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Adventure Seeker: 1986 Toyota Van

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A few days ago, I stumbled upon an old Toyota van that may become my next project. It’s a long shot, but there are a lot of reasons why I want it (that I won’t get into here). But the long and short of it is that I’ve thought for a while it’d be fun to build a surf van like this 1986 Toyota Van here on eBay that is ready for road-trippin’ across the U.S.A. 

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Now, these are not luxurious machines. They are highly utilitarian models of Japanese efficiency, which means you won’t win any comfort contests with the interior. This particular Toyota Van wears all the usual clues of living with owners that documented journeys and memories with bumper stickers on the dash, but it also has some custom touches designed to make this ‘Yota more appealing on the open road.

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The seller has built a custom bed and storage cabinets inside the van, and it looks fairly well done. There’s no mattress or curtains at the moment, so you’ll have to add those for comfort and privacy. The seller claims this Toyota was actually one an original fleet customized by an aftermarket company in California called Holiday Vans, which supposedly gave it the flashy paint job. I can’t find any other info about this factory-backed conversion, however.

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These futuristic-looking vans are not impossible to find anymore, but it’s definitely getting harder. This one has received a full assortment of deferred maintenance repairs, ranging from engine re-sealing to new belts and fuel injectors. While a lot of attention and time was spent on the insides, the exterior could stand to be cleaned up and if it were mine, I’d find the parts from an original Toyota Hiace campervan to make the living space OEM correct.


  1. 68 custom

    I dig the 4 wheel drive version of these, with a 5 speed for bonus points!

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  2. Charlie Member

    they are famous for catching on fire spontaneously but you do have time to pull over and get out. electricity and gasoline in that engine sitting between the driver and the passenger do not mix very well.

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  3. christopher

    Charlie, I think you are remembering the Nissan van.
    ” DETROIT — After four recalls of its 1987-90 minivans failed to fix defects that could cause engine fires, Nissan Motor Corp. U.S.A. threw in the towel Thursday by announcing it will buy back and destroy all 33,000 vehicles.

    The buyback is highly unusual and by far the largest ever in the United States. Fiat’s repurchase of 4,000 1972-74 sedans with rust-prone suspensions was the only other major buyback for safety reasons.

    The action could cost Nissan more than $200 million. Nissan said it expects to pay $5,000 to $7,000, depending on age and mileage of the vehicle. The move underscores the ever-greater lengths that auto makers must go to to maintain their image with increasingly demanding customers.

    “We’re paying higher than you’ll ever get as a used car or a trade-in,” a Nissan spokesman said. The company’s vice president and general manager, Earl Hesterberg, said, “This program is designed to satisfy our customers.”

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  4. Murray

    Toyota sold a model in Australia called “Tarago” which in other markets was called a Space Cruiser I think. There were basically people movers for large families. Having driven one from Melbourne to Adelaide and back covering approx 2000km I can tell you that they are lethally awful. Slower the a wet week with the handling off an apartment block. If you want a cruiser to tour the country in there are much better options.

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  5. John b

    I remember these in the 80’s as a kid. The only car i ever saw where u pull a lever and the driver’s seat flips up in the air giving access to the engine.

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  6. Howard A Member

    Just wanted to see where this was going. I had a friend with one of these, and it was, by far, the most civilized of all the cab forward van designs. He had great luck with it, although, like most of these, it was a pain to work ( even with the flipping seats) and I remember it being hot inside, like all of these. Reports of these going 2-300k miles was not uncommon. Sure better than the “Egg”( Previa) that came next.

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  7. Monsieur Le Baton

    unfortunately not Howard, the previa was a much better vehicle, not just in terms of inner space, but rideability too – they had pokey 2 litre engine with column shift and overdrive – easily good for 90mph on the autobahn over long periods of time.

    Having owned 2 space cruisers, they are rust buckets, dont drive well at all, only plus side is the engines are bulletproof like their younger previa brothers. – interestingly they are about the same price second hand

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  8. DonS

    I drove my boss in one of these to O’hare one time. I almost plowed into a guardrail because the thing had terrible understeer. His was pretty loaded and road well. Steering it was the problem.

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  9. Bill

    In a crash your first line of defense: Your feet. As a mechanic I loathed working on these. And i’d mention that while you are welcome to like them all you want, I once saw a bright yellow one siting in a puddle in our parking lot. With the reflection, it looked exactly like a lemon. And this from a guy who’s owned Vauxhalls and Humbers.

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  10. David

    I am the owner of the van pictured. I decided not to sell it and instead to keep putting more work into it. The existing wooden bed frame was removed and its since been re-purposed and gotten a new cylinder head, new master brake cylinder, etc.

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