Ah, the humble van. With an existence that dates back to the early 1900s, these boxes-on-wheels continue to play a significant part in the structure of our society, providing a socioeconomic impact that might eclipse that of even the Volkswagen Beetle or Ford Mustang. Alongside trains and semi-trucks, the van’s contribution as one of the most valuable links in the supply chain that cannot be overstated.
Although many of the vans throughout history were available from a local dealership and were far more accessible to the general vehicle-buying public than any other commercial vehicle, it gets very little recognition from enthusiasts, and even motoring historians often gloss over vans—although there are pockets of retro-van culture all over the world even today, perhaps the most spectacular example being Japan’s dajiban Dodge van racing enthusiasts. So, apropos of absolutely nothing, we reached into the dark corners of the archive and dredged up some fascinating images involving vans throughout history. Of course, we picked a few of our favorites to highlight in text, but don’t miss the full gallery below.
Stamp Market Van in Paris, 1950
After the ravages of the second World War, small entrepreneurs and salespeople of the U.S. and Europe found financial success in the back—or out the side—of a wide fleet of affordable vans and trucks. Here, a local stamp seller offers his wares to a potential customer in Paris out the side of his fascinatingly configured micro-van.
A Van on the Pendine Sands, 1970
Outside of commercial applications, vans allow families and individuals alike the freedom to roam and live a somewhat transient lifestyle, permanent or not. Think #VanLife is a new trend? Check out this van creeping onto the famous Pendine Sands for a bit of beach fun.
A Ford Van Slides Through The Dirt, 1974
Along with camping, hauling, and working, the van serves as a blank canvas onto which we can project a bit of ourselves. The 1970s were hot times for the custom van scene, as seen here at the 1974 Van Nationals West. This large Ford van competes in the practical off-road performance category, taking place in a dirt-filled rodeo ring.
Commer Trico Marchal Support Van, 1963
Back to work. Here’s the surreal Commer support van, chock full of accessory and replacement components for both Trico and Marchal race teams, sitting pretty at the 1963 24 Hours of Le Mans.
Ken Tyrrell, Henry Taylor, GP Cars, and Support Van, 1960
Speaking of racing, vans were some of the most popular support vehicles for smaller race teams, especially back when Formula 1 and Grand Prix racing were more open to—and within reach of—privateers. Here, team principal Ken Tyrrell shakes hands with racing driver Henry Taylor in front of a pair of race cars and some trophies at Brands Hatch. In the background? Why, that’s the Tyrrell Racing Team’s trusty van.
A Family Makes Use of a Bedford Camper Van, c. 1960
As camping and caravanning grew in popularity in England, so did the range of available campers. Pictured here is the eloquently named Bedford Dormobile Romany De Luxe camper from Vauxhall’s Bedford marque. We’re big fans of the two-tone paint.