Project Dajiban: New Life for an Old Conversion Van
If you’ll recall, last year while we were in Tokyo we stopped by a place called Abe Chu, which is considered the headquarters of Japan’s Dajiban scene. Based on the Japanese pronunciation of the words “Dodge Van,” the term is often used to describe a cult group of Japanese gear heads that enjoy cruising, modifying and even circuit racing the 2003 and earlier Dodge B-Series van.
The Dajiban movement has followers all over Japan, along with a small but growing group of enthusiasts in other countries including here in the U.S. As we mentioned in our previous Dajiban story, we actually picked up a 1996 Ram Cargo Van chassis last year with the idea of making a fun project out of it.
An inquiry with the California DMV, however, showed us the ‘96 van was loaded with registration back fees, and combined with some of its other mechanical needs, we started keeping our eyes open for another Ram Van that was more roadworthy.
Fortunately though, our old van was able to find a new home with a fellow enthusiast in the Midwest who was simply looking for a rust-free chassis to start with.
Project Van Chosen
As for its replacement, we'd looked at a few candidates in recent months, and a few weeks ago, we came across an ideal contender for our needs. It's a 1999 model Ram 1500 medium wheelbase conversion van powered by the venerable 5.2L small block V8.
While most Ram Vans can be had for relatively cheap, the problem with many of the cargo types is that they are quite beaten up after decades of business use and hauling. The conversion vans, on the other hand, were originally designed to haul families in comfort and seem to be a little better taken care of.
Our particular van is far from perfect, but given the fact it’s 20 years old, it’s decent for its age. The air conditioning blows cold, it passed the emissions test with flying colors and the previous owner recently drove it from California to Florida and back with no issues.
Cosmetic Upgrades Needed
It has about 150,000 miles on it, and a test drive showed it to be in good running order. Cosmetically, there are plenty of areas that will need some love, including a good interior cleaning and refresh, a fresh coat of wax and hopefully removal of the aging 1990s graphic decals.
For example, the original fender flares and running boards installed as part of the conversion van package have seen better days and will be the first things to be removed. We also think the van happens to look a lot better without them.
Newer Van, Retro Feel
Even it’s in current form the van is surprisingly fun to drive. It won’t win any drag races, but the V8 makes a nice sound and despite being built in the late ‘90s it has a distinctly ‘70s feel to it. That's not surprising considering the B-series vans used the same basic structure from 1970 until 2003.
It’s also incredibly roomy and comfortable, with four captains chairs and a rear bench seat that can be folded into a bed. While we don’t plan on going full bohemian hipster and doing a #vanlife Instagram adventure, this van would certainly be a good candidate for it.
As for our plans with the project, no details are set in stone, but naturally, we’ll be taking a lot of inspiration from our Dajiban buddies across the Pacific and perhaps injecting a bit of classic ‘70s era custom van style, as well.
While there isn’t a ton in the way of off the shelf aftermarket support for a Dodge Ram Van, there is a lot of opportunity for cool DIY projects and low budget upgrades that can make this thing a whole lot cooler.
Perhaps someday it may become a freak on wheels complete with race car suspension and a Mopar Hellcrate motor upfront, but for the meantime we are planning to have some affordable and unique fun in a family hauler with a whole lot more personality than your typical crossover SUV.
Stay tuned because next time we’ll be back to show just how much difference a weekend’s worth of time can make when it comes to bringing back a paint job, stripping away old decals and more.
The Dajiban adventure has begun.