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What Happened to Customized Vans?


Building customized vans became a popular fad during the 1970s and 80s. The van reigned supreme becoming the ultimate self-expression vehicle, especially with the younger generation. They were portable, pampered pads tricked out and personalized.

And there were customizing shops everywhere to tailor vehicles to suit virtually every taste. There was everything from super sound systems, lighting, shag carpeting, wood trim, Captain’s chairs and beds to spoilers, mag wheels, custom horns and CB radios.

Custom vans are still being made today, but at only a fraction of what they were in their heyday. Brushed art work and murals of the day were prominently displayed on many from the VW microbus, converted school busses to mini and full sized vans. Conversion vans, full-size cargo vans, were also very popular and outfitted with various luxuries for road trips and camping.

So, what happened? Perhaps, it was more conservative minded parents who believed them to be a detrimental influence. Did it die out with the hippie culture? Or was it as the craze blossomed across the nation, vehicle manufacturers began producing more conservative models suited to mature buyers.


Some say freedom and sex were the real motivations behind having one. Perhaps, to an extent but there had to be more. The custom van represented adventure, leisure and what the 70s generation was all about.The world was filled with sex, drugs, and rock and roll and the custom van seemed to fit right in.

In the mid 80s, families and retirees discovered they were great for road trips and camping. More additions such as beds, cooking and potable water stations along with TV’s were eventually installed. However, these items in the beginning were bulky. They also significantly raised prices and sales began to dip.

In view of the higher sticker prices many more adventurous do it yourself types began designing and converting basic bare boned, 1/2 ton or 3/4 ton cargo vans. Since the additions took up so much space, many turned to high top models.

The high top allowed passengers to stand and provided much needed storage space. The early TVs and VCRs could now be mounted in the ceiling, providing more movement and leg room. Some of the first high tops had skylights but were later discontinued due to leaking.

The customized van fever was fueled by advertising, songs glorifying their attributes and movies featuring them as part of their plot. But their popularity eventually waned and practically died out. However, recently the motor industry has endeavored to renew interest in the once fashionable trend designing new innovative styles and adding more modern accessories such as flat screen TV’s.

Custom vans today are a far cry from the old 70s hippie bus. Hobby enthusiasts to business professionals are discovering a wide variety of uses for customized vans. Some businesses have made their services mobile by equipping their vans with everything needed to take their business directly to consumers. For instance, photographers, landscapers and pet groomers have found them to be a valuable asset. The handicapped have also benefitted with the advent of wheelchair lift accessible vans.

So, maybe there’s hope the popularity of the customized van will reemerge after all.


kevin on June 01, 2012:

I have 5 old skool vans.2 flat nose fords,1 flat nose dodge,a 71 chevy and a 78 dodge and i love anything and everything about vannin.

Paradise7 from Upstate New York on September 28, 2011:

I can imagine the customized van being a new home for those who can no longer pay the mortgage!

Rachelle Williams from Tempe, AZ on September 28, 2011:

Customized vans went the way of everything else from the 70s...but they might make a comeback, just like other 70s relics...

Great idea for a hub, and good job creating it!

ruffridyer from Dayton, ohio on September 27, 2011:

Your hub covers the reason's custom vans were popular and why they fell out of favor quite well. A very good hub.

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