1977 Dodge Street Van: The Shaggin’ Wagon!
The Hemi Road Runner in the garage? That sucker was toast. The sudden scarcity of cheap fuel meant that, literally overnight, the world of American muscle was dead, with decades to pass before its rebirth. Manufacturers reacted as best they could by offering detuned models, but another trend stood ready as a placeholder of sorts: the van craze. If you loved cars but had no money or time to get gas, a shag wagon offered good times with none of the downsides of big-inch muscle. Once parked, a van’s occupants could enjoy a multitude of adult activities for hours or days at a time, usually accompanied by some good rock ‘n’ roll.
The Malaise Era was bad for performance, but great for human relations.Such was certainly the case for the 1977 Dodge Street Van seen here, owned by Mark and Dorinda Coates of Blountville, Tennessee, but we’ll get to that story in a minute. First, some history.
Dodge B-Series Van History
Dodge B-series vans were made from 1971 to 2003, and, apart from two mild facelifts in 1979 and 1994, were mechanically identical, making the platform one of the longest running in history. The B-series first entered production with the passenger-oriented Sportsman and cargo Tradesman models. Then, in 1976, in response to increased demand from van lovers, Dodge created the YH3 Street Van package, a special stripped-down version of the Tradesman designed for customization by the van hippies.
More Dodge Street Van Details
Even though Mark and Dorinda’s 1977 Dodge Tradesman isn’t a YH3-VIN’ed Street Van, it was very important that it exude a period-correct vibe throughout, and that meant heavy reliance on tips from the Street Van kit, which included many era-correct Mopar Direct Connection pieces: “Everything else on the interior is fully customized—you know, the door panels, everything’s hand-made—it’s got the steering wheel that was available through Direct Connection, it’s got a Tuff wheel in it, which even the VIN’ed Street Vans didn’t come with, but the Tuff wheel was available in the van section of the Direct Connection catalog.”
Score! Shag Carpeting On Clearance
Since Mark and Dorinda did all the work on the Street Van themselves, finding the right raw materials that weren’t Mopar items was a bit of a treasure hunt, especially the shag carpeting—a must for any era-correct shag wagon. “I found the carpet at Lowe’s on clearance and bought it all. There’s not any more out there,” says Coates with a laugh. “I bet they was glad to get rid of that stuff, whatn’t they?” As for the running gear, the Street Van has its original 114,000-mile 360ci small-block V8, which has been equipped with a Holley Sniper EFI and Hyperspark, the company’s distributor and timing-control set-up. Says Coates: “It drives just like a 30,000-mile Magnum 360 behind a pick-up truck. [Daniel] Boshears is working on a 408ci stroker motor for it. The engine’s black. It’s got a chrome air cleaner on it and stock valve covers and you can see a little bit of the fuel-injection stuff. None of that’s pretty.”
It’s More Than A Feeling
Nearly a half-century after the Arab Oil Embargo forced Americans to rethink their relationship with the automobile, we stand on the brink once again. Faced with negotiating the social-distancing needs of a world-wide pandemic as well as the existential question of the automobile’s future role, the Dodge Street Van and the turn-on-and-tune-out van culture points a potential way forward. Should Mark and Dorinda Coates and their Dodge Street Van find themselves in a world without any gasoline, and that may also insist additionally on their physical isolation, they can always jump in, close the door, and drift away. So if the van’s rockin’, don’t come knockin’!