I was on the hunt for a survivor show van, and had already chased down several dead ends when I received a tip on a 1977 Dodge known as “The Drifter.” The van was still owned by its original customizer Ray Chapek, and he was open to the idea of selling. Prior to looking at the van I was nearly talked out of it by Ray as he kept stating how rough the van was and that it had mostly sat since the early 90s. Still, the thought of a survivor van in my home town kept me sleepless so Ray and I got together, and when he opened the garage door to reveal the slumbering van inside, I was blown away.
Now you might be thinking “why did Ray say the van was really rough?” I agree, but since Ray has known the van for close to 4 decades and recalls it in its show glory, it probably does seem rough compared to its heyday. Even though it’s rough around the edges the van still looks amazing, and is a true time capsule.
Ray is the kind of van owner a van dreams of as every detail of its history is logged in chronological order…from oil changes to custom mods. Ray bought the van when it was just a couple years old as he needed another car and liked the thought of being able to camp in it. The ultra plane jane van was black and ran a straight six with a 3 speed overdrive on the floor. Ray states that it did have a set of custom rims and the previous owner had laid down the shag and some wood work inside. One day while fueling up Ray was approached by a member of a local van club known as the Heavy Truckers who had noticed his van driving around. Ray was invited to a car wash the club was holding and quickly hit if off with several of the members, and soon became a member of the club himself. Ray began hitting events with the Heavy Truckers and in 1981 made the long journey to the 9th Van Nationals in Colorado City, Colorado where over 2000 vans gathered…from that point on, Ray was hooked.
The van was improved slowly over time, and fortunately for Ray his grandfather had a woodworking shop and performed the gorgeous interior work starting with raw oak lumber that he planed down to size. With several alternations under his belt Ray decided to take the full custom plunge and the van was taken off the road for several months and completely torn down. The list of custom touches performed is exhausting, and all remain untouched to this day. For the final version of the van Bob Sedahl was turned to for the body work, and the gold fade paint job and amazing mural were performed by Fred Shiffer. With the Drifter now in its prime Ray shown it for the very 1st time at the 14th Van Nationals in 1986 held at Du Quin, IL where it took 3rd place in the street custom, mid-Mopar class. Ray recalls attending the event with Bill Zirngible’s and his amazing “Baby Grand” van (see RH vol 2.).
With over 100,000 miles logged on the stock drive train the van was parked in the early 90s, but pulled out one last time when the Van Nationals came to Beaver Dam, Wisconsin in 2001. After the Nationals the van sat until I was lucky enough to purchase it. I had the van gone through mechanically and everything checked out so I put it back on the road right up until winter settled in. I feel very honored to be the new caretaker of this amazing survivor and I can’t wait to start hitting events with it next Summer. My main objective is to attend the Nationals in Ohio, and I hope to see many of you there…Keep on Truckin’!!!
Words & Photo Credit: Chadly Johnson
Van Spec (Short List)
Van Make: Dodge
Van Model: D200
For the Full Feature on this van, pick up Vol. 3 of Rolling Heavy Magazine