The Boogy Van: A big-block monster with a special significance

Matt Grayson

Rob Cleland and I started talking back in 2017. I was getting ready to hit the road for about a week in a rental car traveling up and down the great state of California shooting for Issue #12 of Rolling Heavy Magazine. I had put the word out on social media that Rolling Heavy was hitting the road, and my goal was to shoot as much as possible until the rental had to be back at the Burbank airport in exactly one week.

One of the first guys to message me was Rob Cleland, owner of Xtreme Xhaust, outta Fairfield, California. Rob was builder and owner of a very well known Gasser-style second-gen Chevy van known as the “Boogy Van.” If you’ve searched VAN on any social media platform or your favorite search engine, there’s a damn good chance you’ve seen the Boogy. You really can’t miss it, and you’ll definitely never forget it. Having been very familiar with the van on social media, Rob extended the offer to stop by and check it out and shoot it for Rolling Heavy and I immediately put him on the calendar. Rob had 496 cubic inches of 8-71 blown big-block Chevy shoved between the two front seats of this lil ol’ van, and he was talking about laying down massive burn outs and pulling wheelies. Who in their right mind says no to that?

In talking with Rob before I hit the road, he filled me in a little bit about his buddy Sean (from whom he had bought the van) and why Sean had originally acquired this particular van in the first place. Having heard a million stories and having told a million more in my chosen profession, I was totally into learning the background.

Meeting retired FDNY firefighter Sean Hickey has been and still is one of the greatest honors and privileges of my life.

I met Sean, introduced myself, shook his hand, and asked him something along the lines of, “So why’d you go after a second-gen Chevy van?” I was completely unprepared for what followed. Sean told me a story of being a proud firefighter for the one and only FDNY and how he was a first responder on September 11, 2001. The things he told me and the pictures he showed me are things I’ll never forget.

We got on with the day. Rob fired up the van, which was immediately followed by roasting tires and wheelies—as promised. It was quite possibly one of the most memorable days of my life. As I was driving back to Sacramento, where I was crashing while in the area, I got to seriously thinking about the day and Sean’s story and what was the best way to go about presenting it. Sure, I could write a story about what Sean had told me: how this van had such a huge part in helping him work through something 99.9 percent of us could never comprehend. Or the way it was before Rob turned it into the Pavement Pounding Big Block Monster that it is now.

Fact is, it isn’t my story to tell. So I asked Sean if he wouldn’t mind writing up his experience in his own words. Below are Sean’s exact thoughts and feelings explaining why and how this 1969 Chevy van helped him get through the darkest time of his life, by getting back to the best time of his life.

Thank you for everything, Sean.

Sean with his current van project. Courtesy Rob Cleland


This is a little story about a 9/11/01 NYC Firefighter/Survivor, a 1969 Chevy van and how it helped me get through the darkest time in my life. After moving to California in 2003, after the FDNY retired me for injuries I received on 9/11, my life was totally out of control. My brain was tormented by things I did and saw. I needed piece in my life as I was on multiple medications for pain and psychological reasons. The only good time I could remember was being 16 in 1976 in my 1969 Chevy van I bought for $200. Rolling a joint and getting laid, the good days. Yes they were. So a journey began to find one, running or not.

In 2005 I found it. Though it was black I had it delivered to my home in Pleasant Hill, California, and painted it Silver like my original. It never started. It just sat in my driveway night after night for years with me sitting in it trying to recover from emotional issues. My neighbors must have thought I was nuts just sitting in it and yes they were right. But it was what I needed, until one day a stranger left a note on my windshield, offering to buy it and turn it into a Monster. The timing was right. It was time to let it go to someone who cared about My Van and My Memories. The rest is the next guy’s story, so please enjoy. Thanks Rob for all you did for me and a true friendship that all started with a 1969 Chevy Van. — Retired FDNY Firefighter, Sean Hickey

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