From the Braver Institute
As you may recall I bought an old pickup truck a couple of months ago. This miserable old truck is as ugly as sin and as a result of said ugliness it looks kind of tough, and therefore kind of cool. For some reason kids like it. My youngest daughter likes it so much that she wanted me to bring her to school in it so the boys would be jealous that she got to ride in the beast.
While we were riding home later that day she suggested that I paint flames on it and maybe I could make monster teeth to put in the grill.
I had once told her that I had a van with flames on it and monster teeth in the grill. She was now fueled with the belief that I would give the pickup similar treatment since I had experience with such things.
The van was a 1981 Dodge cargo van. Vans without a bunch of windows in the back are often called cargo vans or panel vans. Usually they are used for work purposes. This particular van had been owned by a janitorial company. It was pretty short on frills. It was a rolling box with two seats.
This van was so bare-bones that the only thing making it seem somewhat modern was its power brakes. It had Armstrong power steering—you had to have strong arms to turn it because it had no real power steering. It also had a manual transmission. Manual transmissions are not completely foreign to vans—they were somewhat common in the 60’s—but most of those vans had the shifter on the steering column, and this van had the shifter on the floor. Since the engine of a van sits mostly between the front seats, the transmission sits even further back. The shift lever on this van was really close to the floor and almost behind the front seats. It was very strange to drive indeed.
Oddly enough it had an AM/FM stereo. It was like the person who ordered it could live with the absolute misery of driving this userunfriendly steel box as long as they could listen to the radio with the marvel that is stereo.
If it had been the late 70’s, this van would have been perfect for customizing, but it was the early 90’s and the days of the custom van had come and gone. Of course this did not stop me from making some low-buck modifications to it. Some carpeting from my parents basement, an air mattress, a couple of old recliners, a foot locker serving as a coffee table and one of those old floor to ceiling post lamps fitted with twelve volt bulbs gave it that homey feel that can only be found in a bachelor pad. The only thing missing was a refrigerator. I did have a cooler though.
None of this stuff was bolted down, so safety was completely out the window, but at that age safety is the furthest thing from your mind.
The interior needed an exterior that would match its awesomeness. It was faded blue with the janitorial company’s name on the side of it. It was seriously un-cool looking.
In those days my friends and I had learned that sponge brushes do a great job of painting beater vehicles. They don’t leave streaks the way bristle brushes do. Brushon paint is a lot cheaper than spray paint too.
With a can of X-O Rust paint in hand I proceeded to paint the van white. Well almost. The top where I could not reach remained blue, but no one could see that from the ground and if you couldn’t see it, it didn’t matter.
Plain white wasn’t going to cut it either. I bought a can of black paint and covered the van in zebra stripes. This look better reflected my spirit of adventure. For some reason I felt that a few flames on the front fender would be a good addition, although now I question that addition in combination with the stripes. A giant, flaming zebra just doesn’t say adventure to me anymore. I could be wrong though, now that I think about it.
Since the front of the van is mostly windshield and grill, there was very little room to show off its zebra-striped awesomeness. I had to figure out something to customize the front end.
Using some scrap plywood, I cut out a set of teeth that would fit neatly in the grill. With my leftover paint, I made them pearly white, and then fastened them to the grill.
I can only imagine how cool my daughter would have thought it was to cruise around in a zebrastriped, monster-toothed van.
I am tempted to give my pickup similar treatment, just to see the look on her face.
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Waye Braver can be contacted on Facebook or by email at email@example.com. Visit the Braver Institute at www.braverinsitute.com.