There are surely better pictures of this van around but this was all I could find as I wrote this post. It was my first new vehicle and one of only two that were custom ordered. A friend who worked at a dealer in Cincinnati handled the order. It had a 305 CI V8, 3-speed automatic, air-conditioning, cruise control, and no interior. By no interior I mean it had a basic driver’s seat and nothing else. I stopped on the way home from picking up the van and bought a pair of “captain’s chairs”. I sold the single stock seat back to the dealer for a few dollars.
I clipped that opening shot from the photo at left. I’m helping my sons with a Christmas present so it must be late December which makes the van, delivered in September, just a few months old. The “conversion” may have started but I’m sure it had not progressed very far. Fletcher did eventually solo and so did Cris.
Calling what I did to the van a conversion stretches the definition of the word a bit. I covered the floor with plywood and the walls and ceiling with cheap paneling. That paneling went over scraps of insulation retrieved from a furnace manufacturer’s dumpster. Four inches of foam on a raised platform in the back served as a bed. I never did get around to carpeting the interior but that was probably for the best. Another thing I never got around to was seat-belts. The factory seat had a belt attached that went away with the seat. Mounting belts to the replacements was not recommended. What was supposed to be used were extra long belts bolted to the floor. That never happened.
This was a recreational vehicle. It made several camping trips to the Smokies and other nearby spots. It made one trip to Missouri and another to San Diego. In 1982 it attended the Knoxville World’s Fair.
At the time of the World’s Fair trip, all three kids were living with me full time. We were going on to visit friends in Alabama after our one day at the fair so the boys’ bicycles were hung on a rack on the front and the girl’s tricycle was stowed inside. The daughter and youngest son spent the night before in the van to avoid the need to wake up for the early morning departure. We had a great time at the fair although some of us got exhausted quicker than the others. Megan and I spent the last part of the day on a bench while the brothers ran around getting stamps on their fair passports. We were all exhausted by the time we reached a campground south of Knoxville. We were also pretty dirty from the hot day and looking forward to showers. That’s when we discovered we had no towels. Well, most of us had no towels. Only Fletcher had remembered this most important item (Douglas Adams would have been proud of him.) and after he had showered and dried the rest of us did the best we could with the no longer dry Star Trek beach towel.
In 1983 or ‘4 the van entered a new phase in its life. I attended my first of thirteen consecutive Indianapolis 500s in 1981. It was with a group who had several years experience camping at the track and charging into the infield on race morning. Parts of that charge resembled a demolition derby so most of the vehicles used were confirmed beaters. From its time as camper and all purpose transporter, the Chevy van had more than its ahare of dings and scratches but was not yet a beater when it was pressed into service as an Indy car. After a few years, I fully embraced the van’s participation in the annual event and built a deck on its top. Standing atop vehicles to watch the race was standard procedure and the deck made that easier and safer. The deck was made of something like 2x8s on edge and screwed to the gutters with plywood across the top.
I think it might have been the same year that the deck went on that the ignition went sour. A friend removed the ignition switch from the dash and ran new wire to it. It dangled from the dash and worked just fine. Track officials seemed to come up with a new rule or two every year and after several years with the sturdy deck in place, they decided it had to be removed. At that point there was only one person riding with me and, with screwdrivers and a hammer, the two of us ripped the deck off as quickly as we could.
The dangling ignition switch eventually gave out and I replaced it with two wall switches. One turned on the ignition and the other operated the starter. It was a pretty good anti-theft device although the possibility of any one stealing the van at this point was awfully slim. A blown freeze plug interrupted our last drive together. I nursed it home where it sat until a trade opportunity came along.