Chevy van is rolling 'memory trip' and history lesson
Rich Keylard's 1969 Chevy van is one far-out hauler that combines two childhood passions.
First is his fondness for custom vans. That love started when Rich convinced his mom to buy him magazines that weren't all about customizing cars, but rather the wild craze of custom vans.
His other obsession is airbrushing. That skillset started when Rich was just 15. Now, decades later, the Roselle man has turned it into a full-blown career, running his own art studio and painting full time.
In the early 2000s, he already had one van, a 1987 Dodge 3500. But in 2009, he was ready for another big, blank, rolling canvas to experiment on. Rich found one in Elgin, buying a bone stock 1969 Chevy work van. It had spent years in the Joliet area, serving as a TV repair truck.
Rich's mind was already racing and, right away, he knew what direction he wanted to take. "It was the culmination of a bunch of ideas through the years that all just came together," says Rich, who incorporated many layers of pop culture and personal touches into his one-of-a-kind, radical ride.
The general theme was setting up the van as a simulated stunt vehicle, drawing in tons of inspiration from one of his favorite boyhood heroes: Evel Knievel. That's why the hot hauler, painted in "House of Kolor Majik Blue," has its wicked stance, side pipes and eye-catching flames.
"I was into him as a kid and still collect all the toys," said Rich, who displays many of those keepsakes inside on specially built shelves. "With the stance, it looks like it's going fast and you get the feeling it's something you'd see at a track."
Next, he painted on a cast of lifelike cultural icons. There are the members of The Monkees rock band, Jimmi Hendrix, "The Munsters" cast, singer Jim Morrison, actors Steve McQueen and Burt Reynolds, and groundbreaking pinstriper "Big Daddy" Ed Roth.
Even bigger celebrities for Rich are his parents, Rich and Donna. He painted their high school portraits around the family's crest. Rich's son, Rein, was included, too. Inside, there's more custom painting, along with sparkle psychedelic fabric on the seats and shag carpeting.
After years of restoration and tons of freehand airbrushing, Rich's motoring masterpiece was finished this spring. Its grand debut occurred in March at the World of Wheels car show in Rosemont. Since then, he's been hitting the streets, showing off the colorful and custom creation across the suburbs.
Everywhere he goes, he turns heads.
"The whole piece is a big memory trip for people my age, but also a history lesson for the younger generations," he says.
Both demographics flocked to see it while parked at last week's Daily Herald Cruise Night at Stratford Square Mall in Bloomingdale. Few cars, vans, trucks or motorcycles draw the kinds of crowds I saw gathered around it, and with all the personal connections, as well as the high level of artistry, I knew it was the perfect winner of my Matt Avery's Pick Award.
"It's so much fun to get people talking," says Rich. "And it's a blast to drive."
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