Guide price: £14,000- £18,000
・Holbay race-specification engine
・Reproduced period livery
・Fully restored by known specialists
・Comes complete with period spares
They used to be everywhere, didn’t they? The Commer FC and later Dodge SpaceVan were ubiquitous on our streets, thanks in no small part to being the vehicle of choice for British Telecom. Their familiar shape with those almost hidden wheels was a reassuringly common one during the ‘70s and ‘80s. And then, all of a sudden, they just… vanished. Their sudden disappearance is probably part of what makes this 1980 Dodge SpaceVan so special. It’s a pleasant assault on the memory banks!
The Dodge SpaceVan was, to all intents and purposes, a slightly modernised Commer FC. This in turn became the Commer PB, which brought a jump from 1,500cc to 1,600cc and then 1,725cc. That larger engine stayed in play when Chrysler Europe was bought by PSA Citroën Peugeot in 1978, at which point the van was rebranded as a Dodge. The headlights and grille changed, along with some other details, but by and large it was still all Commer - albeit with a new face and name - until production was stopped in 1983.
Remarkably, this 1980 Dodge SpaceVan has only had one owner prior to the people who have it now. They bought it as a one-owner van from Newark Autojumble in 2008. Though at the time, the van was in need of some not insignificant repair. However, the current owners celebrate both a wealth of knowledge for these vehicles along with a wealth of parts. As such, what would have been a slow and ponderous restoration for others was nothing but a breeze for them. With a ramp, a workshop and some talented hands on, erm, hand, its restoration was soon underway.
The work started in the January of 2009. A new front lower valance was fitted, the floor over the chassis box sections was replaced with new metal, the front doors were fettled, the inner and outer sills, too. There was damage to the rear corners which was sorted out too, and the side skirts were replaced for new. With all the metalwork done, the van was given a coat of Chrysler Blue gloss paint.
This, however, is where the restoration took an interesting turn. It was decided that the van would be the perfect support vehicle for the owner’s Rootes rally car. As such, the van was treated to the owners vision of period correct - even down to the phone number - ‘Chrysler Competition Department’ livery. But this isn’t where the restoration ends. Far from it.
Rumour has it that back in the day, the race teams were a bit cheeky. The van would obviously be full of spares, but they allegedly went one step ahead and fitted the vans with racy engines, too. Why not? It meant they had an extra, if somewhat illegitimate spare. Whether true or not, it’s a charming notion and so it decided this van would have just that. A 1,725cc Holbay H120 engine has been fitted. It drops straight in due to similarities with the stock engine. The twin Webers don’t though, and so the battery tray was rotated and the air-filter housing was modified and just like that, shouty race engine!
This van is, make no mistake, a charming, characterful thing that looks period perfect. Rock up to Goodwood in this and the red ropes will part. Take it to Race Retro and you’ll be bruised by the number of open wallets being thrown at you. People love it, people want it, people smile when they see it and giggle like fools when they drive it. And you’ll do the same if you secure the winning bid.
There isn’t a wealth of paperwork with this Dodge, but don’t get hung up on that. The important stuff is there, such as a full collection of photographs showing the restoration from start to finish. There is a V5 in place, ready for your signature, and while there is no current MOT in place (exempt) the previous MOTs post-restoration are there. If the winning bidder would like a fresh MOT to be put in place in readiness for collection, that’s no issue.
As we touched on above, the current owners have a huge amount of stock when it comes to parts and so on, so there are no invoices or anything like that. They simply already had everything they needed. Everything was done on site, in the workshops at the owner’s home. When you collect this stunning Dodge, it will all make sense!
The cabin is simple and functional. This is a Dodge van, not a Daimler! The seats are in excellent condition, consisting of a single seat for the driver and a double bench for two passengers. The carpets are excellent, as are the door cards and headlining. Where there is exposed paint, it all gleams like new. While it was indeed restored some ten years ago, it has done minimal mileage since and has been in warm, dry storage when not in use. It is, as a result, in exceptional condition.
The dash is excellent, with all gauges and switchgear present, correct and functional. Including the delicate long stalk for the overdrive. There is a polished Mountney steering wheel fitted too, which hints oh so subtly that this van isn’t the slow commercial vehicle you might think!
All the rubbers for windows and doors are new, and as such seal perfectly. In fact, you have to make sure the doors are properly closed - the rubbers still have that much ‘spring’ in them. No worries of water getting in, that’s for sure.
Finally, there is the rear load bay. Separated from the driver by way of a windowed bulkhead, the rear load bay has been ply-lined and fitted with some shelving. Everything you see in the pictures - all the boxes of Rootes parts, the fuel cans, the axles stands, the banners, the whole lot - comes with the van as part of the sale. It all adds to the charm of this lovely old machine, and let’s be honest, gives more Goodwook kudos, too.
Drink it in! You could transport this back to the early 1980s and park it by parc firme of any rally event and nobody would bat an eyelid. It is, 100%, period perfect. And of course, another reason nobody would bat an eyelid is because it looks like it left the showroom a year ago, not forty-one years ago! The paint is rich and deep, and free from any sort of significant defect. The livery is sharp and clear, and has been applied expertly. The rubbers, as we touched on above, are all new and all the plastics are in good order across the van.
The black-painted steel wheels are neatly hidden under the body of the van, but are all in good condition with healthy tyres wrapped around them. The quarter bumpers on the rear are in great shape, as is the front lower valance, what with having been replaced. There isn’t a hint of rust to be seen anywhere on the van. Nor any dents or untoward ripples or creases. It’s led a careful life, that much is clear.
It’s a fun little thing to observe. There is of course the welcome familiarity that comes from seeing a once ubiquitous shape again. But more than that, it’s a very well restored machine. It could and frankly, will, turn many heads. It will bring the owner no end of joy, too. You just have to look at it and it makes you smile.
We were lucky enough to take this Dodge SpaceVan for a spin, and let us tell you, it doesn’t disappoint. Though we should start by saying that with that Holbay H120 engine on twin 40s, this is not a van in which you and your passengers will be having long conversations. It is very loud. But that adds to the sense of excitement while driving it.
Even though the hot engine has been fitted to a van, it still manages to be surprisingly peppy. The van pulls hard and gets up to speed far quicker than its original designers would have ever thought possible! The transmission is direct and without any play, and when out on the open road, the overdrive kicks in at the flick of a switch. It’s actually a very pleasant old thing to cruise along in.
The brakes, which are drum all round, are servo assisted and as such, are more than up to the task of bringing the van to a stop. The steering is sharper than you think, but then the underpinnings of this van are car-derived, much like the earlier Transits were. As for the suspension, it’s all compliant and capable, and free from any wayward motion, knocks, bumps or rattles - every bush and fixing has been replaced. The vendor has also fitted an electric fuel pump, alloy fuel tank and large capacity radiator to hone this upgraded van.
There is no reason to suggest the 26k on the clock is anything but genuine. Though even so, it’s largely moot as the current owner has been through every component of the van and replaced it. As such, this is truly as close as you’re ever going to get to a brand new Dodge SpaceVan.
It’s fun, it’s a bit cheeky, it’s loud. It’s a celebration of mechanics, and it’s most definitely something you need in your life. This Dodge has been rebuilt by knowledgeable, loving hands and it shows in every little detail. They have built something truly remarkable, and by injecting some of their personality into it by way of making it a race support van, they have opened up a world of possibility for it. You could use this to trailer your old rally car to events, you could use it as a promotional vehicle, you could hire it out for films, or you could simply drive it and enjoy it. And you really will enjoy it. There quite simply is not another vehicle like this out there.
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