Once upon a time — or more accurately, back in the 1970s — the van reigned supreme. Riding-in right on the heels of the fading muscle car era, the custom van became the ultimate self-expression vehicle– tricked-out and personalized to show all the world just how your bad self rolled. They were badass, man–  a portable pampered pad that allowed you to take all your extra-curricular activities of sorts (legal or lotharious) on the road– and there were custom shops on every corner back then that would customize your ride with a kick-ass sound system, lighting, shag carpeting, Captains chairs, beds, bubble windows, louvres, spoilers, mag wheels, custom horns, CB radios– and don’t forget to top it all off with a one-off airbrushed paint job depicting your choice of Wizard, Warlock, Wave or Western scenic. It may be time for a comeback, folks– especially with the home foreclosure rate being what it is…


custom harley van 1970s

1970s cruising van wagon

New for 1977 was the “Cruising Wagon” option for the Ford Pinto. It featured bold graphics and a small circular rear, side window. It was part of Ford’s “Free Wheeling” program to attract young buyers, as was the “Cruising Van” optioned Econoline in the background.

1970s ford van

This ad was shot by none other than the famed surf photographer, LeRoy Grannis.  Pretty rad.  I wonder if this ad had any influence on the Spicoli character from Fast Times at Ridgemont High?

1970s custom van airbrush paint job beauty queen

“The medieval knight stands bold in its shining armour as Miss World of Wheels, Dorothy Hoogstraten (Dorothy Straten) dubs Ron Bergsma, who is one of the ‘Macho Man’ contestants from Universal Olympic Gym at the World of Wheels Custom Car Show, August 16th, 1978.” –Photo by Paul Snider.


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  1. Wow….incredible post! I think I was born in the wrong decade. And I love the addition of Spicoli and Cheech and Chong…classic man, classic.

  2. It seemed as if one out of every ten customized vans had Pink Floyd’s
    ‘Dark Side of the Moon’ album art airbrushed on the side in the seventies. Cheers.

    • Too funny – I just got a stack of 70’s van mags from the original owner and inside on of them was a piece of paper with a diagram of his planned custom van including DSOTM graphics.

      • I was a teen back then and we used to listen to dsotm in one of those vans and cruise around..The name of the van was “The Streaker” and it had a guy streaking painted on the side. It had a great speaker systems and was all padded and plush inside. We’d cruise, listen to jams, and go to Dairy Queen.. I will never forgot one experience listening the TDSOTM in that van where I saw fire being crashed through by water.. well I guess it is one of those things you can’t really articulate.

  3. For every “cool” van there were at least 2 sketchy ones. For example, your Buffalo Bills, Uncle Ricos, Matt Foleys, pushers and 25 year old guys hitting on your little sister and her friends.

      • Hey, just came across your blog doing a search for custom van-related pictures. What a treasure trove! Hey, would it be cool if I linked to this post on my next podcast? I’m doing a whole ‘van rock’ show this week, and I would love to paraphrase your entry and point folks in your direction.

  4. I’ve always wanted to get a Dodge van and have Frank Frazetta’s Death Dealer on the side of it, this just proves it’s a good idea

  5. The “Star Wars” van is hilarious. What a treat to ditch fourth period with some friends, settle into one of those plush captains chairs that swivel, crank up some Foghat, and see what mischief you could get into.


  6. The only thing that could make the “Star Wars” van more awesome was if it had a bed in the back with “Star Wars” sheets and curtains.

    Great as usual!! I have a personal love for these vans. Especialy the flat glass earlies from the 60’s. I currently have a 68 Chevy Van that simply rocks.

  8. I was a kid when i collected the trading cards in the 1970’s. My favorite was always the Star Wars themed vans!

  9. I remember my neighbors dad buying van, an empty palette or blank canvas that he then spent the next year cutting a diamond shape window, insulating with wall to wall carpeting and a custom made bar and a pair of swivel chairs. It was the envy of the block!

  10. Giuseppe, I of course would not forget the comely lass, ideally wearing pink OP cord shorts with the pork chop pocket and a matching comb stuffed in the back to better feather her hair with.

  11. Heh… and I just bought my first van! I keep looking at older vans and wondering why they’ve given up on some of the really awesome body styles.

  12. We vanners are still going at it, despite the lack of van shops and van magazines. Last July over 600 vans gathered in Pennsylvania for the Van Nationals. The event started in 1973, and has run continuously since then! Check out thousands of current photos at http://www.showvans.com
    The hair may be gone, or at least grayer, and the shorts may be longer, but the fun continues! there are smaller events nearly every weekend at a campground near you!

    • Good to see someone defending Vanning. My father owns Nautique, and I grew up around Vanners. They are some of the kindest people I have had the pleasure of knowing, and none have been sketchy in the least.

      also, http://www.vannin.com is a good reference to the vanning community.

  13. You have the best blog on the Interwebs for retro culture, bar fucking none. I am rarely impressed with people’s blogs, but yours is a champion.

  14. Another great post! I recall at least one Star Wars van, and other, similar airbrushed vehicles, cruising through my suburban subdivision in the 1970s. I would place the VW microbus in a whole different category than the airbrushed “conversion” van…However, the Spicoli pictures are classic.

  15. WOW awesome BLOG dude, Yes most of these are vintage pics to see CURRANT pics of the eVANts that still go on almost every weekend thruout the country check out the pics on Showvans.com or go to the forums of vannin.com and see what were up too, next years Van Nationals are in Greenwich NY… see y’all there!

  16. Great old pics. There is still a strong van culture, and is worth checking out. Showvans.com has thousands of current pics. You may be surprised. I was! Vannin’ is the best.

  17. Flashbacks galore! Thanks for the trip down memory lane! I’ll have this grin for hours remembering the good ole days! Should make for a great dream tonight!

    • I’m sure I would love just about any movie about van culture but this movie caters to every cliche and ultimately falls short. I mean what the f..k this kid falls for this chick who doesn’t really dig van and he decides to drunkenly run it off into a ditch and swear off vans as he walks into the sunset. As most vanners know you really can’t get this out of your blood so easily. I’d really like to know if there are any other van related movie from the 70’s. It seems given the mass culture that it was I would expect some really cool flicks and music to have come about. God , do we really need that “Chevy Van” song to represent for all time…

    • A friend of mine (Todd Mixon) sent me this email includng the You Tube and I was just Floored. I had a 1977 Ford Van, bought it brand new with only one seat on the driver’s side (knowing I was going to be customize on the inside). A friend of mine worked for Good Times (custom vans) of Dallas. They closed in, I beieve 1978 and I hired him to help me do the inside. He had templates and all the tools to cut patterns, windows, etc. After 2 great years of this, ( not married of course) it was done. My wife to be loved it and never understood why the couch in the back folded into a bed. I could not explain but you know !!! That may have sparked some interest in doing another one. Anyway, what a great memory and thanks Todd…
      PHIL – Van Buren, Arkansas

  18. I don’t think there were any other good movies made about vanning, so “The Van” will have to do. “Supervan” and “Van Nuys Blvd” are unwatchable. “The Van” is at least wonderful in its awfulness. And yes, “Chevy Van” needs to represent all vans for all time.

  19. Man I wish those were never over I can probly remember like 15 to 20 vans that my dad, uncles and friends had my personal favroite was my dad 1977 ford van yellow with a desert mural and two bubble playboy bunny windows on the back doors

  20. Pingback: THE 1970’s PUBERTY PIN-UP WARS | FARRAH FAWCETT VS. CHERYL TIEGS « The Selvedge Yard

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  22. I think i was born in the wrong decade as well…i was born in 86 but i have very early memories of the few remaining custom vans circa 91/92. Guess in 20 years the only stories ill be able to tell of my youth era will envolve toking up to Kings of Leon in my Corolla while on mid tour leave from Iraq with my friends

  23. Nice site! I just bought an 84 dodge van. stripped inside. in solid running condition. my 4th van , 1st dodge. I have heavy plans of customizing in the classic style with a few modern touches, such as pop up navigation/cd/dvd,1 rear flat screen and l.e.d. lighting. I plan to paint it a burnt copper (like on newer dodge daytona pickup) with a red interior done in modern plush fabrics.
    I hope to send progressive photos soon!

  24. Love this bitchin web page,, brings back many memories,, I use to custom paint vans and mini trucks back in the 70’s,, now Harley’s only,,, I even notice there was a pic of a Pantera,, use to own a 1973 awesome VERY FASY CAR!..
    Harley Tom

  25. some of the best photos i’v seen, just wish i was old anough to have the memories.



  28. Totally takes me back to the 70’s. I remember thinking our neighbors were so lucky because they had a van with brown carpeted walls and seating and a mini fridge to house those miniature soda cans… thank you for posting!

  29. Really enjoyed viewing ur website. As a child of the van era it brought back fond memories of van shows and collecting van magazines (Custom Vans,Traveling Vans).,etc. I would appreciate it if u knew anyone who had a collection of van magazines that they are willing to part with or if u had a dvd of this website.

    Thank you,

  30. Remember…..strangers have the BEST candy…….AND a bitchin’ 70’s van!

    I am currently working toward fixing up a 1975 Dodge “shorty” van, it’s gonna have all the shag carpet, black lights, mag wheels and airbrushing I can stuff into it!

  31. Whoa — LEGENDARY blog post here!! I was barely old enough to remember the custom van craze of the ’70’s, but I saw a pic in your post of my favorite van of all time:

    StarBurst 1

    That van was on the local circuit in FL, and the minute I saw the outside and inside, it was over. I was so hooked, and was about 11 years old at the time. That van had a legendary airbrush on the back that showed the van in space, with the caption “Where no van has gone before”.

    Thanks for the memories!!!!

    If anyone has any additional pics or info on StarBurst 1, I’d love to hear from you (GT500456@yahoo.com) That van has a special place in my heart, because my older brother and I had the chance to buy it when I was 15 and he was 17. We didn’t, and I regretted it for years!

  32. Wow thanks for the site, In the early 70’s I had a 1965 Dodge window van. Repainted 1970 corvette blue, with mickey tomson G 60’s with air shocks and of course a cherry bomb muffler, It wasn’t fast (slant six) but looked and sounded bad.

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