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Sidepipes and doghouses: Collection expected to set the bar for custom van prices

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Photos courtesy Mecum auctions.

One depicts a sea voyage complete with krakens while another paints a picture of dueling wizards atop dragons. Others sport portholes of varying sizes along with spoilers, sidepipes, and chrome five-spoke wheels. All 10 of Barry Lefroy’s vans evoke the Seventies heyday of the custom van, but will likely usher in a new era in the vanning scene when they sell at auction next month.

“This many vans at auction at once will definitely set the bar – win, lose, or draw, whatever the result will be,” Lefroy said.

Despite remaining rather static for a few decades, Lefroy said change has crept slowly into the van world over the last few years. Younger enthusiasts – in their twenties and thirties – now make up a sizeable portion of the crowd at van events, and no longer do vanners dedicate years of their lives to one van, instead collecting five, eight, or more than a dozen vans.

“Over the years as vanners are getting older some of them have more dispensable income and have started collecting vans,” Doug “Virtualvanner” Nykanen said. “One trend is to have a travelling/camper van and then a full custom to show locally. As they are being more accepted in the hot rod world, it’s no longer frowned upon to show up at a car event in a cool van.”

And along with increased demand comes an increase in prices. “Even five years ago, it was totally unheard of to get $10,000 for a van,” Lefroy said. “Now they’re selling for $20,000, $25,000, even $30,000 and up.”

Lefroy, a California-based entrepreneur and musician (whose band does not, ironically, tour in a van), said he didn’t get into vans for the money. Rather, he had one – a flamed 1974 Ford Econoline – in the Seventies, and about 10 years ago he decided to replicate it.

“I’m in my late fifties, and as people in our age group grows into a little extra money and time, some of us have started getting back into these vans,” he said. “Except now we realize that, whatever they were good for back then, they’re great for taking a nap.”

That project led to another and another, aided in part by members of custom van club Wheels of Confusion, until his collection ballooned to 20 vans total, almost all of which he had customized “with a retro feel but using modern technology and comforts” by Corona, California-based limousine manufacturer Platinum Big Toys.

The six-wheeler, listed as a 1980 Dodge, took the talents of three local artists who “went to town on it over a weekend.” The yellow 1977 Dodge incorporates a surfing theme while the blue 1986 Ford with the nautical mural by Jack van Gossen ferried Lefroy and his wife up and down the California coast on a nautically themed road trip.

Perhaps the two that most stand out to vintage van enthusiasts – a 1979 Ford and a 1990 Ford – replicate the Coca-Cola Denimachine giveaway vans of 1977 and the Ford factory Cruising package van from 1976, respectively. Lefroy said the former he bought already converted into a Denimachine clone and simply redid the interior and rebuilt the drivetrain.

Only one in the 10 that Lefroy has put up for sale remains more or less as it came from the factory: a 1977 Ford Econoline 250 with the Trailer Special package. A 1976 Chevrolet G-10, while not stock, remains in late-Seventies fettle, its appliance-green diamond-tuft interior suitably worn.

Lefroy said it’s simply “time to share them with others” and that at least a few of his remaining 10 vans have yet to be completed. All but the aforementioned G-10 will sell without reserve, and Lefroy said he’s taking a big gamble putting so many custom vans up for sale when the market price for them hasn’t really been established.

“Even the folks with Mecum say that’s a huge unknown,” he said.

The 10 vans from Lefroy’s collection will cross the block as part of Mecum’s Las Vegas auction, which will take place November 16-18 at the Las Vegas Convention Center. For more information, visit