Fanned by the flames of the wild American custom vans, the van craze spread throughout the western world in the 1970s.
Australians initially made do with some radically customised Bedfords, Ford Transits and Escorts hitting the streets but with a shortage of full-sized US vans to work with, many vanners preferred the local utility-based panel vans to the English products.
This suited the Australian carmakers, who were faced with declining muscle car sales and, from 1976, emission control laws that frightened performance buyers away.
Consequently, there was no shortage of performance parts and drivetrains from the factory shelves to option out the panel vans.
By 1977, Holden, Ford, and Chrysler each had a model range from the tradesman’s workhorse to the sport vans.
Holden’s top model was the HX Sandman, powered by either a 253 V8 (4.2-litre) or 308 V8 (5-litre) engine.
Ford had the XC Falcon Sundowner and a second-tier sports model, the Falcon GS, both offering a 4.1-litre six-cylinder engine. Also available were Cleveland V8s – a 302 (4.9-litre) and 351 (5.8-litre).
Chrysler had the CL Valiant Drifter with the gutsy 265 (4.3-litre) Hemi 6 or the 318 (5.2-litre) V8. They were well equipped, compared with the base models, with full instrumentation, bucket seats with T-shift auto or four-speed manual gearboxes and fully lined and carpeted interiors.
On the outside, bright colours with big bold stripes and graphics and sports wheels made the vans stand out. Aimed directly at the youth market of the 1970s, the advertisements reflected the carefree times.
The Holden Sandman ad was vaguely psychedelic and pictured a long-haired vanner playing the guitar above the words ‘Let the good times roll.’
Both Ford and Chrysler used similar themes – surfers riding the waves with the vans pictured ready to spirit them away.
A Falcon ad shared with the Escort Sundowner (a 2.0-litre version), showed hip young dudes with young women in the vans. The message was: the van is what you need to score.
The hedonistic 1970s was the perfect time to own a V8 bedroom. Young men threw a mattress in the back on weekends and chased waves and women as a way of life. The vans became known as ‘Sin Bins’.
Factory sport vans faded after the 1982 XE Falcon models lost their Cleveland V8s. But Ford continued to produce panel vans until the introduction of the AU Falcon utes.