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Here Are the Weirdest Cargo Vans Made in Recent Memory

If you think that plumbers and florists only show up to fix leaky faucets and dress up wedding venues in white panel vans, you’d be mistaken. A whole world of bizarre cargo vans existed in the U.S. at one point — and commercial versions of SUVs are still a thing in the U.K.

A tax loophole in the U.K. means that it can be less costly to register a Land Rover Discovery or a Mitsubishi Outlander as a commercial van, albeit one with solid panels rather than glass windows in the rear doors and cargo area that may reduce their appeal as family haulers. The Discovery has historically made some sense as a rural runabout given its rugged capabilities, but the Outlander is more of a head-scratcher.

Without a doubt, the oddest cargo van to come to this side of the pond traces its routes to Blighty: the Mini Clubvan. Offered for just a single year, the Clubvan was based on the Clubman (get it?), except it came with sheet metal instead of side windows behind the front doors and its rear seat was deleted in favor of a rubber floor covering. Just like the standard Mini Clubman, Clubvans weren’t very spacious. The Clubvan’s cargo floor was long, but not tall, and its suspension wasn’t upgraded to cope with heavy payloads. It’s hard to imagine much demand for a cramped cargo van with limited utility. Just 50 were reportedly built for the U.S. market.

Mini should have looked to Chevrolet’s failure with its HHR Panel van a few years prior. The retro-heavy HHR sold reasonably well in passenger configuration, and it made some sense as a commercial van thanks to a reasonable 66 cu ft. cargo hold. Curiously, Chevy launched the HHR Panel first in the high-level LT trim — because cost-conscious fleet operators apparently wanted to lavish their drivers in the HHR’s decadence — before eventually expanding the lineup to include all trim levels, including the bonkers 260-horsepower manual HHR SS. Our Doug DeMuro spotted one in late 2016, but they’re probably even rarer than Clubvans.

Cargo versions of minivans make a lot more sense. Chrysler has had cargo versions of its minivans since the mid-1980s, including the curiously named Ram C/V (cargo/van?) based on the Dodge Grand Caravan that was sold mostly to the USPS through 2015. General Motors did the same with its Chevrolet Uplander snout vans, many of which are still in service with the USPS even though they were last built in 2008.

But let’s not forget the Mercury Villager and its Nissan Quest twin. Most left the Avon Lake, Ohio, plant dressed with three rows of cloth seats, or maybe Nautica badges and leather trim in the case of the decadent Villager. Every once in a while, one rolled down the assembly line as a cargo van with just two front seats. Both were identically equipped in 1995 with a 3.0-liter V6 paired to a 4-speed automatic transmission, a driver’s airbag, motorized seatbelts that were surely unbuckled within minutes of leaving the dealer lot, and even a cassette player. They were identically priced at $18,455, plus a $540 destination charge for the Nissan and a $555 fee for the Mercury. No wonder Mercury didn’t survive, what with that $15 upcharge.

Perhaps it’s time for another wacky panel van — here’s lookin’ at you, Kia Soul. Find a van for sale

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Andrew Ganz
Andrew Ganz
Andrew Ganz is an author specializing in helping in-market consumers get the most bang for their buck -- and the best car, while they're at it. When not virtually shopping for new and used cars, Andrew can probably be found under the hood of a vintage classic that's rapidly losing fluids.

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