Vintage Custom Van Styling Tips by Tom Daniel

0 Posted by - May 8, 2014 - Art, Cars, Machines

Vintage Custom Van Styling Tips by Tom Daniel

This one’s for the van fans out there. We were digging through our magazine archives and came across this great piece from Tom Daniel circa 1976.


Vans: What a trip they are! How do you make a shoebox look good? Well, it’s not totally impossible; in fact, we’re starting to see more than just a few really good looking ones.

We recently acquired a ¾-ton Chevy surfer van, which is of course the short-bodied version, and most of the sketches shown here are my design thoughts on different ways to give it its own individual appearance.

For you individual van owners, let’s take a look at some thoughts on ways to go for “personalizing.”



Custom means show-only to some people, but it can also mean for daily use if some rationality is used when customizing.

Vans, being trucks, leave much to be desired from the standpoint of finish, fit and comfort if they are to be used as anything other than vans.

The idea here is to streamline the basically boxy lines in traditional customizing fashion and increase the comfort and function too. Air ventilation is one are that needs a close look. As the sketch shows, a smooth look is obtained to the roofline by the addition of the wraparound sun visor, which also admits air into the front area and allows it to vent out the side panels, as well as through adjustable louvers in the rear spoiler.

A chromed steel front bumper also serves as a step to reach high and normally inaccessible areas (unless you’re seven feet tall or have arms like Plastic Man). Note the functional running board as well.

Simple sheet metal shrouds cover the rectangular headlights, which are mounted vertically. The turn signals are tucked back into the lower tunnel ducts. The hood has been reworked to house hidden wipers and would either tilt forward or clamshell open for engine access. Note that all door hinges would be faired smoothly into the body panels. At the rear, two square exhaust tips exit under a rubberized rear bumper.



The off-road look is hot these days, and if you can afford the $8,000 price of the GMC four-wheel-drive van, here’s one way to go for styling. Of course this applies to a regular Chevy or GMC van too.

Since the basic look is up off the ground, some different approaches to the paint can be done. Two-tone breakups such as this one would be very good-looking and can be very bold in a variety of combinations. We’d probably lean toward chocolate browns with a warm white pearl color for accent. Orange and black or yellow and black would also be a standout.

The step/bumper combination would be a handy feature, as would the sun visor, which has faired-in running lights. In order to keep the under-chassis free of targets for rocks and such, the exhausts are neatly tucked up next to the frame rails and through a heat-insulated panel inside the body, to exit as shown. The two spot sketches show a couple of variations, one being aimed at ventilation again, with air scooped in and exiting through the vents at the rear. Rubber tire lips are the logical way to extend flares over the big off-road tires. That brings up a good point. Large tires and wheels help considerably to reduce the overall bulky look.



We really dig this concept. The addition of the day-cruiser top, sunshade and full wraparound bumper give the design a distinct flair. A portable umbrella would be clamped onto the roof as needed when parked. The little surfer on the van side, as well as the mural and sunface on the other van are a line of nifty new murals and add-ons by the Arlon Company.

Note the side air vents and windows, which visually are an extension of the swept-up line starting at the passenger door wind wing. Can you see this towing a ski boat?



The callouts pretty much tell the story of this design, which is aimed at a racy look, with additional functions, such as ventilation, combined into the design. There are custom touches as well, such as the rectangular lights (which are mounted into the stock housings), grille, bumper (rubber-coated) and sun visor. Sidepipes are hidden under louvered panels. The “Whale Tail” roof spoiler also vents air, as the cutaway sketch and top view sketch shows.

The paint panels are laid in to give a feeling of speed, as well as to help reduce the overall mass of the van, and were kept to a strong horizontal theme.



The idea of a genuine Trans Am racing van really jazzes me. It would have to be a mid-engine setup to be really hot and of course would set low and wide on typical enormous racing tires.

The sketches shown here are based on a late-model Dodge van and indicate some thought toward engine, brake and transmission, as well as driver cooling. Getting air out is of course also important. The rear view sketch shows the widow area opened wide, with the center post removed and screen material now in place of the former glass. Below, the four exhaust pipes exit in the middle of another screened opening to allow heat and air to escape. Racing aside, with some minor changes, this would be a strong new look for street machinery too. Give it some thought.

The interiors? Well, that’s a whole ‘nother story, which will come at another time. But for now, these may help you shape your dream of how your van’s gonna look…one of these days.

Illustrations and Words: Tom Daniel   Source: Hot Rod Magazine Vans