(first posted 2/11/2012) The auto market prides itself on niche marketing. New body styles that we never imagined that there was a need for spring forth from the ever-fertile minds of the industry marketing boffins, and appear out of nowhere. But there’s one that’s been long overlooked: the van-up. Combining the best of two highly popular segments, the van-up offers unparalleled space utilization and utility. Well, if the manufacturers aren’t going to build one, a person just needs to roll up his sleeves and set to it. It’s the American way:
Finding this vehicle on the street provided a bigger than average hit to my CC-finding addiction. It may not be equally thrilling for you; to each their own. I would have been pretty excited even if it were an original Mitsubishi Van, given how scarce they’ve become. But this home-built concoction is awesome; as an inveterate (house) re-modeler (“honey, look at the wall/roof I took down today”) (Update: another chunk of roof this past Monday, just before it started raining Tuesday morning), I love when folks take the SawZall or cutting torch to a car, and give their creativity scope. Even more so, when the result is highly practical. Art cars are fun, but this is right up my alley. Oh, and he has the only remaining un-altered Mitsu van in town too.
Yes, this guy has the Mitsubishi van market cornered in Eugene. He’s been driving them for years (decades?), and loves them. So when he came across a rear-end damaged one, he saved it from its inevitable fate, and turned it into his dream vehicle, with a pick-up bed and storage compartments underneath. It’s a well thought out affair, even allowing him to slide long pieces of lumber into their own nook. The advantages of building you own vehicle: everything goes just where you want it to. And I’ve had the pleasure of watching it progress, from its crude beginnings.
This vehicle is a rolling protest to the excesses of today’s giant pickups. It probably has more interior space and almost as much cargo space as the giant jacked-up Mega-Cabbed beasts prowling our streets with their un-muffled over-boosted giant turbo-diesels; the Prius of pickups, very Eugene indeed.
The Mitsubishi van jumped into the mini-van orgy of the mid eighties, along with the much more popular Toyota van and Nissan’s. Eugene is absolutely chock-full of the Toyotas, as they all seem to come here for their retirement years, and are apparently immortal. And the Nissan version makes for an interesting story too: the polar opposite of the ubiquitous and rugged Toyota, as Nissan recalled them all and offered to buy them back from their owners (CC here).
These Japanese vans were essentially 8/10 scale versions of the original Econoline-type van first built in the US in 1960, with their engine between the front seats and RWD. They’re highly pragmatic, simple and very rugged, and they and their numerous off-shoots are still being built by the millions in developing countries (China, among others). It makes for a very compact vehicle, albeit a front-heavy one. But unlike the American vans, they did have independent front suspension and available four wheel drive, resulting in some pretty remarkable off-road capable variants.
Realistically, these old Japanese vans are the true successors to the VW bus and van: a simple box, easy and cheap to keep running. And since VW made a double cab pickup, it’s only natural that someone would make their own successor to that highly desirable but now rare piece of machinery. What will take its place twenty years from now?
It does look handy, and isn’t even that ugly for some reason.
Weren’t these unibody? If so, I wonder how flexy it is where the bed meets the back of the…cab.
“If the women don’t find you handsome, they should at least find you handy.”
Where’s the duct tape?
I wanted (still do!) one of these little Japanese toy boxes…the Mitsu seemed awkward and contrived next to the Toy’s graceful lines. The Nissan never caught on in my area…just as well.
But the Toys…didn’t hold up well. I know they’re put to pasture where you’re at, but there’s systemic cooling-system issues, and a dearth of parts. And they do rust.
Apparently, as we’ve seen with time, the Mitsus hold up better. More the shame, more the pain, for me…as I passed on a Mitsubishi panel-van. I was spooked by the more-obscure brand (sure, Dodge Colt; but they’ve always been hanging on by fingernails in the American market) and I didn’t buy.
I missed the true winner, apparently.
Custom Car Win!
Maxim Utility at minimum footprint and cost. It’s also much easier to load/unload & ingress/egress than some Bro-Dozer with the Bed 3ft in the air.
I have to disagree with the easy part of “easy and cheap to keep running”. Nothing is easy to maintain or repair on the Toyota or Mitsu and I’m sure the Nissan if they hadn’t almost all been sent to the crusher. You have to be a contortionist to do just about anything with the engine with it’s underneath/between the seats location. Heck even the battery is a pain in the Toyota. I don’t even want to think about a master cyl or heater core.
NIche marketing is the best sort of automotive gamble. You can end up with successful vehicles like the Mustang or el Camino. You can also end up with Edsels and Aztecs,
I wish GM and Ford released niche vehicles on a regular basis, as in once every five years. The automotive landscape would be so much more interesting.
Right now they’ve got all they can handle – and more – just trying to find a way to comply with CAFE-II without farming production out to MTD.
We aren’t going to see innovative niche vehicles again for a long, long time…
He’s lucky if he hasn’t had anything slide forward and nail that huge back window.
Nice recycling of the original tailgate, so at least the window is a standard item. I’m surprised they tray area is so narrow, I suppose it fits whatever is to be carried.
I’ve seen a lot of Toyota Landcruisers or Nissan Patrols with this treatment to create a double cab ute, in fact apparently Toyota is going to start building them to supply the mining companies as the Landcruisers are a lot stronger and more durable than the Hiluxes they normally use. I wonder whether they have looked at using F250’s, as I’m sure they would be able to get an exemption for LHD.
Standard forward control van these things are everywhere if you get lucky or smart when buying go for the cyclone engine much better than the Astron.A friend in Tassie had the 4WD model of the L300 it had good off road ability but appaling reliability it ate 2 gearboxes in 18 months and you have to find the exact replacement not easy in Australia she gave up and bought a new car.
It’s interesting to me how there are “van countries” and “pickup countries”. The US and Thailand seem to be pickup countries, though pickups in Thailand are usually a lot more loaded-up than the usually empty pickups one sees in the US. I’ve seen a surprising number of pickups in rural Switzerland, France and the north of England. On my recent trip to Thailand, the only small open-bed tricks were three-wheeled and many pedal-powered. Anything larger was usually a van, though I did see a massive late-model 4 door 4wd Toyota Tundra near the Great Wall.
Good observation. What strikes me is, America isn’t lacking in petty thieves, so we have to pay more & accessorize pickups to secure the cargo area. Even the Border Patrol does this, I suppose to convert them into Paddy Wagons.
I got to drive a Mitsubishi Delica van. When I was in my late teens to early twenties, my dad owned a vending machine business and he needed a van to transport the candy and soda pop in. If the van had a refrigerator, it would’ve kept the candy cool and prevent melting on hot days. Other than that, I loved driving it. I found that because of its short wheelbase and no engine in front of you, thus no hood, it was more manoeuvrable. I’d buy another one if one were for sale, or a similar Toyota Van.
Are these two Mitshibishis still plying the streets in 2015, I sure hope so. A tile company in Portland drives one of these and it is the only Mitshibishi Van (did they have an actual name?) that I see around here. Not just running, but the only, I have yet to find a Mitshibishi Van sleeping in the weeds.
I loved my vans. For routine stuff just lift the doghouse and do what you needed. The longest I had was a stretch Ford and also a 1 ton High Cube Chevy. Also drove an assortment picking up bell ringers for the Salvation Army. I know that it was decided that they all needed to have cooling problems (at least the Japanese ones) I never did. I think the van/station wagon is the most efficient work vehicle there is and if you need to carry manure or hay that’s what trailers are for.
I would take either of these vans but I’m just talking. I quite the real serious work about four years ago.
Nice idea, but the rear looks awkward and pieced together. He should find a pickup bed off an old Mitsubishi truck, and put it on. A crew cab van truck is a great idea, and should have been available on the Ford Econoline pickup. Having some extra weight back there makes a difference.
They came from the factory as 4 door flat bed or cab chassis.
Once popular here too, now gone. As I mentioned below Roger Carr’s 1980 Dodge Spacevan article the other day, crash safety regulations meant the end for vans and light trucks with a flat front and the engine between the seats.
But Volkswagen Transporters, Ford Transits etc. with a double cab and a cargo bed are of course still very common. Especially among contractors and such.
By now Fiat has become the absolute king of vans and light trucks. From small to large: Fiorino (classic name !), Doblò Cargo (a.k.a. Ram ProMaster City), Scudo, Ducato (a.k.a. Ram ProMaster) and the Iveco Daily.
Just a few car models, but a lot of vans !
This here is the current version of the good old VW double cab pickup.
Nice grey! I’ve only ever seen those VW trucks in white.
I’ve seen pictures of the Volkswagen Transporter (Type 2) pickup truck, but I’ve only seen one in person. I’ve never driven one, nor have I ridden in one as a passenger.
As a kid / young guy I had many rides in a VW T2 van (owned by a rope-maker, our neighbor; he stuffed his poor VW as if it was a turkey, from the floor up to the roof), a T2 double cab pickup and a T3 single cab pickup with a diesel engine.
Volkswagen, Mercedes and Ford vans were the most common then. Also Bedford, Renault, Peugeot and Citroën. Japanese brands arrived later, but as I said above they are gone now. Nissan and Toyota still sell vans though, but these are rebadged Euro products.
This is the VW T2 double cab pickup. It had that typical sort of baby-blue VW color, seen a lot on the T1 and T2.
A lot of vans have metallic paint these days. Vans are often also used as family cars, they’ve got rear seats (so a double cab van) and a decent cargo space. All diesel engines, somewhere between 150 and 200 hp.
The light trucks like the one above mostly have bright company colors, flat paint. Never seen one that’s also used as a family car, they are pure commercial vehicles.
In Europe, pick ups and other light commercial vehicles are seen as just that, errr, commercial vehicles. People who buy them almost always use them for work: recreation is a very secondary consideration (for this you have a Cherokee, perhaps). Very different from the US…
There was this Skoda Felicia Fun…
The regular Felicia pickup was meant for anything but fun I guess.
The Felicia was originally a convertible Octavia it seems Skoda/VW needs to study their model history more closely
The only Skoda Felicia (successor of the Favorit) I know was available as a hatchback, a wagon, a van and a pickup (the Fun edition included).
Up until this year these could still be bought new here some pedantic regulation has now put them off the market, they were/are good vans cheap as to buy and reliable to run.
Check this one out!
In South Korea, an extended version of this van was called the Hyundai Grace. It had 4th row seating. Would have been interesting if we had gotten them here.
Very interesting find; I’ve not seen a Mitsubishi (or Nissan) van of this generation for ages. One still sees the odd Toyota, but that’s about it.
As the article dates from more than three years ago, I too wonder if these are still on the road in Eugene?