Pristine Pathfinder Conversion: 1981 GMC Vandura 4×4

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The 1970s and 1980s were fascinating times in the automotive industry with the prevalence of aftermarket companies cozying up to the big OEMs. It was seemingly never easier to be a small outfit and able to build vehicles fresh off the assembly line into a custom creation the factory didn’t have the time or budget to make. Pathfinder Equipment Co., Inc. is one such example, and they made some of the coolest 4WD conversions you’ve ever seen, taking our favorite plumber’s van and turning the likes of the GMC Vandura into an early overlanding machine. This 1981 GMC Vandura Pathfinder 4×4 is listed here on craigslist in California for $39,500.

Now, that’s a big price for a Vandura – but honestly, this may be one of the nicest examples left of this obscure 4×4 conversion. Pathfinder continued taking GM’s van model offering and converting them into off-road machines well into the 90s, so while this may have been a small outfit compared to a traditional auto manufacturer, the company has a long and successful history with 4WD conversions. Up until fairly recently, you could even still order component kits from them for your own home-brew retrofits. And every now and again, you’ll find an Astro van with the Pathfinder treatment, so there’s plenty of evidence that the conversion work was done to a high level.

This Pathfinder Vandura has a fantastic history, based on the seller’s description. According to the listing, it was purchased as an adventure/pleasure vehicle by the original owner who custom ordered it via their local GM dealership. Purchased new in Los Gatos, California, it went on to be used in Lake Tahoe for off-road excursions while towing dirt bikes and a 1962 Chris Craft runabout; how I’d love to see in-period photos of this rig loaded up with gear and traversing the stunning landscape of Lake Tahoe. Suffice to say, the California residence has allowed this rare Vandura to stay rust-free, and it looks pristine inside and out.

When it was ordered, the customer checked all the right boxes: a heavy duty LT9 5.7V8, TH400 transmission, and a Dana 60 rear end with 4.10 gears. It even has the “….very rare 11,000 GCW Trailer towing package,” according to the seller, which makes this GMC a truly overbuilt machine. I have no doubt that the seller’s claim of this van being one of the most expensive vehicles to leave the GM dealership that year to be true; after all, this is not unlike buying the most tricked-out Sprinter van at your local RV dealership. The fact that it still wears original paint and has under 100,000 miles makes this Pathfinder conversion practically unrepeatable, and I doubt the seller will have much of a challenge finding a buyer. Thanks to Barn Finds reader numskal for the find.

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  1. Roland

    Cool rig, big price.

    Like 14
  2. RMac

    Love the vehicle hate the price s as and the fact I cannot afford it

    Like 11
    • Odddoylerules

      Build then! Conversions on chevys are lego like in simplicity. Have the same vehicle but no regrets if you damage it, for half price.

      Like 3
  3. Nelson C

    I don’t really have a need for this but it sure looks great.

    Like 5
  4. Wiliam

    Hahaha everybody thinks everything’s worth a fortune these days.

    Like 16
    • Slomoogee

      Thanks to Pickers, Barrette – Jackson, Bring a Trailer, and other sites, not to mention old guys with lots of disposable income the car world as we all knew it has changed. It’s not our world anymore, we just have figure out how to live in it.

      Like 9
  5. Hans H

    Nice van. Ad states it has a Dana 44 in the rear, I believe they had a 14 bolt full float in the rear. The front were usually Dana 60s on the 1 tons, half tons usually had the 44. Nice anyway, but outta range for me.

    Like 2
  6. HoA HoAMember

    California dreamin’? You bet, we’ve come to expect that. The van? Good heavens, miserable vehicles. There are a couple out here, but very few, and for good reason. It would probably be easier saying its few merits. 4wd full size vans have a limited calling, specialized really, short trips in the hills when the going is rough, it works. Any other kind of civilized travel, not so much. We all gasp at the prices the seller so nonchalantly posts, like it’s normal, and maybe to California, it is, but if a rattle can like this sells for this amount, well, I’ll be darned.

    Like 8
    • Slomoogee

      Thanks to Pickers, Barrette – Jackson, Bring a Trailer, and other sites, not to mention old guys with lots of disposable income the car world as we all knew it has changed. It’s not our world anymore, we just have figure out how to live in it.

      Like 6
  7. HoA HoAMember

    Rather than edit, surely sending the comment to the “approval facility” in Waco, Texas, I wanted to say, if these vehicles are really selling for these prices, P.T.Barnum was on to something lo these 150 years ago, although there’s no proof he actually said that.

    Like 5
  8. Bob

    He won’t be able to drive before long in the state in which he resides.

    Like 0
  9. John Swenbeck

    I figured 25-30k, a lot of coin but it is sharp.

    Like 3
  10. Emmet

    I love the van, but like everyone else reading it, think its a bit over priced. I could see his asking price if it was fully furnished inside, but its a blank slate at the moment. Also, 39.5 is his asking price, not his selling price. Good luck with the sale.

    Like 4
    • Roland Schoenke

      I prefer the blank slate, like to do things my way, but the price is also out of my range.

      Like 0
    • WCD

      Thank you

      Like 0
  11. dwcisme

    When they were new, I’d only seen one in use by emergency services. Then, in the late 80’s I saw a retired 4×4 ambulance with a plow on the front. That must have been a tad nose heavy.

    Like 3
  12. Odddoylerules

    Did yall not read this is basically one of one, last of its kind in all original condition?

    Yeah it’s a van. Yeah you could build one for half the price. It’s about the rarity. This is what I want from BaT. True overlooked unicorns.

    Like 2
    • RMac

      LOL You should probably stick to BaT then because here rare does not equal valuable to most

      Like 5
  13. james

    Nicer than this one but gives perspective of how ridiculous this price is.

    Like 0
  14. ET

    I got a sneaky hunch that if a person actually paid that price, they would suffer some major buyers remorse…lol

    Like 4
  15. RMac

    Unless that person is odddoylerules or the bone heads who buy off BAT or TV auctions then they would think it was a great buy LOL if money is not an issue the rules are different?

    Like 1
    • James

      no one thinks it’s a great buy. And there are plenty of great buys on BAT and just about any auction. All depends on who’s bidding on any particular day.

      Like 2
  16. benica

    Already know. Seller is asking a ridiculous price. Won’t sell for 20K let alone what is asking

    Like 2
  17. James
    • RMac

      Nice work James!!

      Like 0
  18. nlpnt

    Expensive but it only takes one collector, and you NEVER see one in this condition; as hyped as 4wd van conversions were in the truck and van buff mags of the day, almost all were bought by fleet operators for severe service and worn out in that duty.

    Like 0

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