Conversion vans used to be a fairly common sight on American roadways in the 1980s and '90s. Now, you don’t really see many of them owned by the average consumer. If you do, it’s typically a survivor from the conversion van heyday. Despite this, these vans do still exist. It’s just they’re not as needed thanks to all the modern amenities that come in minivans these days. Still, if you wanted to outfit a van to your liking, you could.
What Is a Conversion Van?
In case you don’t remember what a conversion van looks like (or are too young to have seen them in their prime), let’s take a look at what made conversion vans special.
Conversion vans are full-size vans that are sent to third-party companies to be outfitted with special equipment and luxurious amenities. These alterations are often done with a specific purpose in mind. Usually, conversion vans are outfitted for long road trips or camping, but they can also be outfitted for public transportation, handicapped transportation, construction sites, and other uses.
What Automakers Produce Conversion-Ready Vans?
Because of the van's purpose-built construction, automakers have to sell a basic package so the third-party companies can outfit them as needed. Not every automaker produces conversion vans, and the ones that do usually just use their standard cargo vans stripped down. Ford, GMC, Chevrolet, Mercedes-Benz, Nissan, and Ram all make vans suitable for conversions. We’ve listed the options below.
The Ford Transit is a tall, boxy van that offers a versatile and spacious platform to build upon. It’s powered by either a 3.7-liter V6, a 3.5-liter EcoBoost V6, or a 3.2-liter Power Stroke turbodiesel inline five-cylinder. Ford also offers a Transit Connect van that is a little smaller.
GMC Savanna/Chevrolet Express
The GMC Savana and Chevrolet Express cargo vans are essentially the same vehicles. They have more of a typical van shape and aren’t as tall as some of the other vehicles listed. Power comes from either a 4.8-liter V8, a 6.0-liter V8, or a 2.8-liter Duramax turbodiesel four-cylinder.
The Sprinter van has long been at the forefront of the cargo/conversion van world. It has been outfitted with just about everything over the years and offers quite an enticing package, including a 4x4 model. Under the hood, you’ll find a 2.0-liter turbocharged four-cylinder, a 2.1-liter turbodiesel four-cylinder, and a 3.0-liter turbodiesel V6. Mercedes also sells the Metris van, which is essentially a smaller Sprinter.
Nissan’s NV van lineup takes on the competition with a versatile and attractive package for a wide audience. It offers the best warranty (5 years/100,000 miles bumper-to-bumper) and either a 4.0-liter V6 or a 5.6-liter V8 engine under the hood. Nissan also offers the smaller NV200 Compact Cargo van if you don’t need the full-size beast.
The Ram ProMaster is the only van in its class that offers front-wheel drive. That allows for a low floor height. Supplying power to the front wheels is either a 3.0-liter diesel four-cylinder or a 3.6-liter V6 engine. The regular ProMaster more van than you need? Check out the Ram ProMaster City, which is essentially the same vehicle just a little smaller.