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A Brief History of Vanning.
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A Brief History of Vanning.

By Raoul, From the 1993 Vanner Yearbook.

Somewhere in the not so distant past, the spirit of vanning was born.

Any vanner can tell you when it was born, but no two vanners can agree when. Despite this fact, one cannot argue that a vigorous spirit is at the core of a unique culture that has grown up around the custom passenger van. This spirit is the common love of custom vans and vanning.

Many van enthusiasts say that the spirit of vanning was born soon after the arrival of the first automobiles. Cars and trucks enabled budding vanners to travel great distances faster and cheaper than the horse-drawn coach.

Some claim that vanning could not have been born until the introduction of the panel truck in the 1940's. Many restored and customized panel trucks can be seen at truck-ins and other vanning related events and car shows. These vehicles are still turning heads and winning trophies.

It might be a somewhat of a mystery as to when the vanning spirit was born, but it is no mystery as to when the van was born.

The first fully contained, self- propelled box on wheels that might be recognized as a van today would have to be the Volkswagen "microbus." Introduced in the 1949, the VW Transporter and Microbus paved to way for the van craze of the United States in the coming decades. Smaller than the typical station wagon, cheaper to own and operate, easy to repair, and often seen with peace signs and flowers in the 60's, young people found the "bus" as being the first vehicle to offer the option of a complete and efficiently designed camper in an everyday vehicle.

In 1957 Ford produced the Thames van in the United Kingdom with little fanfare and enthusiasm. With the introduction of 1961 Econoline in the United States, Ford found the growing popularity of the van stronger on this side of the Atlantic. American- made and larger room space inside the van than the VW, the Econoline soon started gaining many loyal owners.

With ideas garnered from friends and family, the van had become a "hot" item. The thought of taking a standard factory issued van and painting it, customizing it, and redoing the interior was just natural to some people, particularly among the younger set.

Not wanting to be behind in a new trend, General Motors introduced its Chevrolet Corvan 95 soon after Ford in 1961. In 1964 GMC premiered a van under its own name, and Chrysler introduced the Dodge A-100 in the 1965 model year. By the end of the 1960's, vans of all types were produced by makers in Europe, North America, Japan, and Australia. Although the van was created in Europe, vanning took hold in the United States first and has been spreading across the globe ever since.

It did not take long for clubs to form. Sometime in the late 1960's truck-ins started. Even if one disagrees when vanning started, just about everyone remembers his or her first truck-in. The festivities and celebrations, the freedom, and the vans are all still fresh in the mind.

After a while, car and street rod magazines started taking notice. In the early 1970's, periodicals like Hot Rod Magazine, Car and Truck, and others started running articles on vanning.

Although becoming national in scope, vanning was still confined to pockets of enthusiasts who did little communicating with other pockets of vanners. It was not long before there was a call for some sort of national event to bring all vanners together. On August 10, 1973, vanning truly came into its own with the first National Truck-In.

Mr. Terry Cook is given credit as being the father of the National Truck- In. Then editor of Hot Rod Magazine, Terry Cook set the ground rules for a national event, then gave Rocky Mountain Vans the responsibility of hosting the first National Truck-In.

Over 1000 vans attended the event held at Tiger Run, Colorado, located high in the Rocky Mountains. Despite being run by amateurs and volunteers, everything seemed worked out. More than one vanner said it was the "best damned thing" they ever attended. All agreed that the first National Truck- In was successful enough to ensure that there would be another.

The next year Vans AM of Kansas City held the second National Truck-In at Bonner Springs, Kansas. Attendance was up over 500 vans from the previous year. Vanning was a growing phenomenon.

In 1974 it didn't take a genius to figure out that vanning was evolving into something big. Some felt with a little business sense, this evolution could have a green lining. There was gold in them there vans!

A new "national" organization called the National Street Van Association began to emerge. Together with Midwest Vans (not to be confused with present-day Midwest Vans Ltd.) the N.S.V.A. held the third National Truck-In in Bowling Green Kentucky. Things weren't quite the same.

Instead of a informal national rendezvous of friends and families, many vanners felt they had come to a well-orchestrated commercial venture designed to make a fast dollar. This was not the event originally conceived by the founders of the National Truck- In. A growing suspicion of motives was not helped by an overwhelming of the facilities at Bowling Green. The site was just too small to accommodate the unexpected number attending.

Despite the feelings of many that money was the aim of the National Street Van Association and its leader Fred "Freddie" Blumenthal, the third National Truck-In was enjoyed by the majority of vanners that attended. The intent of the founders of the National Truck-In was that the hosting of the event was to be passed from club to club and that the truck-in was to be by vanners for vanners, not a commercial money-making affair. So when Freddie announced that the fourth nationals would again be held in Bowling Green the following year, many - felt it was time to stop the commercialization of vanning before is took hold.

With an anti-promoter, anti- N.S.V.A. sentiment growing, Rocky Mountain Vans took up the challenge of keeping the National Truck-In as it was intended. They felt the National Truck-In should not become the tool of selfish greedy promoters. To head off the situation created by Freddie and the National Street Van Association or possibly others in the future, Rocky Mountain Vans applied for and was granted the trademark rights to the term "National Truck-In."

Freddie Blumenthal made a I challenge of trademark ownership in the courts on behalf of the National Street Van Association. Freddie claimed that the vast majority of people who owned vans and participated in truck-ins were not the "wild" group that Rocky Mountain Vans represented. Freddie claimed that Rocky Mountain Vans represented only two per cent of all vanners. Despite claiming he represented 98% of all vanners and that he deserved the right to have his event called "National Truck-In," Freddie later dropped his challenge but kept holding national gatherings.

So in next three years, there were two national gatherings. The "National Truck-In" was passed along as was originally intended. The "Van Nationals" was held by N.S.V.A. Despite a record attendance of 3500 vans in 1976, the National Truck-In was overshadowed by the Van Nationals in both numbers and press coverage.

However, not all the press coverage about the N.S.V.A. and its gatherings were positive. Bad publicity about one event caused the numbers for both events to drop with the Van Nationals taking the biggest hit. Inflation and the rising cost of fuel began to discourage long distance traveling and the use of low mileage vehicles.

Clubs started forming multi-club councils to act as a forum for vanning concerns such as membership recruitment, funding, and communications between clubs. Despite the creation of these councils and their efforts, the popularity of vanning continued to decline.

Along with others, this overall decline was noticed by the Florida Van Council. Seeing a need for unity and communication, the F.V.C. put together a meeting of van councils throughout the southeast United States in 1977. The first II Council of Councils II was held in February 1978, but the gathering was only regional in scope. Soon other councils saw this as an excellent It opportunity to exchange news, ideas, and experiences. More councils started to attend until the Council of Councils became a national meeting. Today, councils from across the United States, Canada and Europe send representatives to this yearly gathering making the Council of Councils a truly international meeting.

Although unrelated to the forming of the Council of Councils, later in 1978 the original National Street Van Association folded. Freddie is said to have blamed the demise of the N .S. V .A. on "malevolent elements" in vanning. Despite the many negative things said. , today about Freddie Blumenthal's motives, it cannot be disputed that many of his efforts in promotion during the early years helped bring vanners together and put vanning in public eye.

In 1981, Rocky Mountain Vans had come to two conclusions: good potential hosts for the National Truck-In might be inadvertently passed over due to a lack of knowledge about .all clubs in the nation, and sooner or later (probably sooner) Rocky Mountain Vans would be accused of having many of the same traits as the defunct National Street Van Association. Besides, vanning should just be fun, and the responsibility of governing the National Truck-In was a little more that one club should handle.

To alleviate these problems, the National Truck-In Board of Governors was formed. At the 10th National Truck-In, Rocky Mountain Vans announced a group of regional representatives to oversee the task of helping to choose who would have the privilege of hosting the National Truck-In. The board would act as a screening or steering committee to evaluate and recommend a host club to Rocky Mountain Vans. It decided at this time that the National Truck-In would be held during the last three weeks of July. Over time, the board took on more and more of the responsibility of choosing host clubs and began acting as "quality circle" for the National Truck-In.

There were several short-lived attempts to create magazines for vanners, but almost all such publications either abandoned a strong van format or went out of business. In 1989, the Council of Councils Inc., the governing body of the Council of Councils, stepped in to fill the communications gap by producing the magazine Vanning Now. It became the only magazine published for vanners, about vans and vanners, for vanners. As stated earlier, vanning has not been exclusive to the United States. Van clubs have been created in Canada, United Kingdom and many countries on the European mainland, Australia, New Zealand, and the rest of the industrialized world.

Canada's rumored first truck-in was at Bells Lake in 1973. The host club was the Canadian Van Association. In 1975 the first reported "official" truck-in was held in May by Syndicated Truckers. Southern Ontario Vans held a truck-in in August of the same year. There are unsubstantiated reports of an even earlier truck-in in British Columbia.

The first Canadian Nationals (Van Canada) was held in 1976, hosted by the North American Van Association. After first being held in Alberta, Van Canada was soon moved to Ontario and over the years underwent a few name changes and then ceased to exist in 1989. In 1991 Kawartha Kountry VanVan Club took on the responsibility of reviving a Canadian nationals by being the host of the new Canadian Van Nats.

In 1976, Canadians (and others) were introduced to the Ontario Federation of Truckers newsletter. The OFT became known as the Ontario Federation of Vanners 1986. Published by Geoff and Sonya Koome today, the OFV has reached a "council" status and is considered by many to be the voice of Canadian vanning even though the OFV has never claimed such status.

Vanning in Europe started in the United Kingdom. The National Street Van Association of the UK was formed in 1974 as an offshoot of Freddie Blumenthal's N.S.V.A. The first truck-in in the United Kingdom was put on by the N.S.V.A.-UK in 1976 at Steeple, Clayton in Northamptonshire.

Vanning spread to the continent in 1977 with the formation of the Belgium Street Cruisers, Crazy Vans in Milano, Italy; and Van and Trucks Club of Finland. Since 1974, hundreds of clubs have formed in Europe. Noticing the world-wide growth, Australians and New Zealanders also started vanning in 1974. In 1975, the N .S. V .A. formed a chapter in Australia. Like its parent in the United States, the National Street Van Association of Australia faded away after few years. To fill the need of a national organization, the Australian Street Van Association was formed with the backing of the Van Council of Victoria. The A.S. V .A. succumbed to infighting and bickering and was dissolved in . 1992. However, vanning is still strong in Australia.

New Zealand's first club was reputed to have been Black Vans of Auckland formed In 1975. This club apparently soon faded away, but other clubs came into existence. The oldest continuous club in New Zealand is said to be Palour Vans formed in 1976. In 1977, Palour Vans of Auckland, Windy City Vans of Wellington, and Whisky City Vans of Dunedin held the first New Zealand nationals at Parapararumu. Although these were the only organized clubs, many independents attended. From three clubs in 1977, sixteen clubs were in attendance at the 1979 Nationals in Wellington. The 1981 Nationals at Foxton, hosted by Vanawatu Custom Crates, set a record of 296 vans representing 29 clubs. In 1985, there were thirty-nine clubs registered in New Zealand. The Van Association of New Zealand (VANZ) was formed in 1979 in order to create lines of communication between clubs.

Vanning has spread elsewhere. Clubs have been started in Puerto Rico, Mexico, Brazil, Argentina, Union of South Africa, India, Pakistan, the Philippines and Japan. The most significant change in the vanning culture in recent years has been the van itself- the minivan. The minivan was introduced first to the United States in 1987 with the Plymouth Voyager and Dodge Caravan. This shorter version of the full-sized van was soon followed with the Chevrolet Astro, GMC Safari, and Ford Aerostar. Japan latter entered the market with the Toyota Previa, Mazda MPV, and the Nissan Quest. Over the past couple of years, the minivan has become almost exclusively all-wheel drive.

When the minivan began appearing at truck-ins, many owners were shunned if they got in at all. Traditionalists within vanning declared minivans to be only a slick station- wagon without a front end. Since that time, the minivan has fully come into its own with a string of major vanning awards including Best of Show at the 1992 National Truck-In.

Since the return to one national event in 1978, the National Truck-In has been used as the gauge of the vanning movement in United States and to larger extent, the world. Attendance has been up at times, but mostly down with an average of around 1000 vans attending the last four years. No National Truck-In has attained an attendance of 2200 vans since the "Magnificent" 7th National Truck-In in 1979. Age and economics have, apparently taken a heavy toll on the hobby of vanning over the years.

Vanning has survived. Although the numbers of vans attending truck-ins have generally been smaller, vans have grown larger in appeal. Custom and conversion van ownership in the United States has grown by over one million in the last year, but almost all of the new owners are not vanners. Happily, despite a leveling of numbers in North America, club membership has been increasing in New Zealand and Western Europe. As with other things in life, the future of vanning lies with our children. Once young vanners' children are beginning to have children. With the coming of the third generation of vanners, greater numbers of minors have been seen at events in recent years. This influx of younger vanners has created new challenges and requirements for many special needs.

Over the years, truck-in's have become better planned with live bands, door prizes, games and activities for adults and children, and trophies. There will al ways be vanners and vanning, but gone are the days of wide- open parties composed of a few dozen vans in a field with a keg of beer and a pretty good stereo system, and a desire to get together with friends. Maybe.

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