By on January 6, 2015

The Death Star

 

You wouldn’t know to look at her, but she had history. Amazing history, built up throughout her 2-owner life.

 

Chris the owner is featured above. He is the one spraying Cruex on his crotch. He had ordered this 1992 Dodge factory custom right from the military car sales office at Ramstien Air Force Base in Germany. It was precisely that fact that allowed him to order the interior colors exactly what he wanted, the short wheelbase and most important, the 5 speed manual transmission.

 

Why a van? Well, Chris was in a band. Actually Chris was in a lot of them. He is still a very talented bass player, but in the late 80s was stationed in Europe. Every band needs rhythm, thus Chris was in high demand. The fluid nature of military changes ensured that as soon as one band broke up, another was forming. He could play several instruments and had his own gear. In addition to instrumental talent, a decent voice and lack of musician’s ego, Chris also had a van.

This landed him a gig with a country cover band called Texas Pride in 1992. Country cover bands were even more rare than a bass player with a van in Europe. The gigs were consistent and paid well. The crowds became huge and they eventually toured bases all throughout Europe. With tours comes groupies and well…Chris had a van.

Non-musically, this was a hooligan vehicle of the highest order. Any semi-organized night of drinking involved a designated driver and this van. I distinctly remember a friend hanging from the open rear doors via his belt held by another buddy, while we were in motion. The blonde guy on the roof (next to me in the black shirt) once rode the luggage ladder for almost 5 miles. In the photograph above, we were preparing for a night of debauchery in Luxemburg; it became known as “The Boys Night Out…of The Country.”

Many hours after this photograph was snapped, we would arrange for the services of a professional so that one of the young lads in the picture above could lose his virginity to her. He would hug all of us for it later.

The groupie related shenanigans that occurred in the or as a result of this van are far more sordid.

Eventually Chris and the van returned stateside. He had met a lovely woman, fell in love and got married. Despite his monogamous ways, every day the van sat in their driveway, it mocked his new bride with untold sordid stories of what happened within. It had to go.

Which in 2002, is how it came to be mine.

The van’s life continued in a similar fashion, but I am married and can only play four chords on my very cheap guitar. But any semi-organized evening of drinking involved a designated driver and this van. In 2002, a pack of young Air Force Lieutenants were returning from the bars in downtown OKC when my wife’s phone rang. It was her sister; my friend Doug snatched the phone and questioned “Who the hell is this?” She replied; “Who the hell is this?”

Six months later they were engaged. They have been together for over 10 years together just had their third child, my darling niece Sofia.

At the start of 2003 I drove the van to a six-month temporary assignment in Las Vegas, where it was dubbed The Death Star. She also became the vehicle of choice for hijinks on and off The Strip and at least once was a hotel room when I had imbibed more than I had anticipated and elected to not drive.

Throughout all of this; she helped folks move, carried big purchases home, towed cars, motorcycles and performed any other menial task requiring a big vehicle for a variety of friends in this nation and others.

Sadly, she passed on the way back from Las Vegas. With almost 300,000 on the clock and more than a few Nebraska winters, the door hinges had started to rust. In the late 90’s she had struck a deer in Wyoming and still bore the battle scars. These issues precluded her repair when the flywheel lost about 25% of it’s teeth and the starter wouldn’t engage. It’s no small feet to find a hill near a gas station as I staggered across the Texas panhandle, but still easier than having to push it and bump it off solo. By the time she limped back to Norman Oklahoma, the charging system had also failed. Add in the growing body rust, and despite her proud heritage, her time had come to an end.

Like the infamous Giving Tree, her days of giving were not finished and I managed to drive her to a parts recycler. Like a Crabspirits adventure, I envisioned her telling tales her of travels all over Europe and the US to the other cars in the mortal ward, and after sunset those sagas turning more adult in nature.

If you live in the midwest and enjoy folk music, Chris still plays with the same lovely bride. Check out An Evening.

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31 Comments on “The Ballad of the Death Star...”


  • avatar
    CoreyDL

    Yay more slutty women and substances!

  • avatar
    danio3834

    Any better pics of said van?

  • avatar
    Mathias

    Be still my heart.

    I’ve owned a Chevy shorty cargo van, 3-on-the-tree.
    Total piece of junk. Loved it.
    I’ve driven others, including a four-on-the floor.

    I have even driven a few Ford Econolines with manual transmission; one of them a full-on camper van.

    But I’ve never driven; never even seen, nor found in an online ad, one of the later Dodges… they were supposedly available until 1993, fuel injection and everything. Sweet.

    Pictures, please!

  • avatar
    krhodes1

    So how is a Dodge van at speed on the Autobahn? And given the number of bodies in the way, I can’t tell if this is a full-size or a minivan!

  • avatar
    raresleeper

    I remember the late 80’s/early 90’s Dodge “minivans” just like it was yesterday.

    A plume of blue smoke pouring out of the tailpipe.

    Ahh… memories.

  • avatar
    mikey

    Eleven years ,300,000 miles . Nebraska winters ..? And she met the crusher under her own steam … .? In my way of thinking, that’s a pretty good “bang for the buck” ….Blue smoke and all .
    .

  • avatar
    PrincipalDan

    Manual trans full size van? What engine my good man, what engine?

  • avatar
    Crabspirits

    The life of a globe-trotting automobile is interesting indeed.

    My friend’s parents had an AMERICAN Jeep while we were stationed in Japan. Few things attract attention like a lifted CJ with cattle seat covers mingling with kei cars on the street.

    You should have handed the keys to somebody on their way to Kadena AFB so it could finish out it’s days as a “Daijiban”.

  • avatar
    bullnuke

    I miss the days where you could order what you wanted. I bought an Astro Van new in ’86 – the guy who custom ordered it from the factory didn’t take it. It was the base short model (I think they were all short w/b that year). But it was ordered tricked up from the factory: deep tinted windows, next higher model “crushed velour” looking red interior, A/C, cruise (but no tilt), trailer package, 4.3 liter V6 and 5-speed manual on the floor. I really liked it, drove the h3ll out of it all over SoCal. Lotta power and room for a lotta kids (mine). The only issue was the shifter – the lever was really far back, right next to my a$$ cheek; caused me some shoulder pain issues due to the odd location.

  • avatar
    raresleeper

    Some of these Dodge vans shock the sh*t out of me. Seems like they are crapola (like that?) or just stupid reliable.

    My parents have an ’05 Town and Country. They paid $500 for it roughly three years ago, with 180k miles. It was used as a delivery vehicle for Xerox machines, parts, etc.

    Anyway, it now has 235k on it. It is beat to hell and is corroding in some weird places. (The hood, for example… rust is literally eating away at the edge of the it, by the grill).

    Feels like it needs an alignment desperately. It has had the steering column ripped out of it previously (someone actually tried stealing it, lol). Doesn’t smoke or burn any fluids (so says my stepdad… not so sure I believe him).

    And oh yeah, the air is still ice cold.

  • avatar
    -Nate

    I love old Dodge vans….

    So many stories in them .

    I rode half way across America in The Bike Pimp’s ‘ Hell Van chasing old Motocycles .

    -Nate

  • avatar
    DA-Ron

    A couple of key points (if I may):
    1. I can neither confirm nor deny that I am “… the blonde guy …”
    2. You have overlooked a key piece of “The Ghost’s” history…
    Easter morning, 1993, Chris awoke at my place (also having over-imbibbed the night before) only to wake every one, screaming “SOMEBODY STOLE MY F’N VAN!!!!”. Yup, The Ghost had been boosted… only to be found hours later, battered and bruised, wedged between two trees, after some off-road folly by some local ‘utes. (interesting aside: I borrowed The Ghost two weeks later to cart my in-laws around Europe, and still had to start it with a screw driver!!!)
    3. This is the greatest reason for a reunion I have ever heard…

    D.

  • avatar
    DA-Ron

    A key piece of missing Ghost-history was it being stolen, Easter Sunday (1993) from in front of my house, as Chris slept one off. Only to be found later, battered and bruised, amongst some trees in Northern Germany after some failed off-roading attempts by some fun-loving locals.

    Fun aside — a couple of weeks later, I borrowed the Ghost to cart my in-laws around Europe, and Chris gave me a screwdriver, in lieu of a key, to start it. :-) #GoodTimes

  • avatar
    franklinc55

    Sounds like it lived a good life. I only recently developed my infatuation with older B series vans. I have never seen a 3.9l 5 speed van before, although I read that the 5 speed was a late 80’s option. I have an ’85 slant six powered half ton van with a 4 speed manual. I have seen a few of these pop up on craigslist from time to time. As a kid in the late 90’s, I remember being picked up for private school in a third generation maxivan and remember another route driver having a blue pre’93 maxivan. They are great vans though, i can not speak from experience about their habit of regurgitating transmissions; but mine has been rock solid so far.

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