Here's the skinny: if you were a totally far-out cat in the mid-1970s, you didn't cruise around in some hot rod. Nah, they were for chumps. What you wanted was a righteous Dodge Street Van.
With gas prices spiking, younger buyers were flocking to heavy haulers after seeing how much fun could be had with -- and in -- these basic boxes-on-wheels.
The personalized compact van segment was exploding and, beginning in 1973, Dodge was dominating, outselling Ford, Chevy and even VW's minibus. To continue its lead and appeal to a larger segment of buyers who wanted to "do their own thing," Dodge released the Street Van in February of 1976.
The Street Van was an available package on Dodge's hardy B200 Tradesman van. It included fancy trim and gave buyers a head start in making further customizations. There was groovy badging and extra chrome on the grill, front and rear bumpers, windshield molding, taillamp bezels and side mirrors. Inside there was high back bucket seats with folding armrests, front carpeting; a padded, wood-grained instrument panel; and color-keyed vinyl door trim with simulated wood grain.
Wheel options were either slotted mags or white spoke wagon wheels with fat, raised white letter tires.
To further get the creative juices flowing, Dodge provided buyers with written instructions and step-by-step photographs to help do-it-yourselfers install everything from port holes to sunroofs and roof vents. A list of major manufacturers for those items were included to help streamline the process.
Kits came with headliner and floor templates to help buyers looking to cover them in fabric or carpeting, as well as templates for six exterior graphic designs. Every buyer also received an automatic membership into an owners' association called the "Van Clan" to stay up to date on the latest van happenings through its Street Talk newsletter. Finally, owners would become associate members in the National Street Van Association, located at the time on West Chicago Street in Algonquin.
At last weekend's Muscle Car and Corvette Nationals show held in Rosemont, Warren Myers and his wife, Denise, brought out their out-of-sight 1977 Street Van, purchased in 2013 from the original owner in Milwaukee.
"They drove it every winter to Phoenix, so it was rust-free," said Warren, who as a teen bought his dad's 1973 Dodge Sportsman van.
"I removed all the seats and put in orange shag carpet. I'd load it up with friends, and they'd be sitting in lawn chairs or laying on the floor while I drove around."
Warren, or more appropriately his daughter Lindsay, further customized the '77 green machine by turning the inside into a mobile DJ station. There's loads of vintage audio equipment, like an Akai four-channel reel-to-reel tape machine, a stereo mixer, Triple Play 8-track tape player and Linear Tracking turntable.
"She's really gotten into vinyl and even broadcasts at local car shows," Warren said of his daughter.
Their slammin' show display didn't stop with the shagadelic van; Denise brought out her collection of pristine Schwinn Krate muscle bikes.
Later next spring, the family will hit the road, towing their vintage Amphicar behind them, motoring to some of Michigan's northern lakes.
"I love hearing all the stories," Warren said of people who stop to admire the Street Van. "Especially about the audio equipment. For most people, seeing that brings back the most memories."
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