Kama Medders’ Hippy Dippy Mystery Machine

This is a repost from the blog of my friend Kama Medders (whose blog you can find the link to in my blogroll) – she and her family recently bought and modified an old used van.  It’s pretty cool.  Have a look:

In July, Jeff and I will have been married for 19 years.  In that time, we have purchased only 1 new car:  a 2001 Hyundai Santa Fe.  When we bought it, we only had 2 kids, so the 5 passenger capacity was perfect.  3 years later, our 6 member family had outgrown the car, and we discovered a little thing called “depreciation” and how difficult it can be to sell a car when you are upside down in the loan.  Well, it all worked out fine for us, but we decided to never go in debt for a car again.  And we haven’t.  We are also anti-minivan.  Since we made our decision, we’ve “murdered” 3 Suburbans and a station wagon.  BTW, when I say “murder” I mean that we blacked them out…black paint, black rims, as-dark-as-is-legally-possible window tint, etc.  I was kind of going for the “soccer mom, but you better not cut me off in traffic” look.  When I drove the Suburbans, friends joked about my “urban assault vehicle” and when I drove the wagon, my kids’ friends asked them why we drove that “funeral” car.  It’s fun driving unique cars.  People honk and wave when they see you coming and I’ve never lost my car in a parking lot.

On December 15, 2010, the same day my oldest daughter got her driver’s permit, she murdered my “murdered” wagon.  And when I say “murder” I mean she used it to render a semi truck undriveable. My awesome station wagon with the LT1 Corvette motor, now sits in a scrap yard, being stripped one piece at a time for its few usable parts, waiting for the day it will be crushed and melted.  A moment of silence, please.

We had the thing on full coverage with the insurance company, so with a check for $3200 in our hands, Jeff and I had a meeting at Starbucks to discuss what our next vehicle would be.  Even though I loved our Suburbans (we’d had 4, if you count the one we only owned for 6 days before it was stolen and led police on a high speed chase through Los Angeles), but Jeff was getting bored with them.  I loved the wagon, but was often frustrated with its lack of cargo space.  We had to use all the seats for strapping in kids, so when I went to the grocery store, we had to stuff bags in floor boards around little feet.  You can imagine how poorly my eggs and produce fared on the way home.  We were against driving a minivan, but the idea of a full size van was appealing.  We knew we couldn’t just buy one and drive it as-is… that would be dull and normal.  I told Jeff that I wouldn’t murder it like we’ve done in the past, because that would be too “A Team”.  I suggested that we could hippy it, thinking he would laugh off the idea.  Instead, he got a gleam in his eye and said, “Mystery Machine?”  To which I responded, “I SO get to be Daphne.”

The following is a look at the transformation of our current vehicle.

We spent a lot of time looking at conversion vans, but because of the seating arrangement with 4 captains chairs, they only hold 7 people.  That’s fine for us, but I really like to let my kids invite friends to come home from church and school sometimes, so I was hoping for a vehicle that would hold at least 8.  With that in mind, we started looking at 12 and 15 passenger vans, but the ones we could afford (and still have enough money left to “modify” it) had looming transmission problems.  The ones in better shape left us no money for “personalizing” the vehicle.

About the time we thought we were going to have to go back to the drawing board, Jeff came across a Craig’s List ad for a 3/4 ton van owned by the Conway School District.  We drove the 45 minutes out to go look at it, and it turned out to be exactly what I wanted!  (Granted, my version of “perfect” is a little off-kilter from the average soccer mom’s definition of perfect.)  It had been used as a maintenance vehicle, rather than a transportation vehicle, so the passenger seats had been removed and replaced by metal utility shelves.  They had obviously been sweating pipes with a torch inside the van as there were more burn holes in the headliner than there was actual headliner.  The flooring was filthy black rubber with multiple colors of paint spilled and dried all over it.  On the outside, it was an ashy red all over.  But, it was mechanically sound, had front and rear working air conditioners, and they only wanted $1800!  See, I told you:  PERFECT!
All of this happened over the Christmas break and with school starting back in January, we needed to have a car that would haul all the kids.  So the first thing we had to do was find seats for it.  This required several trips to several different junk yards.  At the first junk yard, I found the seats I wanted for the front.  I know that the high backed front seats are supposed to be a little safer, but (being a shorty) I always loved the low backed seats in my dad’s 1967 Volkswagon Bug that I drove (and ultimately rolled over in a ditch) in high school.  We found these seats:
                                            
In this van:
I had so much fun prowling around the scrap yards with my husband and helping him pull the parts we wanted out of other wrecked vehicles.  It was like extreme recycling and became quite a sport for me!  Even though it was fun, I still wanted my teenager to suffer a little.  After all, it was her fault that we were having to endure the inconvenience of putting together another family vehicle.  So, I made her go to the scrap yard with her daddy on a cold January afternoon in search of passenger seats.  My plan backfired.  It turns out she’s related to me and enjoyed the junk yard as much as I did.
Mattie and Jeff scored big on that trip!  They found a wrecked Dodge van with all the seats in perfect condition.  Our van is a GMC Rally, but careful measuring ensured that all but the longest back seat would fit perfectly into our van, and Jeff happens to be quite a good welder, so a few nips and tucks would make the back seat fit.
Technically, there’s not any purple on the Mystery Machine, but Daphne’s clothes are always purple, so I argued that if Daphne was designing the Mystery Machine, there would unarguably be PURPLE.  And since “I SO get to be Daphne”, I decided that my seats needed to be recovered in lavender vinyl.
To make the reupholstery less expensive, we stripped the old covers off ourselves.
Additionally, we decided it would be easier for our kids to irritate and kick each other if we redesigned the seating arrangement.  So we turned the front row completely around so it faces backwards.  We left the back row facing forward.  And Jeff used his welding torch to shorten a bench seat and we turned it sideways against the windows.  (The passenger seating now resembles a letter “C”.)
When we went to see our upholsterer, Jerry Mann, he had a remnant of the perfect shade of purple, but not enough to cover the entire group of seats.  I did some thinking and reminded Jeff of a booth we sat in when we were eating at an A&W’s in Oklahoma.  It had a wavy line stitched into it with one color on top and another on bottom.  We presented the idea to Jerry and he said he could do it!  Here’s what we ended up with:
We also had Jerry help us redo the burned headliner and Jeff installed a row of rivets right behind the driver and shotgun seats so we can eventually hang a beaded curtain.  I know!  Fun!
It’s hard to tell from the pictures how bright the colors are on the interior, but we also went to Home Depot and picked out a lime green house carpet in the tallest knap we could find.  It’s not quite a “shag”, but it’s pretty tall.
Then we were finally ready to work on the outside of the van!  But first we had to do all the boring prep stuff.  Sanding.
And more sanding.
Followed by more sanding.
And did I mention sanding?
This is 10 year old Jenna.  She wanted in on the action, too!  And this is a cool picture she accidentally snapped while she was taking a picture of her dad.
Then I got to do my very favorite thing in the world…BONDO!  Followed by (sigh) more sanding.
We wiped down the whole exterior with TSP to remove the dust and oil, and set the kids to work wiping down the interior.  (We felt like it was important for the whole family to get involved.)
And then Jeff started painting!  Remember, Daphne (AKA Me!) is designing this machine, so the first color to go on was PURPLE!
The next step was for Mattie to use her steady hand and artistic flare to draw the design for the next layer of paint so we could tape it off and spray.
She was going to free-hand the entire design, but the pencil wasn’t working well and a marker would have been too difficult to cover with paint.  So we put on our thinking caps again and came up with another idea.  Mattie drew her design on a clear sheet of plastic.  We went up to the church and dug around in an old storage closet and found an overhead projector.  We waited until it got nearly dark outside….
and projected the image onto the van!  That’s our friend, Mike Kirby, who came over and helped us tape off the design.
Look at the detail Mattie put into the design.  If you look at it one way, you see whimsical hearts, but if you look closer, you can see that it’s two ocean waves!
The next morning, Jeff added the green.
It was so exciting to remove the tape and see the design!
Jeff thought I was a little bit silly for wanting a crown design on the hood, but, hello!  Daphne designed this, remember?!
By the afternoon, we were ready for the sea foam!
And, presto!  Here is my finished ride!
oops… still have to reattach the side view mirrors!
Jeff Medders is a genius with spray paint!
Mattie is magical with a pencil!
Special thanks to Mike and Jerry!!  You guys are awesome!
And I get credit for being more than willing to drive this thing all over town!

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