By on May 20, 2016

1969 Chevrolet Van in Colorado Wrecking Yard, LH front view - ©2016 Murilee Martin - The Truth About Cars
For most of the 1960s, the forward-control, mid-engined small van, with the driver sitting atop the front axle and crowded against the door by an engine-containing box known as the “doghouse,” was quite popular in the United States. These things were bouncy, ill-handling, dangerous steel boxes, but they could haul absurd loads with their 1904-technology solid axles and leaf springs all the way around and were easy to maneuver in tight spaces.

Nearly all these vans were used up or crashed decades ago, but xillion-mile survivors still trickle into wrecking yards to this day. Here’s a rare long-wheelbase late-’60s ChevyVan that I spotted in Denver last week.

1967 Chevrolet ChevyVan brochure cover - courtesy of Old Car Brochures

The first of this generation of US-Market FC vans was (arguably, depending on how strict you want to be about production figures and military-versus-civilian hair-splitting) the Jeep FC, though the 1961 Ford Econoline was the first to sell in large numbers (yeah, yeah, Thames Freighter and other edge-case imports of the era, nit-pick away). Chrysler and General Motors followed in 1964 with the Dodge A100 and Chevrolet ChevyVan/GMC Handivan, respectively.

1969 Chevrolet Van in Colorado Wrecking Yard, front seats - ©2016 Murilee Martin - The Truth About Cars

The GM forward-control vans never sold as well as their Ford and Dodge competitors, and they never inspired quite the cult following enjoyed by the Econoline and A100 (my ’66 A100 gets “PLEASE SELL ME YOUR VAN” notes every couple of months). This is the first one I have seen in a pull-a-part junkyard in at least five years.

1969 Chevrolet Van in Colorado Wrecking Yard, engine - ©2016 Murilee Martin - The Truth About Cars

It’s a straight-six, either the standard 230 or the optional 250 (or whatever random Chevy straight-six was swapped in by the 11th owner). A 307-cubic-inch V8 was also available in 1969, for those who needed to haul that extra ton of pig brains or lead pipe.

1969 Chevrolet Van in Colorado Wrecking Yard, shifter - ©2016 Murilee Martin - The Truth About Cars

There’s no easy way to rig up a gearshift lever on the floor when the transmission is located about four feet behind the driver, so the column-shift rig was the only way to run a manual transmission in these trucks. A four-speed Borg-Warner T10 was available, so ChevyVan buyers could have the very rare four-on-the-tree option.

1969 Chevrolet Van in Colorado Wrecking Yard, Pontiac radio - ©2016 Murilee Martin - The Truth About Cars

At some point, this van’s owner installed a 1964 or older Pontiac radio with CONELRAD station indicators. It appears to have been an easy bolt-in.

1969 Chevrolet Van in Colorado Wrecking Yard, parking receipts - ©2016 Murilee Martin - The Truth About Cars

This van was full of old receipts from a parking lot in what’s now Denver’s Theater District.

1969 Chevrolet Van in Colorado Wrecking Yard, padlock - ©2016 Murilee Martin - The Truth About Cars

Ben left his personalized padlock on the steering wheel.

In the 1989 film 龍在天涯, a young Jet Li mashes some baddies against a San Francisco bus stop with his ChevyVan, and somehow avoids losing his legs in the process. This would have been much safer with a 1971 or later front-engine Chevrolet van.

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40 Comments on “Junkyard Find: 1969 Chevrolet ChevyVan 108...”


  • avatar
    Loser

    Is that a T-bird sitting next to the van?

  • avatar
    FormerFF

    I don’t think the Jeep FC counts, since they never went into production with the van version.

    Speaking of the Jeep FC, when I was a kid in the 60’s, we had one that was equipped with a snowplow, which is mostly what it was used for. At some point my father got rid of it and got a Jeepster Commando that was also snowplow equipped. Where I live it rarely snows, but I’d sure like to have either of those vehicles now.

  • avatar
    JimC2

    “And I would’ve gotten away with it if it hadn’t been for you meddling KIDS!”

  • avatar
    FormerFF

    hey, they may be dangerous, bouncy, and ill handling, but they have enough charm to coax Murilee into keeping one alive some 50 years after it was built.

  • avatar
    TrailerTrash

    Really brought up some great old memories from our 3 or four drives across the USA in the old van. Had to be in 1970 through 72 we made those trips across from Chicago to LA.
    I remember even driving through the desert towards Los Angeles with the door slid wide open in the horrible heat. We were just sitting but the door looking out at the once in awhile trailers stuck out in the desert…wondering what kind of solitary weird survivalist person lived such a life.
    Thanks for the memories.

  • avatar
    JohnTaurus_3.0_AX4N

    “We made love in my ChevyVan, and that’s alright with me.”

    No word of the ill-fated Corvair-based van that this model replaced?

    • 0 avatar
      jhefner

      That is because the Greenbrier was a rear engine design like the VW Bus, not the same FC layout as this ChevyVan that replaced it.

      We owned a Greenbrier when I was very, very young. I still remember the two bench seats that faced a table in the middle, and no seat belts. Mom and Dad owned it for a few years before replacing it with a ’67 Country Sedan station wagon.

      • 0 avatar
        Russycle

        We had one of those too, the Greenbriar camper van! Not the best vehicle for climbing curvy mountain roads to campsites high in the Sierras.

      • 0 avatar
        v8corvairpickup

        Although not on the same FC chassis but certainly a Forward Control vehicle with the operator over the front wheels the Corvan van, Greenbrier van, Rampside and Loadside pickups were on the market before the Chevyvan.

      • 0 avatar
        JohnTaurus_3.0_AX4N

        Yeah, it is rear-engined, but it did come before this one and it was pretty distinctive, which is why I figured it was worth mentioning.

  • avatar
    rpol35

    Back in 1974 I worked briefly for an auto parts business called RPS (replacement parts service) and we had one of these. It was a ’69 model, 3 speed manual and even painted blue. The only difference was it didn’t have windows. It was a solid, but worn out runner. I never gave two thoughts about safety (or lack there of) regarding the front end over hang but I was young and liked the job so it didn’t matter to me.

    The first day on the job, I backed the rear wheels off of a cliff and the damn thing sat there teetering over the edge. My manager called a tow truck and yanked it back to safety; boy did I feel stupid but I never got any grief over that antic.

    We also had a newer design Chevy van, a ’71 with a 350 V8 (4 Bbl. carb), and a three speed manual; that thing would fly! You would be amazed at what that van would blow-off, all while hauling a load of exhaust pipes and mufflers.

  • avatar
    Felix Hoenikker

    In the mid 70’s,I bought a 65 Chevy van similar to this one for – wait for it – taking cross country camping trips in. It was the same set up except that it had windows. We took on trip from Philly to Yellowstone as well as a couple to trips to Bar Harbor, Maine.
    I lent it to my future BIL to help a friend move. They only drove about five miles when the engine blew with one of the connecting arms puncturing the block. I just went to the local junk yard and got another Chevy straight six (250 cid) and was back in business for $150.
    I got rid of it because my GF had the bad habit of volunteering it for her friends frequent moves. Since very few could drive stick, I ended up spending too many Saturdays helping these mental midgets move.
    After about three of these moves, I changed policy and required anyone who wanted to use it to help me with the repairs upfront. That ended the moving requests instantly,

  • avatar
    dukeisduke

    It has the spring-loaded push-in-the-the-center, pull-out-on-the-ring hazard flasher switch. I’ve ever seen one of these on a ’69 model – they’re usually just the push in-pull out knob.

  • avatar

    I like that it says “front row” on it. I didn’t realize pick-n-pulls made sure to put their best vehicles on the front row like car dealerships.

  • avatar
    CoreyDL

    Did these, with their engines essentially IN the car with you, create quite a lot of passenger compartment heat?

    • 0 avatar
      FormerFF

      The weren’t too bad, the carmakers put a good bit of effort into insulating the doghouse. but the driving experience was 100% utility vehicle, it wasn’t passenger car smooth or quiet.

      • 0 avatar
        CoreyDL

        I’m considering the closest I’ve come to being in this sort of vehicle was a Previa. I’m guessing they weren’t -quite- as refined as the Previa was.

        • 0 avatar
          FormerFF

          I’ve never been in a Previa, but I’m pretty sure you’re right. I drove a ’91 Aerostar for 10 years, and spent quite a few hours as a passenger in a first gen Dodge van, and I can tell you that the Aerostar generations ahead of the old Dodge in comfort and quiet. Even the second generation vans had vague steering and lots of rattles.

          • 0 avatar
            NexWest

            Interesting fact about original Previa. From wiki p: All engine-driven accessories, such as the alternator, power steering pump, air conditioning compressor, and radiator fan, are accessible from the front hood, driven off the front of the engine by an accessory driveshaft, and is known as the Supplemental Accessory Drive System, or “SADS.”

        • 0 avatar
          FormerFF

          One more thing: The driving experience, and for that matter the front passenger’s riding experience is different in a forward control vehicle, because you’re either on top or or in front of the front wheels, and when you make a turn, you can feel the front of the vehicle swing into the turn. I was reminded of this a few years ago when I rented a moving truck, and was given an Isuzu UD with a cargo box.

          • 0 avatar
            CoreyDL

            Does that feel boat-like and tippy? I don’t think I’d like that at all.

          • 0 avatar
            FormerFF

            No, it’s that you feel the lateral swing much more, it’s a (very) little like an amusement park ride. When you’re in the center of the car, you’re close to the pivot point, but in an FC vehicle, you’re way out at the end.

  • avatar
    maserchist

    Air cooled Powerglide was an option for this van. I believe the output shaft housing had a giant lug on the top of it for a 3 point mounted powertrain. I love powerglides!

  • avatar

    The Chevy Van was my school bus. I think there was a floor shifter available, I know because I was the last stop on the ride home, and for years after the other kids were dropped off the driver would let me sit up on the engine hump and shift gears with what I vividly remember was a floor mounted shifter, good times!

    May I also bring up that the vans were the model for the Scooby Doo van, and also that the vans have an eponymous pop song written about them, I think it was a hit in the early 70s.

  • avatar
    greenbrierdriver

    The Greenbriers drove and rode far better than these, but the fact that the floor wasn’t flat and you couldn’t get a v-8 in them kinda killed the whole plan. Mine has a slightly modified 110hp with PG and while I agree that climbing the Sierra is not a strong point, here in N Texas, I can still keep up with traffic and ride in comfort with 4-wheel independent suspension. I have friends that auto-cross theirs. THAT is a sight to behold. Not something I would try in the chevyvan.

  • avatar

    suddenly it is 1978 and I’m driving one of these from Paramus, NJ somewhere on the Jersey shore. Summer evening, windows open, NJ Turnpike black and dotted in the fore….

    I worked for a small car and home stereo chain, back when such things existed. In the pre Amazon era, you might find yourself with too much stock in one store and too little in another. Add to that my stoned employers (they made enough money for blow) and I drove back and forth in one of these quite a few times.

    Good car stereo, of course, not what you’d ever see in a normal world. I never would have heard any background noise over the huge 25 watt amp (s). The van would sway around 78 mph, so optimum speed was about 70. It droned on, in an inoffensive way. On the return trip, empty, it was almost sprightly. The straight six is an ideal engine.

    It was always a good way to waste a shift. I never confused it with my car at the time, a 400 Firebird, and we got along quite well.
    Sometimes I’d love to be that kid again, happy I got sent south instead of a dead evening shift at the store, off into the night.

  • avatar
    scottcom36

    Wow, there can’t be many four on the tree American vehicles.

  • avatar
    -Nate

    Wow ~

    In 1977 I bought one of these from my Employer after he’d bashed the front in once too many times ~ it ran fine but was wrinkled end to end .
    .
    After a few years these things squeaked and rattled horribly plus the dog house had to be taken care of else they’d blow oil smelling hot air out all over you….
    .
    If this thing was 100 miles near me , I’d light out to scavenge worthless and unwanted 250 engine pats for my 1969 Chevy C/10 shop truck as that stuff is always gone missing .
    .
    I’d prolly buy the entire engine fan to clutch just for parts .
    .
    Where’s the rust and dents ?! .
    .
    -Nate

  • avatar
    laserwizard

    Wow – a 50 year old piece of Detroit iron.

    Things really haven’t changed because I think Chevrolet still sells a 50 year old van as their full-sized van! ROFL – and their full-sized trucks aren’t far behind!

    That is directed at the fools at GMI.

  • avatar
    Grenade

    LOL @ the radiator inside the doghouse.

  • avatar

    I love vans from the 60’s!
    This one is unusual, since I’ve never seen a long wheel base one.

    Here’s one I found, its as Corvair van :)
    http://phxjunkyarding.blogspot.com/search/label/1960's

  • avatar
    shaneaus

    @Murilee Martin – could you send me the info on the location of this van when you found it? I’m looking for a 4 speed column shifter!!

    Best regards!

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