Dont Come a-Knocking: 1976 Dodge Tradesman

By Nathan Avots-Smith

Don’t come a-knockin’…because this van is definitely rockin’! This might be the best throwback I’ve ever seen to the custom van trend of the ’70s. How could it possibly get better than a be-muraled Dodge van with accessory driving lights, slotted mags, and bubble windows? Oh, I don’t know, would a mirrored ceiling do it for you? This thing is magical. Drink it in while you can on eBay, where it’s available for a Buy-it-Now price of $7,999 from a seller in West Chester, Pennsylvania.

If you spent any time in the Midwest in the ’80s and ’90s, you likely remember that area, especially Indiana, as the home of all of the major van conversion outfits. The mythos passed down to me was that these groovy forefathers of those mobile palaces were usually home-built customs, but in fact, many of them were direct ancestors, built by those same companies. This one was decked out by Leisure and Recreational Products (LRP) of Lake Geneva, Wisconsin.

As amazing as the exterior is, the interior is maybe a hundred times more so. The entire thing is lined in either shag carpet or fur, with bubble mood lighting, tasteful wood accents, and a full banquette at the rear for partying or whatever other shenanigans the mirrored ceiling (I can’t emphasize the mirrored ceiling enough) inspires you to get up to.

Up front, things continue in the same shagtastic vein, with sweet foot-shaped pedals, perfectly suited to when the cops show up and you have to boogie before you have time to put your shoes back on. And boogie you can, thanks to a complete refurbishment of all mechanical systems, including the Dodge 318 V8 and automatic transmission, since the van was recently awakened from a 30-year disco nap. The custom paintwork is a little more faded on the passenger side than the driver’s side, but unless you can find a true artisan to recreate it, I think I’d leave it alone, so perfect is its originality. If any of you have memories of your vannin’ past, you weren’t really there be sure to regale us in the comments!

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Comments

  1. Angrymike

    Cool van, but that nasty shag carpet would be the first to go. My friend had a black 75 or so van like this, great party van back in the day…..

    2+
  2. sir mike

    That really takes me back to the van craze era.We used to have van shows in my area.We must have been a sick bunch back then.

    3+
  3. Todd Fitch Todd Fitch Staff

    Wow, Nathan, this thing is awesome! My buddy had an orange ’76 Econoline with heart-shaped portal windows and heart-cutout Western-style wheels. I remember parents’ petrified looks as they reluctantly let their daughters drive off with us in that rig. Let’s not even imagine what the carpeting has absorbed over the years.

    6+
    • Suttree

      I’d say that your 1970s black light is not a good accessorie for this van.
      No telling what secrets the upholstery hold!

      5+
  4. boxdin

    Seller calls it a “panty dropper”.

    6+
  5. Rabbit

    Does it come with the “Saturday Night Fever” soundtrack on 8-Track? We have a local guy with a small collection of the factory Dodge “Street Vans” & a Li’l Red Express.

    8+
  6. Dan

    Shag carpet like that always looks sticky.

    1+
  7. redwagon

    just ewww.

    lived through those days and the fellas that owned these or wanted to own one had a very different outlook on life than i did.

    think about how much it cost to buy a van and then have it tricked out. now think about how much it cost to buy a corvette. which one seems like a better ‘investment’ now?

    granted a ’76 vette is not the most desirable vehicle out there……..

    1+
    • boxdin

      Some bought expensive new vans, but the vast majority of us bought used and did all the customing ourselves. Its a point of pride to show off your own work. Not to mention we could not afford newer vans.

      7+
      • RS

        Don’t know what that van would have cost new but I bought a brand new ’74 Ford Econoline, long wheelbase, heavy duty EVERYTHING 8000 GVW (not what you’d want for a custom van of course) and it stickered for $3600. And here it sat out in a winter snowstorm within the first few weeks I owned it.

        0
  8. That Guy

    I’m trying to remember what words my 16-year-old self would have used to describe this. “Groovy” was way out of fashion. I don’t think “shagadelic” actually existed yet, though I could be wrong. “Awesome” was likewise still in the future. “Rad,” maybe? Help me out here, you guys in your late 50’s!

    I love this thing, and I love that it still exists in all its shag-pile, disco-ball-on-wheels glory.

    1+
    • Rabbit

      I think I’d go with “Far out”.

      1+
    • LAB3

      Bomb

      0
    • SunbeamerStu

      “Sick” would seem to satisfy cross-generations.

      Shag’s gotta go. Or disconnect the battery and use a pressure washer and a gallon of soap and let it air out for a week. Ick.

      0
    • Jeffro

      I “Dig it”!

      0
    • Joe

      Wild, cool, wicked, sick would have been the catch words in my neck of the woods. West coasters were a few years ahead of us east coasters, so totally rad, far out, and awesome…

      0
      • RS

        ‘Wicked’ is definitely an East coast term.

        0
    • Troy

      Radical, man.

      0
    • whippeteer

      Cool!

      0
  9. Barzini

    How could the seller leave out a picture of the mirrored ceiling? That’s a glaring omission.

    I love these posts. I don’t want to own one but they are so much fun to see.

    I hope some of these end up in a car collection or museum.

    0
    • Nathan Avots-Smith Staff

      Probably didn’t want to be identifiable in the reflections! I say, he should lean into it and pose with a bunch of friends while cleverly concealing the camera, 5th Dimension style.

      2+
  10. Rock On

    @That Guy
    I think that the proper terminology for the time period is “Too Heavy Man!”

    4+
  11. PaulG

    Here’s a much nicer albeit more expen$ive version that the inside is a blank canvas. These are “Coming Back” guys and gals, so keep your teenage daughters locked up!
    https://mohave.craigslist.org/cto/d/chevy-short-wheel-base-show/6242960619.html

    6+
  12. Mike Tony

    My cousin owned a van conversion company in So Cal in the early 70’s. One of the 1st in the country. My uncle around the same age as me, just out of high school, bought one new, customized. Orange with a lime green psychedelic line around the middle, shag carpet interior, and mag wheels. We took a tour around the country in it listening to Neil Young. Every state we went in, the locals had never seen such a thing and went nuts. Stopped in New Orleans (Where you could buy a beer at our age and visited the girly bar for the 1st time). Good times

    4+
  13. Howard A Member

    What, no CB? How else are you going to have a “vanners convoy”. LRP was big. They turned out a lot of custom vans. I had a good friend with one in the 70’s. And at age 62, now it can be told,,,we partied our a$$ off in it. Yep, father’s were a bit nervous if one of THESE showed up for the daughter’s date.

    5+
  14. Daniel wright

    The inside of that van would glow like the sun under a black light…have a good time just bring ointment for the rug burn.

    2+
  15. Mike Layton

    My dad , upon divorcing my mom , bought a 74 Econoline deck out just as this dodge .
    I would be afraid to experience just what panties would hit the ground today due to this ride .

    0
  16. Milt

    Oh, the stories this van could tell and all the fluids that the carpet soaked up…

    2+
    • RS

      I think I’ve seen enough references to carpet filled with c*m that I’m going to move to another page. Ecch.

      0
  17. whiskey runner

    reminds me of a 67 chevy i built in about 72 or so.. just back from south east asia.. and divorced.. ..i installed a warmed up 327, three on the tree, black exterior with orange shag interior and a flamed out portal to the ‘love nest’.. name on the side was …”Hot as Hell”… ahhhh youth..:)

    2+
  18. Andrew Tanner Andrew Tanner Staff

    This is SO cool! I love ’70s style vans, and something like this is on my list of things to own/build. I once met an older guy with a super minty ’90s Astro van. It was a stripped base model; vinyl floor, vinyl seats, nothing in the back. Painted white with sealed beam headlights. He had Cragars on it and the back end jacked up! This was around 2013, and the van only had 25,000 miles on it. So cool.

    0
  19. TouringFordor

    Turn it into a Possum Van!

    1+
  20. erikj

    How about a 76 tradesman with a grafted on-olds vistacrusier roof! That was the coolest roof . int. was the shag treatment,chrome refer.(LOL, refrigerator),bubble windows and the rear door had some etching ,I cant remember what it was ,but it seemed cool . And of course custom paint. I got it as a fixer and found a lot of dash plaques from custom van shows that mine must have attended. It was a little rough when I got it but in its time of glory it was clear that it was a looker when it was fresh. It had it in the late 80s and cleaned it up ,did some steering and engine repairs ,used it for a year or so and off it went to a new owner. FUN!!!

    1+
    • CATHOUSE

      A lot of those junkyard Vista Cruisers lost their roofs to a van back in the 70s.

      0
  21. W9BAG

    My friend, Brad, still has his ’77. His first brand new vehicle ! Black, 318, p/s, p/b.
    He had it really had decked out, complete with the “mushroom” side windows in the back. He took me for a ride in it when it had less than 100 miles on it. Now, it’s been sitting in his barn (!) for more than 30 years. He’s been talking about doing a full ‘resto on it, but so far, nothing. He’s in his early 60’s now, and has had cancer 2 or 3 times. I hope that he pulls it off. MANY fond memories with that ol’ Dodge.

    3+
  22. james wellman

    I remember my friend mike Harrison had one of these. One night after an Ozzy/Iron Maiden concert, drunker than hell with Spicolli wacky tabacki coming out the windows we pulled into a DWI road block. It had side pipes and demon murals everywhere on it. The cop only wanted to hear it rev and he let us pass through. LOL.. that van saved our butts from serious problems with our parents. His looked much like this except blue and grey shag.

    1+
  23. Jerry Neely

    Worked at a van shop in southern Indiana in late 70s building these crazy things. Oh what fun we had there.I got them first.Owner bought new vans to build and sell. Stripped all the stock stuff,radios,tires and wheels,put on mags,wide tires, fender flares,custom grilles and lights. Then I did all the woodwork before sending it to the finishers. we built some cool stuff.Ones like this we called Hippie vans…lol. We also built what we call business cruisers. 4-6 captains chairs.sofa bed in rear. we worked with a Ford dealer who got other business owners into them. This sure brings back lots of memories for me.KEEP ON TRUCKIN

    0
  24. Another Bob

    My dad bought a Tradesman 300 new in 76. It was a delivery vehicle and nothing like this one.
    Floated all over the road and you had to let it warm up several minutes, even during the summer, or it would die as soon as you dropped it into gear.
    He had it back to the dealer several times but no one could figure out the problem.

    0
    • Todd Fitch Todd Fitch Staff

      Funny, Bob, our ’77? Volare Wagon, 318 (and a 3-speed manual floor shifter) had the opposite problem… You’d key it off and it would keep running, dieseling for 30 seconds or more. My Step-Dad would try to put it in gear, etc. to kill it but it would just go on and on while he cussed it out.

      0

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