Tuesday, July 13, 2010

San Francisco Street Sighting - 1970 Dodge A108 Custom Sportsman

While browsing the archives, I noticed that I had a few old vans to post. So, this week is going to be Big Three Vintage Vans week.

It kicks off with Chrysler's entry, the 1970 Dodge A108 Custom Sportsman.
The van had already been around for decades, in the form of the car-based sedan delivery and truck-based panel van. But in the early 1960s, Detroit introduced a curious new approach to vans: the forward-control, "one-box" style van. These new vans were usually marketed in three ways: as a cargo hauling van with blank panel sides, a pickup truck, or as a fully appointed family "station wagon" with side windows. That's right, this was considered a wagon. I suspect the reason these vans were created was to compete with the Volkswagen Microbus which was imported to the US and sold primarily as - you guessed it - a station wagon. Now, Detroit wanted to beat VW at their own game, so they created small, often car-based vans in the image of the Microbus.
As far as vans go, the A100 is not a particularly adventurous design. Unlike the Microbus, or even the Chevy Corvair "Corvan", the A100's engine is in the front, with water cooling and six- or eight-cylinder configurations. Ford's Falcon-based Econoline van was designed the same way. This front-engine layout probably saved the company money but ate up interior space, produced a lot of heat and was hell to work on. These vans were poorly streamlined, ponderous to drive and downright unsafe in a collision, but they offered far more interior space than a traditional wagon and could carry a ton of cargo in a compact, relatively thrifty vehicle.

This Custom Sportsman looks similar to the 1968 A100 Tradesman which was the first vehicle featured on California Streets. But you may notice something extra on this van: more windows and a foot and a half longer wheelbase. That's the difference between the A100 and the A108, much like a Chevy Tahoe versus a Suburban today. This Sportsman is effectively a minibus for carrying many passengers, with at least three and possibly four rows of seats. The body bears the scars of 40 years of duty with little love shown to it in return. The paint is probably original Q3 Light Turquoise Poly over W1 White. I'd bet this was a fairly good-looking van when it was new, before the ravages of time wore it down to the relic you see today. In the meantime, though, it keeps going.

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