Here’s a great philosophical and sociological question for everyone to ponder for a moment:
“When is too much not even close to enough?”
Now, before too many pints are consumed, and the spectres of class struggle, political turmoil and that mysterious “1%” rear their ugly heads in the debating of this meaty idea, let me tell you the answer:
“When you’re talking about Street Vans!”
Oh, well, that was simple wasn’t it?
It seems that the answer to that question, and those like it, always comes back to those ‘70s and ‘80s champions of the “mile too far is still to close” club, the Vanners. Street Vans were, are and will likely always be, the most tellingly extravagant examples of what happens when all bets are off, all caution is thrown to the wind and customizers are given not only free reign but also a humongous canvas upon which to work their magic. If you remember the time of the Street Van, then you know exactly what I mean.
Street Vans, and the Vanners that built them, ruled the roads and Show Rod circuit for about 10-15 years at most. Yet, in that time, they left their indelible marks on the collective psyche of automotive customizers everywhere. They took the wildness of some of Roth’s most outrageous customs and combined it with the fire-spitting muscle cars of the late ‘60s and early ‘70s, and viewed it through the pot-fogged funhouse mirror of the humble slab-sided van. What came out spanned the full gap from mild to wild, but it seems like there was never an upper limit on what could be done. Both inside and out, Street Vans are a testament to creativity; they are rolling examples of what happens when an idea feeds back on itself without any limitations or restraint.
In short, they rock. They rock because they can never be outdone. They rock because even if you were to try and make a custom van for the express purposes of making fun of the trend, it would only prove to be another notch on the belt of the Vannin’ world. That is why the Street Van is supreme.
Because Vannin’ was so big, and because you only need to produce a couple of different core model kits (a Ford, a Dodge and a Chevy/GMC are all you need) to cater to the trend, model companies were fast to jump on the trend with their customers. Let’s face it; I’m fascinated by Street Vans, but I don’t have the time, money or skill to build a real one. (I wish!) However, I can bash a plastic one in my basement, and create a whole ARMY of Street Vans. Because I’m not alone, there was a preponderance of Street and Custom Van kits offered back in the day.
As always, out in front was MPC. Yes, I mourn the loss of MPC every time I review one of their kits. I’m doing it now. They got it. They understood what people wanted and gave it to them. Especially when it came to vans. I don’t even know how many different variations of the 1/20 Econoline and 1/25 Dodge Vans there are, but there are a lot. They are so popular, even now, that one, “Bad Company”, is being repopped by Round 2.
However, before Bad Company was ever even issued, there was another, wilder version of the Dodge van. This was 1978’s “Gold Rush”, an IMSA-flared, air dammed monster with a custom bumper that could knock out a rhino! So, before we all get wrapped up with the most recent van to (re)hit the streets, let’s take a step back and see where it came from.
Light ‘em up and get ready for what might just well be the ultimate Street Van kit from MPC. However, this mo’fo don’t stop for nothin’: just make sure you’ve got all the Dr. Pepper, Twinkies and 7-11 Hot Dogs you need. Now, just like those fat, fin-magged Good Years, let’s get rollin’!
There’s no one thing about the box that first hits you. It’s a sensory assault that delivers a devastating combination so fast you can’t help but take it all in. This impression is made all the stronger because Gold Rush is a big van, thus necessitating a big box. This box is much larger than the normal MPC car boxes I’m used to. That just means there’s more room for a picture of Gold Rush! This is good, because the bumper and flares are using all the room they can get!
At the top of the box is the name. Gold Rush itself spells trouble; the two words can’t even agree on a font! The “Gold” is written in yellow (however, “yellow rush” sounds like a sissy little happy-in-the-magical-valley plant, so use your imagination) and uses a roundy font. I can see it sounding “fat” when you read it; fat like the sounds of the opening chords to the original Rainbow rendition of “Man on the Silver Mountain” played in a wood panelled and very smoky basement. The “Rush”, though, is written in a much edgier font, and it red. The “S” looks a lot like the lightning bolt style used by KISS, and it gives the word a sharp, fast angrier edge. This helps to imply the speed and power that, doubtlessly, is contained within this rolling yellow behemoth.
As a second thought, right below that you’re told it’s a Dodge Van. Thanks. I didn’t really need that, did I? Well, maybe, just maybe it’s a good idea to have that there. Other than the Dodge writing on the hood, it’s pretty hard to tell what kind of van Gold Rush started out as. Why? Well, it has a custom grille with no ID in it, for one thing. Then there’s that GIANT air dam/front bumper thing which wraps around to front fender flares and down the side to ENORMOUS half-vehicle-length IMSA-style flares! So, yeah… it’s pretty far from the “everyday panel van” that Dodge intended.
This is truly a wild kit, just in construction alone. The front air dam looks more like the range hood at a local diner than a piece of aerodynamic refinement. It’s a massive affair, sticking out like the proverbial “fat lip”. It’s basically like a cow catcher on old steam locomotives. However, instead of scooping wayward livestock out of the way, this crushing front end bulldozes both good taste and restraint right into the roadside ditch of life. That’s literally only the start of it, though. There are also flares on the front fenders. These help to give the van some extra mass, because that bumper would just look silly on its own.
It’s at the back end that things get serious, though. Starting at about the halfway point of the van, MPC decided to fall back on their unrestrained love of IMSA flares. This definitely was a fetish with MPC, since the Cavalier and the Bear Bait Chevette had a custom option that used such flares. However, they can’t even touch these things. The flares on Gold Rush are monstrous, and they breathe! Like the intakes of some nightmarish jet engine, the fronts of the flares are cut back for air inlets, and you can just make out the gills at the back. Compounding all of this is the fact that there are even fender flares poking out from the IMSA flares! Remember that question I asked about “too much”? Yeah. This is what I mean.
Wait… look closely (or even from a distance)! The shape of the van isn’t the only wild custom touch. No, just like real vans of the time, Gold Rush is lavishly bedecked in exotic paintwork and multi-coloured panels. Making great use of the oh-so-‘70s pallet of gold-orange-brown, these “sunset” panels are everywhere, including the aforementioned chin spoiler/cow catcher!
Like all good MPC kits, the sides of the box continue to tell the groovy styrene story. Looking on the one side, you get the trademark “Full size” shot. This is very misleading. Sure, it gives you a feel for the length of the van, but it cannot adequately represent the overall massiveness of the kit. You can’t see the width of those IMSA flares, and there’s no good way to convey broad expanse of custom paintwork. This is somewhat ameliorated on the other side, with its detail shots. Here, you can get a good close up view of the intakes on the IMSA flares, a bit of a feel for the interior and a snootful of that range hood bumper thing. You also get your first look at the rear. You can see just how flared the front fenders are. But more than that, you can see the rear bumper.
Let’s face it. If you’re going to put on a front bumper like Gold Rush’s, you can’t just ignore the back end. Thankfully, MPC figured this out, adding an almost obscenely large chrome bumper. It’s so big that the van can’t contain it without it wrapping up almost the entire height of the IMSA flares. You could reverse THROUGH rush hour traffic with this thing and only end up with a scratch or two to polish when you got home! Also, in the same view, you can see the very loud and proud “DODGE” decal. Sadly, with all that’s going on, that’s really needed.
Interestingly, Gold Rush doesn’t pull out ALL the Vannin’ tricks. There are no funky windows on the rear panels, and no ladder to a rooftop rack. There are also no side pipes. The oddest thing of all, though, is that there’s no spoiler. That’s the only thing I find disappointing. A van of this size and customization needs a spoiler, I think. Thank goodness that Gold Rush and Bad Company are the same basic model; Bad Company’s spoiler should fit perfectly!
When you pop the top on this bad boy, you KNOW you’re in MPC-land! The plastic is very colourful and very, very bright. This thing really is “Yellow Rush”! Now, this is a second hand kit, and I expected that the normal propensity for MPC parts to just jump right off their sprues would have been greatly exacerbated by this. Thus, I was floored to find out that most of the parts were still on the trees! I’ve had originally-bagged kits with more loose parts than Gold Rush!
The van is built up in the normal way; you get a body shell, a floor pan/interior bucket and a chassis frame. There are also multiple small racks of pieces, and this is where it gets good. I’m talking full-on MPC feat. Vannin’ good! Sure, there’s a typical MPC engine (it’s got a lot of nice, separate accessories, but it’s not that distinct), but it’s the inside fixtures of the van that are the star here. One thing that hit me right away was the sprue with the two long “walls” of shingles on them! That’s right, shingles! The designers of the MPC Dodge Van series wanted to have some nice décor, and the decided that something like a cedar shake would be a good idea. Um… yeah. Well, it certainly fits the spirit of the kit!
Sadly, since it is an MPC, there are injector marks all over the place, including right in the middle of the cedar shakes. These are going to be hard to deal with, and rather than try to sand them off, I think it might be better just to leave them, and treat them as a feature. Speaking of features, you also get two awesome buttoned/studded couches and some kind of small, wooden coffee table! There are some chrome carriage lanterns for the inside too. The two front seats are beautiful ‘70’s buckets, with some kind of odd striped insets. Sadly, the dashboard is pretty much stock, as is the steering wheel.
The interior bucket, though, is a great piece! There is excellent carpet detail on the floor, and this will respond very well to pastelling and shading, I think. Also, the bulk of the lower walls are done in the same studded naugahide as the couches, adding some real “stylistic” continuity. Stylistic is in quotes for obvious reasons, by the way. The door openings are marked on the inside of the bucket, too, albeit faintly.
One disappointing part is the chassis. There’s very little in the way of suspension or other detail, and on a kit that has such potential to be a showpiece, that’s a bit disappointing. However, it does leave a lot of room for the modeller to get creative, so that’s at least something! The chrome rack has some engine bits, the carriage lights and the custom bar grille with (of course!) stacked headlights. It also has those very deep-dish fin mags, and if that doesn’t give the age of the design away, nothing will.
One great thing about old kits, is they are from when it was okay to have lettered tires! Tire companies were okay with having their products on kits; it made builders (mostly kids) used to that brand, and likely to buy them later. (“Dude! Those are like on my model van! I should buy those!”) Thus, Gold Rush has some very nice tires with very pronounced Good Year writing on them. Lettering them should be a snap. However, like all MPC tires, there are some heavy seams, and this means that sanding is a definitely necessary evil!
Looking at the body shell, there are only some minor production seams that need to be sanded off, which is pretty good for a kit this size. What’s really odd is when you look at the interior of the body shell, there are cutouts for the sunroof and a large rectangle over the passenger compartment. Thanks to the reissue of Bad Company, we know that this large panel is to allow for the installation of the transparent roof section. However, Gold Rush doesn’t come with that. It does have the sunroof, though.
Sadly, like most MPCs, the glass on Gold Rush isn’t great. While the previous owner took scrupulous care to ensure the tires and windows were separate, and thus prevent severe tire-melt, the glass isn’t perfect. With some sanding, it’ll come around, but I don’t think it can be used right out of the box.
Note: “Tire Melt” is a seemingly unique-to-MPC phenomenon where the randomly packed tires and windows traditionally found in an MPC model box make prolonged contact. The result is that the tires will actually melt into the glass, leaving anywhere from small lines to completely irrecoverable cart-paths. Makes you wonder what MPC used in their tires, eh? I guess there must be more chlorine in their PVC than other companies used?
Instructions and Decals:
There’s nothing special about the instructions, other than they open up to be pretty wide, and they’re fragile with age. If you’ve built an MPC of this vintage, you know that the instructions are fairly clear for the most part. There’s not a lot that can go wrong, and studying them first is a good idea. One thing I thought was odd is that the wheels and wheel backs are the same for the front and rear tires, but the rears are so much wider. I’m not sure how that will work, but I assume MPC knows what it’s doing.
Oddly, there are no decalling instructions on the actual sheet, but the box does a good enough job of calling them out. It’s also interesting to note that there are two roof-mounted off-roading lights that are called out as options, despite not being shown as a feature anywhere. Why you would want those on this van is beyond me, but then again, so are most of the stylistic decisions made on this thing!
The decals… what can I say about the decals? The decal sheet is very large, and very colourful. Well, it’s colourful like a cob of Indian Corn; all browns, yellows and oranges. There’s no denying that the decals are a major part of this build. You could make custom decals of course, but getting them to fit over and around the IMSA flares will be a chore. At least these are made for it.
One problem is age. I’ve never worked with MPC decals before (I don’t build them as customs, so I don’t use the decals), and I don’t know if they’re like Matchbox decals (virtually impervious to age) or Revell decals (age them at all and they splinter). They don’t seem to have yellowed (although that WOULD be hard to tell, granted), which is good. There also seems to be a lot of decal film outside of the colour. This will require careful trimming.
Sadly, the decals aren’t quite right; they’re a bit out of register in spots, especially on the chin spoiler decal. You can see the white that should be behind the decal is shifted. This will be a problem, but correcting it could be difficult. It might be a case where just building it ‘as is’ is the best solution!
This thing is a scream. It is all the wretched excesses of the Show Rod and Vannin’ worlds combined into one cultural chimera. Like Frankenstein’s monster, this seeming hodge podge of flares, stripes and studded Naugahyde is a creature born form the most self-delusional and self-aggrandizing nature of man let run wild.
That’s why it is so cool.
It knows no limits. It needs no limits. I takes good taste and beats it; leaving it nearly lifeless. It takes a box and elevates it to an icon, a beacon of pure, unbridled and unmitigated stylistic fury. It is a visual and cultural orgasm.
In short, it’s what happens when you let MPC get crazy with an already crazy subject.
I can only imagine how this thing is going to turn out; think of how to match those hideous ‘70’s oranges and browns from the decals elsewhere in the van. It’ll be like building a doctor’s office waiting room, or the staff room at the high school where my mom used to teach!
The instructions make this build look easy, but having built a number of MPC kits, I am betting this is not going to be the case. I’m sure dodgy fit and questionable engineering will rear their heads at some point. Doing an internet search of “MPC Gold Rush Dodge Van” does not yield much in the way of results, and I can’t seem to find a single one built. This worries me, and there’s likely a reason for it.
Like all MPC cars, Gold Rush is likely going to have some pretty high demands for re-engineering and corrections, and thus, I have a feeling it’s really only suited for experienced modellers. Sure, it says “moderate experience” on the side, but that’s being a bit optimistic. I’ve got a gut feeling that this is one better left to those who have faced MPC’s particular brand of mischief before, and come out on top.
That having been said, this kit also looks like a mountain of fun. It’s loud, obnoxious, overblown and just plain too much; I have no idea how a kit could be any more fun than this. I know I’m getting psyched up to build this; I have a sneaking suspicion that it might well be my next car build. I’d better go and get the snack cupboard full, eh?