Editor's Note:Steve Stanford is well known in the automotive field for his creative and well-executed renderings. Here, in his own words, is the thought process behind the impressive van renderings you see here.
It's very late in the evening, and I'm in my studio with five concept renderings spread out in front of me. As I scan the images, I start shaking my head in disbelief - not because of the late hour (it's when I do my best work), but because of what I spent the better part of a week and a half rendering. Sheesh, maybe I have lost it this time, I'm thinking. But maybe the idea isn't so crazy after all. The only way to find out is to show these drawings around and find out what other truck enthusiasts think.
Let's start at the very beginning. Five years ago, when I had my office at Pete Santini's legendary custom paint emporium in Westminster, California, I would occasionally spot this mid-'70s short-wheelbase Chevy van in local traffic. Faded original paint, old mag wheels, slab sided (no windows), kind of cool actually. What grabbed my attention, however, was this van was lowered - a lot! Now I'm sure there are other lowered vans out there, but this was the first fullsize van I'd seen on the ground. Of course, there have been countless Cal-Look VW buses built and lowered. But to me, this Chevy was something completely new, and it got me thinking of new van ideas.
However, if I were to sketch up some of these ideas I had, people would think I've finally gone around the bend. However, it may not end there. Unknown to me, the van scene had existed on the truck fringe for some time, but it was just that, a fringe thing. Occasionally, custom vans would be brought up in a bench-rodding session, but we wouldn't dwell on them; it was a fleeting reference and nothing more.
Those of you who were around in the '70s for the original van craze remember the scene well. Custom vans, in the hands of hot rodders and surfer types, started out as a cool, hip, new idea. Vans were tastefully modified, with accent pinstriping, fat tires on flashy mag wheels, and imaginative new interiors revolving around custom cabinets, wood paneling, built-in beds, and custom stereo systems, with the rest filled with tuck-'n'-roll upholstery. We'd seen woodies and panel trucks of all types, but these custom vans were something else. What happened next was to be expected; no good idea goes uncopied.
Vans went from an idea to a craze to a lifestyle, as enthusiasts nationwide (and later, beyond our shores) jumped on board. Van happenings, clubs, mile-long caravans snaking their way down city streets and canyon roads, pop songs ("Chevy Van"), and, of course, the new Truckin' magazine appeared to help spread the word. Life was good.
Of course, it couldn't last. First, the car dealerships cashed in on the trend with their pre-fabricated van conversions, complete with stencil paintjobs; a large portion of these vans slowly morphed into RVs. These were definitely not hot rods.
Among the hard-core, the name of the styling game was "more is better," with outrageous custom ideas in wings, flares, and gull-wing doors, over-the-top interiors with shag carpeting, black lights, crushed velvet, mirrors, staircases, and so on. And don't get me started on some of the crazy paint ideas, like full wraparound murals, with Dungeons-'n'-Dragons themes emerging. Did I mention the nudes? Where does it stop? Eventually, it did. Custom vans were done in by high gasoline prices, their popularity (they were no longer unique), and their own excess. By the very early 1980s, it was all over.
This brings us to the present. In the last few years, we've seen all kinds of auto, truck, and motorcycle trends revived and reverted, except vans. Fullsize custom vans have been treated like nuclear waste for a long time, but I think that's about to change. Two items recently published in, of all places, Hot Rod magazine, caught my attention.
The first was a one-page "From The Archives" piece on "The Van Craze." But, what really did it was a reader reply a few issues later. You could practically visualize this guy excitedly jumping up and down from the article, and his letter dovetailed nicely with the van ideas I already had. Heck, I was simply wondering what a fullsize non-window van would look like 'bagged and body-dropped on contemporary 18- to 20-inch wheels, with clean body mods and cleaner custom paint. But this reader came up with a whole host of additional cool ideas. Things like full-on stereo and entertainment systems, suspension ideas, big brake calipers with massive drilled rotors, a hot engine, and on and on.
So, I'm not the only crazy one. That's why I finally got brave enough to sketch up these van concepts, and wouldn't you know, not one person I've shown this art to (and that's been quite a few) has shown disapproval. Quite the contrary, the reactions have been overwhelmingly positive.
Here's the deal, if there's going to a revival, my thought is, let's do it right this time. It's not about window vans or RVs. That's what minivans and SUVs are for. No, these vans represent hot rodding, pure and simple. Just as customized pickups grew out of street rodding, these vans represent the same influence - clean and tasteful.
What this movement needs is a name, so here's what I came up with - sport vans. You're familiar with the term sport trucks for pickups and SUVs, so this is the van version of that idea.
The examples I've drawn include a late-'60s Chevy, a mid-'70s Chevy, a '70s Dodge Street Van, an early Ford Econoline, and a late-'70s Ford short-wheelbase Econoline. As you scan the artwork, you'll note some well-chosen bolt-ons from the already-in-place huge truck aftermarket, some general shaving of trim, and some light body mods, such as the '67-'68 Chevy pickup grille on the red Chevy (a natural, don't you think?). Also shown on the red Chevy is what I call a Digital Mural, using computer-cut vinyl masks instead of airbrush to update an old idea. The Dodge uses the old Street Van graphic slightly, and it sits on chromed Prowler wheels.
I also want to dwell on that black early Ford Econoline for a moment. What I envisioned was something blatantly retro and hard-core hot rod in feel, because I'd never seen this approach used on a van. What you see is the concept that's elicited the most response so far, such descriptive words as "cool," "dig it," "groovy," and "bitchin'."
Anyway, you see what I was trying to do with these concepts; the potential for fun here is huge. With a very healthy truck aftermarket in place, it's a lot different than the early '70s in trying to source parts. So, the aftermarket should love this. How about a set of 20-inch ET III wheels like on that orange Econoline, for instance?
So is the truck world ready for the van revival? This time we've got a chance to get it right and change the image of custom fullsize vans once and for all. Are you ready for sport vans?