Talk about long-lived vehicles. The Dodge Van–staple of plumbers, electricians, utility companies and the ’70s Custom-Van Man–enjoyed a long run, from 1971 to 2003. And wow, what a run it was! Lots of these jack-of-all-trades vans, mostly of late ’80s to early ’00s vintage, are still running about in the Quad Cities. This one, clearly an earlier version decked out in period Coca-Cola livery, gave me pause and inspired me to read up on them. So come along, and let’s learn a bit more about the good old full-size Dodge van.
To fully understand just how modern the all-new ’71 Dodge van was, compare it with the 1970 model. While amazingly space- and fuel-efficient (especially with the Slant Six), the venerable A100 van was getting a little long in the tooth by 1970; in fact, it was essentially the same vehicle Dodge had introduced in 1964. Starting with the new ’69 Ford Econoline, the Big Three were moving away from the VW van template with its driver-as-a-crush-zone front end. Like so many other domestic products of the ’70s, the Dodge van was about to get bigger.
What a difference a year makes, eh? Naturally, the van itself was longer–no longer was the engine completely situated between the front seats–but the upsizing didn’t stop there. The standard-wheelbase B-Series measured 109.6 inches axle to axle, significantly longer than the both the outgoing standard- and long-wheelbase A100s. The new, long-wheelbase B-Series got a healthy bump to 127.6 inches, which provided plenty of stretch-out space, not to mention a great foundation for a brand-new camper van. From the beginning, the B-van was popular with camper conversion companies that offered everything from simple pop-tops and roof extensions to cab-and-chassis Chinook conversions with dedicated camper bodies behind the front doors.
Like the rest of the van, the new instrument panel was much more car-like. If you ignored the slightly more upright steering column, this could have been a Coronet or Dart dash. Why, it even has fake wood!
The more mainstream “windowed” Sportsman version (solid-panel jobs were Tradesmans) was quite popular too. Depending on its configuration, a Sportsman wagon (yes, Ma Mopar called them “wagons”) could haul from eight to 15 people. The latter capacity could be achieved by ordering the long wheelbase model with the rear-quarter extension. While doing so probably made parallel parking a monumnetal task, it did provide space for another row of forward-facing seating. Try that in your Country Squire!
Many Plymouth Sport Suburban and Dodge Monaco Wagon owners recognized that fact, and proceeded to trade in their woodgrain-sided Family Trucksters for one of these babies. In the ’70s, full-size passenger vans rode a rising tide of popularity that presaged the SUV craze two decades ahead, as many a suburbanite became a Van Man–or in more than a few cases, a Van Woman.
It certainly didn’t hurt that these Sportsman vans were not only quite car-like, but downright fancy in top trim. Just a few years earlier, a man would have been hard-pressed to convince his wife to forego her Town & Country or Grand Safari for an A100–they were just too “truckish.” That just wouldn’t fly in fashion-conscious suburbs like Naperville, Schaumburg and Burr Ridge. The new Sportsman, however, provided a nearly car-like ride and interior environment. Driving a van no longer meant putting up with a tinny and rattling (albeit functional) penalty box. Would you like power steering, power brakes, automatic, A/C, carpeting, two-tone paint and upscale interior trim? No problem! With the A100, vans weren’t just for plumbers anymore. You could Brougham them up as much as you wanted.
Also working in the Sportsman/Tradesman’s favor was a rising interest in the great outdoors. Ironically, more and more people were hitting already-congested roads in order to get away from it all. For larger families, a loaded Sportsman offered a lot more take-it-along cargo room than an equivalent Royal Monaco three-row wagon.
I would be remiss by not pointing out the other side–or should I say polar opposite–of the ’70s van craze. On one hand, there were the prosperous suburbanites who went camping with their nice, factory-issue Sportsmans; on the other a younger set who, disillusioned with current anemic tape-and-stripe “muscle” cars, were going for customized Tradesman, Econoline or Chevy Van panel jobs.
Maybe the reason for the late ’70s disillusionment came from the highly impressionable “Boomers”. Weaned in the early-to-mid-’60s on health, happiness and prosperity–not to mention GTXs, Mustang GTs and Chevelle SS396s–they were now busy making memories in these eye-searing shoe boxes. What in the wide, wide world of sports was a-goin’ on here? But I digress…
By 1978, the Tradesman and Sportsman were mostly the same vehicles introduced in 1971. Chrysler did not handle the ’70s very well, and the flop of their all-new 1974 full-sizers made things even worse. Since the B-Series was relatively new, I’d guess that Chrysler wasn’t all too concerned about updating it. Nevertheless, the Road Wheels were a welcome addition.
In 1975, Ford debuted the new Econoline, which was even more car-like than the GM and Mopar competition. And of course, much Broughamier: Club Chateau, anyone? But cash-strapped Chrysler didn’t have sufficient time or money to mess with the vans, so the 1975-78 Sportsman and Tradesman carried on with only minor changes.
One welcome change was a redesigned instrument panel featuring more legible gauges than its predecessor and over double the amount of fake-wood trim. Interiors were, if anything, even more plush. And when else but in the ’70s would you see a baby-blue interior like this one? As they had since their 1971 introduction, both the Tradesman and Sportsman were available with either a sliding passenger door or double-hinged units.
In 1979, Chrysler finally got around to updating their full-size vans despite being in the depths of crisis. The smooth nose and faired-in front bumper of the earlier model gave way to a more contemporary, squared-off grille, wraparound parking lights, newly vertical tail lights and beefier, more prominent front and rear bumpers.
Standard B-Series vans got dual round headlights, but you could get stacked rectangular quad lamps if you wanted a dressier van. While passenger vans retained the Sportsman nameplate, panel vans were designated by their GVW rating. i.e., B100, B200, etc. The Tradesman name faded into the sunset, never to return.
The light-duty B100 again offered the standard 225 cu in Slant Six and optional 360 cu in V8, but now a new and rather unusual power plant was on the option list: A 243 cu in six-cylinder diesel (ED: A Mitsubishi unit that was theoretically available in 1978). You learn something new every day; I wasn’t even aware that these vans ever offered a diesel engine. I wonder what the take rate was?
Transmission choices were predictable, as always, comprising a three-speed manual, a four-speed with overdrive and an automatic. Underneath their new styling, these vans were basically the same old Tradesman, and would remain much the same in the years to come; in fact, the 1979 style received only very slight changes through the 1993 model year. Despite a 1994 nose job, and a chassis update in ’98, the Ram Van/Ram Wagon finally came to the end of the road after 2003.
I had a memorable experience with one of these Hamtramck Hummingbirds. In 1991, I went with my entire sixth grade class on a school-sponsored trip to Camp CILCA, near Springfield. It was a fun time, with hiking, swimming, canoeing and side trips to the Wildlife Prairie State Park and Dickson Mounds State Museum in Lewiston.
Anyway, our chariot (with our principal’s late ’80s Mazda B-Series pickup leading the way) was a 15-passenger, white-with-red interior 1979 Plymouth Voyager van (sold from 1974-1983 as a badge-engineered Sportsman) that I recall was on loan to us from a local church. Several teachers were along as chaperons, and our little caravan of voyagers (see what I did there?) headed south on I-80. The van wore a good crop of rust even then, but was nevertheless pretty comfy and stone-reliable. I remember sitting in the shotgun seat and reading the owners manual–yes, I was a car nut even then. During one memorable incident, my friend Cameron found a Barbie doll under a seat, gleefully pulled off its head, and then threw it out the window–somewhere around Dixon, I think. Of course, he got into trouble, but it was still funny.
That long-ago Voyager, as the longest passenger version, was the opposite of this Dodge: Today’s cool red CC is the short-deck, short-wheelbase panel van. Since it’s decked out in period Coca-Cola trim, I wondered whether it actually was an original Coca-Cola truck in Wichita or if the owner simply painted it that way. Certainly, it has a V8, but 30 years after the build date, not necessarily the original 360. Just look at those pipes! Inside, it appeared to have most of the comforts of home, including a fridge (what beverages could be inside?), sink and other niceties.
Actually, this van doesn’t live too far from me, and when I recently spotted it in the parking lot of a local home-improvement store I had to finally get some pictures. I know the owner drives it from time to time, having seen it on John Deere Road just a couple of days ago.
With its stock hubcaps, whitewalls and cool paint job, this late ’70s Mopar is truly striking. Long live the full-size Dodge van!
It’s really Hamtramck, not Hamtrack.
If we want to get really technical, it was Highland Park.
I always thought the Dodge was the best looking of all the 70s vans from the big three. But the most frightening experience I ever had on the road was in a Dodge van. In college, I learned to translate German into English, and that class made a trip to Wright-Patterson AFB to see the just-declassified translation software the guvvermint had developed. (It is the roots of Google Translate.) ANYway, we drove from Terre Haute to Dayton in one of the extended Dodge vans — on I-70 on an unbelievably windy day. And that was the day I picked to sit in the very back seat. The front end of that van may have always been in its lane but let me assure you that the back end frequently was not, swinging from side to side as the driver furiously steered that thing trying to keep it on track.
Ha, early in my business career, I had the chance to fly on one of the last DC-8’s. I happened to go the the lavatory that was in the rear of the plane and when I got out, I looked forward all the way to the cockpit (this was a stretched DC-8) and you could see that the front of the plane was moving around a good 2-3 feet relative to the back of the plane.
I was glad when that flight was over.
You mean the fuselage itself was flexing that much? Well, better than cracking apart. 😀
It has also been proven that when those things are loaded with passengers, the vehicle’s center of gravity raises dramatically, making rollover accidents a real risk. The risk is made worse by the fact that drivers are often folks with nothing more than passenger car experience. You can make a fast course-correction in a big sedan and keep it on all 4 wheels, but not in a loaded 15 passenger van.
Worse, these things are not subject to passenger car safety standards. Dodge was the worst offender, with only 5 seats out of 15 (or 4 out of 8) with shoulder harnesses. This was the reason I passed on a Ram Wagon in favor of my Club Wagon in 94.
We’d all written about our experiences with the big Dodge vans back in September when this came up before. I outlined my time with Maxi vans and SWB slant six vans, but the Maxis could be a real handful in windy weather. That’s a lot of surface area to give to Ma Nature to throw you around.
Even when I was driving courier service, the Dodges handled better than anything else around, and they were durable. Just not rust resistant. But not much near the Great Lakes really was back then.
I drove a ’94 Maxi fitted out as a 12 passenger commuter between El Segundo and Palmdale, CA. The cross winds near the San Andreas fault made it impossible to keep it in one lane.
If I was a shop align tech assigned one of these vans, I’d test drive it, then rack it up and maximize the Caster(within specs of course!) and reduce the Positive Camber to neutral or just a hair negative. Again, all within specs, but for the sake of stability.
Can’t do that with today’s unibody vans & SUVs, alas. Just the Toe, which affects only tire wear.
Jim wrote: “The front end of that van may have always been in its lane but let me assure you that the back end frequently was not, swinging from side to side as the driver furiously steered that thing trying to keep it on track.”
I noticed that too, in our church’s 2000 Dodge
Ram van! I was in row 3 of 4, and could really
feel the oscillation. Was it a design defect, or just
the nature of these beasts? Still, the most
comfortable full-size traditional vans of the big
three, to me, especially those front buckets.
I know what you mean about RAM Vans and Gale-force winds! My dad had a 1994 B350 RAM van he used for flooring installation. I used to work with him.
One time ,We was coming home from the carpet store with a full load of carpet, and we were hit with 45+ mph cross winds. it was everything he could to keep it on the road, we actually blew into the other lane a couple times! Man, that was sketchy!
Not the first van he had, a good chunk of my childhood was spent in a 1985 Dodge Ram B250 with an Osage Vans conversion done. 318, auto, Brown/tan, and the plushest, giant seats I have ever seen before or since in a vehicle!
It was a 73 Royal Sportsman owned by my car-mentor Howard that lit my lifelong case of van-love. I drove that one quite a lot, and with its 360, it was quite fast. I have come close to buying a Dodge van a couple of times, but have never done it. I still want one of these.
These Dodges had an unbelievably stiff structure. The full-frame Fords were a mite flexible, and the Chevys rattled everywhere. As time went on, Dodge pretty much ignored the passenger versions while Ford (and Chevy) went on to offer some very appealing family vans.
I didn’t think it was possible, but you just taught me something amazing about these. I had always believed that 1979 was the only significant year for changes, but I was wrong. The whole back half of the body was actually new for 1978. From 71-77, note the extra window behind the front doors – this was where the 18 inch wb extension in the lwb vans showed in the bodies. From that point back, the whole body was the same for lwb and swb versions. But for 1978, the added length went into the rear quarters. The pair of little windows was gone, as is shown in your shot of the 78 in the brochure. The rest of the changes showed up in 79. Damn – as much as I loved these, I never knew that 1978 was a one-off with the new body and new dash but the old front end.
Entry to the rear seats was never as good in the newer ones, as the front passenger seatback was always kind of in the way when you went in through just one of the swinging doors. This was made worse because Dodge never made the primary swing door larger than the other one, as Chevy and Ford (in 1992) would do. Another Dodge-only feature was an optional single rear door that gave you a full-width window for much better rear visibility than with the dual doors.
A very nice writeup on one of my favorite “modern” vehicles.
It looks to me from the first few pics that the earlier LWB could have the extra windows AND the extended rear, making for a possible three different lengths. That extended rear is certainly on some of those earlier pics…
There were actually 3 sizes: the swb, the lwb standard (in the 7th picture) and the lwb Maxi (in the 5th picture). The Maxi up thru 1977 (and not sure now about 78) was simply a longer metal end cap on the back of the vehicle. The newer Maxi (definitely by 1979) put a window in the rear section. These were the 15 psgr models, which is how most of them were eventually made.
The 73 Royal Sportsman I referred to earlier was actually a Maxi as well, which with only 2 rows of rear seats (8 psgr) made for quite a nice cargo area. Somehow the early Maxis always had better proportions than the later ones, which always looked butt-heavy to me. The butt-extension may have been a tad longer in the newer iteration, but I have never checked into it.
It was longer in the later ones, which allowed all the seat rows to be redistributed somewhat for more comfort. The earlier Maxis had their intermediate seats closer together, further forward, to make room for that third seat in the back. The later Maxi put them back where they belonged.
What’s not pointed out in this piece is that the Maxi Van was the first extended length van of its kind, and made quite a splash.
So, what you are saying is that Chrysler invented both the MiniVan and the MaxiVan?
Good noticing on the change in ’78. You’re now an official Dodge Van Expert.
That threw me at the time when it came out…I guess thye wanted to get away from all those small windows back there; probably cheaper.
The first plumbing shop I worked for had nothing but Dodges. They were great work vans, I mean GREAT. The 94 update screwed them up. The seating position became horrible and the dash cramped the driver and passenger and you lost the Desktop area of the Doghouse.
I was still assigned an 85 250 and after one drive in the first “new” van I let them know I won’t be giving up my “old” van for anything short of catastrophic failure.
My favorite was the Mark III Hi-Top I had for a little while. I’ve never been more relaxed while behind the wheel.
When I think of 70s vans I think of whistling. This is because it seemed like just about all of them had such poor build quality that the windshields never quite fit, so the had tons of whistling sounds creeping in at speed.
Good write-up, Tom. Although I had to fight the urge to laugh every time you showed the Coke paint job. It looks like the geniuses at Maaco had the stencil upside down for the back half of the stripe! 🙂
Good call. I knew something was off with it, but I couldn’t place the problem.
Here’s a quick photoshop flip. Better?
Much! Although the Ford van below definitely looks more legit.
While I took lots of summer camp and church youth group trips in Ford Econolines, the times I rode in Dodge vans were in the USMC. They were quite numerous around Quantico and Camp Lejeune in the 80s and early 90s. I was a Motor T officer with a motor pool and was assigned three of these vans to use strictly on road (these were not tactical vehicles) around base for administrative purposes. The Dodges never seemed to run all that well, but they ran good enough for government work – literally. The Hamtrack Hummingbird starters always sounded so cheap and flimsy and did not inspire my confidence, but as I said, they ran and (usually) got the job done.
This is fun to see. My brother had not one, but two of these, that he used for his contracting business. The first was an avocado green ’72 (or so), and very basic — the second was a two tone cream/brown ’79 with the rectangular lamps and a VERY plush (front) interior — it truly felt like a “Brougham” van. They served him well — although I remember working for him one Christmas vacation when it got EXTREMELY cold (record low temps in Texas in single digits) and the heater wasn’t working! The van was only four or five years old. I love old cars, but you have to admit the new ones are more reliable!
This is so garishly COOL!
I wonder if that paint-job was part of a promotional giveaway.
In 1971, Dodge and Yamaha were giving away what they called Yamahaulers…lemon-yellow Dodge Tradesman vans, customized inside, with the Yamaha logo on the side. I think some sort of bike was included, and either a trailer or a ramp-on hauling setup.
Maybe in various markets, other things were tried. As part of the Sin-Bin van-conversion generation, I’m here to tell ya…the Gen2 Dodges were far and away the most popular.
In 1978, I bought a slightly used 1977 Dodge Street Van. It was a 3/4 ton short wheelbase model with no windows; not even in the back doors. It was light blue, had the 360, and came with chrome slotted steel wheels from the factory. I had dual exhausts installed and a sunroof. I started to finish the inside with button tufted panels for a “padded cell” theme.
The interior customizing came to a halt when I joined a western swing band. The drummer’s Econoline broke an axle in Denver, and I became the designated equipment hauler. The Dodge was reliable, and did an admirable job of hauling a load of very heavy gear all over the Rocky Mountains and the midwest.
It was down right scary to drive in the heavy cross winds of Wyoming. And, it had absolutely the worst steering of any vehicle I’ve ever driven. A quarter turn of the steering wheel had very little effect. The heater was pretty useless, but helped to keep the windshield clear. The 360 was cold blooded, and would build up carbon in the intake manifold.
I kept my Dodge almost 20 years. In 1997, a bass player made me an offer on it. I had taken up new career, and it had been sitting for awhile. He drove it all over the country, and still has it as far as I know. Not long after I sold it, I started playing music again on the weekends. I bought a 1989 GMC Safari. I can’t live without a van.
As an owner of a 1977 Dodge Chinook (fiberglass rear body, van front end, B300 dually chassis) I can attest to it being a tough old goat. It’s noisy, the steering is vague, some of the instruments aren’t working, the A/C was dead before I got it, there’s a few gremlins in the wiring, but the 360 always starts right up (except when the ballast resistor died) after sitting a year, and runs strong once it’s warmed up. Needless to say, the A727 seems bullet-proof. I keep thinking about getting rid of it, but then I know its bugaboos too well.https://www.curbsideclassic.com/auto-biography/glacier-and-bust-zen-and-the-art-of-roadside-repairs/
When we had new floors installed around 1998, our flooring contractor had just bought a new Dodge van with the long wheelbase and rear extension. He told me that only Dodge offered that maxi length which fit all widths of carpet rolls inside. Sure enough, I started noticing that most carpet companies around here used Dodges, and when you saw the rolls sticking out the back of an open van, it was usually a Ford or Chevy. I stil see a lot more older working Dodge vans on the roads than Sprinters. I almost bought a short WB slant-six Dodge new off the lot in ’83, but in the end I decided the lack of power steering was a deal-breaker and couldn’t find another slant-six with PS. Bought a 4WD Datsun pickup instead (also w/o PS) … in hindsight the van could only have been a better vehicle, but that pickup started a 29 year run of owning 4WD or AWD vehicles.
The Sprinter is a disaster as a work vehicle. They are not reliable and any repair costs a bleeding fortune. When you have to replace a $5000 injector pump and fuel saved by your Sprinter quickly becomes a moot point, not to mention the week of down time, which would cost me $10,000.
When a Dodge van screws up in Bumfluff Saskatchewan, Billy-Bob can fix it at the local diner-garage-gas bar. Try that with your Sprinter.
I wish Toyota would bring in their gasoline vans from their international markets. That would make a great work van. No diesels for me, please. Not worth the horrendous service headaches.
Or a $6000 turbo, or $13,000 transmission, not to mention the little things like a $600 alternator, $250 fuel filter replacement, or a $1200 brake job every 12,000mi when used in multi-stop service.
FedEx around here used some Spitters for a while and according to my Jasper rep after fixing one or two they just started sending them to the scrap yard if anything major went wrong.
The fleet I used to maintain bought several of them for delivery service and they were quite profitable for us, not so much for the operator.
The kid down the street from me is a carpet installer, what’s in his driveway? The last of the Dodge Maxi vans. What’s in his garage? A mid engine late 70’s SWB Dodge van (probably a Tradesman). The old van is a freakin hoot to ride around in (he won’t let anyone else drive it!), but man it is LOUD in there!
We had a Sprinter at my former printing company; it served us pretty well as it could take pallets of printed matter. We save literally tens of thousands dollars because we could now deliver our own loads if they were under four pallets.
We’d had Chevy/GMC Express vans before that, and while rugged and tough, they were incredibly hard on fuel and became too small for us to use the way we needed to ensure our business grew.
But I will agree, the parts and repairs on the Sprinter were NOT inexpensive; I can remember a huge bill when the turbo malfunctioned (not to mention the amount of downtime) and what seemed to be a large bill when the alternator died on the thing. It was like $1000+ to R&R!
When we got bought up by a competitor, one of the few large pieces of equipment they did not buy was our Sprinter. They had an Isuzu with a box on the back and it served them better than our Sprinter ever could have.
Ouch your company really got taken with a $1000 bill for the alternator, they aren’t that hard to R&R, Book time if I remember is something like 2.xhrs.
While the old step vans used a lot of gas the additional $2500 per year on maintenance buys a lot of gas, not to mention the higher up front cost and throwing in something like an alternator.
I witnessed the CC effect 2 days ago when I saw a yellow early ’70s short wheelbase version with a /6. Can’t remember the last time I saw/heard one like that.
The LWB version was, of course, the official vehicle of Possum Lake!
I’d say this isn’t the real thing, typically when companies dispose of vehicles the stickers are removed or in the case of painted on logos they are given a quick rattle can job to cover the markings. Also at different times during the van craze Coke gave away Johnny Lightning diecast and full size Denim Machine customized Econolines as well as Econoline bodied go carts. So most of their vans were Econolines. Granted the bottlers were independent businesses but Coke likely had a deal with someone to put graphics on vehicles and there was a process for bottlers to order them. Plus the dynamic ribbon device a protected trademark is not right on this Dodge.
Here is a Denim Machine.
An Econoline with the Coca Cola Labelscar.
A good friend of my Dad has a genuine Denim Machine; he’s been restoring it over the past couple of years. I’ll have to do a CC on it one of these days.
I had one of these that had been converted into the Coca Cola New Taste Van. I’ll have to find a picture of it.
My business used Dodge vans for our light stuff for years and they are, in my opinion anyway, the best of the Detroit vans. They are strong, reliable and easy to repair. Really important things like door hinges and latches, the stuff that is expensive and time consuming to fix, rarely ever beaks on them. Same for seats and controls, they are top quality.
The LA engine has its foibles, mostly the heat riser clogs up but everybody knows about it so it is not a big deal. When you do need to swap out an LA, there are tons of them available at reasonable prices. Finally, they resist rust reasonably well.
Alas, we are on our last three. My partner drives an ’85 shorty, just like the one pictured, in Saskatchewan’s Arctic winter. He has a partition right behind the front seats so it’s always warm and toasty inside. With four Michelin X-Ice winter tires and high ground clearance, the thing is unstoppable. That is when it has an extra 200 kg of sand in the cargo area!
The other two are a 1998 with TBI and a 2003 with FI. They will be replaced with Ford Transit Connects for in city stuff. With any luck the Econoline replacement will be a suitable vehicle for us. I just hope there is a gas engine available, light duty diesels do not make good commercial vehicles in our long experience.
You are the first person, other than a flooring contractor that I’ve heard that thinks the Dodge is the best of the vans. The Econoline wasn’t the best seller for decades because it looked cooler than the rest it was because it was proven time and time again to have the lowest overall cost something people who buy fleets of vans deem very important.
It often boils down to what you are used to. In our case, we were used to Dodges and all their foibles so we kept using them. It is also easier to have only one brand around so you don’t need two sets of parts. We have found that on the prairies, Dodges just suit our operations best. I don’t think the running costs of a Dodge are really any more than the Ford. We also had more than a few headaches with spark plugs in Triton engines so we just stuck with what we knew and worked best for us.
And I might add the little Transit Connect is a real winner. Carries almost as much as a shorty Dodge, uses half the fuel and easy in dense traffic.
My plumber put 300,000 miles on his ’90 Dodge and then treated himself to a new Triton-powered Econoline. Blown out sparkplugs and early transmission failure was his reward.
There was a time when I was considering picking up an old truck-type ambulance for a swap-meet and craft-show provisioning rig. I happened to run across a piece on facebook that the owner of a Ford diesel one-ton ambulance wrote – a how-to on changing the water filter in the fuel system – and that article alone caused me to drop the idea. That, and the fact I already knew that many parts on a one-ton rig are built a bit heavier and cost a lot more to repair or replace, particularly tires.
But by going to a one ton or at least a Ford 3/4 ton those parts last a lot longer so you end up with a net savings.
We had Ford diesels in a couple of 1 ton cube vans. Suffice to say their replacements were gasoline 4.6 litre Tritons.
Vans sure have their place. Had an 85 E100 with that 18″ or so stretch job. Lined it with insulation and plywood. Built shelves and used it for my AC business. Had a 300 six that wore out too quick and it turned out to really be a 240. Bought a rebuilt 300 and quit worrying about it. Salvage title. The price was right and it was a real workhorse.
Change of lifestyle forced getting rid of it and getting a Honda Accord. 100 miles per day commute. I should have kept the van. The Honda got poor mileage for a honda and broke all the time. Great camper as well as work vehicle. Doubt if I will do that again because retirement doesn’t pay nearly as well but an astro van or camper on my truck is within reason.
The 1973-1978 Dodges were easily the best looking vans ever in my opinion. I bought a ’78 in 1991. Silver on the outside with factory mag wheels. The inside was covered in light and dark blue shag carpet with two captains chairs up front and two barrel back chairs behind them, and of course the folding sofa/bed in back. 360 two barrel – not a lot of hp but tons of torque. Very reliable except during heavy rains when water would splash up in the engine compartment and get the distributor wet. I loved that van.
This takes me back to the 1976 N.S.V.A. Truck-in at Bowling Green Ky. There were 40,000 people and about 10,000 vans there, still have a bunch of pics somewhere. I had a 1974 custom Dodge w/ a 318..ran it from Indiana to Cali twice. Never had anything any major repair done either, those vans were solid…My most recent one was a 1994 that was sold to my brother in law to pull his pop-up camper.
I have a few memories of the big Dodges…I remember my best friend’s dad replacing their 1989 Voyager LE Turbo with a 1991 Mark III conversion Ram Van. We went on a church trip with it from Florida to Atlanta on year, it made for a great ride. My senior year of high school I went to a small Christian school, and we went on a school trip up to Jacksonville in a 1984 Ram Wagon. It was the school’s van and it actually preformed well for us.
My last time in one of these was in early 2001. I was working at the Olds dealer and someone had traded in a 1994 Shorty conversion. I went to move it and quickly discovered that the trans was shot. One I did get it to move, I found that it drove well, not well.
It’s too bad. But I have to say that the idea of a van is mighty appealing in some ways.
“(except when the ballast resistor died)”
Hehe. Always carry a spare or two in the glove box. As well as a Sears part 1487 voltage regulator.
I went through many with my AMC Hornet….
I have always wanted a Dodge van, my friends are over in California at the moment driving around in a Ford E-Series and I envy them so much. I think I’d definitely prefer to try and get hold of the Dodge though, it’s full of rustic features which you don’t see anymore.
I had an ex-PacBell telephone Dodge van. It was a ’79 and had a spotlight on the roof which i thought was cool. Slant six, three on the tree, manual steering, sliding side door. It was a beast and not at all fun to drive. It was reliable though.
We still have one, an ’86 fiberglass top camper conversion that is my mom’s car. The carbed 318 barely passes smog checks, but, along with the 727 Torqueflite, is bulletproof.
The 1970 A-108 Sportsman in the top brochure picture looks exactly like dad’s back then. It also had the LA 318 and A727.
Dad had a series of Vans as a result of his job distributing automobile diagnostic equipment. The one that became “part of the family” was a 1983 Dodge SWB with the slant 6 and four-on-the-floor. Bulletproof (except for the heater), passed around to all the brothers plus was lent to a friend for a number of years. But you had to be patient when climbing hills! It had the “economy” gearing – which meant nearly 20mpg on the highway – but lots of clutch slipping in San Francisco. Goodness knows how many miles it had on it when we finally donated it, simply because none of us had room for it anymore. Went to Burning Man in it a number of times as well. Great Van!
hm, I really ought to pass on to someone our 1969 Sportsman popup camper; it good mechanically but long used as a truck, just the front seats remain. Where’s a good place to offer that around? California would pay me $1000 to crush it for the smog program, but then again that program sometimes resells the collectable vehicles turned in … hm. Ideas or pointers welcome, to where to go on thinking that through.
I agree with Canucknucklehead on the Sprinters. We are a commercial office furniture company and have two…a tall roof standard van and a box van for big deliveries, purchased at a premium. They are branded vehicles and look nice but they have had a disappointingly poor service record and are usually gone for a week when something is amiss. We wished we would have just stuck with the Chevys. Not as fuel efficient but we ran some of those to 200,000 miles and beyond. It will be interesting to see how the Fiat sourced FWD Ram vans from Italy hold up to American style roads and abuse.
what was the last year the dodge shorty (109 wb) used the slant 6? would love to find one in good to vg shape somewhere in south florida. had newer v8 swb high top and loved it but now looking for an older work van for simple camping. had chevy and ford before that but found the swb dodge had greatest volumetric efficiency for least overall length.
I believe the Slant Six SWB vans were phased out after the ’87 model year. Mine is an 85 wth the 4 on the floor OD. It has some fuel delivery issues, but it still pulls good with its 3.90 rear end.
thanks for the info. just found a van and picked it up about two weeks ago..
Just ran across your post on my truck, It made me smile that you wrote about it.
When I got the truck it said Zenith -TV and Radio Repair on the side faded into
the Paint I tried to buff it out and could still see it so I covered it up with the Coca-Cola
logo and I am originally from Wichita KS I made it from there although it has never been there. I put the White stipe on the side to cover scratches in the paint not to look like
Cokes Dynamic Ribbon I did the back upside down to see if people would tell me it was
Wrong and nobody ever did!
It is an 80 Dodge Van and has the factory installed 318 engine.
I sold the van and hope the new owner has as much fun with it as I did
I thought I would give you another picture of the inside!
The ’71-78 Dodges are without question the most beautiful van from that era. I loved my ’91 E-150, but it never compared to those old beauties.
Does anybody have an accurate number on the interior height of the 1971-78 Tradesman? I’m in a power wheelchair and am thinking seriously about ditching my minivan for an old school Dodge.
A follow-up. My old girl…
check this out its on a b300 van chassis extended (its a motorhome)it drives pretty well ..especially due to its size..(windy condition do jerk it around a bit but moog steering stabilizers make a world of difference in steering response)
Let me know if you want to sell it.
I found an old 1970’s Dodge Tradesman R.V. in a Junkyard by my place called Gralnek. So it’s mine. Stay away from it. Lol. It’s got a busted right headlight. I’m going to get the entire back of it cut off, get the frame cut and extended to the standard B200 length, get a 1978 B200 van back dropped on it and welded. So I’m turning it from an R.V. to a van.
Just wanted to share a couple survivors we are bringing back to life, the gold one is a 71 B100 Slant six 3 on the tree Topper by Combi Wagon, and the Brown one is a 77 B200 V8, with a Metal Combi Wagon pop top
And our 1971 B200 V8 With an Open Road topper
1978 B200 (360/727) in the QCs also. I picked this up about 8 weeks ago. Original CL add picture shown below, with option run flat spare.
I haven’t seen the CC Van, but it has been 9 years. It may still be around.