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HCOTY 2012 Nominee: 1990 Utilimaster Aeromate

Scott Ith December 6, 2012 Hooniversal Car of the Year 43 Comments


I remember it well.  I was having a barbeque at my house with some of my friends.  Ray and Cory were supposed to be back from their trip to Texas before the party started.  The phone rang, and I heard this one-side of the conversation:  

Cory’s wife:
“Oh no, where are you?”
“New Mexico?  You are supposed to be here, we are about to eat.”
“Ok, be careful.  Hey, since you are in New Mexico, will you bring me back some shiny rocks? (Pauses, looks at the other attendees at the party) You guys want Ray and Cory to bring you anything from New Mexico?”
Random shouts from assemblage: 
“Oooh, bring cheap booze!”
“How about some fireworks?  Do they sell fireworks in New Mexico?”
“Bring me a dream catcher!”
“Don’t forget the shiny rocks!”
Cory’s wife, again speaking into the phone: “See you tomorrow.”  (Hangs up) “He didn’t think that was funny at all.” 



 Backing up a bit, Hooniverse’s own Ray Lindenburg is a scooter guy.  He travels all over the west to meet up with other scooter guys.  For that purpose, he decided he wanted an enclosed vehicle to haul his scooter to those events.  The 1990 Utilimaster Aeromate seemed to check all the right boxes for his purposes.  It has a lightweight aluminum body, a small Chrysler transverse drivetrain, which should be dependable enough while delivering decent mileage, it has ample room in the cargo area to store not only the scooter, but the accompanying road trip gear as well, and, when not hauling scooters, it can double nicely as a tailgating vehicle.  What more could a guy ask for? 

Reliability, comfort, sanity…  

The trouble with Aeromates is that there aren’t many available for sale, and there aren’t many that aren’t aged and worn.  They are work vans, after all.  He searched dilligently and on ebay located one in Texas – 1250 miles away.  Time for an epic fly-n-drive!  

The irony in this story is that the Aeromate was purchased to be a road trip vehicle, but it failed to handle even the most basic stresses of the road.  Flat tires, blown radiator hoses, rotten transmission cooler lines, a faulty cooling fan, and the general shittiness of the vehicle itself proved that the Hellvan was a bad choice.  Never judge a book by its cover. 

So, I am starting off the HCOTY nominations with Ray’s van.  It’s certainly not the nicest vehicle Hooniverse has featured in 2012, but it is not without its redeeming qualities.  First of all, it actually was about the perfect size and shape for hauling the scooter.  Second, Cory and Ray have a story to tell at parties and Thanksgiving dinners forever.  Finally, they planned and executed an epic road trip that, despite its trials, was an automotive accomplishment that Hoons the world over can stand back, consider, and give the “Not bad” face. 


Scott Ith is an Associate Editor with Hooniverse.com, but he also contributes to his own site NeedThatCar.com.  Head over there for more hooniganism.

  • Yeah, but can it drift?

  • Van_Sarockin

    Good idea. But what you really need is a Grumman Step Van. Made by a major defense contractor on Long Island. Riveted aluminum body, just like their famously indestructible canoes. Anonymous and unkillable. But to be fair, it sounds like what failed on this truck in its maiden voyage was a bunch of old perishable items. Your first long drive in a new vehicle is how you rapidly identify and deal with all of that crap. A radiator hose burst as you were driving nonstop across the desert? Never saw that one coming. Now that's all fixed and you can get on with the driving.

    • It may be a bit small for this purpose, but my sentimental favorite is the Studebaker Zip Van.

      <img src="http://farm3.staticflickr.com/2393/2098881569_05d61a4ccb.jpg&quot; width="400">

    • TheOtherMacLeod

      That and when buying anything in the desert (or, likely, near the desert), check your rubber items. Here in NM, we're about 2 or 3 feet away from the sun and that tends to make a difference in paint and rubber quality some years down the road. A fact that I've been struggling with with my Scirocco.

  • Until today I've never had a name for these abominations. I grouped them with the Grummans and Valu-Vans of this world, but with that daft "aero" snout. I imagine it to be a horrible, hot, resonating pit of despair to travel in. Buying this to carry scooters around in seems a little bit rash, like remedying a sprained ankle by cutting your leg off.

    • You say "horrible, hot, resonating pit of despair" like it's a bad thing.

      • Actually I may have been describing most night clubs I've been to.

        • …aaaand you voluntarily went there to spend money. Thank you for illustrating my point.

          • There may have been an amount of "dragged" involved. Or "drugged", come to think of it…

  • dukeisduke

    I've seen a few of those before (here in Texas). Weird looking things. What are those cylindrical things under the hood? Pipe bombs?

    • They're just guideways for the headlight and turnsignal wires on their respective sides. I believe they were simply pieces of PVC pipe split in half and fiberglass-ed into the rest of the fiberglass hood. They did come in handy on my van though – the hood struts had predictably stopped holding up the 100 pounds or so of 'glass and so the 'pipe bombs' were a good resting spot for the 2×4 that substituted as a hood strut.

  • Irishzombieman

    There's something awesome about finding good in a horrible vehicle, something transcendent in discovering the one single trick an ugly, cranky pig of a car can execute to perfection. This one's gift seems to be in cracking up creatively, and at inconvenient locales, and while the road trip was a disaster, people love disaster stories.

    Ray, please take this thing on a trip. To Guatemala. Right danged now.

    • Mr McAfee?

      • Van_Sarockin

        Only the A Team can save him now.

        • That's a different van…

          • Irishzombieman

            But they're all older, and they ran out of cash long ago. This'd be the perfect low-budget mercenary mobile.

  • I have a friend who's big into scooters as well and his chariot of choice is a Honda Element. Lots of room in the back, hose down floors, and Honda reliability/economy.

  • gearz1

    What I would offer as advice to those taking weary old delivery trucks on road trips, is the:Pre trip checkout -over and under,check every fitting and hose. Preventative maintenance.

  • First off, thanks to Scott for the nomination. A couple of responses to the above: (1) I got rid of the abomination a couple of years ago. Some muttering about divorce attorneys and parking enforcement. (2) Yeah, it was kinda overkill for a scooter, but not really. I honestly just wanted to get an econoline van, but the door opening height on those is 48 inches. The height of my scooter is 50 inches. I didn't want to try to load that beast by myself (It is Vespa's largest model and weighs 300-ish pounds) while leaning it, crouched over, etc. The roof height on the Aeromate is 6 feet – and I thought it would be kinda cool to create a ghetto fab motorhome that could haul a scoot or two and be slept in at night. It almost worked. (3) I had a AAA-certified shop inspect it. They said it looked just fine. So there was that.

    Thanks for your support.

  • pj134

    The next time I hear that a Hooniverse staff member purchased a van it better damn well be one of these.

    <img src="http://www.self-preservation-society.co.uk/buses/h-side.jpg&quot; width=500>

  • MrHowser

    Well, now I know what this silly thing is.

    <img src="http://www.imcdb.org/images/010/516.jpg"width=500&gt;

    • dukeisduke

      "I need sugar water."

  • bus plunge

    Men In Black!

  • Dacket84

    I drive around Utilimaster campus in a Utilimaster Isuzu Reach truck.
    <img src="http://www.worktruckonline.com/fc_images/news/Isuzu-Reach-1.jpg"&gt;
    It's not that bad. Keyless, push button start, turbo diesel, back up camera.

  • boxdin

    What was the gas milage on the trip?

    • Van_Sarockin

      Good question. A lot of step vans, and vans in general, are set up for in-town deliveries and high GVWs. So they may have fairly small engines, but really low gearing, so you can get going and not be a total slug in traffic. Not a problem really, when you're doing a lot of stop and go short hauls. On the highway, though, the engine can sound like a sewing machine about to explode, and your gas mileage is equally horrendous. A lot of wear on the engine and driveline components in general. Most folks don't want to go to the trouble or cost of changing transmissions or differentials to optimize for highway running.