Junkyard Gem: 1997 Dodge Ram 2500, Vanlife Edition

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During my journeys through the big self-service car graveyards of Colorado's Front Range, I find some interesting art cars and labor-of-love hand-built camping vehicles, plus lots of machines with impressively high final odometer readings. Today's Junkyard Gem is one that combines all three types in one fascinating late-20th-century package.

I shot these photos way back in December of 2019, just before the pandemic sent thousands of new adventurers pursuing #vanlife dreams on the roads of North America. This '97 Ram three-quarter-ton van is the third generation of a Chrysler van lineage stretching back to 1970. It began life as a 127" wheelbase cargo version with the Maxi stretched rear. The 2500 Maxi's total length of just over 19 feet made it a good starting point for a camper conversion. MSRP for this hauler was $19,600 when new, or about $36,505 in 2022 frogskins.

So much work went into this Ram's interior fittings and exterior paint that I knew I'd be able to find something online about its history. After a few fruitless attempts soon after I shot the photos, I back-burnered my Adventure One Van research project for a while. Then, just last weekend, success!

It turns out that this van was customized by Antonio de Irún, a multidisciplinary artist in Boulder, Colorado. He refers to this Dodge as an "Adventure Reform Van" and there's a page documenting its construction on the website of a Florida custom-van company.

Most of the nice stuff that was inside got removed before the van entered the junkyard ecosystem, but you can see the general structure of the living and storage layout.

Plenty of carpentry and upholstery work went into the Adventure Reform Van aka Adventure One.

There's electrical wiring, insulation, everything needed for life on the road.

Many, many hours of work must have gone into the intricate paint designs all over the vast expanse of Ram Maxi body.

So why didn't this van survive into the era of pandemic vanlife? I think this odometer tells us why: 292,844 total miles, of which I'm assuming 200,000 miles were spent on a powertrain-punishing life of deliveries and trips to job sites.

The engine is this 5.9-liter Magnum V8, a modernized version of the good old LA-series 360 equipped with the distinctive "beer barrel" intake manifold and rated at 234 horsepower and 330 pound-feet. The 360 first hit the road in the 1971 model year, with production of 360s and the later Magnum 5.9s continuing well into our current century. Just to confuse everybody, Chrysler inherited the American Motors 360 V8 engine after buying AMC in 1987; this meant that parts-counter workers will forever have to deal with a five-year period that saw two completely unrelated 360 aka 5.9 V8s installed in Chrysler-built vehicles.

What adventures did Adventure One experience before something mechanical gave out? We may never know.

Here's Don Knotts pitching this van's ancestor.

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