Question of the Weekend – Will Domestic Vans Ever Become Classic Collectibles?


I have been fixated with vans for most of my adult life, and it shows in my writings here on Hooniverse, and across the rest of the blogosphere. I did an column for Chevy Enthusiast Magazine about the first Chevy Vans, and how they defined a generation. There were many vehicles that were defined by their generation, with examples ranging from the Classic Hot Rods of the 50s, the Personal Luxury Coupes of the 70s, and the Import Tuners of the 90s. But it was the Woodstock Generation that embraced the average workingman’s conveyance and turned it into a hedonistic lifestyle choice.


Vanning fed into America’s wanderlust for excitement, the thrill adventure, and the desire to be different that the generation that proceeded it. This particular automotive choice actually carried on far longer than anyone could ever imagine. During the Regan Era, van conversion companies seem to sprout up almost everywhere, with most of them converging on Elkhardt, Indiana. As the Baby Boomer aged, the Van became more luxurious, with high roof lines, video entertainment, and leather interiors.
The Question is this: Will the Van ever become a blue chip collectible? Or will there be subgroups of collectibility, like Stock, Passenger Versions, Customs, and finally the Camper Conversions? Let me know what you think…

0 Comments

  1. Tried to buy an early van like an A100 or a first-gen Econoline lately? They're already getting classic prices. Dammit.

    1. And now I see that it's van weekend and I should've read all the posts. I'll just stand over here in the corner with my pointy hat.

  2. A friend of ours bought a Dodge conversion van brand-new in the mid 1990s, with the raised roof, captain's chairs, TV/VCR/Stereo, and the back-row bench that converted to a bed at the flick of a switch. He envisioned a party van for him and his partner, and their hard-drinking friends (like Randy and me). Bill was somehow convinced that passengers could all be sipping cocktails in the back while he or Tom drove us all to the restaurant for dinner, then serve nightcaps for the trip back home.
    Sadly, it was not until he had finalized the purchase contract, added dealer extras, and signed the paperwork, that he drove it home… and discovered that it wouldn't fit into the garage of their townhouse…! It was then parked on the street in their somewhat iffy San Fernando Valley community (Canoga Park) until they bought a house with a private gated driveway — several break-ins later.

  3. I think so, yeah. It's hard to conceive that the current crop of domestic vans would ever be considered 'classics', but eventually everything sort of becomes classic. Basically, anything with wheels has its devotees.

  4. I think I might start filling up the old horse barn with as many pristine first-gen Dodge Caravans as I can find by way of a retirement package. Cha-ching!

  5. Like every other automotive fad, van customization is due its comeback…the rat rodders have given way to the gasser revival, next i think its bubbletop show rods, then vans will be back in style. buy em now while you still can and make a tidy profit in a few years.

  6. I sure hope not. Actually, I'm torn. I hope they get enough attention to help the surviving vans (especially the original customs) get saved, but don't want the masses to start jacking the prices up on all my favorite vans.
    I hate it when my obscure obsessions get hijacked by trend-followers and cost me even more money.

    1. That is why I like my Lada Niva. Try as they might…the trend-followers will never be able to hijack the cult following associated with them. Mostly because of the lack of U.S. availability in the parts (and whole rest of the vehicle) department. Hell, I might be speculating, but I think mine might be one of two, or three registered in my state.

  7. Domestic full size vans, yes.
    Minivans (except for unconventional ones like the Toyota Van & Toyota Previa)? Probably not.

  8. I think the fans of the 80's & 90's conversion vans looking to collect them are going to have a hard time. Why? Because they were pretty much crap and fell apart in no time flat. Dad bought a mid level Grand Caravan in 1988 for $14K. The same money would have bought a fairly plush conversion van. Sure, a lot of goodies inside a metal box, but the only way they could do it was the seats and everything inside were junk. If you found a van with 50K or more on the clock, you found fabric peeling from every panel, trim coming loose, seats collapsing and stripes curling and peeling off the paint.
    They made the questionable build quality of the same era domestic cars look amazing by comparison.
    I doubt there will be many of them left to collect.

    1. Few things are sadder than a conversion van that has degraded into a bona fide hoopty. They really do fall apart, don't they?

  9. As far as 70s and newer vans, not as long as serial killers, spree murderers and pedophiles own them and not as long as they are constantly flogged to death by large families, hippies and tradesmen. No Malaise Era or newer full-size van has any hope of being collectible, neither do domestic minivans. But 60s vans are already becoming highly collectible.
    My Chevy G20 had rear portholes, jump seats over the rear wheelwells, wood paneling, shag carpet, slot-mag wheels and quilted vinyl accents added by the dealer, and that won't make it collectible, even if it hadn't hauled countless greasy car parts, been puked in numerous times and gotten rusty and faded.

  10. It will always remain a niche market and never achieve the sort of blue chip collectible status reserved for numbers-matching musclecars. The thing is that these vehicles were never really cool in their original form. A stock 1975 Econoline or Club Wagon was a boring work horse used primarily for plumbers or church groups. They did nothing well except for hauling large amounts of cargo or people under a roof. They only really became cool if they were extensively modified. Now there should be a market for a time capsule of 70's custom excess as it represents a sort of artistic expression of a cultural point in time. However I would not give the same status to a van converted in a factory if for no other reason than it had no real place in a large youth culture movement. They were nice but they more filled the role that mom's minivan would fill than one of rebellious kids who wanted to explore their questionable sexual morays. I guess then that that is why I feel they will never become mainstream classics. They just weren't cool enough to enough people. Then again what do I know? I'm the guy who digs Geo Metros, Yugos and Trabants and hates Italian exotics so my sense of what the rest of society finds cool may be a bit off.

  11. I wanna know what genius decided it was a good idea to do the Pontiac nose on the van in the heading picture? And, can I be the first to beat him or her with a 2×4?

  12. The problem with a custom van is that it's custom. You don't get the same pedigree as having a numbers-matching 1-of-3456 musclecar, and nobody cares whether your van was customized by Bubba or by Cooter. You can customize a newer one for less than it would take to restore an old one.
    As much as I'd like one, I don't foresee prices rising any higher than those for, say, a 6-cylinder 1965 Mustang.

    1. I guess since you weren't there, you might try reading about the van movement in the 70s and how some of the truly classic vans built then are iconic examples of a really fun time. You might have even been conceived in a van, many people were/are.
      Some of these custom vans do very well on ebay and other sites like http://www.vannin.com.
      Prices are high for nice vans and going higher for years now. I just sold a rare 77 Dodge B200 "Street Van", got 5 tiimes my investment, and that van went to Brazil after being sold on ebay. Transporter picked it up and I helped him load it and tie it down.
      No kidding, they want 77 dodge vans in Brazil???
      My handle, "boxdin" refers to being in a van.

  13. Two big minuses keeping vans from being truly valuable: 1) they're too big for many home garages; and, 2) they're pretty much zero fun to drive. There might be a small contingent who would pay premium prices for nice examples, but I think most of us would look elsewhere for a collectible.

    1. True, what you can do with an NSX is very different from what you can do with a van, so they're going to have a different kind of appeal. Like old, indestructible pickup trucks, think of a classic van like an old handtool whose feel goes unmatched by today's "improved" versions.

  14. I think the first gen FC vans have a shot at collectibility. They were made in huge quantities, but most have been worked to death. So there's lots of memories, but not much prime stock remaining. They were also simple, practical, adaptable, had moderate optioning, economical, lots of parts interchange, and a unique form factor that builds interest.
    I thinks it's a harder argument to make for snub nose vans and for custom and conversion vans. The customization has to be very well done, tasteful of exceptionally interesting to make it something you'd want to buy for yourself. Too many of these cross pat irony into caricatures.

  15. I would love a previa all trac somehow fitted with the supercharger and a manual transmission. Wait, what was the question again?

  16. With things like Sportsmobile with Turbo Diesel and zombiepocalypse potential and others of this type, I see no reason they shouldn't be.

  17. As mentioned, early type II VDubs are bringing some real money. Except for those products, even Westy Vanagons are rather pricey, I really don't see mainstream vans becoming all that collectible. Having said that, I think some of the more rare offerings, such as the first gen Econoline camper pictured, might eventually be worth something. Hell, I struggled to get $2,500 out of my, in relatively good condition, 63 Falcon Station Bus. But I do like me a 72 Club Wagon!!

  18. Even in the 70s my van was not my only vehicle, same w most other guys. We had daily drivers of all sorts, my favs being Datsun 510, Karmann Ghias and others. The van was special and used sparingly, or for a specific event (date), crusing etc.

  19. Yes & No. Every type of vehicle (furniture, gun, book, painting etc.) is collectable at some point to a group or someone. The older it gets the better and the less of them that were made or survived the better. The one exception to these rules is if a Famous person owned it. Then it doesn't matter if there were 5 million or one was made, if you have the one owned by Elvis (Pink Cadillac) John Lennon (Rolls Royce) or Steve McQueen e.g., The blue-tinted sunglasses (Persol 714) worn by McQueen in the 1968 movie The Thomas Crown Affair sold at a Bonhams & Butterfields auction in Los Angeles for $70,200 in 2006.
    Now back to vans, the early vans: First generation Chevy vans (1964–1966) YES, Third generation (1971–1979) YES, Dodge B-series van 1971–1978 & Street Van YES, Ford Vans 1961–1967 Compact Van YES, 1969–1974 YES, 1975–1979 YES. Custom Vans YES, but only if they were customized by well know customizers back in the 70's e.g., George Barris, Graham Oats both well known California van customizers and Vans featured in Peterson's Magazines like HOT ROD, CAR CRAFT, TRUCKIN' ETC.

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