By on January 27, 2011


Some of you may be more familiar with this friend of the catering and drinking-water industries in its Chevrolet Step-Van guise, but I’ve always preferred GMC’s name: Value Van! I ran across this fairly complete example in my local self-service wrecking yard, quite close to the Simu-Wood™ LeBaron Town & Country wagon. Me and the Value Van, we have a history!

Back in 1985 or so, I had some old friends who played in an extremely terrible, wish-they-were-Metallica band in Northern California (I’ll call them “Suck-tallica,” to spare the surviving members— a couple of whom are now in good bands— from embarrassment), and they purchased an ex-San-Francisco-bakery GMC Value Van for use as their gig rig. Unlike the small-block-powered, slushbox-equipped one here, the Suck-tallica Value Van boasted a 396, floor-shifted 4-speed, and Cherry Bomb mufflers. Within minutes of its purchase, the hirsute, alcoholic, stolen-Camaro-drivin’ members of Suck-tallica installed a dozen or so thrift-store house speakers, mounted them all over the interior, and drove them with an alleged 2,000 watts of swap-meet no-name-brand amplifiers, so that their godawful April Wine and Dark Angel cassettes would be audible over the roar from the glasspacks.

I admit being something of a Dark Angel fan myself, back in the day, but I still had misgivings about helping Suck-tallica with their gigs during my visits up from SoCal. Maybe it had something to do with the fact that the band was usually short at least one member due to arrest (possession of meth and drunk driving were the most popular offenses), or just the extremely sketchy— and, often, heavily-armed— hangers-on in their inner circle. Still, friends are friends! What could go wrong?

One gig, at a shank-tastic speed bar in lovely Hayward, sticks in my mind. The Value Van’s throttle cable snapped immediately after firing up the van, and the lead guitar player had the brilliant idea of removing the engine cover so the driver could reach over and work the carburetor by hand. Of course, that meant he had no hands free for shifting, so the drummer sat in the passenger seat and worked the shifter. By that point, they’d all been bonging up many ounces of brown, seedy Mexican weed and knocking back many Mickey’s Big Mouths, so their ingenuity seemed like a great idea. I disagreed, but what does a 19-year-old college boy know about rock-n-roll?

So, the truck somehow made it from band HQ in West Oakland to the Nimitz Freeway (in fact, the section of the Nimitz that became very famous five years later), albeit with several hair-raising stalls on the freeway onramp and a backfire problem that kept roasting the “driver’s” right hand… which would make him scream “FUUUUCK!” and remove his hand from the throttle, at which point the van would engine-brake so bad that all the fifteenth-hand Marshall Stacks would slide forward and mash the remaining occupants against the seat backs. Still, forward progress was being made… until the bass player decided to open the rear cargo doors and relieve his bladder of some Mickey’s residual buildup.

Well, that wasn’t the wisest move, since one of the Value Van’s many throttle/shifter/alcohol-impaired lurches sent the bass player tumbling right out the door and onto the Nimitz Freeway at 70 MPH. He managed to slow his fall by grabbing onto the door edge for long enough to spin himself around, allowing the rhythm guitar player lunge over and grab a handful of the front of his leather jacket as he fell out the door backwards, but the bass player scaled in at a good 250 pounds and his savior might have had 110 pounds between all his monkey-bump-depleted gristle and stringy guitar-twangin’ forearm muscle. The choice of leather for jacket material turned out to be a prescient one for the bass player, because the jacket’s leather was scraping on the asphalt and keeping his back from being ground into hamburger in the first few seconds. I rushed over and grabbed the bass player’s feet, to keep him from leaving the van completely, while the rhythm guitarist did his best to haul him back into the van. We’d manage to get him a foot or so off the pavement rushing by, but the driver thought this was the funniest thing he’d ever seen (guess you had to be there) and he twisted the throttle to WFO and started swerving the van so much that all we could do was give the bass player brief respites from the asphalt belt sander below him.

“HEEELLLPP MEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEE!” screamed the bass player as we tried to haul him him before the driver figured out that he could scrape the poor bastard off on any conveniently located guardrail. A legendary rock-n-roll death (though not quite up the standard set a decade later by Eldon Hoke) to be sure, but one that we really didn’t want to witness. Finally, I was able to brace myself enough to drag him to safety by the feet. The van reached the gig, Suck-tallica sucked as much as expected, and I decided to put a bit of distance between myself and the band’s Value Van.

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19 Comments on “Doomed Value Van Triggers Bad 80s Roadie Flashbacks...”


  • avatar
    NN

    I don’t care how much taller that tale has grown since the 80′s.  That is a great story, and well told.

  • avatar
    Zackman

    Seeing that van made me remember when I was about to make my first brand-new vehicle purchase. My friend said I should buy a step-van, that way I could drive standing up! Of course I didn’t listen to that advice. But I did listen to his other advice and wound up ordering a 1976 Chevy Custom Deluxe C-20 fleetside ¾-ton pick up truck just so I could use regular gas and save 3 cents per gallon. I didn’t know the lousy gas mileage would cost me much more than that! Had that truck two years to the day when I sold it for almost as much as I paid for it. Good riddance. Never took his advice again. Those Value Vans also reminded me of the old Vita-Cee juice company that delivered to your house, along with Charles’ Chips. Now Murilee, find an old Divco Milk Truck and you’ll really have something to talk about (and more stories from me!).

  • avatar
    obbop

    Or, another name for that evolution on an east bay freeway….. Friday.
     
    Any gigs in Concord or Martinez?
     
    Heck…. I could live in that delivery van but not in “stealth mode” but parking in a light industrial or “business park” area could allow one to sneak by the jack-booted thuggery.
    For a van-type rolling stock appears to be more work-room under hood than a “standard” smaller van.
     
    May keep an eyeball open for a decent-shaped used one that could be converted to an abode.
    Buy a small acreage super-cheap outside a small town and make a hiding spot for it, a BIG mean dog and Betsy the shotgun.
    Need a water source if a well isn’t present but property tax could be as low as $50 or less yearly.
    Get some chickens….  cluck-squawk and have eggs. Grow some veggies and grab a book about preserving vittles.
    Contented Coot.  Squawk.
    Grab a banjo and wait out the upcoming economic collapse, possible nuclear war or USA intrusions into even more ferrin’ lands atop the Ozark Plateau.
    I’ll be behind the bushes over yonder ‘cross the 2nd holler.
    Keep yer’ cotton-picken’ fingers off’n my eggs and chickens.
    And a goat.
    Goats make good pets.
    And keep the grass trimmed.
    The chickens eat the bugs.
    Will need a couple kitties to eat the mice.
    An Old Coot biosphere.
    Yee Haw!!!!!!!!!!!!!

  • avatar
    Kosher Polack

    Thanks for the awesome story!

    I always look at these kinds of things with the 19-year-old aspirations of having a step van that can actually be lived in, and then parked anywhere (ANYWHERE) and having anything (ANYTHING) done in it while still looking “professional”…but they’re so confusingly expensive!  IT’S JUST A BOX ON A TRUCK FRAME! ALL THE INSTRUMENTATION IS STILL FROM 1ST-GEN S-10 PICKUPS!, etc.
    What does UPS do with theirs that all have manual transmissions once they reach the end of their service life? I noticed I never see any second-handers putting around out there…

    • 0 avatar
      Scoutdude

      UPS crushes all of theirs, a local wrecking yard/scrap metal dealer gets they ones from the local depot and has to send them pics of them going through the crushing process. They can only remove the tires & wheels, batteries, and fluids per their contract.

    • 0 avatar
      Kosher Polack

      That’s a bummer, but I guess when your whole corporate image is a certain shade of brown, you can’t have Ma and Pa Mobile Shoe Repair driving into gas station canopies and sullying your fleet of once-pristine trucks…
      That or any number of more convoluted reasons to destroy perfectly good machinery in the name of profit.
       

    • 0 avatar
      Scoutdude

      I understand them not selling them for use as they have the UPS specific nose and even the corner castings below the windows have the Utilimaster removed from them. However I don’t understand why their contract bars the wrecker/crusher from selling any parts from them. Heck a fair number of them drive in.

    • 0 avatar
      Neb

      Having been a driver for UPS, let me tell you that even if you could buy a second-hand UPS truck, you’d be crazy to. The organization is incredibly cheap, and if they are scrapping something, it means that it is literally unrepairable. And it is not a cost/benefit analysis, either. The mechanic we had spent most of his repairing the old dogs we had to the point that newer trucks were breaking down because they never got a look at.
      For the record, the old dogs were from 1984, and had 400,000 km on the clock. Four speed stick, no power steering, and used some sort of GM Marine V6 that made them sound like old fishing boats. Scariest experience in one was when the engine developed a bad misfire on a highway while the steering seemed to be rapidly losing whatever acuity it had normally.

  • avatar

    Surprising to see one so solid being scrapped – usually they have a few different options for a second or third life. I know one British car racer who converted one to carry his Austin Healey Sprite around. There is always the cheap camper conversion option. If the engine was dead then it would make a decent shed for the single man (or with a very understanding wife).

  • avatar
    Felis Concolor

    I paid several hundred a month for smaller living spaces than that an age ago.
     
    That’s ideal house truck material; get a high nickel cast iron wood stove in there now!

  • avatar
    Crabspirits

    But can you fit a car the size of a delorean in one?
    http://www.bigwaste.com/bttf/twin_pines_mall.jpg

  • avatar
    Slow_Joe_Crow

    This reminds of me of freshman year in art school, when I thought it would cool to get an unpainted aluminum step van, write truck on the side in lower case Helvetica and drive around New York in it.

    • 0 avatar
      Zackman

      “lower case Helvetica”: From one artist to another: when in doubt, use Caslon! Yeah, I know, real old-school, but I’m old.

      @Scoutdude: You don’t understand. Years ago in UPS’s advertising, they referred to their truck as a truly “custom truck”. They plainly contain secret technology within the fiberglas nose and in other areas that discreetly monitor every house and neighborhood they drive around and deliver in, all in the interests of national security, hence the monitoring of each van’s destruction. It’s really all that simple.

  • avatar

    My brother and I used one for a business in the early 1980s-a far less tumultuous business than a rock band, but I sure remember how solid and reliable it was. My brother was another story.

  • avatar
    tced2

    I spent my early driving years operating step vans (more modestly equipped with straight sixes and three-on-the-tree).  The family business had a small fleet of these (mostly Chevys, a few GMCs) with several hundred thousand miles on each.  The bodies of the GMCs were built with somewhat better pieces and had better durability – engines/trannys of the Chevys and GMCs were similar.
    A leaking master cylinder on the clutch gave me fits driving in traffic – the vehicle would gradually start moving without releasing the clutch pedal.  As a new driver, it was scary.  I was advised to put the tranny in neutral and release the clutch pedal when stopping. This also “fixed” the problem – the fluid was pushed back to the other side of the piston and the pedal would temporarily work as usual again.

  • avatar
    Russycle

    Our department has gone through a couple step vans in the years I’ve worked here.  We had a bright red one a few years back, our student employees dubbed it the Terrorist Delivery Van.   One of them had the pleasure of having the front wheel break off and roll past him as he was driving across the railroad tracks downtown.  I miss that kid, he owned an ancient Pinto with a set of steer horns glued to the hood.

  • avatar
    Andy D

    Heh Heh, Great  story. My first legal  vehicle was a 54 IH walk in  van.  It  was  orange.  I scrawled ” Intergalactic Brain Police ” in dripping  black  paint  on  its  sides.  The  voltage  regulator  blew  out, so  I  rigged  up a jumper to  ground  to  take  its  place. It worked  fine  as  long  as  I remembered to disconnect  it  periodically . When  I didnt, the battery  would  over charge  and pop the head lights like  flash bulbs.


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