Vanhunting: Exploring the spectrum of used vans.

Today was my first day of “official” vehicle shopping (i.e.; getting off of Kijiji and onto the street). So far, I’ve checked out three vans of interest.

Van #1: The 1981 Chevy Vandura.

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This was sort of the quintessential van of yore. I am quite sure that I would not have test-driven this thing if there was no romantic pop culture surrounding the Great American Van, but I just had to see for myself what the fuss was about! Well, I’ll tell you. The flower-power acid-eating Woodstock generation is nicely encapsulated by the big vans of the era. Transient vagabond-style living is easily facilitated by the huge space within these beasts. Two couches face each other in the back (for tarot readings, hemp jewelry creation and foot massages, I would assume); in a flash, they transform into a bed. For, you know, sleeping, and stuff. There’s no need to wait until the concert is over to “come over for coffee”.

And yes, there was shag carpet. And a quilted ceiling. There was also a non-functional sink and fridge. Groovy, dude! I was totally captivated by this van, this completely impractical 32-year old behemoth with gas mileage that doubtlessly matched up to its weight and antiquity. $1500 + ONLY 77,000km!

Conclusion: Awesome and whimsical. Unless I want to become a hobbyist mechanic during my days off, though, it is most likely a terrible idea. But that low mileage is so tempting. Hmmm.

Van #2: The 1998 Ford Windstar

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Oh, If I could go back two years and tell myself that I’d be seriously considering buying a Windstar, I would be confronted with some seriously interesting facial expressions. Sadly, this van was legitimately awesome. The first thing I did was take out the back bench and middle seats – which was surprisingly easy – so I could lie down and check the rear interior dimensions. Surprise! There is probably about 6’7” of space behind the front seats. I’m six feet tall, so this is great news. Plus, there is about 7” of space between the top of my head and the roof when I am sitting up, so if I was to build a bed frame I could incorporate a slim storage area beneath the bed.

This particular Windstar was a gem. Dude is selling it for $1250, and it has 211,000km. 3.8L V6 that he reports gets 25mpg. However, fueleconomy.gov reports a 16/22 (city/hwy). It ran very smooth and it was apparent that it has been very well taken care of. Interior was cleeeeeean, clean engine bay and shiny paint. That superficial stuff is not really of importance besides simply hinting that it has been well looked after. I’m not afraid of rust. I can’t afford to be. I test drove her on the highway and in the city, and it seemed solid. It will need a new windshield and rear shocks.

Conclusion: Oh my god, I am seriously considering buying the type of vehicle I used to make fun of my grampa for driving.

Van #3: The 1998 Chevrolet Astro

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[pictured: Not the actual van] I done gone and picked the wrong van to check out. I should have known it would be interesting the moment the door opened. Out popped a young woman with bright pink sweats and a tank top, with her Chihuahua under one arm.  She led me to the Astro van, parked out back. Then her partner arrived, clad in a stained wife-beater and low riding his sweatpants to his testicles, keys in hand. He then proceeded to let me know, via an intense diatribe of quasi-sentences, f-bombs and blatantly racist language, that this van had a brand new transmission, power steering pump, starter and all-season tires. Not bad – those are valuable upgrades, especially on a van with 300,000km.

Then he unlocked the doors. Oh my. The entire front fascia had been ripped out of the dashboard, leaving exposed wiring, peeled back carpeting and metal frame visible through the floor. All of the coverings were sitting in a giant plastic bucket in the back of the van. I was assured that “it’s all in there”, and that it would be no hassle to put back together. Great. The rest of the interior was mud-stained and smelly. I attempted to close the trunk, but it caught on the bumper and almost ripped it off. $1800.

‘Twas an anthropological journey into a very unique subculture. Truly memorable. Bad vibes, though, and there was no convincing my subconscious otherwise, despite the recent upgrades to the van.

Conclusion: No need for a test drive, thanks. No, no – I’ll call you.

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I realized how lucky I was as I returned home this afternoon. Only 3 vehicles in, and I had already experienced fairly extreme ends of the “used car spectrum”: The Windstar on one side, transitioning into the Astro at the other. I believe the Vandura is on its own spectrum of cool, although benefiting from being cared for.

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(Apologies for the image quality. Dad’s laptop –> only MS Paint)

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