5 custom van films that’ll make you wanna Boogie

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supervan george barris kustom rolling heavy lede
Courtesy Empire Productions

It’s no lie: the Boogie Vans of the ’60s and ’70s have made a comeback in a big way. Chevy, Dodge or Ford, the vans are all finding their way out of garages, backyards, and fields, aiming for the road and a new lease on life. Those diehard vanners who have been holding on since that fateful day in Colorado—at the 1st Annual “National Truck-In” in 1973—couldn’t be more happy. But it’s not just older buyers making the scene; in the last decade, there’s also been a resurgence with a younger generation that is helping make these good times roll.

That’s right, the kids are getting crazy with wild paint and mag wheels all over again. Whether it’s bubble windows or side pipes, tracking down these hard-to-find parts to get together an era-correct Boogie Van has become a second job for some enthusiasts. Hey, that’s the price you pay to build it and build it right. And what’s the payback? Well, they don’t call these automotive art pieces “Rolling Rooms” for nothin’.

Maybe you have absolutely no clue what I’m talking about here. Your knowledge of custom vans may stop at your grandparents’ conversion van they kept for vacations or camping trips. Normally I would suggest some shows or events you could attend to get a real sense of what it’s all about, but given that we’re in the middle of the holidays, and this pandemic means shows and events are kinda up in the air, I can offer you the next best thing. How about five custom van films from the heyday of vanning that will give you a peek into the custom van lifestyle in its golden years? With a little research online you can find each and everyone of these films streaming, most of them on YouTube.

The Van (1977)

The Van 1977 poster brochure ad art
Courtesy Marimark Productions

Co-starring a young Danny DeVito, this 1977 film directed by Sam Grossman stared an unknown Stuart Getz who played “Bobby,” a teenager who works at the local car wash and just graduated from high school. The day he graduates, he finally gets to pick up his custom Dodge van that he’s been working towards all year from the local dealership . Now that he has his fresh new Rolling Room, his goals are as follows: Meeting chicks, going to “van-ins,” and having great times. This film was primarily released at drive-in theaters in 1977, aiming to attract a vanning crowd that would check out the film in their bitchin’ rigs. It totally worked.

Supervan (1977)

Super Van 1977 movie poster brochure ad art
Courtesy Empire Productions

Mark Schneider plays Clint Morgan, a frustrated teenager working at his dad’s gas station. He eventually splits that scene and heads to “The Invitational Freak-Out” Van Show in Vansas City (Kansas City). There he plans to enter his van, “The Sea Witch” in the van show and has a chance to make some REAL money. Along the way, he hears some bikers over the CB waves making plans to hurt a young woman at a junkyard, so he decides to swoop in and save the day. While at the junkyard, his van gets destroyed but he and the girl escape. They head to his buddy’s shop to pick up a super secret van in which they can get back on the road and head to to The Freak-Out.

What happens after that? You’ll have to watch and see for yourself. Co-staring the late, great, George Barris and including a cameo appearance by Charles Bukowski as the waterboy at the Wet T-shirt contest, this film is a Fun Truckin’ example of the Vansploitation genre.

CB Hustlers (1976)

CB Hustlers 1976 van bikini girls poster brochure ad art
Courtesy S.A.M. Productions

This film is so bad, it’s brilliant. A perfect slice of the trucker and Vansploitation film genres. The plot is about a pimp and his “old lady” who operate out of a couple of custom Dodge vans. They’re always on the road hitting truck stops and van-ins, looking for business. When they tire of doing that, they decide to get out of the whole scene and retire. Meanwhile, the local newspaper catches wind of their game over the CB waves and starts chasing them for the scoop. It’s a gratuitous romp of vans, semi trucks, and illicit partying.

On the Air Live with Captain Midnight (1979)

Captain Midnight 1979 van poster brochure ad art
Courtesy Sebastian International Pictures

Directed by husband and wife duo Beverly and Ferd Sebastian, and starring their son Tracy Sebastian, this is the story of Marvin Ziegler AKA “Captain Midnight.” A high school kid who gets fired from his part-time job at the local radio station, he decides to start a pirate radio station out of his custom Dodge van. One of the coolest things about this film is veteran Los Angeles DJ legend “Jim Ladd” playing a DJ at the radio station from which Marvin was fired, giving him encouragement and support over the radio waves from start to finish.

All in all this is actually a pretty fun film. It showcases that high school slice of life from Southern California, around Van Nuys Boulveard in the ’70s, that has become legendary.

Free Wheelin’ (1976)

1976 Free Wheelin vans on road poster brochure ad art
Courtesy Cinecraft

This one is a bit different than the others on this list. This movie is more of a documentary, made by BFGoodrich in Bowling Green, Kentucky, for theatrical distribution at the 1976 Van Nationals show. BFGoodrich was a major sponsor of “The Nats” in ’76, and wanting to get max bang for their buck, it created this film as a promotional tool to push its involvement in the ever-growing van scene. Over 6000 vans made it out to Bowling Green for that truck-in.

This documentary might be the greatest visual representation out there showing what the van scene was like at its peak. The Van Nationals still takes place each year, but it’s a far cry from what it once was. To get a glimpse of this zenith of van culture, click here for the high quality seven-minute version of this film, or here for the three-part lower-quality version of the full-length documentary.

Crack a cold one in front of these classic van adventures and enjoy the ride. Cheers!

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