Junkyard Find: 1976 Chevrolet G20 Chevy Van

Murilee Martin
by Murilee Martin

The third-generation GM G-Series van was introduced as a 1971 model, and it stayed in production in essentially the same form through 1996. Early examples of this long-lived design are tough to find these days, so I was happy to find this '76 in a North Carolina self-service yard a couple of months back.

Not many Detroit vehicles stayed more or less the same for as long as this generation of Chevrolet/GMC van and its quarter-century of production. Chrysler beats GM with its B-Series Dodge/ Plymouth vans, though, built for the 1971 through 1997 model years (its chassis was unchanged through 2003, but the body was redesigned for 1998).

Much of my childhood was spent in a red-and-white 1973 Chevrolet Sportvan Beauville, shown here in Minneapolis around the time of the Apollo 17 moon landing and just hours prior to the family's move to California. I was six years old at the time and it stayed in the family long enough for me to crash it as a teenager.

That van had a Chevrolet 350 small-block under its engine doghouse, and this one's VIN says it also had 350 power when new. Who knows, maybe this Quadrajet-and- HEI-equipped small-block is the original one… though it's likely that at least a couple of swaps have taken place.

While my family's '73 was equipped with the optional three-speed automatic transmission, this '76 has the base three-speed column-shift manual.

Yes, a factory V8 with manual gearbox!

The 350 is one of the few options I could find on this van, which has a dash full of block-off plates for extra-cost features and no air conditioning. The base engine on the ¾-ton G20 Chevrolet van for 1976 was the 292-cubic-inch straight-six. A 400-cubic-inch V8 was available as well.

The 1971-1996 G-Series cargo vans were called Chevy Vans (Chevrolet) or Vanduras (GMC), while the passenger versions were Sportvans (Chevrolet) and Rallys (GMC).

The cargo vans were preferred by customizers, because the lack of rear side glass made room for aftermarket windows and/or murals.

This one appears to have received a sliding door swap from a Sportvan or Rally, because it has a window.

It has a very mild conversion, including an aftermarket sunroof and map lights.

I'm pretty sure the diamond-quilted door panels were not installed at Lordstown, where this van was assembled.

It appears that this van has spent all or most of its life in North Carolina. Here's a 1980-1981 University of North Carolina Charlotte parking sticker.

It had 76,950 miles on the odometer in the fall of 1985.

Now it shows 44,748 miles. This might represent 144,748 or 544,748 actual final miles.

The North Carolina DMV inspection sticker has a 2006 expiration date.

1976 Chevrolet G20 Chevy Van in North Carolina wrecking yard.

1976 Chevrolet G20 Chevy Van in North Carolina wrecking yard.

1976 Chevrolet G20 Chevy Van in North Carolina wrecking yard.

1976 Chevrolet G20 Chevy Van in North Carolina wrecking yard.

1976 Chevrolet G20 Chevy Van in North Carolina wrecking yard.

1976 Chevrolet G20 Chevy Van in North Carolina wrecking yard.

1976 Chevrolet G20 Chevy Van in North Carolina wrecking yard.

1976 Chevrolet G20 Chevy Van in North Carolina wrecking yard.

1976 Chevrolet G20 Chevy Van in North Carolina wrecking yard.

1976 Chevrolet G20 Chevy Van in North Carolina wrecking yard.

1976 Chevrolet G20 Chevy Van in North Carolina wrecking yard.

1976 Chevrolet G20 Chevy Van in North Carolina wrecking yard.

1976 Chevrolet G20 Chevy Van in North Carolina wrecking yard.

1976 Chevrolet G20 Chevy Van in North Carolina wrecking yard.

1976 Chevrolet G20 Chevy Van in North Carolina wrecking yard.

1976 Chevrolet G20 Chevy Van in North Carolina wrecking yard.

1976 Chevrolet G20 Chevy Van in North Carolina wrecking yard.

1976 Chevrolet G20 Chevy Van in North Carolina wrecking yard.

1976 Chevrolet G20 Chevy Van in North Carolina wrecking yard.

1976 Chevrolet G20 Chevy Van in North Carolina wrecking yard.

1976 Chevrolet G20 Chevy Van in North Carolina wrecking yard.

[Images: The Author]

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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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  • THX1136 THX1136 7 days ago

    The band I was in from 1972 - 74 had the cargo version of this van. We had been using an Econoline, but that one would not hold all of our gear. Our bass player owned that and one day showed up with either a brand new or near new Chevy Van in a forest green color.


    At that point we had recently upgraded our PA to the ElectroVoice VOTT cabinets - big, square, no hand holds with a high freq. horn that mounted on top. Great sounding but a pain when it came it loading/unloading - our practice place was on the third floor above a car dealership. The space had been a roller rink and was wide open so it was close in size to the kind of places we were playing at the time. The stairs were straight up from street level to that space.


    At one point, the bass player/defacto leader for the group got us together and wanted us to help pay for the van. Minor revolt time. It would have went better had he consulted us before buying. The three of us would have been okay helping out with gas and maintenance, but paying for what seemed like an elective decision on his part didn't seem right. (Being in your early 20's a lot of things don't seem right.) Added to that we all were already paying off the VOTT's along with an Altec 1220 mixer and some AKG mics as the band was switching from the 'old school' SR setup to one where we had someone to run sound since everything would be mic'd from there on out.


    The 'discussion' got a bit tense with the bass player becoming more visibly upset. At one point the other guitar player announced he was going to leave the band. We practiced 4 nights a week at that point. Between that and work it didn't leave him a lot of time with his family. I, being a great 'joiner inner', figured I'd quit too thinking maybe that'd convince the bassist to make a retreat from his position. Nope.


    He stormed out leaving the 3 of us. The drummer nearly immediately said, "I wish you guys would have told me you were going to quit. I would have quit too!" At that point the band was going to dissolve. We had 2 more booked gigs left to play, which we did. The big caveat was "I'm not hauling any of your guys gear in the van!"


    No fun playing out when you know it's over. I squeezed my Dual Showman (2x15 cab) into the backseat of my 72 Charger and made the gigs. The bass player bought all of us out so he could keep the PA - $250/300 a piece. The van sure was nice for the few times we ALL got to use it to get to a gig.

  • El scotto El scotto 7 days ago

    A pack (box?) of Zig-Zags is in some hidden crevice of that van.

  • Mike Beranek No, but I'm for a world where everyone, everywhere buys cars (and everything else) that are sourced and assembled regionally. Shipping big heavy things all over the planet is not a solution.
  • Jeffrey No not for me at this time
  • El scotto Hmm, my VPN and security options have 12-month subscriptions. Car dealers are not accountable to anyone except the owner. Of course, the dealer principles are running around going "state of the art security!", "We need dedicated IT people!" For the next 12 months. The hackers can wait.
  • El scotto Chip it, NOS it, Wrap it, go buy hipster jeans.
  • El scotto Bah to the lot of you! Now 8500$ is way too much; 5000$ would be much more reasonable. You see, every once in a while GM does something right. The two Saturns I owned were slow, I mean bog slow, poorly maintained VW bug slow. Then some GM engineers ran some sort of tippy-top secret project and put a supercharger on a 4-cylinder. Will this redline beat a Porsche? Please. Would this be worth thrashing on your daily commute? Of course. Imagine racing the GTI guys for lattes or IPAs. Those kind roll that way.
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