4×4 vans are cool, period. From Volkswagen Syncros to modern Ford transit conversion camper vans, we cannot deny the coolness of these go-anywhere rectangles. Since We’ve established that these vans are scientifically and objectively cool, let’s take a look at a super-rare Chevrolet 4×4 van, the 1986 Chevy Astro van converted by Trail Wagons.
Bow down to this super-rare Chevrolet 4×4 van
In March, MotorTrend covered a story on a very-rare 1988 Pathfinder conversion GMC Safari. The van world can be pretty insular and niche, but in the ‘80s, vans were cheap and popular. It was also fairly common to see outfitters converting popular van models to solid axel 4×4 vans. However, the Chevrolet vans we are talking about today were a bit less common.
Pathfinder was one of the premier outfitters for conversions. Pathfinder regularly worked with the big three (Ford, GM, and Chrysler). These conversions were done in conjunction with the OEM and came fully DOT-certified and under warranty. The GMC Safari prototype mentioned by MT in their 1988 test was the second prototype, featuring some pretty badass equipment.
According to MotorTrend, the conversion started with a BorgWarner 1345 transfer case and an HD subframe to support the 3,400-pound-rated Dana 44 front axle. Rancho leaf springs and Bilstein gas shocks make up the suspension, and the GM rear axle stayed mostly stock except for some lifter blocks. The 4×4 Safaris had a V6 paired with a four-speed automatic. The prototype tester came stocked with goodies from the SLE trim; AC, cruise control, a 27-gallon fuel tank, tilting power steering, and an AM/FM/cassette stereo. The total package went for $21,000.
These 4×4 van conversions were fairly popular, but due to the niche market and rough life they lived, they are now quite a rare sight these days.
Someone find a similar 4×4 van out in the wild for $500
At the end of the revisited review of the Pathfinder 1988 GMC Safari conversion, the writer adds a stinger asking for more info or leads on anyone who has found one of these vintage 4×4 vans out in the wild. And, a message came from the dark.
A reader responded to the call with photos from a recent score of a similar 1986 Chevy Astro van 4×4 conversion, but one done by a company called Trail Wagon.
Who was Trail Wagons?
The owner of the 4×4 Chevy Astro says that Trail Wagons was an upfitter outfit that was a subsidiary of the mighty Chinook brand. They also had been known to send their vans to Pathfinder from time to time.
In his research, he found this MT article describing the same conversion methods as his own hard-to-identify-van. He found the same solid blocks to lift the rear suspension, the Dana axel upfront, but there was one major difference. This Chevy Astro 4×4 van had a V8 instead of the V6 found in the Safari. While he can’t be sure the V8 swap was done by Trail Wagons or Pathfinder, he says the work looks clean and professionally done.
The search continues
There is so little information available for this 1986 Chevrolet Astro van conversion that he must continue to read and make some guesses to figure out the history of this rare 4×4 van. But all that really matters is, he got a screaming deal on a badass van. We wish him luck in his restoration.