In the great misty times of the Two Thousand and Aughties, I was introduced to Japanese van tuner culture for the first time through the various automotive blogs which were starting around then. That spurred my interest in the world of silly vans, and as my facility capabilities began allowing so, I began gathering a fleet of misfit machinery.
My interest in the automotive sphere lies pretty squarely in the offbeat, unusual, and rare-but-that-doesn’t-mean-desirable, and I try to keep the same modus operandi as for my build projects – do interesting things that get me in trouble so I can learn how to get myself out of trouble. This page consolidates any build/repair/maintenance posts for the flock under one link.
1989 Mitsubishi Wagon “Mikuvan” is my original Craigslist find and has been a cultural institution in my life for (as of 2020) over 100,000 miles personally. It’s the car I learned to wrench on, having never been a “Car Guy”, and has hauled all the robot and go-kart gear up and down the East Coast. This model of Mitsubishi van was sold in the US only between 1987 and 1990 in small numbers as a placeholder for the minivan market, and is related to the international L300 and Delica.
1986 Ford Econoline 350 Centurion “Cruiser III” “Vantruck” was a serendipitous Craigslist find, one of many such finds to come after. Hailing from the Age of Conversion Vans when pickup trucks were considered farm and work vehicles only, it represented a hybrid between towing capacity and velour-covered, smoke-stained 1970s and 1980s American luxury. These days, it acts as a magnet for “Did you build that yourself?” and “How many MPGs does it get?” questions from American Dads who materialize out of gas pumps and Home Depot parking lots.
1984 Ford Econoline 350 Centurion “Cruiser” “Spool Bus” is the second addition to the vantruck fleet, and is an extra rare turbodiesel, single rear wheel model with an original Centurion-made bed. It has the International IDI 6.9-liter diesel engine with a Banks aftermarket turbocharger. Painted bright yellow and blue, it was a delivery vehicle for RV and boat trailers in its working life in the Southeast.
2016 Dodge Grand Caravan “Coronavan” was purchased during the height of the COVID-19 pandemic in order to relieve Mikuvan from daily driver duty. While it pains me to “buy a real car”, Mikuvan is also exceptionally rare and hard to find parts for, so I wanted to derisk having to drive every day. Alas, any Real People Car I buy has to replicate the functionality, so I settled for one of the oldest new platforms you can still buy: the Grand Caravan. I’ve rented enough of these to instantly put Stow N’ Go seating at the top of my feature list.
Not A Car
Yazoo Master Mower 48″ “Crabmower” is what happens when I try to buy useful home and garden care equipment off Craigslist or Facebook Marketplace and instead buy the weirdest possible implement that might do the job. It’s a commercial lawn mower design produced from the 1950s all the way into the 1990s with minimal changes by Yazoo Manufacturing in Mississippi. It’s notable for featuring a fully mechanical quasi zero-turn drivetrain, predating hydrostatic transmissions, and above all, a right angle transmission drive belt that wraps around the frame. It also works for cutting the lawn.
Retired or Sold
1989 Mitsubishi Van “sadvan” was pulled out of a random back yard in rural Maryland after 10 years of “ran when parked”. It was my first long distance recovery mission using one of my own fleet as the recovery vehicle. It was originally destined to be a sacrificial lamb for Mikuvan, but only a weekend of work was needed to get it running nicely and cleaned up. As a result, we decided to put it back on the market for someone else to build upon. Working on sadvan gave me a lot of pointers and added confidence for Mikuvan.
1991 Ford E-350 Club Wagon “Murdervan” was my first entry into being a diesel mechanic. I purchased it originally at the behest of friends who (rightfully) insist that Vantruck needs a diesel engine, and like sadvan I was debating whether to strip it down for the powertrain. It features the International IDI 7.3 liter engine that was used in Ford trucks from 1984 to 1993, as well as Ford-powered school buses and other machinery. Purchased, as usual, non running out of someone’s back yard, it was a chance to learn another ecosystem: the “old mechanical apocalypse-proof diesel engine”. After making repairs and upgrades, I decided it was better off remaining a functional van with a rare powertrain, and sold it locally to someone building up an artisanal urban gardening business.