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.
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.
This one is covered with an eclectic assortment of murals, mostly featuring musicians and athletes but also Cheech & Chong.
Since Freddie Mercury died in 1991, we can assume that his signature on the hood is a reproduction.
Dope House Records is a record label in Houston, best-known for such artists as S.P.M., Juan Gotti and Major Riley.
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.
Major League Baseball gets a shout-out on the left front fender.
The sliding door has been removed and stuffed inside, but we can see that it’s adorned with a Denver Broncos logo.
The paint shows heavy weathering, so I think it was applied quite a while ago.
The driver’s door lock must have failed, because this field-expedient perma-lock was installed.
That didn’t stop people from trying to open the door with the handle, though.
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.