HOT ROD MAGAZINE’S 1973 BATTLE OF THE VANS

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Most of us think about Hot Rod Magazine in terms of its go-fast philosophy.

 

‘The basic premise behind the magazine is how to win life’s battles a ¼ mile at a time and the Hot Rod writers have shown us how to get down that road as quickly as possible over the past several decades.’

 

However, Hot Rod was a multi-faceted magazine and their June 1973 issue was a good example of their diversity because they pitted Dodge, Ford and Chevy vans against each other in a series of performance tests.

 

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June 1973 was four months before the October 1973 oil crisis which saw the price of oil jump from 3 dollars/barrel to 12 dollars/barrel by May 1974. Nevertheless, the Hot Rod van performance test included their mpg and the vans’ mpg ranged from 8-11 mpg for the Chevy to 10-12 mpg for the Ford and Dodge.

 

These numbers likely meant the vans took a sales hit when the oil crunch hit North America and hiked prices at the pump when the era of the gas guzzler headed for the nearest cliff and took a swan dive. Gas mileage still mattered before the gas price hike but it was not as critical in June 1973 as it was in October 1973.

 

 

The early stages of the van craze were already in motion in 1973, regardless of the price of gas. But the vans came into their own in the 70s because tighter government regulations squeezed horsepower out of cars and begat the custom van.

 

 

Hot Rod even put the vans on the ¼ mile track for their feature story and produced predictable numbers when these massive, heavy four-wheeled blocks encountered weight and wind resistance issues. The Dodge van was the fastest with a 17.72 time at 75.88 mph, while the Ford was the slowest van at 19.94 and 68.07 mph.

 

 

The 302 in the Ford was the biggest available engine and its lack of power was described as “hopelessly inadequate” for the one-ton model by the Hot Rod writers. Bear in mind their right foot likely had much more lead in it than the average driver-after all they wrote for Hot Rod. 

 

 

The basic physics behind the times are proven with power to weight numbers because the ¾ ton Dodge had a 360 cubic inch engine and weighed 4350 lbs. while the 1-ton Ford had a 302 and weighed 4900 lbs. The 1-ton Chevy weighed 5040 lbs. and was powered by a 350, so it was too heavy to beat the Dodge with its 18.62 at 73.34 mph track time.

 

 

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The three vans were full load window models and likely would have been used primarily as transport vehicles on the road. Hot Rod noted the windowless base models would have shaved about 2 grand off the sticker price.

 

Much of those savings on the windowless models would have been channeled into a custom conversion that added a wild paint scheme to the outside and a sin bin motif to the inside of the van. Custom vans were the stuff of dreams for many of us who experienced our teenage and young adult years during the 70s.

 

 

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Custom vans allowed car guys to temporarily replace horsepower with hormones during the 70s, an era when gas prices rose and horsepower fell like Wile E Coyote off a cliff.

 

The Hot Rod article just recognized the van craze that was about to explode during that crazy decade.                 

Jim Sutherland

 

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