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

Murilee Martin
by Murilee Martin
junkyard find 1985 toyota van santa cruz music video edition
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™.
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3 of 15 comments
  • 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.

  • MaintenanceCosts Where's a gas inline six, for that torque and nice sound without all the diesel stink? Oh, that's right; GM being GM, they prematurely canceled it.
  • FreedMike I nominate the 1980 Thunderbird as the worst malaise car ever. My brother got one used and promptly totaled it out. In retrospect, that was a mercy killing.
  • Vulpine Regretfully, rather boring. Nothing truly unique, though the M715 is a real eye-grabber.
  • Parkave231 This counts for the Rare Rides installment on the Fox Cougar and Fox Thunderbird too, right? Don't want to ever have to revisit those......(They should have just called them Monarch/Marquis and Granada/LTD II and everything would have been fine.)
  • DM335 The 1983 Thunderbird and Cougar were introduced later than the rest of the 1983 models. If I recall correctly, the first models arrived in January or February 1983. I'm not sure when they were unveiled, but that would explain why the full-line brochures for Ford and Mercury were missing the Thunderbird and Cougar--at least the first version printed.The 1980 Cougar XR-7 had the same 108.4 inch wheelbase as the 1980 Thunderbird. The Cougar coupe, sedan and wagon had the shorter wheelbase, as did the Ford Granada.