Junkyard Find: 1969 Chevrolet ChevyVan 108

Murilee Martin
by Murilee Martin

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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

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.

Murilee Martin
Murilee Martin

Murilee Martin is the pen name of Phil Greden, a writer who has lived in Minnesota, California, Georgia and (now) Colorado. He has toiled at copywriting, technical writing, junkmail writing, fiction writing and now automotive writing. He has owned many terrible vehicles and some good ones. He spends a great deal of time in self-service junkyards. These days, he writes for publications including Autoweek, Autoblog, Hagerty, The Truth About Cars and Capital One.

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  • 3-On-The-Tree I don’t think Toyotas going down.
  • ToolGuy Random thoughts (bulleted list because it should work on this page):• Carlos Tavares is a very smart individual.• I get the sense that the western hemisphere portion of Stellantis was even more messed up than he originally believed (I have no data), which is why the plan (old plan, original plan) has taken longer than expected (longer than I expected).• All the OEMs who have taken a serious look at what is happening with EVs in China have had to take a step back and reassess (oversimplification: they were thinking mostly business-as-usual with some tweaks here and there, and now realize they have bigger issues, much bigger, really big).• You (dear TTAC reader) aren't ready to hear this yet, but the EV thing is a tsunami (the thing has already done the thing, just hasn't reached you yet). I hesitate to even tell you, but it is the truth.
  • ToolGuy ¶ I have kicked around doing an engine rebuild at some point (I never have on an automobile); right now my interest level in that is pretty low, say 2/5.¶ It could be interesting to do an engine swap at some point (also haven't done that), call that 2/5 as well.¶ Building a kit car would be interesting but a big commitment, let's say 1/5 realistically.¶ Frame-up restoration, very little interest, 1/5.¶ I have repainted a vehicle (down to bare metal) and that was interesting/engaging (didn't have the right facilities, but made it work, sort of lol).¶ Taking a vehicle which I like where the ICE has given out and converting it to EV sounds engaging and appealing. Would not do it anytime soon, maybe 3 to 5 years out. Current interest level 4/5.¶ Building my own car (from scratch) would have some significant hurdles. Unless I started my own car company, which might involve other hurdles. 😉
  • Rover Sig "Value" is what people perceive as its worth. What is the worth or value of an EV somebody creates out of a used car? People value different things, but for a vehicle, people generally ascribe worth in terms of reliability, maintainability, safety, appearance and style, utility (payload, range, etc.), convenience, operating cost, projected life, support network, etc. "Value for money" means how much worth would people think it had compared to competing vehicles on the market, in other words, would it be a good deal to buy one, compared to other vehicles one could get? Consider what price you would have to ask for it, including the parts and labor you put into it, because that would affect the “for the money” part of the “value for money” calculation. An indicator of whether people think an EV-built-in-a-used-car would provide "value for money" is the current level of demand for used cars turned into EVs. Are there a lot of people looking for these on the market? Or would building one just be a hobby? Repairing an existing EV, bringing it back into spec, might create better value for the money. Although demand for EVs is reportedly down recently.
  • ToolGuy Those of you who aren't listening to the TTAC Podcast, you really don't know what you are missing.