Review by Brendan McAleer
The humble van might see a lot of love – if it’s a-rockin’, don’t come a-knockin’ – but it rarely gets a lot of love. Most people would rather do anything they can to avoid getting a minivan, and as for the everyday workhorse stuff, it’s to be used and abused and then sent to the scrap heap.
There are, however, a number of exceptions. Vans are the most practical use of space on four wheels, so they make great camping and exploration machines. You can fit all your friends on board, run your small business, take your entire wolfpack for a brief nip up to caribou country. Vans are great for making memories, and not just the wink-wink grin-grin shag-rug-carpeting type.
But what about overseas van culture? Can we look across the Atlantic and Pacific to find something new and interesting worth importing? We certainly can – in fact, formerly unobtainable vans are some of the most popular grey market imports out there. Here’s a look at a few of the best.
If you’ve got a small business – and I mean a really small, teeny-tiny business with limited footprint in town, then you need something equally small to serve as your delivery machine. Maybe you sell postcards, or service vintage tamagotchi, or deliver bento boxes to a busy downtown core. Have we got the van for you.
The Subaru Sambar was Japan’s first kei-class truck, a tiny little van that’s completely adorable, but surprisingly capable. You won’t be able to haul a lot of weight, thanks to its sub-600cc powerplant, but for scooting around the city streets and finding parking, you simply can’t beat it.
There are a number of kei-vans these days, but the Subaru Sambar and Domingo remain among the most importable. There’s also another twist to importing one, in that you can bring over a Sambar with a more familiar face: converting them to look like tiny VW Microbuses is a hidden subculture in Japan. I’ve seen those on our streets, but have yet to see one of the even rarer Chevy cube-van conversions; these are utterly wonderful, a pint-size version of the A-Team van. Call ’em the a-team.