When it comes to making outlandish custom cars, I don’t think there has ever been, or will ever be, a decade like the ‘70s. Sure, today’s slammed and fart-piped Civics and Sunfires with their Superbird-esque wings and wheels with 45 degrees of rear camber sporting stretched tires may look ridiculous to some, but in many ways, there’s only so much you can do to a compact. Some are better than others, but the level of absurdity seen in the ‘70s is rarely equalled. I don’t just mean wild paint jobs and blowers that need blinking lights on them so planes don’t hit them, either. Back in the day, the willingness to throw putty knew bounds of neither taste nor engineering soundness.
One of the most bastardized family of cars of all, it seems, were the descendants of the muscle cars. It was not uncommon for T/As, Camaros and Corvettes to be the unfortunate focus of the often apparently narcotics-fuelled imaginations of owners and bodymen everywhere. From multiple extra tail lights and headlights to sideways opening hoods, gullwing doors and chrome everything, many extreme customs were forged from GM’s finest. Mustangs seemed to have suffered less; maybe nothing can save a Mustang II?
This was the era of the “Show Rod”, in which anything and everything went, so much so that it wasn’t uncommon for a final custom to bear little to no resemblance to the vehicle as which it started life. If there were no grilles, they were added. If there were grilles, they got deleted. The same thing happened with pop up headlights; it was common to have the “winkers” on a Vette replaced with permanently deployed lights, while others had their lights faired in or covered over. With so much potential, and so little pressure to adhere to anything other than “do it”, the rodders of this era succeeded in creating rolling testaments to the tasteless excesses of an era.
This was also the era in which MPC was doing very well for itself. It had annuals and promo business, as well as producing lots of both stock and custom models, and the public was buying. However, as with any product, it’s important to make sure you deliver what the customer wants when churning out model cars. MPC saw the climate created by the Show Rod movement and decided to jump in on it; I mean, after all, they were already all over the Vannin’ scene, why not the wild custom one too, right? In an effort to attract the attention of these most extreme customizers, MPC needed something beyond just flares and lights. They needed something transformative.
That something was Vette Van. Yes, you read it right; Vette Van. If you’re thinking “WTF?”, you’re not alone. I am well aware that the Corvette is about as polarly opposite from a van as you can get. It’s like saying “Desert Skidoo”. Still, MPC did it. They took all the flowing lines of a mid-‘70s Vette and added a Van component. Really, it’s more like a wagon than a true van, but it does have fin mags and crazy stripes, so they’re not completely off base with the Vette Van moniker.
So, let’s get our 8-tracks blaring and our bottoms belling; set the wayback machine for the mid ‘70s and get ready to see what the good folks at MPC came up with when they gave us the Vette Van!
The Vette Van’s box is surprisingly tame, given the nature of the subject, the time it would have been released. It seems that the MPC boxes of the mid-late ‘70s aren’t as whacked out as their ‘80s boxes, which is quite the opposite of what I’d have thought. The Vette Van’s box is a simple white background, with both a front and rear three quarters view of the titular van itself. Mind you, while it might not be a piece of highly imaginative graphic artistry, the box is still quite effective in grabbing one’s attention. I can’t help but think that it’s due to the rounded font they used, or that three-colour pinstripe under the Vette Van name. Or, I suppose, it could be because there’s a BROWN Corvette Van with orange and yellow stripes. That could be a draw, too, I guess…
The Vette Van does a good job of filling the box lid. The rakish lines of the mid ‘70s Vette clearly dominate the design, and the front is as pointy as one you’ll see. However, since this is a mid-‘70s custom, it is almost to be expected that the nose, grilles and headlights have been changed. In fact, as stated earlier, the headlights are moulded permanently out. Making this even better is the fact that the designers didn’t use the “normal” approach of cutting troughs to and installing the lights flush with the hood. Nope. They essentially created pods to put the lights in, giving the impression that they are permanently raised!
Yes, you see it right. Instead of making the custom more streamlined, the designers made it more awkward. The result is something not unlike a toad in appearance, with a pointy snout, bulging eyes and a rather chubby back end. And what a back end! Taking a look at the upper view, you can see the new full-width rear tail lights and tall, bizarrely-styled “van” box. The lights look like those from a Fiero, but 10 years sooner, and the weird “Vista Cruiser” roofline takes one more opportunity to throw streamlining out the same window that good taste likely passed through some time before. Why add a bulge? Why not? What is you, noobz?
Completing the pic on the box lid is the massive set of sidepipes and deep, deep-dish mags with lots of fins. On the side of the box, you can see a side view of the Vette Van, although it is not in “full size”; this must be a practice that MPC adopted later. It’s a shame, I always liked that. You do, though, get to see some of the awesome features, like the surprisingly featureless engine bay and a small pic of the apparently stock interior. Strangely, the box is the same on both sides, maybe because there’s really no write-up that can do Vette Van justice in the space provided on just the side of a model box. (Good thing I’m here to correct that, eh?)
The box itself isn’t very strong, but given it’s about 40 years old, that’s not a surprise. It’s a top opening box with a thin top and a thin bottom. It wants to collapse on itself, so if you find one of these, you’d best handle the box with care! Overall, while it’s not as exciting as it could be, the box does a good job of getting the wackiness of Vette Van across, and that’s really all you can expect.
The Vette Van comes moulded in two colours; black and white. The body, hood and interior bucket are all in white, while the rest of the car is moulded in black. There is a rack of chrome for things like the grille, wheels and the obligatory “wouldn’t really be chromed” engine parts. Of course, on a custom this wild, having the engine bits in chrome is definitely within the realm of the possible, I suppose! There is a clear plastic red piece for the massive fill-width tail light assembly, and there’s a small clear rack with the front and rear windows, as well as the two smaller side windows. Just as a note, I think the car would look much better as a hardtop and with the rear window open. That’s just me, but I’m thinking that’s how I’m going to build this freaky dude whenever I do get around to it. The great thing is, no one can tell me I’m wrong!
Like so many MPC kits before it, the Vette Van is an amazingly well-detailed kit. Sure, it’s rough around the edges, but the texturing and detailing in the interior bucket and on the dashboard is excellent, the engine looks good and, very rare for an American car kit, there’s a lot of headliner detail, too. Even the underside of the hood has excellent detail, and there’s a clear spot to cut for a custom blower, which clearly indicates that the “Vette” part of the van comes from another MPC Corvette kit. Looking at the dashboard, with its deep-set gauges and two-rows of map pockets, it seems like this is from the 1974 Vette kit which had several guises, including one with a large venturi stack popping through the hood.
However, the Vette Van is more than just the ’74 kit with a new body. The interior bucket is new too. Whereas the stock ‘74’s bucket ends just aft of the rear wheel well, the Vette Van’s, by necessity, goes right to the tailgate, resulting in a much longer bucket. Basically, the kit is the MPC ’74 from the doors forward, and custom from the doors back. The chassis, though, is common to both the ’74 and the Van. It’s fun playing “sprue archaeologist” sometimes, and if any company is going to make you feel like a styrene Indiana Jones, it’s MPC!
Another wonderful feature of this kit is the tires. These are Good Year Bluestreak Stock Car Specials. How do I know? Because it says so on the delightfully detail-heavy tires! Yes, this model is from the good old days when tire companies DIDN’T mind that model companies did free advertising for them. Unlike today, where tire makers stupidly want to charge model companies a fee to use their logos on kit tires, the days of Vette Van saw every car having appropriately printed tires. The “Good Year” writing is quite large and bold, and should be easy to letter, for those who want white letters on their Van. The box doesn’t show the letters whited, but I can’t imagine who wouldn’t have opted for white-lettered tires back in the mid-‘70s.
Strangely for a car kit, this actually has seatbelts, too. The Vette Van provides moulded harnesses for its seats! Given that the seats don’t look that comfortable or supportive, this is probably a good idea. The belts are moulded in two pieces per seat, and there are pieces for both seats. I rarely see car kits with seatbelts in them, and that took me by surprise. It’s one more interesting and unusual point that Vette Van brings to the modelling bench!
One thing that’s cheesy, though, is the sidepipes. Even if you normally like sidepipes and think these look good (which I do), you have to admit that they should CONNECT to something, right? Well, Vette Van’s don’t. At least, I don’t think they do. There’s really no point of connection between the exhaust manifolds and the sidepipes, so putting them on is going to be difficult. That is, of course, unless you embrace the cheesiness, and put non-functional sidepipes on a car with conventional exhaust! Don’t tell me it wasn’t done in the day, because I am willing to bet that it was.
Instructions and Decals:
The Vette Van’s instructions are very straight forward, and typical of MPC. They are printed, two sided, on a single piece of paper folded in half, and then quartered to fit in the box. There’s nothing particularly hard to grasp when looking at them, and most people will be able to follow them no problem. What is odd, though, is the order of build. For example, the suspension is assembled before the engine, and the engine is installed before putting on the exhaust manifolds. I don’t know if this is essential, but I’d definitely recommend dry fitting the parts to see why it’s done this way. Sadly, the engine compartment is about the least detailed I’ve ever seen from MPC. This is a real shame since on a custom this wild; it’s likely the case that you’ll want to open the hood. However, with nothing in there, it’s a lot less entertaining than it ought to be. I would have liked to see something like hoses, coolant bottles, ANYTHING to help break up the bareness of the engine bay. As it is, there’s only the engine and one radiator hose.
The Vette Van’s decals consist, as seen on the box, of some orange and yellow stripes and “Vette Van” stencilling for the door. This is pretty mundane, actually, given the nature of the kit. Sadly, because my kit was second hand, I haven’t got the decal sheet. This helped me out, actually, since I doubt I would have used them, and made the kit “incomplete”, so I was able to bargain it down from obscenely expensive to just a whole lotta cash. Well, a lot of cash compared to what I pay for many of my models, anyway. I’m sure they’re typical MPC decals, though. Sadly, I’ve never used MPC decals, so I have no idea if that’s good or bad. Sorry about that.
The Vette Van is awesome. Period. It is a shining example of “too much, too far” as far as customization goes, and it really grabs the Show Rod spirit, managing to both celebrate it and point out its silliness at the same time. As a kit, it’s no more difficult looking than a normal MPC, but that means that there’s lots of flash and seams that will need work, and it means that there will be no shortcutting things during the build.
This isn’t a common kit, and it hasn’t been reissued, at least as of 2015. Given those points, and the fact that it’s going to have some fiddliness to it, means I can’t recommend it to novices. However, if you’re confident in your modelling skills and want something totally different to work on, then this thing is DEFINITELY going to float your boat. Of course, if your boat is a van, then it’s even better!
Vette Van is a cool piece of history that will challenge both the skills and the creativity of a good builder, and for that I applaud it. It’s also a Corvette that’s a station wagon, and that’s a bit odd, but if you like Gremlins, you’re probably okay. The potential in this kit is great, and a good customizer can and likely will have a blast with it.
You like it weird? You got it! When you see a Vette Van, grab it. If you don’t, someone else surely will.