Charley Van

Charley for short. An homage to Steinbeck’s “bleu” poodle in Travels with Charley: In Search of America.

Charley’s Photo Album on Facebook

An almost anachronistic marvel, Charley van is a 1994 GMC Vandura G2500 that we swear traveled through time from 1974 to let us behold his magnificent bleu velour and oak paneling and know that this character had to be our family truckster for this journey.

It is true that a gas guzzling, Ginormo van is not exactly a model of sustainable, green living. But we figure that detaching from the house with all the modern conveniences and the carbon footprint that comes with them, bringing along our bikes for short trips and our feets for hiking to camp, and making every effort to source our food locally wherever we go will help offset Charley’s inefficiencies.

Speaking of inefficiencies, this luxurious beast boasts at least 10 tiny cubbies with latching doors in which we can store a lot of… spools of thread? He also has some lovely oak cup holders ejectors that are only suited to holding oil can sized beers. And we all know A) what class of beer generally comes in an oil can and B) how much cops love open containers and imbibing while driving.

All of this is no matter, however, for we have devised myriad retrofitting solutions which will maximize our space and beverage holding options far beyond the wildest dreams of any of those remodeling gurus on TLC. This will mean jettisoning all of the rear bench seats which fold down flat to make this behemoth a shaggin’ wagon extraordinaire. But never fear! Charley will retain his glorious tackiness to the fullest extent possible. We may even add some kitsch back in for good measure.

But we are not the only ones to recognize the sheer performance potential of this automotive marvel. The most prestigious vehicular review program in the history of mankind has endorsed the Charley: none other than Top Gear. In series/season 22, Episode 3, Richard Hammond selected a Charley as his production vehicle choice for an ambulance. Granted it was badged as a Chevy Tiara and not a GMC Vandura, but the trim levels and finishes were exactly the same. The only difference from this now world-famous Top Gear van and Charley is the Top Gear sibling has the bow tie and the velour is brown instead of blue. It even has the same cup ejectors! Witness the marvel that is Charley competing in the most popular television show of all time! His appearance begins at 02:44. Richard pushes him to the limit (including setting the breaks on fire) and you can see how indefatigable our Adventure Charley is! One must marvel at the performance in the race challenge starting at 13:22 – check it out, you’ll be surprised how it finishes!

[the video has been deleted unfortunately, but a savvy person can probably still find it.]

But we needed a camper, not an ambulance. Still, the conversion/upgrades done to Charley are considerable:

KITCHENETTE: The previous owners Sydney and Averie ripped out the captains chairs and built and installed the kitchenette. Features include:


  • Plumbing: Six gallon water reservoir, sink, and gray water tank complete with bicycle pump to pressurize and operate the system. We have reworked this system twice to optimize it. If it breaks we have a final modification in mind to make it as perfect as it can be!

04-Kitchewn Sink_s

  • Integrated Storage: Totes galore! And a place for laundry detergent behind the gray water tank.
  • Refrigerator: Igloo iceless cooler with overhead 12VDC power supply. A smaller capacity cooler allows for more tote storage.


  • Integrated Cooktop: Holds Coleman two burner stove and propane cylinder. Only fits vintage gear, new “Classic” Coleman or any new manufacturer won’t fit. Thankfully these old stoves are pretty common! These things make carbon monoxide, kids, so don’t neglect ventilation. In cold weather cooking keeps Charley nice and warm!


  • Pantry: We removed the TV (as seen in previous albums) but it’s very difficult to picture with the hammocks stowed. We also added a center console bench with integrated pantry drawer and that I can picture. Great for storage and resting elbows while on a long drive!

11-Pantry 1_s

12- Pantry 2_s

HAMMOCKS: I have backpacked quite a bit and I’ve found I felt a million times better after sleeping in a well tensioned hammock versus sleeping on the ground. We have slept on Charley’s floor a couple of times and it’s pretty accommodating, all things considered. But we could do better. We had torn out the fold-down bench seat to make room for cargo storage and thus lost the built-in bed available; but it wasn’t very comfortable anyway. Features include:

  • A foundation of two Grand Trunk hammocks, each holding an air mattress pad.
  • 30-degree Big Agnes “double” sleeping bag so we can still snuggle.
  • Cargo net for miscellaneous storage under stowed hammocks or behind their heads when deployed.
  • 8 tension lines supporting it with 3mm nylon cord and wire-clip climbing carabiners. Anchor points are the seat belt harness bolts and the door frames.


02-Hammock Head_s

07-Hammock Rear Rigging_s

10-Hammock Forward Rigging_s

  • The hammocks can be tied up and stowed in the space overhead to allow for clear viewing when driving and general milling about in Charley without having to take them down every night.

08-Hammock Rear Stowed_s

09-Hammock Forward Stowed_s