A Vanagon, Are You Sure?

I’m not proud of the fact that I have a Pinterest account, or of the amount of time I spend looking at expedition vehicles on it. Let’s just say it is more than I feel is healthy. Hours of my life have been spent falling down the rabbit hole of what ifs. The long list of which rig and why. The figuring of how much I could sell my van for and how far that would go on another setup. The list goes on and on. Ultimately, what I want, is one rig to rule them all. One rig that I can simply commit to and then waste (invest?) money into.

That is not how I live my life. I got my first car when I was 15. It was a Dodge Ram D50. A little red pickup that my Grandfather owned. I would pull the rear bumper, put on a color matched canopy, lower it, and put on some aluminum wheels with low profile tires. From there it was some other lowriders – including some mini trucks, a ’76 Monte Carlo, Buick Riviera,  some more mini-trucks, and a ’62 Impala. From time to time I would get a sensible car, but then swap it off again for some toy. In total I am somewhere around 18 cars since I was 15. Being 35 now, that is almost a car a year.

Fast forward to the Vanagon. In 2011 I bought one, a brown one in rough condition, and then proceeded to build cabinets, throw a rack on top, and live in it for almost a year. It took me across the US and back. I sold it, thinking I would get another nicer van, but ended up with a Jetta. Fast forward to 2016, bought another Vanagon, built cabinets, put a rack on top, and again set off to live in it. That van would one day donate it’s organs to my current van, the ’84 ASI Riviera I now own. Despite all this, I still often question the platform. Surely there are better options out there.

And so I look; often. I pour over all the photos on Pinterest, read stuff on Overland Bound and Expedition Portal, and flip through hundreds of images on Instagram. There are so many cool rigs out there; but, as far as I can tell, all have drawbacks. Expedition Vehicles, like a Unimog or forward cab rig, are beautiful – but stupidly expensive, get awful gas mileage, and are awful for driving around Portland; much less a daily driver. So then I think about a truck with an offroad pop-top canopy. Probably about the same fuel mileage as my van, but way more power and dependability, neat! Except that you can’t sleep in it or use it unless unless you pop the top, plus you have to get out of your truck and walk around to the back/side to get into it. Plus they all seem to have tiny little doors.

Enter the Vanagon, or vans in general at least. Easily walk from driver seat to cabin. All the amenities of home right there. With the Vanagon you also get a spectacular turning radius, making it a dream to park in the city. They even come with a wonderful (seriously amazing) community of people. Bonus, you make friends everywhere you go because people just love these old vans. Sure, will they break down on you and cost you WAY more money than expected… probably. But none of these rigs are cheap. Bound for Nowhere just bought a BEAUTIFUL new rig, but it was a cool $80k.  An Expedition rig, like an Earthroamer, is easily $250k. Are they all awesome, you betchya! But none of them are inexpensive.

Ultimately, I think it comes down to what you think looks cool and  what comforts you are willing to give. For me, I am starting to come to the realization that what I want is a Vanagon. I think they just make good sense. Sure, there are plenty of things to improve upon, but I think they are a great platform. Need more power? Plenty of people out there ready and willing to install a more powerful motor. Need better storage? Plenty of folks out there ready to build you a custom set of cabinets to fit your needs. Want four wheel drive, or a more capable two wheel drive, both are available… for a price.

Some days I wish I just had a beat up old pickup with four wheel drive, something to get me to a trailhead. Something I never had to worry about when it is parked for days on end with no one to check on it.  But, I know myself well enough to know it wouldn’t end. We improve, we add, we build. Because in the same way that it is the journey, not the destination, it is the building, not the final product. We will never be done. We will never be satisfied. So keep building that rig – whichever it may be today.

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