It’s hard for grown-ups to be cool, at least in the eyes of the younger generation. It’s always been that way, and it will likely always be that way. The “generation gap” that seems to haunt the human race from one spawning to the next more or less ensures that those who are in positions of authority and/or part of the “establishment” always have a tough time making themselves appeal to “the kids”. Damn youths, always having their own ideas, and knowing it all. Get off my lawn.
Of course, in many cases, those “in power” shouldn’t be trying to get in good with the next generation anyway. They should be providing guidance and the voice of experience, and even if they don’t realize it now, “the kids” will learn soon enough. Some might even be wise enough to listen, and learn to avoid some mistakes. In other cases, though, it is imperative that those with power and authority be dialled in to what the youngsters at the time are into. Two very important industries where this is so are the entertainment industry (particularly music) and the automotive industry. These two sectors in particular rely on the “upcoming” generation to buy into their products, and their hope is to keep lifelong customers.
For those in the automotive industry, this means keeping an ear to the ground insofar as to what the younger car buying demographic are not only looking for in a product, but also doing with them AFTER they buy them. In some cases, automotive trends will become so widespread that automotive companies can’t help but want to get in on some of the action. In these cases, you end up with car companies trying to make products that are “factory customs”. In other words, they try and embrace certain features of the customization craze of the time, and incorporate them into factory-produced and authorized packages. A perfect example of that can be seen on newer compact cars, where larger lower grilles (to simulate the large, aftermarket maws associated with intercoolers), continually lower-profile tires and larger rims, as well as considerable spoilers/wings/air dams have all made the jump from aftermarket tuner shop to dealership option sheet.
This isn’t the first example, though. A much earlier example came about in the 1970s, when one of the biggest fads around was Vannin’. Vanners (those into Vannin’) were the automotive offshoot of the groovy ‘60s. There’s not much more that says “free love” than some of the rolling bordellos that typified the massively customized vans of the “Vannin’ Era”, which, despite supposedly peaking in the mid-1970s, continued well into the early 1980s. What Vanners did was to take the most humble, boring and non-status-enriching vehicles of them all, the basic slab-sided vans, and turn them into one-of-a-kind customs that oozed excess and imagination (and lord knows what else…) and gushed creativity. They were muscle cars made out of trash haulers. They were sumptuous palaces made from an empty box. They were simple, plain-Jane fleet vehicles that now served as rolling canvases for some of the most creative and elaborate artwork ever seen on any automotive contrivance.
Now, the level of customization of a van varied as widely as the vans and Vanners themselves. Everything from simple stripes or flames to utterly fantastic, van-sized scenes of you-name-it could be seen. Custom wheels, portholes, side pipes, CBs and aerials were all tell-tale signs of a Vanner’s presence. Inside the vans, though, could be just as wild. Tonnes of crushed velour was a good bet, though, and big, comfy captain’s chairs were almost de rigeur on a custom van. The key for the car companies was to be able to somehow get in on this scene without appearing to do it for purely greed-based reasons (which is totally why they were doing it), and still offer a desirable product that wold be considered “cool”. After all, this was the Establishment trying to sell counterculture at dealerships. I guess that made the factory Street Vans “over-the-counter-culture”, eh?
Both Ford and Dodge were particularly engaged in this kind of activity. GM seems to have been more content to just sell vans, and let people do as they may. However, Dodge offered it’s highly youth-inspired “Street Van” package, complete with groovy advertising, directly to the Vannin’ public. To counter this, Ford hit back with a “Cruising Van” version of its popular, and recently restyled, Econoline vans. Thus, in 1977, consumers had a new ready-made custom van to use as a starting point for their two-box ambitions. Ford went one better, though, and extended this Vanitude to its Pinto wagons, creating the “junior-sized” Cruising wagons, like the one seen here.
What’s interesting is that Ford changed its mind, it seems. In the ads for the “Cruising” lineup, including both the Van and the Pinto for 1977, Ford showed a silver Econoline with large, showy stripes in yellow orange and purple (surprisingly, it wasn’t red). These went all along the van, and up over the short hood, just as they did on the Pinto. This was pretty gaudy, but such were the times… It was likely decided that having the Pinto and the van match added credibility to the Pinto. However, it’s just as possible that there was a concern that the matching striping might have some of the Pintos pretentions and, let’s face it, lameness, rub off on the van, reducing its street cred. Whether or not this was the case I don’t know, but I do know that production Cruising Vans had a totally different paint treatment, with wide, “L” shaped stripes on the body and up to the roof, but not wrapping around on the hood. In addition, the hood and roof were black, breaking up the rather sizable expanse of silver.
At the time, there was one other industry that had to be tuned into the youth market; the model kit industry! Model cars were a much bigger deal for young builders then than they are now, sadly, and model companies took great pains to create kits that would capture young buyers’ fancies. Of course, it only makes sense that young modellers would want models of what were then cool cars. Kids that couldn’t yet drive, or afford to own their own car, could buy a model kit for a few bucks of pocket money and create their own custom dream machines. Needless to say, this meant that when Vannin’ hit the scene, the model companies were quick to offer scale versions of these wild street machines to their target market.
Thus, if you look at AMT, MPC and Revell kits from the 1970s, you’ll find a good number of Street Vans among them. You’ll also find crazier vans, like Gold Rush and “Six Wheel Van” (Man, I NEED that thing!). However, the vans offered were almost always highly customized. You could build some of the MPCs stock, but why would you? Stock vans weren’t cool. At least, they weren’t until Ford’s attempt to make them cool came about. For 1977, AMT jumped on Ford’s bandwagon and issued the new, stock, “Cruising Van” kit. It could appeal to Vanners and stock builders, all in one kit!
Like so many other great kits of that era, the Cruising Van has been lost to the ages, and aftermarket prices aren’t quite in the “pocket money” category any more. Thankfully, the good folks at Round 2 have come out swinging the retro hammer once again, and you can now find a repop of this classic kit on hobby shop shelves. But, like so many other Round 2 kits, it’s just a little bit MORE than what it used to be. So, let’s now get our Vannin Mullets shaken out, get our CCR 8-Tracks rollin’ and get ready to see just what is, and was, in store. FAR. OUT.
In my mind, AMT has some pretty good boxes, but they’re not always as colourful and eye-grabbing as many of their MPC counterparts. Not so here. The graphics department at AMT definitely turned up the heat, or the magenta at least, on this box! It is one of the loudest, most blockily-colourful model boxes I have seen in a long time. It’s not frenetic like an MPC box, but it definitely pounds you in the retina with a colour palette that looks like it escaped from a Murray Kelly printing plant back in the day!
(Note: Murray Kelly printing was a printer that existed in London, Ontario, for a good number of years. My grandfather was a salesman there until he retired in the late ‘70s. Thus, he often had test shots and spare materials lying around his house. It seems that, invariably, the company had a distinct love of using orange and magenta, coupled with black, to create high-impact logos, borders, etc. Their own symbol even used this scheme. Both the striping on the Ford, and indeed AMT’s box for it, share these only somewhat complimentary colours.)
The box for the van is fairly clean. It’s typical of the era, with a white box on the left with the year in it, and then a colourful box on the right. It’s this highly vibrant magenta section that helps to set off the box. It’s a very manly shade of magenta, like Misfire (G1 Decepticon Targetmaster) or, well, something else that magenta. Front and centre is a front three-quarters shot of the eponymous “Cruising Van”, showing Ford’s attempt at capturing the Vannin’ public’s imagination wasn’t really very subtle at all. The massive side stripes and the black/silver demarcations certainly add contrast and visual interest to both the vehicle and the box lid. One extra nice touch is the “moods of surfing”-style writing for the “Cruising Van” label. I can’t think of any way to describe this kind of cursive writing other than “fat and smokey”. You can imagine what kind of smoke I mean.
One thing that hit me right away was that the striping on the box matches that of the production Cruising Vans, rather than the prototype. This is surprising, as it implies to me that AMT actually waited long enough for Ford to get the van to market before producing the kit. However, as we will see later, that’s not the case. Another thing worth noting is that the van has what appear to be perfectly stock wheels. This, again may or may not be right, but it’s certainly good news for folks who want to build a fully stock, non-Cruising van. Another thing that may not hit you right away is that the art has blackwall tires; no white letters. This makes the van look a bit weak; thank goodness the kit corrects this!
On one side of the box is original box art showing the special features. This kind of undersells the kit, since it shows the two captain’s chairs, and only a rear three-quarters view of the van with a few labels, but little to show for them. In typical AMT period fashion, this is on a single colour (in this case orange) background. This looks really dated, but again, this is a Retro Deluxe box, so what do you expect? It’s interesting to me that no photos of the “detailed engine” or “opening hood” are on this side of the box. It’s also a pain that everything’s orange, because you don’t get any painting cues for the seats. Thank goodness for the internet!
The other side of the box is far less retro, but more deluxe. It is the “new side” and shows first and foremost the “Expanded” decal sheet. Let’s be real, here. This is really where this kit makes its money. As far as I can tell, this kit is the same basic van as the Phantom van issued a few years ago. It doesn’t have some of the custom parts, so actually it’s LESS of a kit. However, for folks like me who really love stock vehicles (and the more oddball and obscure, the better) it is THIS issue that is the one to get. The amount of colour and sheer size of the sheet will be experienced later, but the image on the side of the box sells it anyway. There’s also a big note about the pre-lettered Firestone tires. As we know from other Round 2 issues, these will be awesome!
The back of the box is typical of other Round 2 releases with the parts breakdown shown in black and white. This is useful and I like it when they provide the parts outline. It sometimes influences whether I buy a kit or not. Of course, it wasn’t going to change my mind on this kit. It’s a street van, and it’s an obscure PRODUCTION vehicle from the Automotive Dark Ages. It was coming home no matter what.
The first thing you notice when you pop the top is that the box is full. This isn’t some loser bag of chips packed by weight and not volume. This is a goodly amount of plastic. The kit is moulded in silver (like Bear Bait and Pony Express to name a few), and the plastic looks pretty nice. As is always the case with silver (and gold) plastic there are some swirls in it. This means that if you wanted to try to get away with just glossing and polishing the plastic, it likely won’t work out as well as you’d hoped.
There are four sprues of silver plastic parts, as well as a bag of four tires and a separate bag containing the clear parts. These are for the windows as well as having separate portholes for the sides, and clear red tail lights. The van’s body, interior “bucket” (more like a plate) and full-frame chassis come together in one bag. There’s also a fairly small chrome rack with only the stock grille, the “five spoke” wheel covers, bumpers and mirrors. It looks very nice, though, despite the fact that the attachment points will require sanding and thus damage to the chrome. Maybe this time I’ll try to touch it up with the Molotow markers instead of just stripping it all off. However, it should be noted here that on a Cruising Van like the one shown on the box, it appears that the bumpers ARE NOT chrome, but a semi-gloss silver paint, instead.
The parts aren’t free from flash, but given the age of the moulds, things don’t look too bad. There are some seams on the van body themselves that need work, but that’s normal it seems for any car kit, even back in the day! The windows are all nice and clear (at least they look it through the bag – I don’t want to open them until I need them) and the tail light texturing is very nice. Overall, it gives the impression I usually get when I bust open an old, American car kit. It’s a solid “meh” on the finesse level, but it’s a “10+” on the potential excitement level.
The detailing in the van compartment is non-existent, however. This was expected but a disappointment. Since there’s no access to this area, AMT didn’t bother to put carpet texturing down or anything. The real vans had thick pile shag carpeting back there (NO! Really? Unbelievable!), even on the walls, but there’s nothing on the kit like this. It’s a shame, but no surprise. There’s a bit of carpeting detail in the driver’s compartment, but that’s it. There’s also no seating or furniture in the back of the van, since this is based off the standard cargo van kit. So, if you want to open it up, or make it semi-legit, you’re going to have a lot of work ahead of you. Yay.
The seats themselves look nice, with the fabric inner surfaces and (likely vinyl) bolsters adequately represented. The dashboard also looks good, although not as crisp as some MPC dashboards, and nowhere near as nice as the one in the (admittedly much newer) Revell 1964 Chevy pickup. One interesting thing to note is the “Chateau” script beside the instruments. This was the top-line passenger van in the mid ‘70s, although I don’t know if you could get the Cruising Van package on any other trim line.
One saving grace of the kit is the tires. Like all pad-printed Round 2 tires, they look utterly fantastic. They are Firestones this time instead of Good Years, but I don’t really care. I’m just glad to have lettered tires on this thing, because it would look ridiculous without them. Sadly, in my kit, a couple of the tires weren’t perfect. Half of the “Firestone” writing was missing. It’s a shame, and I’m hoping that Round 2’s Customer Service Department will be able to help me rectify my issues. I did notify them, and they said replacements would be to me in a couple of weeks, so to them I say a big “Thank you!”
Instructions and Decals:
The instructions come on a fairly small piece of paper folded in quarters, as per a lot of AMT releases. They are completely typical of a Round 2 interpretation of AMT’s van instructions. By that, I mean that the images are largely lifted right from old instructions, but are somewhat rearranged or changed a bit. I compared these instructions to those I found for the old AMT “Matilda” van, and while the images are largely the same, some have been combined into one step. This might have been the case originally on the Cruising Van kit; I can’t say.
What this means, though, is in the end, the instructions are fairly clear. They’re visually clear, but there’s a chance for some major confusion. The weirdest part is that almost none of the parts are numbered! That’s very odd, to me, for any kit. However, neither the instructions, nor the sprues, have any kind of numbering on them. Thus, you might have to fiddle a bit to figure out which are the left and right suspension components, and you’ll definitely have to “navigate by shape” when it comes to determining what’s what.
There are a couple of other things that are a bit confusing, too. The first comes in Step 1, where the engine is built. It comments that, for the air intake pipe and upper rad hose, they are shown in position for location only. It then clearly says: “Locate to chassis in step 8.” Um… no. Step 8 is the final bit of assembly, with the grille, hood, bumper and roof rack going on. The engine is omitted for clarity! So, that’s totally wrong. What’s worse is that note is, I’m fairly certain, a Round 2 addition. The correct note should mention Step 5. Ironically, there’s a note in Step 5 about locating these components. Go figure.
There’s more that’s unclear too. There are a few actually numbered parts, and they apparently go along the bottom of the interior pan. There’s one #1, and three #2s. I believe they are chassis cross braces, but I can’t be sure. It’s not clearly marked, and so I leave it up to time and test fitting to find out. It’s so odd that these alone are numbered; this tells me getting them in the right spot is a big deal.
Another oddity of this kit is the exhaust system. There isn’t one, or rather, it seems incomplete. Yes, I know, I know. “How do you forget the exhaust?” you ask, and rightfully so. Well, I don’t know. There are exhaust manifolds on the engine, and there is a single exhaust pipe and muffler that go on in Step 2. However, there’s nothing that obviously connects the. Now, many of these vans have side pipes, so I’m assuming that normally the manifolds would connect to side-pipe specific pieces. This seems to be the case with the Phantom Van, but not so much here. The fact that the instructions show nothing connecting the normal pipe to the engine isn’t all that helpful.
The instructions also get pretty confusing when it comes to the decal placement. Given all the work that Round 2 put into the decal sheet, I would think they’d maybe include a separate decal plan. No. There’s a bit of a note in Step 7 about #1 and #2 decal schemes, but they don’t say what they are or why they’re different. That’s one of the biggest failings of this kit; the folks and Round 2 have done their best to provide both kids of striping, and then not told you anything about it. Some context, more illustrations and maybe even a colour plan would help immensely. As it is, the excellent decals seem to get “sold out” by the slipshod, almost negligent, lack of information.
Now, as for said decals… yes, they are awesome. The sheet is as big as the box’s surface area, and you do get nearly complete stripes for both the “ad” version of the 1977 and the production version of the 1977 van. The schemes are known on the decal sheet as “#1” and “#2”, and the decals are labelled accordingly by their position. This is surprisingly complicated. Just a number, and a good decal plan, would have been so much better. Still, the decals are fabulously colourful, completely in register and should work well.
From my work on the Pinto Cruising Wagon and the Fuzz Duster Volare, I can tell you that Round 2’s decals are almost always fantastic. They’ll have to be here, since going over that “Econoline 150” writing on the back fender will take some work. It’s not just the stripes you get, either. You also get decals for licence plates, side marker lights, the “black hole” of the portholes and some “chrome” lettering for the hood, should it prove too much to paint the letters yourself. (This shouldn’t be the case, though; they seem well-raised enough).
Always an Issue or Two:
It wouldn’t be one of my car reviews if I didn’t find fault with something, right? It seems the greatest problem with car kits of this era (about 1973-1987) is trying to figure out exactly WHAT THEY ARE. By this, I mean that the original manufacturers were trying to make existing kits do double (or more) duty, and thus things aren’t always correct, or clear. Sadly, this is the case for the ’77 Cruising Van.
- This kit has the sliding side door. This is wrong. As far as I can tell, EVERY Cruising Van of this paint style had the double opening side doors. This means either you build it wrong (and very few will notice) or you’re going to have to correct it. This means cutting another seam in the middle of the door and gluing on small, fake hinges. You can already guess what I’m working on in the back of my head, right?
- The wheels. They are the correct wheels for an Econoline 150 Chateau. They’re nice to have. They’re not right. Sort of. From what I can tell, the ‘77s (and ‘75s) usually came with 5-slot mags. However, I’ve found a picture on the internet of what I believe is a ’76 with the wheels in this kit. So, it’s possible this is legit. In addition, the ’75 ad has a small note under the picture saying Ford provides the van, but that local shops provide other touches like Mag Wheels and Sidepipes. Again, the only time I’ve seen the Cruising Van in the box-top scheme, without sidepipes, is in ’76, but with dealer options back in the day, there’s no way to be sure. From what my brother and I can deduce, the wheels (actually wheel covers) as they come in the kit are what would have come with the van. That makes them legit. However, putting some kind of slot mag on these things seems to have been de rigeur, so the van may not look right with the wheel covers, even though they are correct. It’s up to you, of course. Since there’s no sidepipes, I’m going to do my van as completely factory stock.
- The decals. Despite everything, and how great they look, they’re not right either. FML… In researching for this article, I noticed that on all the pictures of real Cruising Vans, the fender lips are the magenta colour. On the box top, they are shown in silver. This means that the decals are designed to go AROUND them, leaving them body colour. This is wrong. It seems like a small detail. I actually like the box version more. However, that, to me, isn’t an option. So, somehow, I’m going to have to match that magenta decal and make some paint for it to cover the wheel arches and likely do under the grille; while there are decals for that, I fear they may not do the job.
- The exhaust. I mentioned it earlier, but it still bugs me. I know it’s not Round 2’s fault, but maybe they should have thrown in Phanom’s side pipes, since side pipes were an option. I guess. Maybe. I know it’s AMT’s fault, but regardless of who’s to blame, it’s a pretty bad failure.
- The paint plan isn’t very good – it mentions IC for interior colour, but what is that? From what I can tell, most of these have grey interiors. I have found the EXCELLENT (and absolutely essential) Jeff Dunham video online, and it shows grey shag carpet on the floor and walls (Of course!). The seats look grey in some shots, but they’re actually silver vinyl, on closer inspection. I’ve seen one other short video from a Quebec car show, purporting to show a ’77 with grey. (Note, though, that the van in that video is largely incorrect, with chrome bumpers and a much later “blue oval” grille.) The ’75 ad shows tan – BUT – while that ad shows a cruising van, my brother pointed out it doesn’t expressly state that the tan interior is for said van, but rather in an example of the interior you can get in an unspecified van. The silver vinyl only makes sense for the Cruising Van, and again, is what’s in the Jeff Dunham video.
I love obscure ‘70s and ‘80s cars, and I love it when car makers try to tart-up their offerings in some way. Thus, I love things like the Volare-based Road Runner, the Pinto Cruising Wagon and, of course, this factory Cruising Van. I was super-excited when I saw this kit was coming out, and I counted the days until I could get my local shop to order me one.
I am very impressed with the work Round 2 did to get the decal sheet as big and colourful as they did. I’m sure Jeff Dunham will want a kit build exactly like his prototype van; I would. I’m almost tempted to build it that way just so I don’t have to mix any magenta paint! However, finding the Slot Mags would be a bit of a pain, maybe. I do love the decals; they’re so colourful and “period” that you can’t not get into the kit.
As kits go, it’s decent enough quality and detail wise, and the new tires are, despite some defects on my copy, very nice. The kit isn’t super complicated, and so you could afford to give it to a more novice modeller. Also, the parts aren’t overly fiddly, which would help a lot with confidence. However, the somewhat shaky instructions and their lack of clarity does make things a bit more… demanding, shall we say, and this may prove to be a bit much for a new modeller trying to do a perfect job.
Unfortunately, the issues that dog this kit are not insignificant. The whole “wrong side door” thing is a major issue as is the lack of complete exhaust. The biggest buzz-kill for me, though, was finding out the decals were wrong. I just want to build a nice kit of a car, for once. I don’t want to have to constantly fight it and correct things that should be correct already. However, we all know that, when it comes to old car kits, that’s just how it goes.
So, I applaud Round 2 for giving us this kit and doing their best to make AMT’s classic not only available, again, but better than ever. Sadly, I wish they’d done a bit more research and given us decals that were correct to the real vehicle, rather than just correct to the incorrect AMT original decals and box art. It’s just like on the Pinto, where the decals were great, but were made to fit the wrong kind of side panel. It’s a real bit of heartbreak when I see things like this, and it would be awesome to see them corrected in the future. Still, the fact that Round 2 puts this stuff out at all is to be commended; if I’d bought an original, I’d have paid more, had worse condition decals and still had the same faults!
By and large, this is a neat kit that can be as fun, or as unfortunately work-heavy, as you, the modeller, make it. I want it to be an awesome example of ‘70s corporate excess, so that means some work for me. If you just want a cool van, or you like Jeff Dunham’s version (and the side door thing doesn’t drive you nuts) then you’re winning without effort! I would still say to get this kit if you love vans, but just be ready for some bumps. To paraphrase the old Vannin’ creed: “Decals, exhaust and doors: nobody rides for free!”