1977 Dodge Ram Van Vs 1970 GMC Short Van

1970's Van Face Off

We all have some segment of vehicles we haven’t explored. Many of our readers are well-versed on the nuances of Mustang and Camaro production; others know Alfa-Romeos inside and out. Still others can help Jesse diagnose brake issues from afar on a vintage Volvo, and there are even a few of you that share my passion for vintage BMWs. One segment I’d like to get to know better is the era of customized street vans, which often led to wild artistic graphics, shag carpeting, tinted windows and all the innuendo that accompanies such personalization. That’s why our two challengers this week are a 1977 Dodge Ram Van here on eBay with no reserve and an opening bid of $197 and a 1970 GMC Short Van here on craigslist in Dallas for $4,900.

Dodge Ram Van

When I read the description of the Ram Van, it makes me wish I was around when these were sold new. It almost seems as if these custom vans were instant job creators: assembly line workers built it, salespeople sold it, carpet installers shagged it and stereo pros made it boom. Of course, these days if you want a loud stereo you just check a box on the options list and it comes that way from the factory. This particular van also received the full living-room-on-wheels conversion with a full bed and sink installed as well, making first dates all the more interesting. The mag wheels and fender flares complete the look, and it makes me sad that you can’t go into your local Dodge dealer and ask for one equipped exactly like this. The best you can do is a work van made by Mercedes-Benz that starts at $30,000.

1970 GMC Short Van

Now, Josh beat me to the punch this week and found a Southwestern Bell telephone work van on eBay. But it served as inspiration for finding this one on craigslist, which is an earlier model with a manual transmission and a V8! I would do exactly as the seller says: clear coat the paint, attach a safari rack and rock this thing out daily. I love it. The short wheel base with the white-letter tires and chromed wheels is a killer look. The stance appears fairly low, which makes me wonder if the suspension has been modified in any way – but I might take it a step further and install some airbags to get it even lower. I know – I’m really a purist at heart, but I think these old vans scream for an aggressive look. What really intrigues me is who at the phone company specified a work van with a manual transmission. Those days are truly behind us.

1970 GMC Van Interior

So, with this van-tastic combination, which one would you choose in this week’s Face-Off? One of the best parts about these comparisons is hearing your opinions and memories, so don’t hold back. While my vote goes to the GMC, it’s hard not to give the Dodge a closer look – especially with such a low opening bid and no reserve. Plus, it has only 52,000 miles and is a one-owner vehicle, which is likely damn near impossible to find in a vehicle category like this. The Dodge may have a little corrosion on the driver’s side lower sill but otherwise appears complete, and the rust on the GMC appears to be surface-level only. Let us know below your personal choice, but please keep the trips down memory lane as PG-13 as possible!


  1. Howard A Member

    I came from the custom van era, and it’s true, the vans were limited only to the owners imagination. I don’t think I ever saw 2 alike. Vans were driven hard and I’m sure the Dodge has 152K or 252K. My old man had a couple he turned into campers, and they were a nightmare to work on. The phone co. usually had the cheapest vans available, so I’d bet the V-8 was dropped in at some point, causing the front to sag, as I’m sure it has 6 cylinder springs in the front. There still are van clubs around for the old die hard Grateful Dead fans,(if any are left) but the modern motorhome kind of put an end to the custom van.

    • John Griffith

      No doubt the GMC has an engine transplant as sll the vans in that era were six cylinders with three speed stick. I wore out two in the 70s when I worked for the phone company!

  2. jim s

    of the 2 i would take the dodge but more interested in the ford E100 from the other day. i too lived thru the van era. mine had either no windows, windows with black spray paint, and/or curtains. all of them had a bed of some kind in the back . i would keep the outside looking pure stock so less likely to be noticed.

    • Tim Nelson

      Those were the “good ole’ days” for certain and if you didn’t have a van there was always a station wagon in the family to take your girl on a date (wink wink)!! Now you only have a choice between a cracker box SUV with too many seats or Tahoe type truck-mobile with pretty much the same issue and there aren’t any drive-in theaters or lovers lane type places to go nowadays anyway!!! Todays teens don’t know just what they’re missing out on thanks to the brain trusts of the car manufacturers that are too busy tryin’ to keep up with the rediclous government regulations that all but wiped out the “funmobiles” long ago!!!

  3. rusty

    Similarly the van era over here in Australia was BIG too due to our highly popular surf culture with most of the population living on or near the coast, but our vans were a little different than US stuff mostly 1970’s Holden And Ford sedan based vans [you would probably consider them sedan deliveries but infact they were not as they had a higher roofline]. The well off had the Sandman, the Sundowner with a Smattering of Chrysler Drifters [I’d like one now]

    Very popular too was the smaller Ford Escorts of which many were hotted up. Many of my mates had these..good power and mid size.. With fringe vans of other makes in small numbers done up by those wanting to be different such as my chosen van a number of Morris Minor panelvans purely because i was a morry minor owner of about 20 morries at the time although cute they were not the van of choice for most who wanted power and size but morries still made the scene and magazines.

    We didnt get the two above US models [although the dodge would have went well here if the price could have been reasonable as imports here were very expensive] but the closest in the above dodge style was Bedfords and Transit vans which were highly modified and as worthy as the Holden and Fords to fit in the vanning scene..

    Eventually the scene changed too dramatically to the car show “I can do better than you” crowd where the owners no longer did up their vans to use for recreation but to win a $6 trophy..this was the beginning of the end of vans as recreational vehicles. I still am a vanner owning a couple of dodge fargo vans [projects] and my everyday driver a modern holden VU ute with an original & rare Sandman canopy [removed from a genuine sandman but they are bonded on] although not yet fitted but due to moving [and health] I am selling off every car i own. Though my intention once moving interstate and due to my health is to buy a modern Sandman that is original and not a project like i have especially as I havent found an alternative modern van that conjures up the van era like the modern Sandman although I do like your Chevrolet HHR but i know you will scoff..a windowless van version in RHD would do nicely. Impossible in Aussie. You do get a very wide choice in US.

    Ironically the rarest vans I owned were 3 Goggomobil “Carry All” Australian vans..only 8 left in the world and probably no more than 18 made if that. And a 3 wheel Reliant Van with motor bike front but ironically in those days anything like these would be laughed at but ironically now I still have people asking me do I still have a goggo van to sell..hah the new cool is micro cars and vans are just a memory. Vans took over from sportscars back then in Aussie and we will probably never see a van scene in Australia again but Utes did take over that market in the 2000’s but I see that petering out now. Will sportscars retake that young man recreation segment again or something from left field. What will be the next recreation/lifestyle vehicle ? Electric fastomobils?????? Or fly in it youself drones. haa

  4. John E.

    Wowzer’s, unbelievable! My older brother had a 77 Dodge van with the teardrop side glass matching the van shown here except for the paint scheme. If my memory is correct, his was rootbeer brown, not orange, but I could be wrong, he had his years ago. Hmm. I wouldn’t take either. I like big SUV’s, HUMMER’s or large trucks along with MB’s and Porsche’s.

  5. geomechs geomechs Member

    No brainer here. I’d take the GMC over the Dodge any day. I take one look at the Dodge and the movie, ‘Drive In’ comes to mind. Of course it’s just maybe that I simply prefer the GMC/Chevy vans. I only worked on one that had the V8 engine, and that was a 283 in a ’67 (I believe ’67 was the first year the Chevy van was available with a V8). I find it interesting that someone was able to slide an HEI into that engine as the stock distributor had about a cigarette paper’s thickness clearance with the engine housing.

  6. Rob

    I too lived thru the days of the ‘Van’ culture, in fact in the early 70’s I once was President of ‘West Coast Van Club’ in Southern Calif., and as such, the many good time memories will forever stay ‘locked down’, as most would not be PG Rated. As far as my Van of choice, ‘twould be the early Chevy, as the engine was a hell of a lot easier to get to then the later ones shoved into those up-front ‘dog-houses’ like in that Dodge. I prefer the earlier ’63 thru ’66 models of the Chevy or GMC, though that ’70 GMC still has that old cool ‘look’. Here’s a shot of one of those types that was at the 1st Van Nationals in Colorado; the guy driving hailed out of another Van Club from San Bernardino, CA.. Memories of ‘Keep On Truckin’.

    • Rob

      Forgot to include the pic..

    • Jeff Lavery Staff

      The name on the side says it all! Thanks for the “historical context”, Rob!

  7. rusty

    great stuff rob love the pic

    haa haa you reminded me of one van I had but had forgotten the Original Mazda Bongo van I had to transport band gear around…but sold it to buy a Morris Traveller [woody] loved that Bongo but only got as far as to fit it with Sunraysia wheels before the Holy Grail of Morrys was offered to me and I couldnt refuse it…but the bongo was fun but throw away at the time. And definately not hip being japanese and 1000 cc…at the least the Morry Vans were considered a panel van. Nevertheless i remember it with fondness in the very short time I owned it. Probably because i had it to short a time to experience any problems…hee hee

  8. Van Man

    Just bought this one late fall last year 68 Dodge A108 and living in the Great White North its been a long winter havent been able to drive her yet and i cant wait. Ive also owned a 67 Chevy Handyvan another great van. Any van before 85 were great.

    Like 1
  9. Ed P

    Jeff, you asked who ordered a manual transmission on a Bell System van. As a retired Bell Head I can tell you that any vehicle in this era was ordered that way. In Maryland we had automatic vans from 1973 to 1975. The automatics were ordered to eliminate clutch replacements, but the gas crisis happened and manuals became the order of the day again.

    • Jeff Lavery Staff

      Hey Ed! Thanks for chiming in. Makes me yearn for days like that instead of the era we’re currently in where driver-less cars are the future fleet vehicle.

  10. moparmann Member

    This is my ’69 Sportsman A-100, (which I still own) from back in its glory days. 340c.i. 727 auto Unfortunately, it is in need of restoration. :-)

    Like 1
    • Jeff Lavery Staff

      Very nice, moparrmann! Hope it gets the restoration it deserves. Love the color combo.

  11. Domitype

    The GMC would be my choice, but you need to update your knowledge base on current vans a bit. Besides the Sprinter, Dodge has the Ram ProMaster (a rebadged Fiat Ducato,) US gas V-6 or I-4 diesel with front wheel drive and a variety of wheelbase and heights. Ford has the Transit, matching the UK version with rear wheel drive. Nissan has their NV line, rear wheel drive. Dodge and Ford (as well as Nissan) have smaller vans, front wheel drive and smaller than the 1960s American vans, in the $20K range.

  12. skloon

    Dodge hands down, of course I had five of them so far so I am a bit attached

  13. Paul B

    GMC would have originally been a six for sure. As far as specifying a manual transmission, no wonder there. Lots of work vans if not most back then had manuals. UPS trucks had manuals. We all had to know how to drive! I kind of miss those days.

  14. pontiactivist

    I want the early 70’s trans am sitting next to the dodge. But If I have to choose a van the gmc is my choice! Have a 69 chevy in my garage now. Fun lil van.

  15. Joe Howell

    GMC hands down. I had a shagged out short wheelbase 68 Chevy. One thing about the Chevy/GMC flat nose van, if you hit anything you were the first one on the scene. The ride sitting over the front wheels was unique as the steering axis was almost behind you. Nice thing was I could tune up that straight six on a rainy day and stay dry. The Dodges sure were workhorses though.

  16. franck

    I had a 1964 Dodge Van it was a dream I purfer truck’s Harley but the old Dodge Van’s are a Blast

  17. olerascal

    Older school flat nose is way cooler and much less seen
    than vans of that Dodge generation.
    But the newer ones drive much better than the straight axle generation.
    As such, when I chose a shaggin’ wagon van in the mid-70s,
    I decided the drive quality, and disc brakes, trumphed the cool factor for me.
    But still love the flat noses most!

    • Joe Howell

      A few years after having the 68 shorty I mentioned above I bought a new 79 Chevy van, another shorty. The brakes, suspension and creature comforts took a great leap with the second generation but engine access was reduced.

  18. Ron E Bee

    Vans are cool

  19. Some dude

    My dad had a gmc short van in the late 70s. He bolted an old lazy boy to the floor in the cargo area and that was my seat. For a seatbelt he tied rope around me and used some sailors knot. He then would give me the end I had to pull incase of emergencies. I would hold that end till we got to school. The van ended up in our yard and we would play justice league on it. Me and other kids that is not my dad. The grass was lava and we had to climb the van to get to safety. I was aqua man. my cousin had black hair so he had to be superman and could always walk through the lava. The van was so small we could jump off the roof.
    It was a sick, I guess he must have gotten it for next to nothing back then.

    Like 1
  20. Mark

    GMC, all day. I had a 67 Chevy Sportvan 90 with a 12 bolt posi, 283 and a Powerglide. That was a fun little ride. The solid front axle, makes them an easy 4X conversion.
    I still prefer rear wheel drive to ANY front wheel drive. This little Astro has a 4 speed, I still like a manual transmission, too.

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