In 1976 Chrysler was taking part in a shameless product line few people are aware of today dubbed ‘Adult Toys’. The toys were a series of factory-issued utility vehicles that rolled off the assembly line outlandishly customized in what would become a staple of late 70’s automotive culture. In 1976 the inevitable happened and Dodge birthed from its shag-carpeted doors the Street Van.
Based on the B100 or B200 Dodge Van, the Street Van was an obvious attempt to attract buyers already interested in the custom van craze of the time; people who did things behind bubble windows preferred not to be seen by outsiders.
Robert H. Kline, Chrysler Corporation’s manager of truck sales explained the reasoning behind Chrysler’s entry into the customized van world of the ’70s.
“This model, the first of its type offered by a major manufacturer, has a special appeal to the motorist who wants to convert a unit to his individual tastes, needs, and lifestyle,” he said. “Our special Street Van provides a custom interior and exterior while leaving a great deal of latitude for the plain or fancy conversion of the area between the seats and the rear door.”
Translation: “What happens between the seats and rear doors will not be judged. Just buy this weird van, hippie.”
The 1978 Street Van came straight from the dealership with a custom interior designed to wow van folk. Standard interior features included high-back bucket seats, carpeting in the forward compartment, fancy wood-grain insert on the instrument panel, bright trim around the gauges, door panels, and horn bar.
Exterior mods included raised white letter tires, five slot chrome or painted spoke road wheels, bright front and rear bumpers, special moldings around the grille, windshield, tail lamps, and side-view mirrors. A Street Van nameplate was an available option to alert passersby who weren’t already tipped off by the rest of the package that the cabin was most likely hot-boxed with nefarious stank.
Despite the rich host of custom options, the Street Van rolled off the line with Chrysler’s true intention was for it to serve as an enticing platform for even nastier customization. To get buyers headed in the right direction every Street Van came with a customization kit that included detailed instructions and plans to further the debauchery.
“Everything in the kit will make it easier for the do-it-yourselfer to finish the van in an expert, professional manner,” Kline said.
Notable alterations the kit advised on with step-by-step guidance included the installation of portholes, sunroofs, and roof vents. These modification suggestions imply improved ventilation was regarded as a high priority for the van crowd. Van stank is real thing that shouldn’t be accepted as normal.
The kit also encouraged setting the mood inside the van with full-size templates for cutting side panels, headliners, and floor coverings. Shag would be the cliché material of choice here, but it would be naive to assume leather and sound-deadening materials didn’t play significant roles in the design process as well.
As a final enticement, the Street Van came with a complimentary membership to the National Street Van Association (Van Clan) which included a subscription to the NSVA’s publication on the custom van community.
Until it was discontinued in the early 1980s the Street Van reigned as the purest representation of Dodge’s Adult Toys lineup; it was by far the most ‘70s of the bunch.
Nasty as it was the Street Van wasn’t the crowning achievement of the toys line. That title belongs to a Dodge pickup that can also lay claim to being the original muscle truck: The Little Red Express.