I own a Dodge Viper and a minivan, and if I could only keep one of them, it would be the minivan.
Now I know what you’re thinking, you’re thinking “I don’t want to be rude, Matt, but I’m not sure this is the place for you.”
Hear me out.
I engineer cars at work, build cars at home, race cars on the weekends, and write about cars in my spare time. I’m a total car guy. I remember watching a car show a few years back and one of the hosts posited that you couldn't be a car guy if you owned a minivan, which I thought was funny since I know for a fact that one of the other hosts owned a minivan. But what a stupid thing to suggest, it’s like saying that you can’t be a writer if you start sentences with conjunctions, or have, like, way too many run on sentences. Who makes these rules? I mean are we really going to eliminate the possibility of owning an entire class of vehicles just because of some presumption about what it says about you, or what kind of people typically buy it? Don’t get me wrong, I’m not trying to convince you that all cars are great in their own special way; there are plenty of cars that could do without a fan club (most of which have fan clubs), but the minivan is different, and here’s why.
People belittle minivans without much argument from minivan owners, and even the owners bemoan their suburban accoutrement, but the truth is that people love their minivans. It's like a secret club where we all quietly enjoy everyone else's complaints about our car choice, but we really think it is super awesome. I bought my Chrysler Town and Country from a retired couple who took meticulous care of it. They had a stack of receipts and paperwork three inches thick. The wife loved it and did not want to see it go; she made me promise to take good care of it. And I, being an honest and empathetic individual, looked a sweet old lady in the eyes and lied to her face. "I'll totally take good care of it, i'll clean it, and wash it, and..." all lies. Three weeks later, one of my neighbors said to me "Your van is really dirty, it looks like you took it off road." as though "off road" is a place where you don't take minivans.
Second, nobody who cares what other people think about them would ever buy a minivan; it is a vehicle purchased solely by people who do not care. If not giving a shit is cool, then minivans are rock star cool. It is so uncool that it transcends coolness, going so far to the side of uncool that it comes full circle to absolute coolness. If Keith Moon were alive today, he would totally drive an Odyssey into a hotel swimming pool. I know, you’re thinking, “But dude, PTA moms aren't cool.” Slow your roll there, Chief. PTA moms don’t drive minivans. They drive Lexus RXs and Chevy Tahoes. They drive SUVs and the only reason they drive SUVs is because they don’t want to be seen in a minivan, because only PTA moms drive minivans.
Third, you can haul stuff. I've hauled go karts, car engines, refrigerators, beer kegs, desks, dressers, beds, street bikes, dirt bikes, mountain bikes, friends, family, strangers... You say you want to put a motorcycle inside, another on a hitch carrier, fill the rest of the inside with camping stuff, and also haul two dead Christmas trees, for some reason?
I had to put air suspension on the rear to balance out the load when I fill it with crap.
Fourth, camping is a breeze. Setting up camp consists entirely of putting the van in park. It was my home for a week at Burning Man, drowning out the drone of techno music and protecting me and my stuff from the windy blast of playa sand and weed smoke.
Also, you can totally live in it. I know to some of you this may not be terribly exciting news, but it is. You haven’t lived until you've lived in a minivan down by the river. For 10 weeks earlier this year I lived in my minivan, driving from national forests to friends’ houses to mountain campgrounds, gallivanting around the country, just me and my dashboard companion, Hula Vader.
I drove along the coast from LA to Seattle to see some old friends, across to Yellowstone, through Wyoming, over to Pennsylvania to visit family, down to Washington DC to spend a week wandering around the Smithsonian museums, down to Oklahoma to visit friends and family, back through Colorado, and over to Utah for some mountain biking, and a hundred places in between for some of the best camping, hiking, and sightseeing I've ever experienced.
One late night in DC, I didn't feel like driving back to the campground, so I parked in a nice looking neighborhood, crawled in the back, and went to sleep. I was bothered by exactly nobody. You know why? Because you see 100 minivans a day and you never think twice about it. RV? You can’t park that here! Ford Focus? Good luck stretching out and getting a good night’s sleep. Minivan? Your new home on the corner of random street and nobody-cares-if-you-park-here circle.
On one particular stretch of my adventure, I was driving down a state highway in Utah that was the most beautiful place I've ever been. It followed the Colorado River and was surrounded by massive sandstone walls, and spires, and amazing scenery in all directions. I decided to take a side road towards some interesting rock formations and found myself in the greatest campground I've ever seen. I parked at the last open campsite and went exploring. After a leisurely hike, I sat in the minivan and read Walden with the side door open. A couple hours later, two other minivans stopped and asked, “Hey dude, are you guys leaving?”
“No, I’m staying tonight,” I said, “and it’s just me.”
“You mind if we share the campground? We got brewskies, and two minivans full of chicks!”
Well, I don’t want to be rude.
It was two guys and five girls, all from Telluride, CO, and all the kind of people police pick out for “random searches.” They started a fire and played some Grateful Dead on one of the radios.
I mentioned their vehicle choice and they espoused the virtues of minivans.
“Oh, minivans are awesome; you can do anything with them!”
Shit yea, you can.
Later in the night, around 11, they had the idea to hike along the river, and invited me to join them. The canyon walls were pitch black, silhouettes of rock formations jutting out into a night sky full of more stars than I’d ever seen. One of the girls told us to all lie down and stare up. We all lay down on a small island in the middle of the stream that we happened to be on at that moment. It was not especially dry.
“Look up at the stars.” She said. “And then realize, that you’re not only looking up at the stars, you’re also looking down at them.”
I started to think about all the things I had done over the past few weeks; seen friends I hadn't seen since college, family I hadn't seen in years, priceless works of art, centuries old cave paintings, and some of the most beautiful scenery I could imagine. I had cheese in Wisconsin and deep dish pizza in Chicago, I hiked the Grand Canyon and touched a rock that came from Mars. I realized that we all live in a great big gigantic world. Unfathomably huge. You could do something every day that is awesome, in the real sense of the word, something that fills you with awe, and if you lived to be a hundred you might never make it past the Rockies.
Minivans aren't cool. They’re not. Nobody looks at me and says, “That guy is so cool.” They say “That homeless guy really needs to wash his minivan.” But Vipers aren't cool either. They’re just metal and plastic. They’re just cars. And don’t misunderstand me; I’m a car guy to the core. But the cars I really love, the ones that really stoke that passion, are the ones that weave in and out of the really great stories of my life; the college racecar, the first project car, the car that cost more to get out of impound than it was worth, and of course the car that went with me around the country for 10 weeks in the spring of 2013. I love that car; I love that I can carry all my friends in it, I love that I can haul my motorcycles with it, I love that I can sleep in the back of it in a Wal-Mart parking lot. It’s not particularly stylish and it doesn't go very fast, but I haven’t owned it for a year and it has already taken me on more adventures than most people will have in a decade.
I drive a minivan, and I love it. If that means I don’t make the “car guy” cut, then fine.
I’ll be a minivan guy.
A minivan guy who drives a Viper.
Matt Brown is the author of Racecar: Searching for the Limit in Formula SAE, which is a free book that you can totally download for free. It's free.