964 to 1966 Chevy II based front-engine rear-drive Chevy-Vans competed with the Falcon-based Ford Econoline and Valiant-based Dodge A100 vans. Like the Chevy II they had 4 or 6 cylinder inline engines. This generation followed in 1967, easily spotted by the flat front with headlights in the grille. They had just a little more room in the engine house to fit a small V8. They were available with a 90-inch wheelbase like the first-gen vans, or a 108-inch wheelbase, like this example, the Sportvan 108. Drum brakes, I-beam front axle, leafs out back. No power steering available, but you could get power brakes.

Sorry for the reflections in this shot, but it shows you the whole interior, which evidently started out as all cargo space, but is now shared by a big cushy sofa at the back. Talk about a living room on wheels, this is the real thing! The front seats appear to have been replaced by more modern automotive seats with headrests, flanking the large central engine compartment.

This very inviting couch is fitted with seat belts for proper motoring safety. With cushions from home. Who needs a brougham when you can have a genuine living room? It has a good six feet of legroom next to those double doors. There’s another two feet behind the couch for stowing stuff…

…which you can get to through these other double doors. Not much of a lift-up distance to that flat floor.

Up front it’s a plain sixties van, with a large and nearly horizontal wheel for piloting this living room down the highway, a full set of gauges, and handy controls. You’re sitting next to a 130 hp 230 cu. in. inline six, a 155 hp 250 six, a 200 hp 307 V8, or just maybe (says Wikipedia) a 255 hp 350 V8. That shift quadrant is PRND-D2-D1, indicating the three-speed Turbo Hydra-Matic transmission, not the available Powerglide, manual four-speed or standard three-on-the-tree. I’m guessing the THM has a V8 to match. Who knows what the mileage was.

What year is this van? They made these from ’67 through ’70. The side marker lights appeared in 1968 according to Wikipedia, and in ’69 the TH-350 Turbo Hydra-Matic became an option. No visible distinctions that I’m aware of between the ’69 and the ’70, so I’m just guessing and calling this a ’69. The front bowtie badge had a red insert in ’67 and ’68, and a blue insert in ’69 and ’70, confirmed by a look at the ’69 and ’70 brochures on And that’s our little mystery, where did this red, white and blue badge come from? The paint looks original, with a clean edge on the chrome surround, not hand-painted, but I’ve found no badges like it on the web. Think you know every last little factoid about Chevies? Then is this a ’69 or a ’70? And is this badge original?

Finally here’s a shot including the minivan parked behind it, which looks smaller than it is due to perspective. A clean design in a nice bright color. Maximum utilization of space. The modern minivan is obviously much safer, more comfortable and more efficient. As it should be fifty years after the Sportvan. But I know which one has more character. A true living room on wheels!