Raddest Factory Custom and Small-Batch Production Vans of the 1970s (2023)

Raddest Factory Custom and Small-Batch Production Vans of the 1970s (1)

No single vehicle better represents the good times and easy-living lifestyle of the 1970s better than does a custom van. The personalized van covered all the bases. It was part muscle car, part apartment on wheels, and, of course, part art canvas, serving as a very groovy way to express oneself. It gave dudes and dudettes with long, feathered hair; bell bottoms; and an affinity for going topless a place to hang out with friends, take on camping adventures, or just cruise paved landscapes such as Woodward Avenue or Van Nuys Boulevard. To capitalize on the trend, many auto manufacturers built versions of their cargo haulers aimed at custom-van enthusiasts. And many more aftermarket companies specialized in fully transforming these machines from a bone stocker to a radical small-batch custom. Here are 15 of the coolest vans to come from the 1970s vanning craze.

Advertisement - Continue Reading Below


Gerring Streaker

Raddest Factory Custom and Small-Batch Production Vans of the 1970s (2)

The large-scale conversion-van companies that were most prevalent in the 1970s were based in the Midwest. And Gerring, Inc., from Elkhart, Indiana, was one of the most prominent. Each of its conversion lines had a unique look and vibe, and the fact that they looked production and were assembled with quality added to the cool factor and desirability. The Streaker was one of the wildest models. The interior was a mix of gothic and nautical themes that included deep shag carpeting and wood paneling as well as a bedroom with porthole windows.

21 Woodies That Weren’t Station Wagons


Gerring Streaker

Raddest Factory Custom and Small-Batch Production Vans of the 1970s (3)

This particular Streaker is a 1976 Dodge Tradesman 200 shorty with Gerring’s Clipper interior. It has just over 10,000 original miles, “zoomie” style exhaust outlets, and a custom paint theme that pays tribute to the ’70s prog-rock band Yes. The Streaker package was marked by (and we’re not making this up) a logo of a nude long-haired dude in full sprint. It has a three-on-the-tree manual transmission and a 360-cubic-inch V-8 along with an octagonal steering wheel. Full disclosure: This Gerring Streaker sits in the author’s garage.

Advertisement - Continue Reading Below



Raddest Factory Custom and Small-Batch Production Vans of the 1970s (4)

In 1976 and ’77, Coca-Cola teamed up with Ford, Levi’s, and a variety of sponsors to create a series of very cool promotional sweepstakes vans. About 10 of these Denimachine vans—based on Ford’s E-150—were awarded during the sweepstakes. A handful more were also built for Canada and had a few subtle differences. But regardless of the market it was delivered to, every one of them was painted with an unrestrained red, white, and blue flame design. Look closely and you can even see the painted-on “stitches” that looked just like the pair of Levi’s in your closet. As one might imagine, the custom interior was plastered with Coke-themed stuff, including—of course—a refrigerator. And there was faux denim on the walls and red shag on the floor. Unlike most factory-backed custom vans of the 1970s, these had some work done under the hood with a Holley intake and carburetor on top of the engine and side pipes that surely sounded downright badass.


LRP Freedom ’76

Raddest Factory Custom and Small-Batch Production Vans of the 1970s (5)

America’s bicentennial inspired automakers to build wildly patriotic special-edition versions of practically every vehicle they made. But for the van enthusiast, one of the best came from Leisure & Recreational Products (LRP) from Lake Geneva, Wisconsin. LRP created two limited-edition models for 1976, a pickup and a van. The Freedom ’76 GMC van was a serious standout. LRP painted a brilliant commemorative mural and added two bubble windows on each side and two on the back. The aftermarket wheels wore fat radial tires, and the big 350-cubic-inch V-8 exhaled through side pipes. On the inside are four high-back bucket seats, a sofa bed, a wine rack, a sink, and an icebox. Oh and of course plenty of bright white vinyl and deep blue shag carpeting.

Special Edition Trucks of the 1970s

Advertisement - Continue Reading Below


Gerring Head Rest

Raddest Factory Custom and Small-Batch Production Vans of the 1970s (6)

As mentioned, the van conversions by Gerring were some of the sweetest of the Me Decade. The company’s oddly named Head Rest series offered at least five distinct interior packages, all named after astrological signs because of course they were.


Gerring Head Rest

Raddest Factory Custom and Small-Batch Production Vans of the 1970s (7)

The Gemini had a three-way dinette-table setup and could be optioned on vans that had full window glass. Apparently designed for impressing a prospective lover, the Leo had a fold-out couch; a wide, bucket loveseat; and a complete wet bar with a wine rack. The Taurus looked a lot like the inside of a restaurant, with a table flanked by booth seating at the back and cabinets up front. The Libra had loud upholstery and back seats suitable for both traveling and entertaining. The least custom of the bunch (and probably the best one for hauling your toys) was the Aries; it maintained the van’s cargo capacity and simply paneled the walls and carpeted the floor.

Advertisement - Continue Reading Below


Dodge Street Van

Raddest Factory Custom and Small-Batch Production Vans of the 1970s (8)

Dodge Tradesman vans from 1971 until 1977 (the year before a mild facelift) were some of the most popular machines to customize during the 1970s. And in 1976, the Mopar boys launched the Street Van version of the Tradesman cargo van. The Street Van lasted until 1980 and was part of Dodge’s Adult Toys line that included trucks such as the Li’l Red Express, the Macho Power Wagon, and the Warlock. The Street Van package (option code YH3) was a great starting point for many vanners and could be applied to B100 and B200 vans with V-8 engines up to 440 cubic inches. Naturally, no suspension or engine mods were included in the Street Van package. This was the 1970s, after all.


Dodge Street Van

Raddest Factory Custom and Small-Batch Production Vans of the 1970s (9)

Up front Dodge added a bunch of chrome trim and offered buyers a choice of slotted wheels or white spoke “wagon” style wheels. On the inside, the driver and passenger got bucket seats as well as faux wood trim. The most important part of the Street Van was the detailed plans Dodge included to help vanners build out their rigs with custom touches such as porthole windows, sunroofs, stereo systems, and more. And Street Vanners were automatically enrolled in the Dodge Van Clan, whose members we can surmise met up for only the most wholesome of activities. Naked Beer Twister, anyone? Some versions of these trucks had bitchin’ multicolor, metal Street Van emblems on their front doors (which today sell for north of $150 on eBay), but at some point, Dodge decided that vinyl Street Van stickers were sufficient.

Advertisement - Continue Reading Below


Pathfinder Van Charger

Raddest Factory Custom and Small-Batch Production Vans of the 1970s (10)

Four-wheel-drive van conversions combined two of the most popular truck trends of the 1970s (4x4s and vans) into one mega-cool machine. Pathfinder Equipment was located in San Gabriel, California, and turned pavement-pounding two-wheel-drive vans from General Motors, Ford, and Dodge into four-wheel-drive monsters. One of the coolest was Pathfinder’s Dodge conversion—Van Charger. These trucks used a beefy Dana 44 solid front axle with disc brakes suspended by coil springs, and four-wheel drive was accomplished with either a full-time transfer case or a part-time setup. But no matter which system was used, all Van Chargers had a low range, excellent ground clearance, and room for some fairly beefy off-road tires. Ford versions were known as Quadravans, and the GM vans were K-Vans. While most of the van trends of the 1970s have long disappeared (along with Pathfinder itself), four-wheel-drive vans have remained somewhat popular and are produced by a variety of manufacturers, including Mercedes-Benz.


Ford Cruising Van

Raddest Factory Custom and Small-Batch Production Vans of the 1970s (11)

In 1975, Ford launched a fully redesigned Econoline van. It was larger and more capable in every way thanks to its body-on-frame construction—the only full-size van of the 1970s to use this type of chassis. The extended nose meant more room for larger engines and more space inside the cabin, too. Ford was the only member of the Big Three to launch an all-new van right at the peak of the vanning craze. And the Ford ads proclaimed it, “a giant step for vankind.” So just one year after the new van hit the road, Ford debuted a custom van package that was wilder than any that came before. The ’76 Cruising Van had a very cool striped paint package, porthole windows on the sides, and special wheels. On the inside, the Cruising Van was fully carpeted and had plush captain’s chairs that swiveled and had big armrests. Two different wheel styles were offered, and the slot-mag-style wheels were easily the more stylish of the two. Weirdly, Ford also made a vannish version of the Pinto called the Cruising Wagon (shown above) that was painted in the same style and marketed alongside the Cruising Van.

Advertisement - Continue Reading Below



Raddest Factory Custom and Small-Batch Production Vans of the 1970s (12)

The Yamahauler was an early collaboration among Yamaha motorcycles, Dodge, Hot Rod magazine, and numerous other sponsors for a sweepstakes. Only one Yamahauler was built. But it was significant because in 1972, the vannin’ trend had yet to reach its peak—so this factory-backed custom really was a pioneer. And it probably influenced thousands of vanners to build their own version. The Yamahauler was designed to carry two off-road enduro bikes, one a 125-cubic-centimeter model and the other with a 250-cc engine. The custom interior was designed by famed drag racer and builder Tony Nancy. The Yamahauler had plenty of wood paneling, a wardrobe closet, a fold-out bed, a fridge, and a workbench, as well as an awning out back and places to store helmets and tools. Cragar supplied the fat wheels wrapped in Goodyear Polyglas tires. The original Yamahauler is likely long gone. But recently, North American Muscle Cars in Portland, Oregon, created its own Yamahauler tribute van (shown here) to transport vintage Yamaha off-road bikes to races.


Chevy Van Sport

Raddest Factory Custom and Small-Batch Production Vans of the 1970s (13)

The Chevy van nomenclature was a bit confusing back in the 1970s. Chevrolet called its passenger vans with windows the Sportvan. But the cargo vans (without windows) were just Chevy Van. In 1979, the company added a Chevy Van Sport to the lineup. Confused? The Chevy Van Sport was a windowless cargo van aimed directly at custom-van fans who in previous years had purchased a Ford Cruising Van or a Dodge Street Van. The Van Sport was available in three color schemes: silver and black, camel and brown, and two-tone blue. Buyers could order the package on the light-duty G10 vans and on the heavier three-quarter-ton G20 models. And when you added the white (or body-color-painted) wagon-style spoked wheels, these striped cargo vans looked very cool. The Sport option lasted into the 1980s, but by then the custom-van scene had begun to dissipate.

Advertisement - Continue Reading Below


Champion Trans-Van

Raddest Factory Custom and Small-Batch Production Vans of the 1970s (14)

Champion Home Builder’s Trans-Van line of camper vans struck a near-perfect balance between the custom vans of the 1970s and a taller traditional motorhome. The Trans-Van hit the market in 1977. And in that first year, a typical Trans-Van cost between $9000 and $11,000 to start. That was roughly half again as much as the price tag on a loaded ’77 Pontiac Trans Am. On the outside, these machines had big stripes and porthole windows—just like a custom van. But on the inside, they had the comforts of a dedicated RV (bed, toilet, dinette, fridge, and more) all done in a very 1970s package. And the name . . . well, if anything sounded like “Trans Am” in the late 19“Trans Am” in the late 1970s70s, there’s a distinct possibility it would boost sales. It’s surprising that Trans-Vans were never painted black and gold. The Trans-Vans were based on Ford, Chevy/GMC, and Dodge van chassis in 17-, 19-, and 21-foot configurations. Many were heavier-duty one-ton models with dual rear wheels. And back in the 1970s that meant a big V-8 probably lived under the hood and delivered something like 4 mpg. Worse yet if you opted for four-wheel drive. (Yes, these were offered as four-by-fours.) Although the 1970s was the peak of cool for the Trans-Van, versions of this motorhome continued to be produced until 1991. But by then the porthole windows and the snazzy stripes were long gone. Finding one today is hard. But finding one in nice shape is nearly impossible.


Travco Family Wagon

Raddest Factory Custom and Small-Batch Production Vans of the 1970s (15)

Travco, a motorhome company famous for its distinctive streamlined RVs, had been producing conversion vans for camping since the 1960s. These little vans were outfitted just like mini-motorhomes. So as the vans of the 1970s grew in size so, too, did Travco’s lineup of conversions. And Dodge used Travco as its official factory conversion company. The Deluxe model of the early 1970s used a pop-up soft-sided expandable roof. But the Royale had a raised fiberglass roof high enough to allow an adult to walk around inside and also offered a choice of a dinette or a “Long Gaucho Sofa,” both of which transformed into a bed. That model used a removable coffee table, too. Later in the 1970s, Travco added the Commuter and the Weekender. The Commuter was the machine for hauling the family and offered plush seating in swivel thrones and a cushy couch along the back. The Weekender was more like a custom van with floor plans that were built more for, well, hanging out.

Advertisement - Continue Reading Below


Hop Cap Van Tastic

Raddest Factory Custom and Small-Batch Production Vans of the 1970s (16)

Hop Cap was located in Bremen, Indiana, just 25 miles away from the epicenter of van conversions in the 1970s—Elkhart, Indiana. These rigs were known as Van Tastic by Hop Cap and, like the vans from Gerring, were modified so well they look completely custom. Hop Cap would apparently make vans as mild or as wild as customers wanted. Some just have a little shag carpeting, custom paint, and a bubble window, while others were totally over the top.


Hop Cap Van Tastic

Raddest Factory Custom and Small-Batch Production Vans of the 1970s (17)

This ’77 Chevy is in all-original condition and has an unbelievably cool train mural on the side along with side pipes and the ’70s staple—bubble windows. Like many ’70s vans, this one wears skinny Cragars up front and fat ones covered by fender flares in the rear. The inside has incredible woodwork and a wraparound couch/booth that looks like it could be at home in a steakhouse. And yes, there’s shag carpeting—even on the walls. It’s rad.

Advertisement - Continue Reading Below


Champion 4WD Wrangler

Raddest Factory Custom and Small-Batch Production Vans of the 1970s (18)

Unlike Pathfinder’s products, Champion Home Builders’ 4WD Wrangler vans were not built in great numbers and were based exclusively on Dodge and Plymouth vans. Champion manufactured a line of motorhomes at the time, including the Trans-Van, which could be optioned with the same four-wheel-drive system. The brochures from 1978 and 1979 claimed the Wrangler vans were “built to handle rough terrain and steep hills, and to get you through sand, mud, and snow.” The vans were offered with either a 318-cubic-inch V-8 or a 360 V-8 in B100, B200, or B300 Tradesman vans. These vans came with plenty of options to fortify them for off-road use, including slotted wheels, big all-terrain tires, winches, “skip plates,” and even side pipes. Side pipes! These vans are rare—finding an original one in good condition would be a treat.


Fleetwood Santana

Raddest Factory Custom and Small-Batch Production Vans of the 1970s (19)

Yes, this is Uncle Rico’s sweet orange van from the 2004 hit film Napoleon Dynamite—a 1975 Dodge B300 Santana. But Santana vans were available on Ford and Chevy van platforms, too. And an ad from 1976 shamelessly proclaimed, “Get it on with Santana.” Santana vans were converted by RV manufacturer Fleetwood Enterprises in Riverside, California. The company offered the Santana Surfer with a conventional-height roof as well as tall fiberglass-roof Santana models (like Uncle Rico’s) that could sleep four people and carry a motorcycle and had a built-in shower/toilet as well as an icebox and a sink. And you can bet that each one had swiveling captain’s chairs up front and a CB radio. The actual van from the movie apparently now can be rented at UncleRicoVan.com.

Top Articles
Latest Posts
Article information

Author: Otha Schamberger

Last Updated: 12/09/2023

Views: 6212

Rating: 4.4 / 5 (75 voted)

Reviews: 82% of readers found this page helpful

Author information

Name: Otha Schamberger

Birthday: 1999-08-15

Address: Suite 490 606 Hammes Ferry, Carterhaven, IL 62290

Phone: +8557035444877

Job: Forward IT Agent

Hobby: Fishing, Flying, Jewelry making, Digital arts, Sand art, Parkour, tabletop games

Introduction: My name is Otha Schamberger, I am a vast, good, healthy, cheerful, energetic, gorgeous, magnificent person who loves writing and wants to share my knowledge and understanding with you.