Curbside Classic: 1976(ish) Dodge Tradesman – All Bound For Mu Mu Land

Vans like this, in condition like this, are a thing of the distant past.

These were all over the place when I was a kid. There were Polywindowed people-carrier versions such as those we rode on field trips from The Willows. Windowless versions for plumbers, electricians, and creeps. White ones for mobile definitely-not-stolen speaker sales associates.

My high school engineering physics teacher had one of these, speaking of creeps. He was an American with a French name and Brit-wannabe affectations, who fancied himself a perfect mix of 70 per cent Stirling Moss, 70 per cent Mario Andretti, 70 per cent Smokey Yunick, 70 per cent Chuck Yeager, and god’s gift to females of all ages—including the girls in his classes; He behaved very badly towards them that I saw (and likely worse that I didn’t). He knew I liked Chrysler products, so he made a point of bitching about “that awful noise their starters make”, just to be a—how you say in British—a tosser.

He frequently stank up the auto shop impound yard taking parts off the traindropped zero-miles ’86 318 B-van to use on his own ’77. By my senior year, I’d been pestering shop teacher Mr. Schultz for awhile for the heavy-duty starter off the impounded van; on the last day of school he said “that asshole Mr. [physics teacher] told me he wants the starter off that van. He really puts me up the wall; if you can make it disappear in the next 20 minutes, it’s yours”. I scrambled into the van, made with the end wrenches, and into my backpack went the starter and its heat shield. On my way out the shop I passed Sir Physics on his way in—”Oh, hi, Mr. LePhysics!”. I understand he was most cross that the starting motor he was after was nowhere to be found. »tsk« Oh dear…bit of a rum go, old bean! I do hope he wrote The Times at once.

Quite amazing what even just a little sheetmetallic curvature will do, eh! I favour this 1971-’78 front end over the less artful, relentlessly rectilinear GM, Ford, and ’79-up Dodge designs. This van has the ’74-’78 plastic grille, but I don’t know what year the turn signal lenses were changed from clear to amber. And those can be swapped at will, so because I didn’t think to read the VIN, I don’t know the actual year of this van—or what kind of engine it might have.

At first I wasn’t sure whether it’s a little-used original or the best restoration I’ve seen. I think that’s not a factory paint colour, though maybe I just never saw one this nice I think this might be Citron Green Poly; either way it looks sharp.

These are regrettable current-production sealed beams; sloppy, careless manufacture makes them worse than even the non-halogen originals.

The wheels are white, as intended. This is a tiny tire by today’s standards. The side marker lights, too, tease at whether this van is original or restored: either these have spent very little time out of doors, or they have been replaced; the originals of this design are always faded by now.

Chrome gas cap: original or lovingly replaced, undented. No spilled-fuel paint damage. Tail lights bright and shiny. Badges and licence plate light undinged, and with perfect chrome.

Ah, there’s my old friend, that shift lever knob Chrysler put on everything from Valiants to Imperials from around ’68 through the early ’80s. Side mirrors look like period standard equipment: present, but none too large, and the flat-glass right side mirror will be just about useless.

At last, a sturdy clue: I am reasonably sure the dashboards weren’t pinstriped ex-works; this hints at a restorer’s pride of craftsmanship. Chrysler got their money’s worth out of that defogger duct; it was originally used on the ’63-’66 Valiants and Darts, then on these B-vans through ’93, and on Vipers from ’92-’96.

Mad respect for KLF and even more for Tammy Wynette, but (at 1:32) I’m going to carry on singing it my way: They’re justified, and they’re ancient, and they drive a nice green van :