By on March 19, 2011


Malaise Era Molester Vans are rarely worth sparing from The Crusher’s jaws these days, what with steel prices stoking The Crusher’s hunger to insatiable levels, particularly when they’re on the rusty side. However, when that van is a ’78 Dodge Tradesman with a factory-installed 318 and floor-shifted overdrive 4-speed, things might be different. We hope.

Yes, it was once possible to get a Dodge cargo van with a V8 and a 4-speed, and that’s what Andy, Colorado LeMons racer and all-around vehicular wheeler-dealer, now has sitting in his vast inventory. Andy is the guy who scored this super-original ’66 Coronet, along with some even cooler vintage cars that had been stored since the Reagan era, and he hasn’t been able to bring himself to part out and crush this van. So far.

However, his yard is getting mighty crowded (I know, because I helped him drag a bunch of non-runners around yesterday, to get access to some parts I was buying) and he can’t keep everything. He has a real soft spot for rare and/or weird old vans, e.g. this GMC Gypsy. Remember the Gypsy? I didn’t.

This Tradesman has some fairly severe rust problems, so the wisest move would be to drop the drivetrain in a Dart and scrap the rest. The right move would be to fix the rust and convert it to a full-on purple-shag-and-airbrush-mural 70s custom. My quota of vintage Dodge vans is already full, but perhaps one of you might adopt this super-rare orphan.

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43 Comments on “King of the Molester Vans Sports Factory V8 and 4-Speed, May Be Doomed...”


  • avatar
    mazder3

    The not-so right move would to leave it rusty, rattle-can on some flat gray, blue and black paint to make it look like a member of the Didelphidae family and get some personalized license plates that say “POSSUM”!

  • avatar
    tonyola

    1978, hmmm? Chrysler’s build quality had fallen to abysmal levels in these years. I knew someone who bought a brand new 1979 Dodge van and there was daylight shining through holes in the welds between the side panel and the roof. Another friend bought a new  ’77 and the driver’s seat support collapsed while he was driving (fortunately he was able to safely stop). If I wanted a cheapo malaise van, I think I’d take a Ford. Maybe find one with a 302 or 351 and the four-speed OD floor shift.

    • 0 avatar
      Flipper35

      We had a 78 maxivan with a 360 and 727.  In the 300k miles and three owners while we kept track of it, it needed a timing chain and new valve cover gaskets.  It hauled carpet when we owned it and when the second owner had it and the third hauled newspapers.

  • avatar
    obbop

    Yeah, that seldom-remembered brief period when Mopar acquired GMC ( or was it vice versa and Hemi Falcons ruled the seas.

  • avatar

    I’ve often fantasized about having the stick version in my ’77 Dodge van Chinook camper.
    I’ve seen quite a few OD stick versions of the Ford Econoline of the late seventies and early eighties, but behind the 300 six.

    • 0 avatar
      TCragg

      When I was a UPS driver in Windsor, Ontario in the early 90s, I drove an ’87 Econoline 250 with the 4.9L inline-6 and a 4-speed floor-mounted stick, which came out of the floor at an odd angle just like the Dodge pictured above.  It was a standard-length body, but was a high-roof conversion (can’t remember who did these conversions for UPS).  The van’s handling with packages loaded on the top shelves bordered on dangerous.  The truck number was 311771, IIRC.  Reverse was up and to the left, with first right beside it.  Because the truck had about 400,000 km by the time I got it, it was easy to select reverse by mistake.  Even in 1993, this was a rare bird.  All of the other UPS Econolines were automatics, and most were regular-height roofs.    

  • avatar
    CJinSD

    I actually walked past a Dodge van with a floor shift manual transmission the other day in Bird Rock. It was about the same vintage, and it featured rust holes in its roof. This one is in much better shape, but the one I saw was parked in a neighborhood with coastal San Diego property values and has current tags.

  • avatar
    JustPassinThru

    All it needs is a little decoration…
     
    …like this:

    http://candyaddict.com/blog/candy_images/free_candy_van.jpg

  • avatar
    Jimal

    Where is the rust? The lower rockers usually go on Dodge vans of that vintage but they still appear to be there.

  • avatar

    Looks like Uncle Rico’s van from Napoleon Dynamite, in non-camper form. Hopefully a true pimp van aficionado will buy it and restore it to 70s standards.

  • avatar

    I remember as a kid living in Berkeley, one of these was permanently parked down the street in someone’s driveway; I think it was black. For reasons I can’t remember, that thing always scared the crap out of me, I seem to recall dreams about it coming to life and running me over. There’s something sinister about these vans… maybe it’s just the molester-y vibe about them, or it could be the “lightly polished pile of poop” build quality. Either way, they still kind of give me the creeps.

  • avatar
    MRF 95 T-Bird

    There was a time in the mid-late 70′s aka the custom van era where these vans especially the cargo or side door window only versions would get scooped off of used car lots and the local want ads in no time flat. Even ones far worse than this decent example. I think Mopar and Ford offered the 4 spd overdrive to kick the mileage up a bit.  

  • avatar
    Dr. Kenneth Noisewater

    Our family had a 77 or 78 Dodge van with v6 and 3+overdrive stick..  It would overheat fairly regularly and it rusted clear thru the sides, but it did take us across the country 2 or 3 times.  My folks traded it for $100 towards a Volvo 740 non-turbo with an auto, instead of selling it to me, which may have been best as far as safety is concerned, but it pissed me off at the time.
     
    I want a free candy van with a back seat that pulls out into a full-size bed.

    • 0 avatar
      CJinSD

      SLANT SIX, not V6!!! Respect for the leaning tower of power!

    • 0 avatar
      JustPassinThru

      “Leaning tower of power,” LOL.
       
      It’s kind of fascinating when you think about it – how the engine designed for the VALIANT, fer gawd’s sake, a (then) LITTLE CAR…wound up as the base engine for the TRUCK line.

      Not unlike how the Rambler six, nobody’s idea of a hot engine when it was designed…somehow, 25 years later, became the performance motor for Jeep vehicles – for a decade.

      Strange how these things work out….

    • 0 avatar
      nikita

      Chrysler kept the antique flathead six in the Power Wagon up to about ’68. I always thought the four main bearing 225 inferior to the Ford or GM seven bearing bigger sixes, but in reality, it was up to the task, at least in half tons.

  • avatar
    cdotson

    When I was in Boy Scouts a buddy’s dad had a 15 passenger Dodge van with the 318/4spd combo.  I’m almost positive it had the 1981+ front end on it.  When the troop took camping trips that were going to be over 1 hour long everyone fought to either ride in it or another dad’s very early 80s Dodge of the length pictured above.  They were a far better ride than the similar-vintage Ford van cargo conversion with gen-u-wine shag carpeting, mostly because the Dodge drivers could be goaded into driving a lot faster in their vans, probably because they handled decently well for something so big.  I was lucky enough to ride in the long shifter van for a 10-hour road trip to an away camp one summer, even though I was forced to do duty in the front seat for 1/4 the trip.

  • avatar
    JustPassinThru

    No such animal.  Chrysler didn’t have a V6 (except the Mitsu minivan engine) until the late 1980s.
     
    The slant 6 did duty in trucks and vans up until I think, 1988.  It was even given hydraulic tappets in the early 1980s – at considerable expense.
     
    I don’t believe there was an overdrive transmission in Dodge trucks in those years, either.

    • 0 avatar
      dbol1977

      You would be correct.  1988 was the first year they switched from the slant six to the 3.9 V6 in the pickups and vans.  The 3.9 V6 was a 318 LA V8 with a bank of cylinders lopped off. All the belt accesories, the TBI, and smog controls are nearly the same as the V8. I have a ’88 D100 bare bones Ram with the V6 and I recall it was the very first year of the V6.  That would make an easy V8 conversion.  1987 and before are the Slant sixes.

    • 0 avatar
      texan01

      The 3.9 showed up in the Dakota first in 1987. Slower than a slant six powered Dart, especially in 4×4 automatic trim (I know this, Dad had the Dakota) Always had a funky idle and it topped out at 90 mph, and got 16mpg no matter how fast you drove it. 55mph-16mpg, 90mph-16mpg. It was a gutless pig with the dinky two barrel carb that was a one year only thing.

      His 94 with the Magnum 3.9 was a trip to drive as it was fairly quick.

    • 0 avatar
      Flipper35

      These were an a833 with 3rd gear as the overdrive and the lever upside down on the tranny so when you shifted to “3rd” you went to 4th on the tranny and when you shifted to “4th” it went to 3rd which is now the overdrive.

  • avatar
    panzerfaust

    What a choice a GMC “gypsy” or a ’78 Dodge ‘jipped-me.’

  • avatar
    burnout

    JustPassinThru is right…the Mitsu V6 didn’t show up until 87′…Mopar didn’t have a V6 of their own, only the old standby Slant Six.  In 87-88 Mopar stopped production of the 225 Slant Six and started making the Magnum 3.9 V6.

  • avatar
    lilpoindexter

    I believe that’s the A-833 trans…curiously GM used it for awhile, and many 80′s manual chevy pickups had a bellhousing to fit this trans…This would be a killer box to replace the nasty 3 speed in my ’78 chevy 1/2 ton.

  • avatar
    west-coaster

    Well color me educated; I never knew any domestic vans ever came with 4-speed floor shifts.

    My favorites in the classic van segment are the Econolines from ’69-7? with the grill and headlights that somewhat mimicked the F-series and Bronco of the era. A former neighbor told me about owning one of those for his business back in the day, with a 302 and a 3-on-the-tree. He said he put over 300,000 miles on that thing and it was still going strong when he sold it.

    As for the comments about the build quality of the late ’70s Dodge vans, trust me, the GMs of that era weren’t any better. In college I worked at a liquor store and had to drive a 1979 (I think) Chevy delivery van that was only a year or two old. Base model / short wheelbase with just the basics like a V8, air conditioning, and automatic. While it ran okay, I couldn’t believe how shoddy the instrument cluster was attached to the dashboard, as if drunk chimps had done it. The doors also didn’t close very easily, and it rattled like crazy, even though it had very few miles on it.

    On the other hand, I STILL see vans from that time lumbering down the road today, driven by contractors and gardeners, so they must have been screwed together well on some level.

  • avatar
    turtletop

    I had an Econoline of that vintage with the same basic setup: 4 speed O/D with a floor shifter.  What a steaming heap of crap… between the horrific excuse for a shifter, the wobbly clutch linkage, the magic disintegrating clutch pedal and the crap Mazda input shaft bearings, it was a never-ending maintenance nightmare. While it did return 18 MPG on the highway, the money saved on gas was spent on replacement parts and eventually a complete trans rebuild.  I got my nickel’s worth out of it all in the long run, but I might as well have had an automatic by the time I added up expenses.  But then, I wouldn’t have been able to cuss as much.
     
    The only cool thing about that rig was that you could pull the shifter completely out of its socket and then cover up the hole in the floor with an old rug. I’d take the shifter inside with me if I was in a sketchy area… no way anyone was going to drive it away like that.

  • avatar
    Sam P

    I love manual transmissions more than most posters on TTAC (who seem to fetishize crossovers and Panthers) but that van doesn’t deserve to have one. The shifter placement seems hilariously bad.

  • avatar
    nikita

    Gotta love that ’70′s bright orange paint and brown plaid interior combo. Both appear to be original.

  • avatar
    Moparman426W

    Build quality was pretty much the same on all 70′s vans. I have the june 73 issue of hot rod magazine in which they tested fully loaded versions of the ford, chevy and dodge vans. All were the long wheelbase models.
    They picked the dodge as their favorite. It’s interior was the nicest. It had quicker steering, and a much tighter turning radius at 43.9 feet, compared to 47.9 for the chevy and 56.9 for the ford.
    They said it was more like driving a car than the other two, due to the handling, angle of the steering wheel and they found the instrument panel to be more carlike, with it’s integrated controls and full instrumentation. They noted that although the a/c option was the least expensive it was the only one integrated into the instrument panel and worked just as well as in the other two.
    The dodge was equipped with the 360 4bble engine, the chevy had the 350 4bbl. the dodge was quicker in the quarter by almost a full second, 17.72 to 18.62. The dodge also got slightly better fuel mileage, 10-12 MPG to the chevie’s 8-11.
    Biggest engine available in the ford that year was still the 302, it did the quarter in 19.94 seconds and tied the dodge in fuel mileage.
    Chrysler’s vans of the time were known as rugged workhorses. I attended a private school in the mid seventies, and they had about eight 74 one ton tradesmans for school buses. All of them were equipped with the 318 and 727 transmission.
    Those things took a lot of abuse, which led the principal to buy a loaded sportsman royal for himself, and one of the teachers bought a slant 6 duster.
    @nikita, the seven main bearing design of the ford and chevy sixes does make for a smoother running engine, but the 4 bearing design is stronger, lots less twists and turns. Also the main bearings in the slant 6 were much larger in the  ford and gm engines, and the block was much more robust. The slant 6 also used a steel crank until 77.  They switched to hydraulic lifters in mid 76, the reason being they wanted to make it quieter for use in the aspen/volare, which was meant to compete with the luxury ford granda/monacrh compacts.
    Even though the slant 6 had 25 less cubes than the ford and chevy sixes it performed just as well, due to the fact that it had a much better intake manifold than the other two. It had divided runners, which gave equal air/fuel distribution. The ford and chevy sixes used a log manifold, which was a joke with it’s siamesed ports.  The slant 6 also had a better exhaust manifold.

  • avatar

    What this van needs is some white stripes, red bubble gum machine on the roof and TRANS-CON MEDIVAC stenciled on the sides….

  • avatar
    Moparman426W

    It’s funny what midwesterners consider too far gone to be worth fixing, compared to those of us in the rust belt. Here in Ohio that rusted lower driver’s side would be no big deal, and the van would be well worth saving.
    If it wasn’t so far away I would snap it up in a heartbeat and get a new rocker panel. I would pull the 833 and store it and swap in a 727.  It would get old driving it real fast with the 4 speed due to the awkward reach for the shifter.

  • avatar
    beefmalone

    Damn I wish that thing was closer to Mississippi.

  • avatar
    mopar man

    in califonia I have seen three floor shift vans.we own one of them.a beater 77. the stick is not akward, we like the stick better than the autos we have owned.

  • avatar
    sburns1

    may be late on this, but still worth a shot!
    been looking for a solid dodge shorty or lwb (non-maxi van)…is this one still around? if yes, where is it?

    thanks,

    scott

  • avatar
    sburns1

    price too please…if this thread isn’t dead!


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