Junkyard Find: 1985 Toyota Van, Santa Cruz Music Video Edition

Murilee Martin
by Murilee Martin
Inspired by the unexpected success of the K-car-based Chrysler minivans in the early 1980s, Nissan, Mitsubishi, and Toyota each made North American-market versions of their small mid-engined vans. Sales of the Mitsubishi Van (based on the Delica) and Nissan Van (based on the Vanette) never amounted to much over here, but Toyota had a minor hit with the Americanized TownAce van, known here as the Toyota Van.The Toyota Van proved very durable and I still see plenty of them in wrecking yards to this day. Today’s Junkyard Treasure packs some extra-special provenance within its battered, 34-year-old flanks: it once served as the sacred icon of a Northern California band, appearing as the centerpiece of many music videos.
When I document a discarded vehicle, I always look for some clue that might allow me to track down bits of its story. Sometimes I find a car such as the Groovalicious Purple Princess of Peace Taurus wagon, with explanatory URLs all over the place; other times, a street address found in the car enables me to find its image on Google Earth. In this case, a sticker with a band’s name proved very useful. It took about 15 seconds of searching for “ The Rellies” to find this (warning— NSFW):
Yes, this outfit didn’t roll in an Escalade or S-Class for their Santa Cruz-set, surf-influenced hip-hop videos. They used a well-worn 1985 Toyota passenger van. As you’ll see in the video, just about every detail I photographed in the wrecking yard can be seen during the van’s heyday as a music-video star. The broken left-side taillight lens. The stickers for Phinest Cannabis, Vida Juice, and the requisite 1980s-style Santa Cruz decal on the bumper.
A Toyota Van makes an excellent gig rig, of course, but few bands have made one part of their image.
Even the Leather Car-Freshener Little Tree and heart-shaped pendant visible on the rear-view mirror in the videos went along for the ride when the van got discarded.
I found this TownAce in a yard in San Jose during the summer of 2018; San Jose is the nearest big city to Santa Cruz, so it makes sense that its final tow-truck ride would be to this place (though the Moss Landing Pick-n-Pull is slightly closer).
What I’m wondering is: what happened? The Rellies seemed to be performing gigs around the country, making high-production-value videos, all the things that a successful Toyota Van-driving band must do to make it. The final post on the band’s Facebook page came in June of 2018, just before their van appeared at the San Jose North Pick-n-Pull (where you’ll find the best junkyard tacos in Northern California).
Did the van get towed away from a gig in San Jose due to unpaid parking tickets? Did the body damage to the hood pop a radiator hose and cause the engine to overheat and die? Did the band decide to upgrade — if that’s the word— to a vintage GMC Value Van? CrabSpirits has been doing some detective work, and perhaps he’ll share his theories with us in the comments.
As you’d expect, the home-market ads for the TownAce tended to be pretty frantic.If you like these Junkyard Finds, you’ll find 1,700+ more of them at the Junkyard Home of the Murilee Martin Lifestyle Brand™.
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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  • Krhodes1 Krhodes1 on Sep 23, 2019

    Californians have a different idea of "durability" than those of us who live where there is an 8mo a year annual salt bath for cars. These things did not make it to their 10th birthday in Maine. It doesn't matter how reliable and long lived the mechanicals are when they fall out onto the road due to rampant rust.

    • -Nate -Nate on Sep 23, 2019

      Boy howdy you said it ~ I grew up Down East and watched all those glorious 1930's. 40's, 50's & 60's vehicles dissolve into red powder . Sadly I've had to crush perfectly good, rust free, un dented California cars & bodies because no one wanted them, not even FREE . -Nate

  • Speedlaw Speedlaw on Sep 23, 2019

    Worked in a bar in Boston in the 80's. Richard's Pub in Allston-Brighton. His niche was bluegrass. We got the whole bluegrass musician circuit for the Northeast. They all arrived in battered wagons of some stripe, or an occasional battered full van. I saw full band sets fit into Accord Wagons and in VW buses.... They slept on each other's couches. They gave me the best line ever..."We drive for a living, when we stop we play music". I know ever word of Rockytop. That's not good.

  • Bd2 Jaguar's problem was chasing the Germans into the mid size and then entry-level/compact segments for volume, and cheapening their interiors while at it.
  • 3-On-The-Tree Aja8888 I expected that issue with my F150 starting at 52,000mi. luckily I had an extended warranty and it saved me almost $8,000. No more Fords for me, only Toyota.
  • Lou_BC I saw a news article on this got a different read on it. Ford wants to increase production of HD trucks AND develop hybrid and EV variants of the SuperDuty. They aren't scaling back EV production. Just building more HD's and EV variants of HD's .
  • Lou_BC Backing up accidents are one of the most common causes of low speed accidents. You'd think sensors and cameras would help.
  • Jpolicke Jaguar started making cars that were dead ringers for Kia Optimas, but less reliable. They now look like everything and nothing; certainly nothing to aspire to.