Look down your street. Even if you live in the West Hills, there's a good chance you've got a van or two parked nearby. Vans are everywhere in Cascadia—and some of them double as houses.
[Pete Cottell is living in a van this summer in Portland. He prefers not to say what kind.]
The van equivalent of a big loft apartment in a trendy area furnished by Design Within Reach. Complete with shore-power hookups, a fold-out bed, a built-in propane camping stove, and a handful of other optional amenities, very little is needed to convert these camper vans into livable abodes. Price, scarcity and mechanical reliability often put the Westfalia out of reach of those who are closer to the homeless end of the van-life spectrum.
Approachability: High, both literally and figuratively. Westy dwellers are generally harmless idealists who would love to share their stories of life on the road over a cup of Yerba Mate.
Buy: Older models can be found for as little as $3,000, but don't expect to take it on a soul-searching road trip without bringing a mechanic or spending at least $9,000.
"The Egg" may be the most mechanically sound oddity ever imported to our shores. The Previa is awkward in a "this might be what the future looks like!" kind of way, but, goddamn, these things run forever. It's more spacious than today's Sienna without the hulking frame and mushy suspension of a full-size van.
Approachability: Few vans are unsexier than the Previa, which may lead dwellers to remain shy about the fact that everything they own is in a heap behind the front seats.
Buy: Expect to pay $2,000 for one that runs, or $800 for a project.
For those aspiring A-Team types, nothing tops the manly, no-nonsense design of the Ram. A windowless Ram cargo van suited up in black primer and outfitted with all-terrain tires is an unstoppable force. Laugh like a maniac as you fly over speed bumps at 32 mph with Ride the Lighting blasting from the tape deck. Just keep it a good 200 feet from schools and playgrounds. It's popular among doom-metal and stoner bands with monosyllabic names that schlep thousands of dollars' worth of Empire cabinets. And child predators.
Approachability: Unless "FREE CANDY" is spray-painted on the side, give the van a knock.
Buy: A no-frills, windowless cargo van can be yours for around $1,500, while a classy conversion can be had for $3,200.
The most diverse selection of vans under one brand, the Ford Econoline series is a common choice among thrifty van enthusiasts. Drive by a bowling alley on a Friday night, and you're likely to find some truly haute E-150s patiently waiting for their owners to finish up their MGD-fueled debates about the ultimate Rush record. Third-party conversion companies such as Starcraft, Vanquest and Glaval were pimping Econolines back when MTV was still playing music videos, leaving van enthusiasts with some righteous relics of the '90s that come with VHS/TV combos, power-operated fold-down seats and faux-wood accents.
Buy: If you spent $2,000 on an E-150 that an old lady had stashed away in her backyard for years, you spent $500 too much.