How many vehicles were built for at least 25 years and changed very little — at least in external appearance — during that period? There was the Type 1 Volkswagen Beetle, of course, plus the Morris Oxford/Hindustan Ambassador, the original Mini, the Kia/SAIPA Pride, Peugeot 504 and others, but genuine Detroit machinery that stayed the same for an unbroken quarter-century is tough to find. The third generation of the GM G-Series van is such a vehicle; it first went on sale as a 1971 model and stayed in production to within shouting distance of our current century. Today’s Junkyard Gem is a second-to-the-final-year ¾-ton G-Series van, found recently in a self-service yard in Phoenix, Arizona.
The 1971-1996 G-Series was sold by Chevrolet and GMC, and it was available in ½-ton (G10), ¾-ton (G20) and 1-ton (G30) configurations. The passenger versions were known as the Sportvan (Chevrolet) and Rally (GMC), while the cargo versions were called the Chevy Van (Chevrolet) and Vandura (GMC). Chrysler actually kept their competitor for this van in production a bit longer; the B-Series Dodges first hit showrooms as 1971 models and continued to be built through 2003 (though a major redesign for 1998 meant that they stopped looking like their early-1970s ancestors after 1997).
It replaced the 1964-1970 forward-control G-Vans with their flat noses, at about the same time Ford and Chrysler were ditching their forward-control light vans. Grilles, headlight configurations and some other details changed along the way, but park a 1971 Chevy Van next to a 1996 Chevy Van and you’ll know they’re the same truck.
I have a great deal of affection for the 1971-1996 G-Vans, because my parents bought a new 1973 Sportvan Beauville when I was in first grade and it stayed in the family long enough for me to crash it as a teenager. No station wagon ever seemed necessary for us, not with the jouncy, noisy, oil-canning, sticky-sliding-doored, gas-swilling yet incredibly sturdy Beauville at hand.
This Chevy Van could tell plenty of stories of its own, with its nearly 30 years on the road.
There’s no way of knowing how much of its life was spent in Arizona, but the bleached paint and lack of rust suggests that it could have spent all of it in the Grand Canyon State.
GM went to six-digit odometers on its light trucks at some point during the 1990s, so we can see that this one traversed a surprisingly low number of miles during its career. Maybe the speedometer cable broke in 2009.
Someone installed some nice wood paneling inside.
In the end, it got towed away for being parked illegally.
The engines in these vans were mounted just a bit ahead of the front axle centerline, so the rear portion lived under a doghouse that doubled as a handy work surface.
Over the decades, the 1971-1996 G-Series vans were fitted with a variety of straight-six, V6 and V8 engines, with Detroit Diesel V8s available starting in the 1982 model year. This one is the good old 350-cubic-inch (5.7-liter) Chevrolet small-block V8, same as in the Sportvan of my childhood, rated at 190 horsepower and 300 pound-feet for 1995.
The last year for a manual transmission in these vans was 1989, so this one has the mandatory four-speed automatic.
You’ll find one in every car. You’ll see.
Take that, Ford and Chrysler!