Chevy Enthusiast via Hooniverse: The 1964-70 Chevy G-Van; Just the Basics, Dude

During the 1950’s, Chevrolet was virtually on fire with their entire product line, and by 1955, it looked like they could do no wrong. From the revised V-8 equipped Corvette, to the new Task Force Truck Line – including the introduction of the Chevy Cameo Carrier – Chevrolet had a vehicle for every want and need. Unfortunately, they didn’t cover enough especially when a big recession hit for 1958. Americans were soon discovering inexpensive, economical cars and trucks that were being imported from Japan and Europe at record levels. It was during this period that Chevrolet was hard at work trying to counter the imports with the unconventional Corvair. While the VW Sedan was the target for the Corvair Sedans, Chevy was ready to lob a counterattack to the successful VW Micro Van in the form of the Corvan and Greenbriar. Much like the Corvair at the time of introduction, the Corvan was “state-of-the-art” – a commercial vehicle equipped with fully independent suspension, wide panel doors (available on both sides of the van as an option!), a three passenger seat up front, and the option of a fully automatic transmission. It was more powerful and heavier than the VW counterpart, and it could carry more payload. At the same time, Ford introduced a conventional Econoline Van, based loosely on the Falcon compact, with a standard six-cylinder engine enclosed in a doghouse between the seats. A solid beam front axle, and leaf springs all around was a testament to its simplicity. Cheap and reliable, it became a best seller, outselling both the VW and the Corvan by a wide margin. Even before the first full production year concluded for the Corvan, Chevy was working on their own version of the Econoline. The parameters were clear: Simple design using as many off-the-shelf components as possible, conventional power train, ample cargo space, and low price. This was achieved in record time with the introduction of the 1964 G-Series Van in January. Where the Corvan was state of the art, the G-Series was a definite throwback to the past. It borrowed the suspension design right from the 40’s, with a solid-beam front axle and semi-elliptical leaf springs, along with a solid rear axle also suspended by leafs. Other cost conscious efforts include borrowing the Chevy II 90 HP four cylinder engine, not offering power steering or power brakes, and the use of a flat front windshield, which saved development costs. The few options include the 120 HP six cylinder engine, 2 speed powerglide automatic, and windows that were simply cut into the sheet metal at the factory. Changes were few for the duration of production. Initial vans rode on a 90 inch wheelbase. For 1965, a Passenger Model made its debut, and the 90HP Four Cylinder was dropped. The optional engine for 1965 was a 140HP “Hi-Torque” Six, and was virtually unchanged for 1966. 1967 brought a facelift to the van in the form of a more rounded windshield, and moving the headlamps lower to be integrated with the grill. A new 108 inch wheelbase model was added, as well as an optional 283 CID V-8. There was also the option of a heavy duty G20 van, available only in the long wheelbase. Power Steering, Power Brakes or Air Conditioning was still not available as options. 1970 was the last year for the Forward Control Chevy Van, with a few notable changes. The 283 CID V-8 was ditched in favor of the 307 CID V-8 in ’69, but the new 350 CID V-8 was finally available for the van. Air conditioning was also available, but it was a hastily engineered roof mounted unit. Still no power steering or power brakes offered. These were replaced with the “Snub Nosed” Vans that went into production in 1971, and were relatively unchanged for the better part of 2 decades! A funny thing happened right after their replacement though. These vans (along with the Ford and Dodge forward control vans) became the vehicle of choice for the Woodstock generation, with expressive graphics, and sinful interiors, they were easy to work on, easy to keep running, and inexpensive to purchase. They were either loved or loathed, depending on who you asked. If you grew up in the early 70’s, name another vehicle that was so readily identifiable during this time period. It was the time of war protests, sit-ins, peace signs, Jimi Hendrix, tie-dye t-shirts, pot brownies, civil rights, and free love – and Sammy John’s Chevy Van played for most of 1974 on every pop-music radio station. The Chevy Van was a phenomena during this period, only to be forgotten a few years later. You could do a lot worse that find one of these Groovy Vans. Read the latest issue of Chevy Enthusiast!

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