It all started with a 1977 boogie van nicknamed Van Gogh.
“I fixed it up myself as a camper van so I didn’t have to sleep in a tent,” said Jeff McSweeney, owner of Vantastic Rentals in Vernon.
Today, Vantastic is a burgeoning, niche tourism business with four Chevy Class B vans, all from 1977-81, on the road.
McSweeney rents them by the day or week at VantasticRentals.com for epic camping trips with or without nostalgia.
Boogie vans of the ’70s tended to feature hippie paint jobs and a bed in the back of the shag-carpeted or quilted vinyl interior.
McSweeney has updated these vehicles with new motors, more sedate paint jobs, fridge, stove, furnace and a couch that pulls out into a bed for two.
But what hasn’t changed is the classic Chevy van shape of the era, its roominess, comfort and workhorse capabilities.
“I’m a Chevy gearhead guy from way back,” said McSweeney, 56.
“They are simple to work on and update, and I do all the work on them myself.”
Being fully equipped and self-contained, going off the grid in these vans is not only possible, but encouraged.
McSweeney encourages campers to get off the beaten path and find a hidden pullout, lakeside plot or secluded mountain lookout as camping spots.
Customers tend to be locals who are going on a camping trip or to a music festival, or they’re Europeans, Australians and New Zealanders who want a full-on, self-drive Western North America experience.
“Oh ya, I’m renting to three girls from Kelowna who are going on a short camping trip, and I’ve rented to people going to Roots & Blues (in Salmon Arm), Kaslo Jazz Fest and Shambhala (electronic music festival near Nelson),” said McSweeney.
“I also have a couple from Switzerland out right now on a 10-week rental. They left from Vernon to go all through the Kootenays and Rockies up to Jasper and then over to Prince George and on to Alaska before exploring Vancouver Island and coming back to Vernon.”
McSweeney generally likes campers to stay under 1,000 kilometres of travel per week, but the Swiss will likely put on 13,000 kilometres in 10 weeks.
Rates are $155 a night or $1,300 per week, plus tax and insurance.
Campers can pick a van up in Vernon, or McSweeney will deliver a van to Kelowna’s airport or Vancouver for campers renting longer term.
Besides classic B.C. and Rocky Mountain itineraries, Vantastic renters have camped all through Washington state, along the Oregon coast and into California, Arizona and Wyoming.
Van Gogh, the green-and-white van that kicked it all off, is named after the Dutch post-impressionist painter Vincent van Gogh (1853-90), who is most famous for his Sunflowers canvas.
Other vans in the fleet include the cream-coloured Easy Rider (named after the 1969 Peter Fonda-Dennis Hopper Harley-riding hippie movie), the brown Josey Wales (after the 1976 Clint Eastwood flick The Outlaw Josey Wales) and beige Malakwa (after the Shuswap town of the same name).
For the past three years, McSweeney has run Vantastic as a hobby while he continued to work in stints driving truck in Northern Alberta’s oilfields.
“After one more winter up north, I’m retiring from there to concentrate full time on Vantastic,” he said.
“The growth so far in the business has been just right and enough for me to handle. But in the future, we can get bigger.”