My van lust began in the early 90s when I bought a 1981 Dodge van. The outside was brown and striped, the inside was carpeted in shades of baby-diarrea-brown and gold. The captains chairs were worn, the upholstry ripped and it had this smell (sorta like mildew and old rug)... that I still miss. Sigh. There was a spot for a CB, although it had long been ripped out. I tore out the fridge (didn’t work anyway), threw out the crappy couch seat from the middle and gave the whole damn thing a punk rock makeover. Leopard seatcovers. Toys glued all over the dash. A beer bottle-cap covered front bumper. Hawaiian and zebra curtains that I sewed myself. A lot of my friends laughed when I told them I was gonna repaint the outside of the van myself (Earl Shiebs didn’t have the shade of purple I wanted), but after a few gallons of latex enamel were rolled on, they were damn suprised. A few cans of spray paint turned into a home-flame-job later, “Torch” was born. While Torch looked cool, she drove like... well, like shit. A roadtrip across the U.S., lugging my band at the time (the Loudmouths) on tour nearly killed her. (She left us in a lurch more than a few times and gave new meaning to the words “garage rock”! Needless to say, future band tours were spent rolling in a rented Budget Rental van. Ugly yes, but reliable as all hell.) Anyway, poor old Torch, after a few more years with me in foggy San Francisco, her roof had rusted out, her tranny was failing (for the third time!!), and during a week long downpour, when her brand new alternator and battery weren’t enough to get her started anymore, I ended up miserably selling her off to a neighbor for 300 bucks. (Little did I know that the guy I sold her to would torture me by living in the van, right down the street from my house for months. Walking by her everyday was like seeing an ex that you don’t want to run into cause it breaks your heart.) Painful as it was, I heard she later made it Burning Man 2001 (how in the hell whoever owns her now got her that far is beyond me!!). I just hope she’s having fun somewhere and that whoever’s behind her wheel loves her as much as I did.
Torch did a major thing for me. She got me hooked on vans. As soon as I sunk my ass into her captain’s chair driverseat and rolled out on the road, I knew that driving in a van was where it was at. Being up high and looking down on all the little sports cars kicked ass. I loved her big cavernous interior, loved the way the carpet had two feet of padding underneath and squished comfortably when I climbed around in back. Yes, having a van rocked, and I was hooked.
I started collecting old hot wheels vans. I’d watch any movie that had vans in it. I started reading any old Van mags I could find, and searching in the “Automobile” section of used bookstores for any old van books I could get my hands on. My daydreams revolved around 70s van runs, truckins, and show ’n’ shines. Problem was, I was over 20 years too late for the vannin’ heyday.
Then I met Leon.
Through our mutual van-addiction rants and van-love bonding, Leon inspired me to put together Don’t Come Knockin’. He and I collected stories, photos, interviews... and here they are. Thanks Leon for thinking of this whole cool idea.
Here’s to rockin’ vans everywhere!! I myself have a new love these days, “Red Hot”. He’s a 1995 Chevy G-20 that I bought as a cargo and turned into a shaggin’ wagon, the interior is all red and black shag˝ ceiling, walls, floor. And he runs... GREAT!
If any of you van lovers out there have van stories or van photos of your own that you’d like to share˝send ’em our way! There are more stories and interviews planned˝I met a band who drives around in an ambulance, met a guy who did his whole Master’s thesis in art school on his van, and have a friend who wants to turn a van into a mobile generator for bands to play where ever it’s parked, Leon’s gonna get a list of cool van links together˝so keep checkin’ back!
Thanks for reading and happy vannin’.
Blame it on my childhood. Coming out of the hazy, grand funk of working-class Detroit in the Carter years, I learned early what really mattered: cheap beer, hard rock, and a sweet ride. What better way to enjoy all three than in the cozy confines of a custom van.
As a kid, custom vehicles made perfect sense. None of us dreamed of growing up and driving an Escort or an Aries. No, we wanted real-life versions of our coveted little Hot Wheels toys — flame painted, chrome-engined, and one-of-a-kind. We all wanted hot rods. And, despite the plagues of lost jobs, pricey gas, and ever-creeping rust, our neighborhood was full of them. In a testament to die-hard American spirit and/or some truly fucked-up priorities, car culture raged on around us. Aging Firebirds with old, cracked windshields and new mag wheels rumbled at impromptu starting lines. Prized ’55 Chevys sat primped and polished in peeling-paint garages. And everywhere — parked ominously at the dark edges of the park, carefully inching their way beneath the drive-thru roof at White Castle, crunching gravel in the back row of the drive-in movie — were the custom vans.
Custom vans were — and still are — a unique paradox in the hot-roddin’ world; the ultimate fusion of wild, garish form and plush function. On the street, they’re impossible to ignore. Their airbrushed side panels turn heads with suggestions of serene mountainscapes and otherworldly dungeon babes; sparkling chrome wheels and throaty header pipes herald their approach for miles; spare-tire covers scream sexual mantras (“Do it in a Dodge!” “Don’t laugh, your daughter could be inside!”) Yet, even at their fastest and furriest, a van can still bring a little-league team to the Dairy Queen. It can take a family camping, transport a drum kit, or even (owner permitting) haul a couple sheets of plywood and two-by-four to Monday’s job site.
And let’s not forget the real function of a rolling room: a place for free-spirited dudes — and dudettes — to party in peace, whenever — and wherever — they want to. Even as a kid, the sexual mystique of a velvet-lined, double-bedded road pad with an icebox full of High Life and a tape deck full of Zeppelin was not lost on me. Since their heyday in the mid-’70s, custom vans have earned a special status, depending on your viewpoint, as either tacky smut-pits for truly dirty creeps, or as the ultimate vestibule of free livin’… and free lovin’.
On a deeper level, though, vans — and the larger vanning lifestyle — represent the last gasp of post-60s, hands-on individualism. Like their cousins, the bikers, vanners cling to the dream of personal freedom on the open road. To fix up a van is to align yourself firmly on the side of self-sufficiency and self-expression. At it’s heart, it’s a socially subversive activity, a mad mix of do-it-yourself efficiency, in-your-face opulence, and simple obnoxious fun — all the best aspects of another passion of mine, rock’n’roll.
Which brings us, in my addled mind, to the heart of this project. Some may call it a nostalgia trip, but for me, it’s really about laying the blueprint for a new van generation. If that means revisiting the past, then so be it — but only as a chronicle of history and, hopefully, a manual for the vanner of the future.
I’d like to thank one such neo-van-punk: my co-conspirator Beth, without whom none of this wacked-out site would have happened. It’s been a long, lazy road, girl, but one hell of a ride. Also, a shout out to my high-school buddies (you know who you are), the horny Hollister crowd (wherever you are), and the Riverview Community High School library. And, of course, to everyone who finds fun, solace, or inspiration in our tricked-out little site.
All that said, here’s my confession: I don’t own a van. I never have. Blame my constant near-poverty, blame my Brooklyn locale with its outrageous insurance rates and chronic graffiti. The fact is, I love custom vans. I always have. And I know I’m not the first guy to sit back in my lawn chair and crack a beer and say this, but let me tell you: Man, when I DO get that van, it’s gonna be one sweet ride…
UPDATE! Leon got a van! Years after writing this... and you can read all about it on his van blog! A Vanatic's Tale - The ongoing tale of one man’s quest to get a van, keep it running, and, with a little luck, turn it into his dream vehicle. Whoo hoooo!