Rock ‘n’ Roll High School Movie Van Found!

If you missed our recent feature on Mr. T’s Tandem Van that reader Joe P rescued, you may want to check it out here. Joe’s friend Jon Catto, with the help of Chris Heramb, was the one that actually located Mr. T’s van. Shortly after featuring that one, Jon contacted us to tell us the rest of the story and it turned out that he sold the Tandem Van to Joe so that he could finish up a different custom Van, which turned out to be the Warlock from the movie Rock ‘n’ Roll High School starring The Ramones!

From Jon C – The story of The Warlock van starts in 1975 in Lansing Michigan where a street rodder/custom car painter by trade named Gary Glenn, purchased a brand new 1975 Chevrolet standard wheelbase “display van” from Shaheen Chevrolet, also located in Lansing at that time. From there, he called his good friend Gene Gamet, who, at the time, was working as a tool and die man at the Olds/GM forge plant #2. He told Gene about the van he had purchased and wanted him to do something with it that no one had ever seen before. Gene agreed to take on this task and went to pick up the 75 Chevy at Shaheen with only 10 miles on the odometer. Gene drove the van back to his house, where no one, not even Gary Glenn knew what was about to happen to his brand new van.

Custom vans had just started becoming very popular in 1975, and Gene wanted to deliver something to Gary totally radical and unique. He even told Gary to not come by the house, he wanted this to be a total surprise. He proceeded to give the van a “haircut”, removing a whopping 7 inches from the top of the van. He also managed to do this without compromising the roof skin, laying the windshield, sides, and rear doors in to meet the skin, and give the van a more aerodynamic look. The rake of the windshield was so drastic, that they broke three factory windshields trying to fit them to the van. That’s when Gene had the idea to use a windshield with less of a curve and grafted a 67-72 Chevy C10 truck windshield frame into the van, and in my opinion, adding to its iconic appearance. When welding and fabrication were done, Gene called Gary to come to look at what he had done. Gary loved it and The Northstar was born… that’s right, I said Northstar.

Gene was working twelve hour days at the forge plant, and Gary was trying to get the van ready for its first show Carl Caspers Autorama at Cobo Hall in Detroit Michigan. So he took the van from there, to Terry Dodge Autobody. Terry did the finish work on the van and got it ready for paint. This is where Gary Glenn was ready to work his magic.

Gary brought the van back to his shop and proceeded to paint the van with a combination of blues and whites, covering the whole van in an arctic snowy scene. With only two weeks left before the Detroit Autorama, he and his wife completed the total custom interior, covered in crushed velvet, mirrored ceiling, water bed, TV, fridge, and even a “cave”. He dubbed it “Northstar” and it was ready for the show, where it swept up every trophy it could win, even Best Of Show. From there it followed Carl Casper on the traveling show circuit and was a huge hit.

Fast forward two years. Gary decides he wanted to move his business and family to California. So, he loads up the van with everything he owned and did exactly that. Once in California, he decided he needed to change Northstar into something even more radical to advertise his business and really wow the public.

He goes all out and strips the van down totally and repainting it with seven different shades of candy red paint, gold leaf, murals, striping, to showcase every aspect of his talent. Also adding custom “tribal” styled rear bumpers and revamping a good portion of the interior to match her new dress. The second rendition of the van is born, “The Warlock” and is another huge success. It was then, that the van would go on to be featured in the 1979 movie, Rock N Roll High School, also starring the band, The Ramones, featured in almost 40 different publications, and one of the most famous custom vans in the country, perhaps, the world.

Gary owned the van for approximately ten years. He had plans on doing a third rendition of the van named “Against the Wind”. So he strips the van again, covering it in primer to prepare her for her next phase in life. It was at this time, Gary fell on hard times. Vinyl lettering had just come out and Gary experienced a steep decline in his lettering and custom painting business and was forced to close his doors and sell the van.

Enter the van’s second owner, a young custom painter and airbrush artist himself, Jay Werner. He knew Gary and heard the van may be for sale. He contacted Gary and they struck a deal. This was in the mid to late ’80s and the van scene was dying out somewhat, with custom mini trucks taking over. Jay wanted to make the van his own creation. He smoothed out the body lines, added one-off custom fender flares with handmade Ferrari styled fins running through the lower portion of the van making the van almost unrecognizable as Warlock. He drove it to many shows in California, but never quite finished the van. In 1997 he decided he wanted to sell all his possessions and move to Hawaii. A man named Frank Jackson in Ohio catches wind of a chopped van for sale in California through a mutual friend, he makes a deal with Jay to purchase the van not even knowing that it’s the infamous Warlock, and Frank’s friend drives the van from California to Montrose, Illinois.

Frank Jackson gets the van, she’s in pretty sad shape. So he rebuilds the engine, transmission, and restored all the mechanical portions of the van, but sadly, Frank is not a body man. He has the help of some friends, so they start working to make the van presentable again. This is where they discover under all the primer, sections of original Warlock paint and verify that this was Gary Glenn’s show winning van. He contacts Gary Glenn and even makes a deal with Gary to repaint the van when it comes time. Sadly, Gary passes away in 2013 before the van is ready and it takes the wind out of Franks sails, this is around the time I enter the whole story.

I’ve been into cars as long as I can remember, been into custom vans for 15 years. I’m also a member of the Grim Creepers Van Club. One day about 7 years ago, I’m on a website called Vanning.com which is run by a friend of mine named Dave Astro. This is a site where all vanners come together and talk vans. I just happen to be in the “vans for sale” section and I stumble across a 1975 chopped Chevy van for sale in Ohio. The owner claims that it is the infamous Warlock, although it still does not closely resemble its original condition. At the time, I needed another project like a hole in the head, hahaha, but I’m interested and call him anyway. Frank then tells me he has changed his mind about selling the van as he had found someone to restore the van for him. I tell him “that’s great, glad it’s being saved” and put it in the back of my mind.

Fast forward to 2017. I see a picture pop up on Facebook of The Warlock at a show in the ’70s surrounded by velvet ropes. I start reading the comments and realize something is not right. I tracked down Franks phone number and give him a call. He says things are not going as planned with the restoration, Gary Glenn had passed away, and he had lost motivation on continuing restoration on Warlock. I asked Frank if he was ready to sell the van, we talked on the phone for a few months about it before we made a deal. Only one thing, the van was at a shop in West Virginia, and I had to go get it. So I loaded up the truck and trailer and I was on my way to go save this iconic van.

I get the van back to my shop, where I start the extensive restoration needed to bring this van back to the original Warlock condition. I stripped the van to bare metal, and as you can see by the pictures many changes needed to take place to accomplish this task. Van Nationals 2018 is approaching, and I set my mind on having the van in attendance. With the help of some of my best friends, Shawn Murphy and Clay Gettys, we get the van assembled and in primer, enough for the van to make an appearance, not wanting to rush the paint. This is how she looks today.

It’s been a long road for The Warlock, and her journey is far from over. I have plans in the coming months to eventually finish her, recreating every aspect of Garys build, right down to the crazy paint job and outlandish interior. I meet new people all the time, who knew Gary and appreciate the fact that I’m keeping his legacy alive and paying homage to the van he loved so much.

As awesome as this van is, it’s the history that really makes it special! The fact that Jon has been able to trace it back all the way to Gary and even has photos of Gene chopping it makes it an important piece of automotive history. The ties to Rock ‘n’ Roll High School and The Ramones just adds that much more to an already amazing story.

A huge thanks goes out to Jon not just for sharing this van with us, but for preserving it and it’s history! If you have a unique vehicle with a cool story, please let us know about it via email at mail@barnfinds.com.

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Comments

  1. leiniedude leiniedude Member

    Great story, nice history also. I will be waiting for the update when painted. As a long time van man, the Wild Cherry story kind of ruined the van thing for me. Best of luck Jon!

    Like 19
    • Tim A.

      Catto is a good friend and a fantastic vanner and his story is that of a true van lover. Don’t let the WC story sour you on vanning because its a one off and any true vanner does not support it while Cattos story is the norm and happens a lot in our community. Much love to Catto and my vanning friends and I look forward to seeing your progress.

      Like 3
  2. Beatnik Bedouin

    Cool find! Thanks for sharing a bit of history with us.

    Those who have seen the film might remember a young lady being towed down the school hallway riding a skateboard. That was my girlfriend at the time. One of her childhood friends was trying the break into show business and they ended up as extras on the film. Them wuz th’daze… ;-)

    Like 31
  3. Rock On

    Very cool story. I would also dump the Mister T van to get hold of something from The Ramones. Cool movie and cool van.

    Like 15
  4. sir mike

    Pimp my ride….

    Like 6
  5. DayDreamBeliever Member

    The North Star exterior photos were taken at the Pontiac Silverdome, a famous locale for the NFL Lions and other major events coming to the Detroit area. It has not fared as well as the van.

    Great story, nice to see the many lives of a machine like this!

    Like 14
  6. Rx7turboII

    Speaking of the wild cherry van…
    Looks like about a month-and-a-half ago they found it stripped and vandalized on the side of the road.

    Like 5
  7. Nick p

    Oh my god!! I haven’t had to read that much since high school!! Shorten it up man!!

    Like 2
  8. Maverick

    Great story glad to see you saved a piece of van history looks great. Just keep it locked up. There are famous van thieves. .wild cherry.

    Like 8
  9. Jeff Bone

    Gary Glenn was a fantastic artist and a very close friend of our family. Attached is a photo of the WARLOCK with myself in the background in 1983.I have been in constant touch with Jon Catto (current owner) and am very pleased with Jon’s meticulous restoration. Gary Glenn would be proud.

    Like 13
  10. Mike

    Awesome

    Like 2
  11. Rural Runner

    Thanks for resisting the temptation to write a short little blurb. It was great to read the details of this find.

    Like 5
  12. Wrong Way

    This is extremely rare to trace the history all the way back to the beginning! I mean this is pretty much right from the horses mouth! So to speak anyway! This was a awesome read! If he reads this, I probably have money to invest in his quest! I would love to be a part of this journey! Seriously!

    Like 7
  13. DAVID6

    😲 i have 72 short3/4 ton running
    350 corvette, t400, 410 detroit
    locker, 3 fold dn buckets, 💰
    text or call(310)(906)(5887)
    thank’s👍😎

    • Wrong Way

      Pay to advertise, you cheap bleep!

      Like 9
  14. Jon C

    Thanks for the kind words everyone! If you have any further information, pictures, stories on the van, or for further questions, you can email me at blueshotmechanic@yahoo.com

    Jon C.

    • Wrong Way

      Jon C, I have your address saved! I would like to communicate with you, but after the 1st! I have some things going on!

      Like 2
  15. Walter

    A huge thank you !!! For this story. Was somewhat into the van scene as a teen. Met Greg of Akron if anyone recalls his work. Great job on preserving history.

    Like 3
  16. Kenneth Carney

    While I may not be into radical custom vans, I laud the builder for his creativity
    in building a van that went far beyond
    anything being built at that point in time.
    It’s one thing to lower the lid on an older
    car or truck, but one of these? Jon, your
    friends had a lot of balls in going where
    no builder had gone before. Even in primer, their work has stood the test of time. Can’t wait to see it in its finished
    state. Good luck to you!

    Like 8
  17. Bodyman68

    Great to hear this van is being saved and brought back the its hey day status ! Ive had many vans and always look at custom ones for ideas of creativeness . Great job keep us posted .

    Like 4
  18. David Livermore

    OMG!🤩😜 I was just talking about this van on my other FB post! I was around 14 yrs old, Gene Gamet lived up on the corner, (Hughes and Jolly, Lansing MI), I was friends with his kids Gene (jr) and Kim, I “helped” him with the top. I “held it” in place while he welded. I’m sure he had it clamped in place-lol.
    I remember one day, I was riding my bike down the sidewalk on Jolly Rd and I heard a car horn, I turned to see and it was Gene, he was honking and waiving to me out the windshield, the glass wasn’t installed yet. 👍

    Like 4
  19. Jon Catto

    I felt the same! Thanks for your kind words!

    Like 1

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