Junkyard Gem: 1998 Chevrolet Astro Art Van


What is an art car? It could be a BMW race car decorated by a famous artist, a Burning Man-style Toyota van completely covered with glued-on three-dimensional decor, a Volvo converted into a cryptic rolling religious mural, an “Adventure Reform Van” with elaborate Sharpie patterns, or an exercise in extreme customization performed by an owner who knows he’s a car’s final owner. I think today’s Junkyard Gem (found in a car graveyard northeast of Denver) contains elements of the latter two types, making it both culturally interesting and a worthwhile example of American van history.

When Chrysler scored a massive sales hit with its first front-wheel-drive minivans in the 1984 model year, GM and Ford were caught flatfooted and had to do their best with less efficient rear-wheel-drive minivan designs in order to compete. Ford couldn’t get the Aerostar into showrooms until the 1986 model year, while The General had the Chevrolet Astro and its GMC-badged counterpart with the Pontiac-borrowed name, the Safari, available a year before that.

29 1998 Chevrolet Astro in Colorado junkyard photo by Murilee Martin

GM eventually put together a line of futuristic-looking front-drive minivans, which went on sale in the 1990 model year as the Chevrolet Lumina APV, Pontiac Trans Sport and Oldsmobile Silhouette. The Chevy Astro never was a true minivan as we’d define the term today—it was more of an S-10 cousin, mechanically speaking—but it was sturdy and could carry heavy loads. It stayed on sale all the way through the 2005 model year; this van is an example of the second-generation Astro, which went on sale as a 1995 model.

05 1998 Chevrolet Astro in Colorado junkyard photo by Murilee Martin

This one is covered with an eclectic assortment of murals, mostly featuring musicians and athletes but also Cheech & Chong.

15 1998 Chevrolet Astro in Colorado junkyard photo by Murilee Martin

Since Freddie Mercury died in 1991, we can assume that his signature on the hood is a reproduction.

08 1998 Chevrolet Astro in Colorado junkyard photo by Murilee Martin

Dope House Records is a record label in Houston, best-known for such artists as S.P.M., Juan Gotti and Major Riley.

12 1998 Chevrolet Astro in Colorado junkyard photo by Murilee Martin

It’s possible that this van was a company vehicle for Dope House, but I suspect that its owner is just a big S.P.M. fan.

14 1998 Chevrolet Astro in Colorado junkyard photo by Murilee Martin

Major League Baseball gets a shout-out on the left front fender.

38 1998 Chevrolet Astro in Colorado junkyard photo by Murilee Martin

The sliding door has been removed and stuffed inside, but we can see that it’s adorned with a Denver Broncos logo.

33 1998 Chevrolet Astro in Colorado junkyard photo by Murilee Martin

The paint shows heavy weathering, so I think it was applied quite a while ago.

10 1998 Chevrolet Astro in Colorado junkyard photo by Murilee Martin

The driver’s door lock must have failed, because this field-expedient perma-lock was installed.

11 1998 Chevrolet Astro in Colorado junkyard photo by Murilee Martin

That didn’t stop people from trying to open the door with the handle, though.

22 1998 Chevrolet Astro in Colorado junkyard photo by Murilee Martin

Like seemingly most vehicles I find in Colorado boneyards, this one has at least one cannabis-business-related sticker inside. NU HI is a wholesale distributor here in Colorado.

Tows more than any minivan. The only truck tough enough to handle childhood.



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