Alan has come to the conclusion that it might be time to take a break, sell some of his current rides, and get a van. He wants to be able to live down by the river, or in the woods, or wherever else he feels like going. What car should he buy?
(Welcome back to What Car Should You Buy? Where we give real people real advice about buying cars. )
Here is the scenario:
I am a male in my mid-fifties who is looking to tune in, turn on, and drop out. I am planning on living in a van down by the river and whatever other iconic American phrases I can come up with to remove myself from this looney tunes (you see what I did there) society we find ourselves in today. I want a van I can deck out with all the accouterment to enable me to spend summers in Canada and the northern United States and the winters in the SW United States and Mexico. It needs to be reliable, able to get in and out of a tough spot, and while I am single, I would like for it to be comfortable enough for the random female who possesses the same ideals, or lack thereof, as me that I may find along with my adventures. I am fine either way as far as buying something already built for my needs or buying a shell and decking it out myself as I am relatively handy, though admittedly, I may have to do it twice to get it right the first time.
I need something that I can sleep comfortably in, cook, hang out on bad weather days, and will get me down rough roads and back again with enough storage space for camping gear, a canoe on top, and a bike on the back. I have a some cars that I will be selling and an old Corvette that I will keep in storage, so my total budget will be around $30,000. The one thing I do not want an RV or a Sprinter van.
Budget: Up to $30,000
Daily Driver: Yes
Location: Eventually... down by the river
Wants: Comfortable, reliable, rugged
Doesn’t want: A Sprinter van or an RV
This is a great topic and we don’t do enough vans here for WCSYB, so we were excited to take this challenge on. I’m not too plugged into the whole #vanlife trend but there is one van that I would love to have in my driveway even if I plan on living in my house and that is the Mitsubishi Delica.
Aside from the fact that this particular one for sale a Japanese Classics already has rally lights and a brush par it is also equipped with a diesel motor, manual transmission, and 4WD that is pretty much the perfect combination of fun for getting off-road or around town. Now you will have to get accustomed to the whole steering wheel on the left thing, but you seem like an adventurous dude and I bet you will take to it in no time.
The interior of these Mitsus are already pretty perfect for customizing how you want it and at a price point of under $15,000 that leaves plenty of room in your budget to upgrade it how you see fit.
Whomst among us hasn’t considered packing everything into a van and disappearing into the night
to escape the long arm of the law? I know I have. Usually within the first few hours of planning for my new life, I end up looking at Pinzgauers. You should too.
Is a Pinz a little more off-road-y than you need? Probably! It’s a little more off-road-capable than anybody needs. But imagine yourself standing next to a real Austrian High-Mobility All-Terrain Vehicle, cup of coffee in your hand, trout stream burbling in the foreground. Who’s got problems, cares, worries? Not you, buddy. You’ve got a Pinzgauer.
They’re generally cheap enough to leave room in your budget for a few creature comforts, but really, if they’re comfortable enough for a couple of Serbian Air Force firefighters, you should be fine. Note: The wonderful Pinz pictured above has sold, finally, after taunting me for years. There are plenty more where it came from, call up these guys to get started.
I’ve done a few thousand miles in vans, RVs, and a pickup truck with a built-in bed under a camper shell and I hate to say that what you want is probably as uninteresting a vehicle as possible. You want to be taking in the Sierras in all their rugged glory. You don’t want to be cursing them as your old ride chugs desperately up another grade, or hunting for spark plugs at an auto shop on the other side. Ask me how I know!
But it is impossible for me to recommend something plain and boring like an E-series church van to deck out, or a Honda Odyssey like I saw in far northern British Columbia with built-in shelving and an outboard heater.
I will say that you can still go old and trusty, rough and ready, with a 1970s van of any stripe. This 1977 Ford Econoline with Chateau badging has a handsome dash to stare at for the entirety of the plains states, a 351 Windsor (gas is cheap!), and is under your budget. As in, it’s five times under your budget. Since it’s in Portland, call up the Rolling Death Van Club and ask who you can call to get it a very rad paint job. It’s not just for style; it’s for safety. A fun look will mean people won’t immediately assume the worst when you roll into town and sleep at the Walmart.
Alan, I’m excited for you! And I’m realizing there needs to be a word that means both envious but glad I’m not doing it. Living in a van can be freeing, but the realities can often be sobering, as a normal van just isn’t really outfitted for everyday life.
That’s why I think you need something that creeps to the RV side without totally leaving easily-drivable vandom, and it’s an answer that’s been around for decades: a Volkswagen camper.
For you, I’d say a later Vanagon-based Westfalia is ideal: I’ve camped in these, and they have the basics for living and eating and sleeping already built-in, in a well-engineered way.
I know old cars and your desire for reliability don’t always match, but the good news is these old buses have strong followings that do things like adapt modern motors to them. That’s why I think this 1980 VW Vanagon Westfalia with a recent Subaru Impreza engine may be just the thing.
None of these are cheap now, but with your $30,000 budget, I think you could win this auction—the Buy It Now price is $35,000, so that’s pretty close.
If you miss this one, there’s a number of other Westfalias, some with Subaru engines, in your price range.
They’re small enough outside to be easily drivable anywhere and big and well-designed enough inside to actually live in.
Except there’s no great bowel-moving solution, at least not yet. Other than that, I think this would serve you wonderfully.