Minivans Aren't Boring

The vanning culture here in North America boomed in the 70s and then fizzled away near the introduction of the minivan as they slowly engulfed suburban America.

A lot of you may not remember seeing the vanning craze firsthand that swept the United States back in the '70s, but I'm sure you have probably heard of it. Airbrushing, themed interiors, side pipes, and all sorts of other incredible things. However, we suppose that in Japan, vanning has never gone out of style.

Vans are trendy in Japan, so much that there are several different subcategories within the "vanning" world and they run from tiny Kei vans to full-size luxury machines that are seemingly larger than most Japanese apartments. We're not going to dive into all of the different subcultures instead focusing on what's popular enough to have made it onto our side of the Pacific.

VIP style as a whole has a unique vibe, centred around ultra-luxury and understated class. However, when VIP enthusiasts had kids and needed something more practical, they customized passenger vans. These vans have similar modifications seen on VIP sedans, including aggressive wheels and aero kits, plush interiors, and a super low stance with coilovers or air suspension.

The Toyota Alphard (and its sister, the Vellfire) is a prevalent platform for modifications in Japan's vanning culture. Based on Toyota's "K" platform (which underpins many of Toyota's midsize vehicles), it shares many components with the USDM Sienna, including the powertrain, a majority of suspension components, and many standard features.

On the outside, the family hauler is coated in a unique shade of brown, complimenting the van's angular lines and big slab sides. Fitting under the VIP Style category, the Alphard features unique aero, including a front and rear bumper, side skirts and door panels to give the van a more aggressive drop. Accompanying the aero additions is a set of 20-inch mesh wheels with polished lips sitting flush with the arches. Helping bring the Alphard closer to the concrete is a set of Tanabe's "Air Cobra" coilovers equipped with air springs to lift and lower the people mover on command.

As you would expect, besides featuring exterior upgrades, the interiors of these things are typically loaded up with tons of stereo equipment, custom upholstery and other stuff that brings back memories of the vanning boom in the United States. Inside, the Alphard is covered in two-tone leather and suede on most of the surfaces.

Where there isn't soft cow skin, there is wood veneer to exude elegance. The center row of seating has been ditched for a limo-esque table equipped with cupholders for rear seat occupants to enjoy. The Alphard doesn't disappoint in the audio department with hi-fi speakers, a double-din "Carrozerria" touch screen head unit and a flip-down LCD monitor for rear occupant entertainment.

The driver is also treated to unique "Clazzio" steering wheel and shift lever additions matching the luscious interior. Standard features also include dual-zone climate control, power sliding rear doors, twin sunroofs and parking radar.

Vanning may have fizzled out decades ago here in North America, but it is alive and well in Japan, and we appreciate the effort to make bland people movers stylish again. We would also like to thank Vancouver Velocity Cars for providing this incredibly stylish Alphard as reliable transportation for Diamond Rally (and, yes, it's currently for sale!)

- Team 604

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