By on September 30, 2013

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My name is Vojta and I drive a conversion van. And, yes, I do that in Europe. And no, I have never offered anyone free candy. Actually, no one even expects me to do so, as pedophiles in Europe don’t drive big vans. Or at least people don’t think they do.

But still, my daily driver is a huge American van with an embarrassingly large six cylinder engine which gulps gas by the gallons instead of liters, and with a suspension designed in early seventies. What in the world has led me to such choice? Especially when I’m living in Europe, land of wonderful, cool and very modern vans, like various Volkswagen Transporters, Ford Transits and other much more sophisticated vehicles?

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First and most obvious reason is the looks. The G20, especially in this dark gray color, looks positively butch compared to any European van. While ours are very clever and practical, with very boxy, yet somehow aerodynamic shapes, the G20 is remniniscent of the past when even commercial vehicles were designed to look pretty, more than to be practical.

The bulbous body, pointy hood, massive grille with two-row headlights, massive chrome bumpers. And in conversion van form, with tall side windows and spare wheel cover in the back, it brings lots of looks on Czech streets. Not as much as fullsize sedan or a pony car, but people definitely notice it. And it’s the good kind of attention. Unless it’s late-model Escalade or Hummer or something, American cars ten to generate positive attention. With an expensive German car, even a fancy van like VW Multivan or MB Vito, people tend to look at you like some rich prick. This? They come at the gas station or parking lots, and ask about the car. Truth is, that 80% of questions is “how much fuel does that thing of yours suck?”, but people react in positive way. And if you like attention, this alone may be worth purchasing a car like this – just being that cool dude with old American van.

Maybe the biggest part of this appeal comes from the Europeans’ romantic ideas of Americana – almost every European man had, at least once, for a little while, dreamed of commanding the huge, shiny Kenworth or Peterbilt across the vast expenses of some American deserts, or through the endless fields of the Midwest. And while driving a semi truck is quite an impractical way of getting around, the conversion van offers at least a glimpse of the experience. Sitting high, with low and wide windshield in front of you, deep, rumbling tone of the engine and reflections in the windows, showing your massive car with lots of orange and red lights, just like American trucks.

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Yes, when I think about it, I can’t escape the feeling that this is pretty stupid reason to own and drive any vehicle, let alone the one you use daily. Bit still, it’s one of the easier and cheaper ways of catering to your inner child.

Second reason for owning a conversion van is the driving comfort. While this may sound crazy to American ears, American vans, even remnants of the past like this G20, are much more comfortable to drive than their European counterparts. How is it possible, with several more decades of development and tradition of making sophisticated vehicles on European side? For the most part, this may come as result of American ignorance to lowly issues of practicality or efficient packaging. While Europeans try to make use of each and every cubic centimeter, the US engineers are happy to forfeit several cubic feet under the floor just to have it nice and flat. While the elevated floor reduced the usable cargo space, moved the center of gravity significantly higher and generally made the Chevy Van much worse van than a Transit or Traffic, or similar European van, it also made it, quite surprisingly, much more “car-like” to drive.

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That’s not to say that the Chevy Van drives like a car – it doesn’t, and between it’s primitive suspension, short wheelbase and high body, it is, in fact, quite a terrible handler. But with the floor raised above the driveshaft, you sit like in a car, or an SUV. The seating position is right, the steering wheel is where it should be, and angled like it should be. The dash is in front of you. If you compare it to some European van, where you sit like in a truck, with your feet down below, steering wheel flat like in a bus, and dash somewhere under it, the Chevy suddenly feels strangely relaxing.

And then there’s the engine. Even the 4.3 V6 in this example is a power monster compared to contemporary European vans, and its massive torque low down makes for especially effortless performance. Of course, I we were to compare it to the current crop of the Eurovans, it would be whole another story – many modern turbodiesel engines would walk all over the tired old six cylinder. But then again, to make that comparison fair, we would have to use a modern iteration of Chevy Van – which would be equipped with 5.3 or 6.0 Vortec V8, offering performance reserved only to sports cars in Europe.

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The whole experience of driving an American fullsize van, be it Econoline, G20 or Express, or even a smaller one, like Astro, is much more akin to driving a large SUV. While in European ones, you are always aware of the commercial roots of the vehicle, the American van feels much more like a big SUV – you don’t feel like delivery truck driver, but more like a commander of some strange behemoth from other world. Because on European roads, American vans really ARE behemoths.

Which brings me to the last difference, but a very important one. The width. The European vans, designed for European roads and city streets, tend to be quite narrow – even the real big ones, like Mercedes-Benz Sprinter. This has little effect on actual space inside, but has a great effect on feeling of space. In the G20, with your passenger sitting somewhere far to the right, and captain chairs allowing you to walk freely from the front of the vehicle to the back, you feel like you’re sitting in spacious room, not confined in some tin can of a car. This is also augmented by a strange effect of isolation from other road users, brought by the raised floor.

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It’s these things what makes the conversion vans one of the most comfortable vehicles ever made for long road trips. And even more so in case of better equipped ones, like this Vandura a group of my friends imported from USA recently. With the plush leather seating, lots of lights, TVs, tables and ashtrays everywhere, and loads of wood, it just feels like a true road yacht – and much more literally so than is the case of large sedans.

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This charm, together with relatively low prices compared to the European offering like posh Mercedes-Benzes or VW Multivans, is probably the reason why conversion vans count among the most popular American cars in Europe – if we exclude the common stuff officially imported here, like various minivans, big Chryslers and occasional pony cars, the conversion vans count among most often seen “true American” machines on the old continent.

For me, the conversion van represents fantastic combination of a “hobby” car and practical vehicle. It looks cool, it is unique to drive and I can go to US car meets and cruises with it, but it also holds seven people, transports furniture and you can even sleep or party in it. Yeah, the fuel economy is terrible for European standards – maybe 12 l/100 km (19mpg) outside the town, and 15-17 liters (14-16 mpg)in city traffic. But this is at least partially offset by the fact it’s cheap, and virtually unbreakable.

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And ever since I started driving this thing around, I tend to look at other cars and think – how could I live with a car that serves only as a car, and not as a mobile home or a cargo truck?

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76 Comments on “Confessions of a Conversion Van Driver...”


  • avatar

    Imagine opening up one of these vans and finding a dirty mattress and side rails with handcuffs.

  • avatar
    thelaine

    Dear Vojta,

    I am from the U.S. Please explain the phrase “embarrassingly large.” I have never seen those two words next to one another before. Perhaps you are unfamiliar with our language.

  • avatar
    FreedMike

    “And no, I have never offered anyone free candy. Actually, no one even expects me to do so, as pedophiles in Europe don’t drive big vans. Or at least people don’t think they do.”

    Everyone knows a proper kidnap van has to be white, with no windows…

    • 0 avatar
      morbo

      With one side dented in from multiple hit and runs. One grossly mismatched tire. Some rust staining of the white paint. And faded stickers of superheroes/ponies/barbie.

      Sorry, describing a creeper van I saw in Egg Harbor, NJ a couple weekends ago. The faded children’s stickers freaked me out.

    • 0 avatar
      Toad

      A 20 year old conversion van with faded paint and bent mini-blinds looks like the type of vehicle a kidnapper (emphasis on kid) would WANT to drive. Bonus points for a raised roof and visible trash/hoard that you can see through the windows.

      Creepy.

  • avatar
    Mr Imperial

    I know that this isn’t Votja’s first entry; however, it seems so unusual to read or hear any European praise for American vehicles.

    One can sometimes forget that Jeremy Clarkson does not speak for all overseas.

    • 0 avatar
      Pch101

      “One can sometimes forget that Jeremy Clarkson does not speak for all overseas.”

      I’ve spent a lot of time in Europe, and for what it’s worth, I would say that some version of Clarkson’s view is more prevalent there than that of the author’s.

      There are exceptions to this, such as the raggare subculture in Scandinavia. But for the most part, American cars are regarded as being overwrought, bloated and needlessly inefficient. The Germans set the benchmark for what is most desirable.

      • 0 avatar
        Vojta Dobeš

        You are right. But there’s a strange thing – many Europeans, maybe even most (at least in my country), doesn’t HATE American cars. Unless it’s a Hummer or Escalade, they are generally regarded as cool.

        I imagine it may be a bit like driving a Citroen in US. People ask you questions about running costs and think you are crazy for driving it. But they like it, and usually like it even better when given a ride.

        But most of them will never buy such a car. It’s just too far off their comfort zone.

        Maybe when looking for a classic car for weekends, they are more likely to get an American one. But American DD is too strange for average European.

        • 0 avatar
          Pch101

          I think that “hate” is a strong word. But I would surmise that western Europeans in particular find much of America to be over-the-top, and look down their noses at it. Intriguing in small doses, but ultimately not appealing.

          “I imagine it may be a bit like driving a Citroen in US. People ask you questions about running costs and think you are crazy for driving it. But they like it, and usually like it even better when given a ride.”

          I can’t be sure, but I doubt that most Americans would care, either way.

        • 0 avatar
          Hummer

          Exactly how many Hummers or escalades exist there?
          And why would either be looked down?

          The escalade looks similar to chevy and GMC variants.
          And ther both cheaper then a lot of German cars.

          Are land rovers and audis looked at badly?
          They’re all great vehicles, I’m sure GM is proud to have an entire brand and a vehicle based off of the low price brand, that possess such focus that its the center of jealousy from a continent that builds vehicles considered to set world standards in luxury.

          • 0 avatar
            Pch101

            “I’m sure GM is proud to have an entire brand and a vehicle based off of the low price brand, that possess such focus that its the center of jealousy from a continent that builds vehicles considered to set world standards in luxury.”

            There’s no jealousy. Rather, it’s a lack of respect for what is considered to be a crude and loud display of poor taste.

          • 0 avatar
            Hummer

            While you may consider something poor taste to yourself you cannot account for others. How can someone expect respect when they themselves cannot respect others?

            I believe it’s by and large jealousy otherwise why would they attack something that they don’t understand?
            They can’t have something therefore they attack it. Cost to bring an H2 into the Netherlands in the mid 00s was about 120k and that is with the rear seats removed. How many can afford that?

          • 0 avatar
            Pch101

            “I believe it’s by and large jealousy otherwise why would they attack something that they don’t understand?”

            Your belief is sadly mistaken.

            Those who believe that you look ridiculous have no desire to look ridiculous, too. There are very few people who want to give the impression of being a fool.

            A lot of the world neither hates us nor envies us. Rather, they just think that we have too much volume and not enough taste, a people who are insular and generally unaware of the world around them.

            You don’t have to agree, but referring to it as jealousy shows that you are wearing some serious blinders. Go abroad and talk to people honestly about what they think. I’m sure that you’ll be surprised that it doesn’t conform to the “everyone envies America” rhetoric that comes from certain circles.

          • 0 avatar
            krhodes1

            For the same reason Hummers and Escalades are looked down upon in some quarters here – they are seen as loud, trashy, “look at me” cars that are typically driven by people with poor taste but plenty of money. The Hummer at least has some off-road chops, but the Escalade is just tacky, IMHO. A Yukon Denali is the same thing in a MUCH more restrained and tasteful package.

          • 0 avatar
            Hummer

            I doubt anyone has the idea of looking like a “fool”.
            Just as people bought Hummers and still buy escalades, people buy pickups, most of which are equal to or just as large as the SUVs you so revile.
            No one ever need to defend their decisions to make a purchase.

            It’s really not my nor anyone in this countries concern what others (people from other countries) think about us. Let them continue to stereotype us, we have more opportunities available to the people in our country then almost any other country. And that is proven by our ability to have such a wide scale of conspicuous consumption, why would someone living at ends means, not envy the lifestyle of excess?
            People want to attack what we have, there’s no need. People that have what they have, and can afford what they want, deserves whatever it is they decide to purchase, WITHOUT being chastised by those that standby and do nothing with their lives.

          • 0 avatar
            brenschluss

            The people who buy Hummers and Escalades obviously don’t think they look ridiculous. Many people who don’t buy them think they do. Obviously you don’t have to care what those people think, but it isn’t jealousy.

            If people say something is vulgar and garish, they usually aren’t speaking from envy- rather they’re saying that even with all the money in the world it’s still a tasteless choice.

            But as long as you’re not showing up in an H2 to try and pitch me on visual design work, our opinions are irrelevant to each other, and were it not already being discussed I wouldn’t have said anything.

        • 0 avatar
          krhodes1

          American DD are too strange for a lot of Americans, myself included. I had a perfectly fine ’02 Jeep Grand Cherokee for a winter beater/tow beast. It was cheap to run, cheap to fix, and very reliable in the two years I have had it. But it was also dull as dishwater and EPICALLY awful to drive. So I sold it and bought an ’01 Range Rover, which will be far more expensive to run, and not nearly as reliable. But it isn’t boring, and it is REALLY nice to drive. And as someone on here said in another article, everyone should own a V8 at some point in their life. Though I personally wish it had that lovely BMW diesel six you folks across the pond could get it with.

          • 0 avatar
            Athos Nobile

            “everyone should own a V8 at some point in their life”

            Amen sir, amen.

            Forget the I6 (unless it’s the EPIC triple turbo unit in the X5Mwhatevs), get a TDV8 or one of the TTDV6 instead.

      • 0 avatar
        JJ

        Yeah I think Clarkson’s view, while somewhat exaggerated as usual is mostly true. Us Europeans (there’s really no such thing but let’s roll with it) generally do not like American cars. It’s not so much that they are overwrought, more that they are crude and needlessly inefficient. I for one always think the cars have a bit of an asian vibe without the reliability. All in all not a pretty picture.

        Personally I think there are some nice american cars though. I like the CTS and ATS, I like some of the pickups (though completely useless here) and I like the -yes, uncool in many american eyes- camaro/mustang/challenger…And the new corvette, but not the C5/6 (tacky plastic looking).

        Mind you all the latter ones WILL make you look like you exploit women for cash…and I’m dead serious about that.

        A quirky thing I always liked as a kid on US cars are the side markers and red blinkers…but that’s probably just as someone who likes cars it’s cool to see something out of the ordinary cause amber blinkers I guess make more sense.

  • avatar
    mcarr

    I also drive a Chevy Van. Love it for the same reasons listed above, though mine is the 1 ton version with the 6.0 and can tow a small house.

    You sit high in the drivers seat (I can look down into pickups), and the window stills are so low and the windshield is huge. Visibility is amazing. Except to the rear.

  • avatar
    number9ine

    Good article, but where are the conversion van interior shots to show the painted leather and custom maple cupholders European vans are missing? Don’t forget shots of the 8-track. “Opulence, I has it.”

    I roll a long and tall NCV3 Sprinter RV conversion, and I have to say the ride is much better than the Express/Econoline rigs with better economy. Love the industrial whine of the turbodiesel, and love that the transmission isn’t sitting between the driver and passenger seat.

    Each time you say G20 I think of the old Infiniti subcompact. Over here we just say “Chevy van,” or as you point out, “Molester van.”

  • avatar
    Da Coyote

    “I am from the U.S. Please explain the phrase “embarrassingly large.” I have never seen those two words next to one another before. Perhaps you are unfamiliar with our language.”

    A bit snippy, aren’t we? Funny, I understood it…although all I have are lowly physics and math degrees.

  • avatar
    doctor olds

    Actually, I was thinking it was a little short! We had an ’84 rust bucket longer wheelbase V8 Window version. A Beauville. It rode well, carried an amazing amount and the engine even survived my son driving it home after a fan failure vibrated the water pump almost completely off the engine! Sadly, I had the trans rebuilt instead of scrapping the thing when I should have. After the continuing struggle with brake and fuel lines rusting through, I traded it on my wife’s new car. Got $250! Actually not bad since I had only paid $2400 and used it for over 10 years. Still have some patch panels for it.

    It was red and white with dark tinted windows, My kids told me later it had been described as a pedophile van by some!

  • avatar
    davefromcalgary

    A colleague of mine drives a white panel RAM van for his drywalling business. We all, him included, straight up refers to it as “the pedo van”. He doesn’t care, just drives it into the ground, as it keeps all his tools and supplies dry and safe.

    And I agree on the 4.3. Durable, torquey and thirsty are the three words I would use to describe it.

  • avatar

    I have a ’90 Chevy G20 conversion van. LWB, 305 w/Turbo 700.

    My son’s hardcore metal band bought it for $1100 from another hardcore metal band, three years ago. They needed a vehicle for their first-ever tour and so they pooled all their nickels and dimes together and bought it. Of course they had no money after that so my wife and I lent them $300 in the form of…

    -a tune up including the O2 sensor (the old one was completely gone, the feed wire simply dangling from above. “Dad, why does the Check Engine light keep going on and off??”

    -a fill-up of gas, $108.

    -a tire and wheel for the trailer they’d borrowed from another hardcore metal band, so they could keep their gear separate and sleep in the van wherever they could find a Wal-Mart parking lot.

    Off they went, two weeks across the south, east and parts of Ohio, getting waylaid somewhere in Western Virginia for a bum fuel pump.

    Oh, and they were wondering why it took more gas to make it move…they’d hear the engine rev but it didn’t move too well as they got closer to home. Too bad, dad (uh, that would be me) forgot to tell them don’t tow in overdrive…oops!

    They announced plans to sell it for what they had in it.

    But what about paying mom & dad back?

    Silence.

    Son, you know nobody will give you $1000 for a rusty conversion van with a bad transmission.

    But the local junkyard just got in a low-mileage ’89 with a good 700R4. They’d do the swap plus install the new lower ball joints found under the passenger’s side front seat (but Dad it was just inspected!) for $700.

    We made a deal. I would pay for the repairs. Son would then sign over the van to me. He could use it for local concerts as long as the band put gas in it, the rest of the time I’d be using it like an old pickup…after removing the seats/curtains/etc…

    It’s come in quite handy for hauling hardwood/tile/decking/siding/other building supplies at various occasions over the past three years. I don’t have to worry about the load getting wet and if I take it slow and easy when loaded, it’s fine. My house reno will be finished within the next year and then I’ll have to decide what to do with it.

    The ol’ 305 starts right up, even after sitting for a month. It doesn’t overheat, it’s smooth and it puts out 14 volts.

    And yes, we’ve embraced the identity of all vans like this…we call it…the Perv Van.

    Not something I’d have picked for hauling building supplies but it’s worked out better than a pickup truck would have.

  • avatar
    friedclams

    Votja, what a great article. I had no idea that conversion vans were coveted by anyone in Europe. Here in the USA, as the other comments suggest, they are mocked as vehicles for child molesters. During the peak years of the conversion van craze, the MSRP of these vans when new were astounding.

    I drive an Astro with the 4.3 V6, it likewise is extremely confortable and versatile, in spite of handling dreadfully. And it also is strangely well-suited to dense environments. Note that the Chevy full-sized vans like yours also came with an optional 6.2L/6.5L diesel, which might be a better option in Europe. Maybe you can swap one in if the 4.3L ever dies (not likely).

    This makes me want to defend my likewise-maligned vehicle and write “Confessions of an Astro Driver”.

    • 0 avatar
      Vojta Dobeš

      Actually, I love Astros and had I found a good one for sale, I would drive it instead of the G20. About five years ago, my friend had an Astro conversion van from Starcraft – it was the pre-facelift, short wheelbase version, and I have lots of great memories with it. Most of them involved drinking on the back seats on trips, doing burnouts in city streets and other fun stuff…

      Also, I know about the diesel Chevys – there is quite a lot of them in here, as they were obviously popular.

      But the diesel makes no sense to me. It sounds ugly, is slow, and is not that much more frugal than the V6. And if I have the van converted to LPG (which raises the fuel consumption about 10%, and the fuel costs less than a half of what gasoline costs), it will run even cheaper than the diesel one.

      So, if the 4.3 dies and I have money to think about anything else but fixing it, the 5.7 goes in. Or a 383 stroker, or a 5.3 Vortec, for a little bit more power…

      • 0 avatar
        friedclams

        More info I didn’t know about Europe… didn’t realize you guys ran LPG in your cars! Are there plenty of refueling stations? I agree that would be a killer option. The diesel might still be a better option if you ever towed anything, though. I think I read somewhere that an Isuzu 3.9L diesel could drop in also.

        Here in the USA Astros are popular among tradesmen, but less popular among civilians. Conversions are pretty rare compared to the full-sized vans. Sometimes I think about getting one, but my 8-passenger (!) version is so perfect as a cruiser it seems unnecessary to sacrifice seating capacity for having a TV, etc.

      • 0 avatar
        28-Cars-Later

        Vojta – In Europe, is LPG conversion also popular on some of that fine Detroit iron you posted a while back?

        • 0 avatar
          Vojta Dobeš

          LPG conversions are popular on anything used as a daily driver – generaly, fullsize sedans, SUVs or vans from, say, 1980s onwards are converted pretty often, as well as large percentage of older European luxobarges – I’d say one of four is LPG converted, for large SUVs maybe 50%.

          The conversions on older stuff seem to be quite popular in western Europe, but not here in Czech Republic – it’s because most of them run on “antique” plates (it’s nearly impossible to get old car imported from outside of EU registered on regular ones) and LPG conversion in antique-plated vehicles, while not explicitly illegal, are very problematic and frowned upon.

          As for the refuelling stations – I’d guess there’s one for every four or five gas stations. Lots of gas stations run their own LPG sales, and there are many little LPG-only stations. Considering that we may very well have the highest density of gas stations in the world, there’s plenty enough of LPG places. I’d say there’s alwas an LPG place within the 20 miles of driving, even in the least populated areas of the country. Living in middle-sized town (100,000 people), I have at least five of them within 2 or 3 miles from me.

    • 0 avatar
      CobraJet

      I can relate. We have owned three of these vans starting with a 92 and now a 2002. The current one is a Safari and the others were a Safari and an Astro. It is the only type of vehicle my wife has driven for the past 21 years and she won’t give them up. I wish I could find a low milage 2003 model for her. Ive tried to get her to look at Tahoes or Suburbans but no luck. I guess she will drive the 02 until it finally wears out. Still going strong and looks like new.

  • avatar
    DC Bruce

    Love your perspective Vojta! And, as you have discovered, the truth is that conversion vans are more than just transportation.

    For your next American Import Project may I suggest a RAM “Laramie” Super Duty 4-wheel drive crew cab pickup with the 6.7 liter Cummins diesel, developing in excess of 300 hp. Get a “camper top” for the bed. This will carry at least 4 occupants in leather-wrapped comfort while supplying the closest available simulation of driving a Peterbilt semi-trailer rig, right down to the throb and rumble of the engine, which develops maximum torque (800 lb.-ft.) at about 1400 rpm and maximum horsepower at something like 2300 rpm. It will also tow up to 15 English tons on a trailer.

    Sort of a “Peterbilt” junior. If you’re very lucky, you may find a used model for which its previous American owner has re-routed the exhaust to a single, chrome-plated vertical stack coming up through the front center of the bed (of course, this precludes the use of a “camper top.” Apparently, the diesel selective catalyst reduction diesel particulate filter is easily by-passed, so you can get some old-fashioned “coal” coming out of the stack, too . . . just like the old days.

    We look forward to your next installment!

  • avatar
    skor

    Here in Murica, Muricans like to believe that people in Ol’ Yurp despise all American motor vehicles…..well they despise some…like Escalades and Hummers, but certainly not all. I have a large number of relatives in Central and Eastern Europe, and they quite like American cars. Said relatives love Panther based Lincolns and big Cadillac sedans like the Seville/DTS. When relatives from Vienna visited me in Joisey, first thing they did was rent a Suburban. They thought $3/gal gas was an absolute bargain, and laughed about how their Murican made “bus” cost less to run here than their Peugeot cost to run in Vienna.

    Fact is that motoring reality in Ol’ Yurp is very different than it is here. First off, Ol’ Yurp is just that, old. Streets tend to be narrow and twisty. Outside some old coastal cities, most of Murica is laid out on a much grander scale. Secondly, fuel taxes are much higher in Europe. It’s not a secret that European governments want to discourage private motoring as much as possible. In addition to lack of space, the Europeans lack the dozen carrier battle groups that Americans use to bomb the uppity natives of oil producing regions.

  • avatar
    PrincipalDan

    I’m not much of a van fan but a short wheelbase G20 with at least a 305 or 350 and conversion outfit along with full length diamond plate running boards is attractive to me. One of the full time workers (back when I was a student worker in college) had one at the college maintenance department as his daily driver. It was that gorgeous emerald green that GM used to offer on everything back in the 90s.

    SWB made it easy to park compared to the room inside and the ride was soft enough to be comfortable. Great road trip vehicle. Loved the simple style of a box with chrome battering rams.

  • avatar
    Onus

    The good old PEDO van. Don’t get me wrong its a term of endearment. These vans are fantastic. Simple, but fantastic. Real vans as me and my friend like to call them. We have lots of respect for them.

    Can’t beat traveling in a conversion van either, it like the luxury boats of old that we used to love here in the US.

  • avatar
    bkmurph

    Do you have to modify the van’s lights to make it street-legal in the Czech Republic? Or do they allow a single red bulb to pull triple duty as brake light, taillight, and turn indicator?

  • avatar
    philadlj

    Lovely photos, but no interior shots? I wanted to see the ENORMOUS CRT television and VCR taking up precious space!

    • 0 avatar
      Vojta Dobeš

      Well, there were two reasons for that. First, it’s the cheapest conversion van interior I’ve ever seen – plain gray cloth, no funky tables, no cupholders, no ashtrays, CRTs, radios or other fancy stuff, and hardly any wood.

      Second, there’s quite a mess in there and I was lazy to clean up.

      But I may get around to it tommorrow, and I’ll try to post some photos as update.

  • avatar
    Lie2me

    I guess there’s nothing out there on four wheels with an engine that someone somewhere in the world doesn’t love for some reason. Which reminds me that every time I see a car that for some reason makes me scratch my head and wonder WTF were they thinking, I just smile knowing that someone thinks it’s a great ride

  • avatar

    Well this is certainly a different perspective. I don’t know how you’d manage down a lot of the narrow streets in Europe. When I lived there, in the mid-60s, people used to joke about American cars knocking the flower pots off of the window sills. And cars are often packed so tightly on city streets that I was once gridlocked on Paris’ Rue de Rivoli–on my bicycle!

    Nonetheless, this does have a certain appeal. There was an article–more of a photo montage, really, of people with their vans and trucks basically camping in Walmart parking lots for the night, in yesterday’s NYT magazine. A few were quite luxurious.

    • 0 avatar
      Vojta Dobeš

      Driving a shorty van through our streets is a breeze – it’s quite wide, but lengthwise, it’s comparable with a Mondeo or Passat. The fullsize sedans, or long wheelbase vans, are in different league and they’re often quite a pain to park.

      But still, I managed to daily drive a Caprice for a few years. And a friend of mine daily drove a 1971 Imperial… One must not forget that city buses are able to navigate most of our streets. And even the Imperial is much smaller than a bus.

  • avatar
    Signal11

    When in the late 80s/early 90s, my father was stationed in Germany, he bought a conversion van from another soldier. Over a couple of years, we drove that thing all over Europe.

    I’m not sure what was the more unusual sight at the campgrounds, the conversion van or the pack of Asian Americans that would pile out.

  • avatar
    oldowl

    I had two (not counting a VW Microbus). The first, a Dodge, was crude–jalousie windows, thrift shop equivalent furniture. The second, a Ford with plush captain’s chairs, was somewhat more elegant. My daughter named it “Too-Tacky-For-Words.”

  • avatar
    krhodes1

    The grass is always greener, I guess…

    You couldn’t pay me to drive one of those things around anywhere. Blech. I drove regular 9-15 passenger vans in college (transit buses too), those were bad enough. Actually, a 50′ bus is kind of fun to drive, as long as you don’t have to go downtown somewhere with it.

  • avatar
    CoreyDL

    All of these articles are sounding quite the same, unfortunately.

    I drive a large, American ___________ on Czech streets. It’s different than ___________(Euro option), because it’s bigger. It drives like __________(boat reference) but it’s better than how ________(Euro option b) drives because ____________(words for softer/bouncy). When I’m in this I feel like ______________(adjectives) because people look at it. I drive this because ________________(size/ride adjectives). USA car in Euro makes me feel _____________(adjective for special).

    I’d recommend approaching these articles with some sort of different/fresh perspective. I knew what this one was going to say before I read it.

  • avatar
    marjanmm

    “almost every European man had, at least once, for a little while, dreamed of commanding the huge, shiny Kenworth or Peterbilt across the vast expenses of some American deserts, or through the endless fields of the Midwest.”

    Vojta, I respect the fact you are a fan of American cars and quite probably an americanophile as well, but these sweeping generalizations (I imagine very romantic and flattering to predominantly US audience) are just too much.

    • 0 avatar
      Vojta Dobeš

      A bit of exaggeration, maybe. But it’s probably more true than you may think. Driving shiny American trucks is something like being a sailor, or a cowboy, or something. Probably quite a terrible job, but romantic enough for people to dream about it.

      And remember that that “little while” may have occured when you were twelve and watching “Convoy”. Or when you were ten and was given a Peterbilt from Matchbox. Or when you built one as a scale model, made if from Lego, hacked Need For Speed to allow you to drive one… stuff like that.

      I’m not much of a truck fan, fullsize sedans, muscle cars and British GTs are more of my thing, but I can’t deny that the romantic of the big rigs just works… Especially compared to boring trucks in Europe.

  • avatar
    DevilsRotary86

    “Yes, when I think about it, I can’t escape the feeling that this is pretty stupid reason to own and drive any vehicle, let alone the one you use daily.”

    Actually, it is the BEST reason to buy a car. I have long learned that it is essential to truly enjoy your daily driver. Nothing makes a commute more miserable than driving a car that you hate or even just don’t like. So if you are happy and comfortable driving it, then that’s all the excuse you need.

    For me, I am the opposite. I live in Texas, and I have taken up Japanese cars as a hobby. In particular, small Japanese coupes and sports cars. Of my 14 short years of driving, 12 of those have been behind the wheel of something whose VIN starts with a “J”. So here I am in the great land of giant pickup trucks scampering about underfoot in my little Acura RSX Type-S like a little rat under the feet of dinosaurs trying not to get stomped. And I too could not be happier.

    • 0 avatar
      krhodes1

      This, about a thousand times.

      Life is too short to drive something you hate. Or even don’t love much. Unless you just don’t care at all about cars, in which case you will neither love nor hate and it won’t matter at all, just drive your Camry. And if you don’t love cars, why would you waste your time on this ridiculous website in the first place?

      • 0 avatar
        DevilsRotary86

        Oh, I think this applies even if you don’t care one wit about cars. If you aren’t excited by a good performance car, luxury car, off-road truck, or whatever and you just want to get from Point A to Point B then this still applies. In that case, who wants to be in an uncomfortable seat with a sound system you can barely hear while trying to figure out a non-sensible interface?

        Remember, everyone’s butt is different, everyone’s mind is different. I am not a big fan of my wife’s low-bolstered seats in her ’07 Fit, but she loves them. Correspondingly I love my deeper bolstered Acura seats but she doesn’t like the fixed headrest. Of course, somehow I managed to exactly match the model used in Japan some 12 years ago when they designed this and the fixed headrest just happens to meet the back of my head perfectly.

        As for minds, I could figure out the aftermarket Pioneer head unit in my car within a day. The same radio may well confound my grandparents.

        So even for people who don’t care at all for cars should take great care to make the right choice. One car won’t work for everyone no matter what some people think. Looking at you, “everyone should drive a Fusion/Mazda 3/V6 Mustang/whatever” people.

  • avatar
    Flybrian

    You have the dark gray version of my girlfriend’s mother’s old van. Her’s was dark blue. I’m showing this to her and she’ll love it.

  • avatar
    tkmedia

    Japan also loves vans, they have lots of them. They also love American Astro vans.

  • avatar
    joeveto3

    We have my Father-in-Law’s old Astro, sitting out in our driveway. I thought it would only be something we’d use when the whole family was in and we needed the space. Little did I know how much fun it would be to drive. Both our sons LOVE driving it, and often forego other vehicles in our stable to drive “grandpa’s truck.”

    I love the way it handles, the space, and the way I peer out through the windshield and see nothing but a high-up, unobstructed view of the road. It’s an odd sensation, as if I might stop too hard and spill right out over the dash into the road. But fun nonetheless.

    Vans Rock.

  • avatar
    Wheeljack

    I just spent 2 weeks in Europe and drove primarily in Germany and Italy, but I did cut through France, Switzerland and Austria in my travels. I was actually surprised at how many American cars I saw, both officially imported models as well as grey-market ones.

    I saw several “old” (i.e. late 90′s) Dodge fullsize vans, but no Ford Econolines – perhaps because the Transit is sold there?

    My rental car was a Nissan Juke with a diesel, so at least it was somewhat roomy compared to some other choices I had. I will say that the little Juke felt like the size of a 1974 Imperial when I was trying to navigate the narrow side streets of Naples. I can’t imagine trying to drive something like the subject van on those streets.

  • avatar

    As a person that lived half his life in Europa and the other half in the US, I can say that this story completely reflect my experiences. Driving around in an American car in Europe gets you lots of attention. One drawback is parking, especially in city centers and parking garages.
    I would have liked some interior pictures. You can see my Dodge B-250 van at cargovanconversion.com

    Van.

  • avatar
    Lorenzo

    Vojta, you are slowly succumbing to the siren song. Catch yourself, before it’s too late.

  • avatar
    -Nate

    Nice article ;

    I’m not a big van lover but as an older American (I remember when the Ford Econoline was introduced) I do Ken their attraction .

    My son, when he was 12 (1990) , told me these were called ‘ Raper vans’ by all the school kids .

    The Diesel versions began coming out (IIRC) in the late 1970′s and were not very popular , we could buy them two years old for about $2,000 in *perfect* condition and sent every one we could find , to Europe for stupid money , the exporter / broker guys told me they got $10,000 + each for them . wow .

    Vojta ; these conversion vans , mostly with V-8 engines , are being junked by the thousands right now and NO ONE ever wants to buy them so the Pick-A-Part yards are absolutely jam packed with them , mostly with under 100,000 miles and in VGC . I wonder if you could turn $ome $ buying them up and exporting them ? .

    -Nate


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