Junkyard Find: 1972 Dodge Tradesman Custom Van

Murilee Martin
by Murilee Martin
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junkyard find 1972 dodge tradesman custom van

Once the Detroit Big Three went to front-engined/snout-equipped cargo vans in the late 1960s and early 1970s, replacing the dangerous yet highly-maneuverable-in-alleyways forward-control/flat-nose vans that came before, those vans became much more practical for freeway driving (and family transportation). I still see plenty of 40-year-old Econolines, Beauvilles, and Tradesmen in junkyards these days, since these vans are so useful that most of them get flogged until they drop dead, but it (usually) takes one with some mid-70s-style customizing touches to make me break out the camera.

The Tradesman was the windowless “molester van” cargo hauler, much better suited than the passenger-van Sportsman for airbrush murals depicting jousting knights battling Aztec kings in a zebra herd at the Mars Base.

The most basic customization job on these vans, back when The Sweet was big and groovy chicks in tube tops alternated bongloads of Panama Red with swigs of Boone’s Farm, involved the application of circular bubble windows and some upholstery in the cargo area. If you wanted to increase the odds of enticing those groovy chicks into your van, you needed the airbrush mural, a quadrophonic 8-track sound system, and maybe a wood-burning stove.

I was in grade school back when the custom-van craze reached its zenith, and even then most people thought they were pretty goofy. I wanted a Porsche 914, not a custom van, when I was 8. And yet… I’m slaving away on my own custom van project now.

Murilee Martin
Murilee Martin

Writer d'Elegance Brougham Landau.

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  • Ranwhenparked Ranwhenparked on Sep 26, 2012

    Sometimes I think I might like to pick up a '70s custom van - the idea of having a funky mobile bedroom/lounge to drive around and park wherever I want is sort of appealing. Then, I see pictures of shag carpeted interiors like that, and remind myself why I don't want one. How do you clean all that? You don't. Buying a 40 year-old van is buying 40 years worth of bodily fluids and odors soaked into the shag. I know what these things were originally built for and how they were used, so, no thanks.

  • Moparman426W Moparman426W on Sep 27, 2012

    In the 70's they had what they called "van bashes" in California. They were similar to biker meets like Sturgis and such, the only difference was people came in vans instead of on bikes. They came from all over the country.

  • Theflyersfan Nope. Has nothing to do with Gladiator sales falling off of a cliff and having 5-figure discounts. Or...YTD 2023 compared to last year:Compass +7%Wrangler -14%Gladiator -31%Cherokee -25%Grand Cherokee +6%Renegade -35%Wagoneer -31%Grand Wagoneer: -14%End of 3Q 2023: 490,106 Jeeps soldEnd of 3Q 2022: 541,297 Jeeps sold490K is still a decent number of expensive SUVs sold, especially Grand Cherokees, but it's still a decline. And people want the 4xe models, so that could reverse the trend if they crank more of them out. But let's blame the government for everything. It'll lead a news cycle on any red hat network.
  • VoGhost California is the reason Dodge and Chrysler were starved of new models for the past decade. OK...
  • Random1 I don't know what the "right" price for transit/tolls/driving should be. I'm currently a commuter from Westchester, and it is cheaper for me to commute by car on days my wife is working (she's part-time so 2x/week, I'm 5x/week). Those costs, if you care, are $18/park and a somewhat optional $6.94 toll (pay or spend about 10min to take a free bridge) vs 23.50 round-trip each on Metro-North. That's absurd, either a)transit is too expensive(and we don't need to add subway/bus like many do) or b)driving/parking is too cheap, or c) bothFWIW, the congestion charge means I'll more or less never drive in again, so I guess it'll work?
  • SCE to AUX I'm not understanding the linkage between the old State v Federal domain debate, and layoffs at Stellantis.Stellantis has serious portfolio issues, so I'm inclined to blame layoffs on them.
  • Analoggrotto Meanwhile, we can't build enough Tellurides, Sorentos, Souls and are driving ATPs that only highstreet can get close to.