Vantastic! How to Build the Ultimate Shaggin' Wagon

Thursday, July 14, 2011

'Tis that time of year when vintage car owners show off their chrome and wheels at cruise nights and classic car gatherings, but the custom van of the 70s usually isn't one of them. I don't know why no one is restoring these shag pads on wheels, because street vans were a huge automotive phenomenon during the late 70s and early 80s--there was even a magazine dedicated to them called Travelin' Vans. However, as a public service to my readers, I'd like to offer three simple steps on how to turn any mommy (or daddy) minivan into the Ultimate Shagging Wagon. Get ready to say to your friends and neighbors, "If this van is a-rockin', don't come a-knocking!"

1. Get a Custom Paint Job
Vans from this time period were adorned with a wild assortment of graphics and portraits, from bold, mod looking stripes to western landscapes. Nothing was too tacky for a 70s van, so let your imagination go wild--even if you're a Star Wars fan!

2. Get a Custom Interior
Don't forget about the inside of your vehicle! Shag or velour carpeting will make those trysts with your loved one a little more comfy (but watch out for carpet burn!) while curtains ensure privacy. A lava lamp, dashboard Jesus, or fuzzy dice adds a nice ambiance and sets the mood. For added flair, consider the chain steering wheel--it was a favorite of Cheech and Chong's, after all. 

 Or how about some fiber optic lighting???

3. Go Where the Girls (or the Guys) Are
Take the van to the beach, local swimming hole, or your neighborhood block party. They'll flock to it like moths to a flame! 

Don't you just totally want one now?



    It's true.

    In the mid-90s my friend and I seriously considered getting one of these vans and travelling the same route as the Pearl Jam tour, taping our adventures. We were going to paint "The Pearl Jams" on the side. I know, it sounded good at the time!

    There is also this movie called Mag Wheels (aka Summer School) from the 70s that is about a van club going up against a truck club. The boys drove the vans and girls drove the trucks and said stuff like, "I'm Jill, fly me!" and "If it can be done in a van, it can be done in a truck!"

    Good times!

    Love you pics! Oh man, I could look at vans for hours. How nerdy is that?

  2. Amanda, I don't think it's nerdy at all! These were cool vans - not your mama's super square minivan of today. I actually wonder why a car manufacturer doesn't try to recreate a retro model with funky might just be a hit. The movie you mentioned sounds awesome; I'll have to check out clips of it online.

  3. Awesome post! Don't forget to check out the 70s film "The Van"...which features tons of specimens like the ones pictured here (and stars Stuart Getz, best known [to me] as the nerd Charlie, whose date with Marcia Brady got cancelled when "something suddenly came up.")

  4. Thanks, Brother Bill! Just found a clip of The Van on YouTube and it is faaaarrrr out awesome! Wish I had included this in my post:

  5. I have "The Van" on DVD as part of the Too Cool for School 12 movie pack which can be bought dirt cheap on Amazon:
    I really love this post since I too always wanted a van like those pictured ever since I saw The Hardy Boys drive one in every episode of their 70's TV series.
    I must however disagree with point No. 2 where you suggest a lava lamp as van decor. This would never work since ANY motion causes the "lava" to disintegrate into little lava balls and permanently ruins the lava effect.

  6. Thanks, Luis. I didn't realize that motion would disrupt a lava lamp--good to know!

    I'll have to check out The Hardy Boys' van.

  7. I remember seeing a few of these back in the day! LOL! Someone I know had one that was pretty blinged out like these. :)

  8. We had a Dodge just before this time. Outfitted w/Orange Shag and furniture. It was literally hot in the sun, but a real hoot to for family travel - we didn;t worry about seat belts back then. When custom vans first came on the scene, the unique side and roof windows were what drew me; less so the murals - though some were truly art. Fav was a California Sunset. PS My Mom had a brand new 1977 bright canary yellow Z-28 w/or and red trim - talk about a garish head turner.

  9. Freaking unbelievable post. I'm with Amanda By Night, I too LOVE custom vans. I would kill to have one of my own! I'd tour around the country in The Sexy Armpit Van!

  10. Haha, Jay - love it! The Sexy Armpit Van!

  11. I love the van with the horse on it. I always thought that vans were kind of cool. I enjoyed looking at these photos and also your decorating ideas. I used to have dreams about traveling around the country in such a van. My friend actually had an old one in the late 80's and early 90's.

  12. Thanks, Lara...I like the horse one as well as the ones with abstract stripes on them (so mod!) I would be fun to take a road trip across America...the "GoRetro Fun-Truckin Tour." And you're all invited to come with me! :)

  13. That sounds like a great adventure that I'd love to be a part of. My mom was so lucky that she got to take a trip across country with her parents in the late 50's - one of the places that she liked alot was Pikes Peak Colorado. This definitely would be one of my destinations.

  14. Call me crazy.. but I'd love to restore a short Chevy van, or VW bus. I'd design it with the express purpose of surf & biking trips, and camp outs by the beach. My buddy and I dreamed of customizing one as a kid!!

  15. I'm buying an 83 chevy short van this coming sunday. Been looking for a couple weeks. Amazing how cheap you can grab one for. The one I'm getting is straight, runs great. No rust. 1,000 bucks. Gonna be a great fun project. Being an L.A. guy who grew up in the 70's I even found a KMET sticker to put on the bumper. Lets restart a craze!!!

  16. Hi Pam...if you or anyone would love to see more custom vans from yesterday AND today go to
    Vanning didn't die...sure there are the old vanners still hanging around, but there are a new breed that discovering that customizing and personalizing their van can be great. Take a look! I have mine there also under the name Sweet Spot. Bye.

  17. I am in the process of building a retro van. I grew up in the 70's in so cal and saw a lot of custom vans back then. my head is full of ideas and cant wait till I finish mine in a couple months. If your interested ill send pics when its done.

    1. Did you ever finish your van? Would love to see pictures.

  18. Good article, I'm just wrapping up restoration on a 68' Chevy van. I have the interior to do but have some good ideas :)

  19. Good article, I'm just wrapping up restoration on a 68' Chevy van. I have the interior to do but have some good ideas :)


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