Home » Putting The ‘Van’ In Vancouver: 1996 VW Transporter vs 1998 GMC Savana

Putting The ‘Van’ In Vancouver: 1996 VW Transporter vs 1998 GMC Savana

Sbsd 9 14 2023
ADVERTISEMENT

Welcome to your Thursday edition of Shitbox Showdown! Today, we’re headed just over the border to look at a couple of Canadian stuff-haulers, just to show the lengths I will go to for a silly headline. (About 300 miles north, apparently.) But first, let’s go back to Cali and finish up with yesterday’s coupes:

Screen Shot 2023 09 13 At 5.23.49 Pm

Vidframe Min Top
Vidframe Min Bottom

Most of you looked at that Pulsar and said, “Man, I don’t think so.” Fair enough. That Benz is hard to resist. I think you’d better plan on spending a month of weekends whipping it into shape, though.

So today, it’s van time. We’ve got one van that’s ubiquitous on American roads, and one that was never offered here in this form. And weirdly, it looks like one used to be white and is now painted red, and the other used to be orange and is now painted white. Which one is the better box on wheels? Let’s check them out, and then you can decide.

1996 Volkswagen Transporter – $3,500 CAD

01414 7nlfqjvoyjb 0xt0t2 1200x900

ADVERTISEMENT

Engine/drivetrain: 2.4 liter diesel overhead cam inline 5, five-speed manual, FWD

Location: Surrey, BC

Odometer reading: 377,000 kilometers

Runs/drives? Yep

Volkswagen vans here in the US are nearly always playthings – pop-top camper vans with bike racks hanging off the back, trundling along in the slow lane through national parks, or filling the parking lots at Phish concerts. But elsewhere, VW sells panel vans, known as Transporters, that are as common as our Econolines, and work just as hard.

ADVERTISEMENT

00m0m 4wcudrge2ih 0ci0t2 1200x900

This is a long-wheelbase Transporter, equipped with a naturally aspirated five-cylinder diesel engine and a five-speed manual. In typical work van fashion, it only has an interior in front; the rest is empty space. This one has a bulkhead installed behind the seats, separating the cargo area from the passenger area. It looks like it’s just plywood, and probably easy enough to remove, if you don’t want it. A work van is a blank canvas, after all (literally, sometimes).

00808 K30jyl6aa0q 0aq0t2 1200x900

The seller says it runs and drives well, and “will go anywhere.” Slowly, though, I imagine, with only 77 horsepower under the hood. But slowness is sort of a VW van tradition, and these older basic VW diesels run forever, it seems. It’s halfway to forever already, with the equivalent of about 235,000 miles on the clock, and we don’t get any details on its maintenance history. The orange paint makes me wonder if it started out as part of a fleet, so hopefully it was well-maintained in the beginning, at least.

00n0n Cosptjzxawg 0an0t2 1200x900

ADVERTISEMENT

It does have a bit of a rust problem around the wheel wells and along the rockers. It’s always a little hard to say how bad rust really is without some poking and prodding, but the future does look a little grim (or at least unsightly) for this Transporter.

1998 GMC Savana – $3,390 CAD

00606 Ezwuenssns1 09g07g 1200x900

Engine/drivetrain: 4.3 liter overhead valve V6, four-speed automatic, RWD

Loction: Langley, BC

Odometer reading: 170,000 kilometers

ADVERTISEMENT

Runs/drives? Sure does

I find it funny that this is a twenty-five year old van, but you can walk into a GMC dealership today and buy one that looks pretty much just like it. It has undergone some serious changes, of course, but the bones are the same, and it still gets the job done, whatever that job may be. When you find a formula that works, why not stick with it?

00202 Jqd0setuequ 09g07g 1200x900

You can get a Savana or Chevy Express with a ludicrous amount of horsepower for a van, but this one makes do with the humble but bulletproof 4.3 liter V6. The seller says it runs and drives well, but has a little transmission issue – it shifts hard and late into overdrive. A fluid and filter change is supposed to help, they were told, but they haven’t done it yet. But it has new brakes and good tires.

00s0s 5fc2jwcdpu8 05r07g 1200x900

ADVERTISEMENT

It has another trick up its sleeve too: a wheelchair lift in the back. But that’s all there is in the back, apart from some foam insulation. There’s nothing else back there. It seems strange to me to install a wheelchair lift in a cargo van; it’s not the sort of ride anyone would like to take. Why not use a passenger van, with windows, and carpeting, instead? But you could use the lift for other things, I suppose – beer kegs, maybe? Or amplifiers and drums?

00000 L8gzdp7bzl2 09g07g 1200x900

Or take the lift out, and do whatever you want with it. This is big enough to make a decent camper van, if you want. And cheap enough to leave some room in the budget to build it out how you want, especially if you sell the lift.

So there you have it, two vans from the Great White North. They’re still solid enough to work with, but beat-up enough to not worry about messing up. Do what you will with them. In fact, in the comments, I’d love to hear what your plans are for one of these.

ADVERTISEMENT

(Image credits: Craigslist sellers)

Share on facebook
Facebook
Share on whatsapp
WhatsApp
Share on twitter
Twitter
Share on linkedin
LinkedIn
Share on reddit
Reddit
Subscribe
Notify of
68 Comments
Inline Feedbacks
View all comments
Scootershapedmotorcycle
Scootershapedmotorcycle
9 months ago

A cousin of mine has an Asfinag orange T4 and has used it as the daily driver, carrying construction materials as they fixed up a house, a camping extravaganza with 4 kayaks tied down, and more. They put seats in the back but the windows don’t open outside the front row. Many great memories of trundling along in the highway, right lane, getting where we were gonna get. How did this thing end up (in white?!) on this continent?

Scootershapedmotorcycle
Scootershapedmotorcycle
9 months ago

Aaaaand why is my chosen username not being used?

Flashman
Flashman
8 months ago

I had this same problem but you are able to change your username back if you poke around in the account settings

Scootershapedmotorcycle
Scootershapedmotorcycle
8 months ago
Reply to  Flashman

And after a few hiccups, it worked. Thank you!

Last edited 8 months ago by Scootershapedmotorcycle
Phuzz
Phuzz
9 months ago

All my tradie* mates want a VW Transporter, but they’re more expensive than a Transit or other white vans.

*(carpenters, plumbers, builders etc.)

Calum Gillies
Calum Gillies
9 months ago
Reply to  Phuzz

Yeah, the prices are crazy! usually double the milage for similarly priced Ford transits and the like.

Silent But Deadly
Silent But Deadly
9 months ago

I own a Transporter and I’d take the GMC over it…

Here4thecars
Here4thecars
9 months ago

That wheelchair lift in the Savannah would be real handy for heavy gear. I used to haul a PA and bass gear for my band, and lifting the box with the soundboard, power amps, etc was a real bitch, usually requiring 3 people to get it in the van.

Codfangler
Codfangler
9 months ago

Having owned vehicles with 1,2,3,4, and 6 cylinders, I would find it difficult to pass up a chance to get a 5 cylinder in order to complete the series.

CRM114
CRM114
8 months ago
Reply to  Codfangler

That’s a good spot to be in. If you ever get an 8 cylinder after the I5 and then need a 7-banger to be complete again, you’ll pretty much have to get your pilot’s license and restore something very old.

Jakob K's Garage
Jakob K's Garage
9 months ago

I owned one of these 90ies VW T4 vans with just that engine and gearbox: Much faster and economical than my old T1, T2 and T3, but not fast by modern standards. Its a bit like a Mercedes W123, just keeps on going and going no matter what and everything is sturdy and feels like quality. I loved it and would like one again at some time. Just such a good car.

Not much space to work on. Changed the exhaust on mine and my arms hurt for days..
And just like a W123 it likes to rust 😉

Last edited 9 months ago by Jakob K's Garage
Freelivin2713
Freelivin2713
9 months ago

GMC for sure…that VDub is bad!
I would start by getting rid of the red for blue…(& get rid of wheelchair lift of course) It would make a good van down by the river (while eating government cheese ha ha)

Last edited 9 months ago by Freelivin2713
Andy Individual
Andy Individual
9 months ago

Either of these would be considered a pretty decent sized apartment in Vancouver, but the GM wins for having an elevator.

Alan Christensen
Alan Christensen
9 months ago

A small oddity: a white van was painted red and a yellow van was painted white.

Andy Individual
Andy Individual
9 months ago

Nothing gets by anyone here. 😉

DadBod
DadBod
9 months ago

I own a VW van, and voted for the GMC. It’s a bitch to work on the engine, it’s really crammed in there, but GM vans are friggin cockroaches.

Last edited 9 months ago by DadBod
OrigamiSensei
OrigamiSensei
9 months ago

The rust on the Transporter is scary, and the white van paint job is suspicious to say the least. Plus I would be concerned it most likely has modern day Volkswagen reliability – so that’s a big ol’ “nope” from me.

Meanwhile, the Savana is exactly what it purports to be – a workhorse. Yeah, it’s late 90s/early 2000s GM crap, but it’s crap that can be kept running forever on a budget. For the small amount of money being asked even a complete transmission rebuild can be in budget should replacing fluid and doing other adjustments not work. An honest vehicle for an honest price, sure, works for me.

Drive By Commenter
Drive By Commenter
9 months ago

Time for life with the red Savana. The VW’s rust is probably way worse and a working 4L60 is easy to source.

The seller may be right in that it needs new fluid and a shift kit for 4th to come back on. But if the trans is that far gone that a $60 shift kit restores it, put that kit into the newly rebuilt transmission it will inevitably need. Lots of upgrades like the sun shell in the rebuild kits to make an okay transmission into a pretty decent one.

Elhigh
Elhigh
9 months ago

I effing hate the engine in the Savana, but the wretched things are pretty much unkillable. I have no experience with the VW diesel, so I guess I’d have to vote for the Savana.

Damn it.

Canopysaurus
Canopysaurus
9 months ago

That Savannah is also a repaint, just look at the white sills and red overspray in the open side door photo. And if it was a white Savannah, that means all the paint on the hood and over the cab has peeled off, because they all do, which means the red does not have a good grip on the surface either.

John Beef
John Beef
9 months ago

Strangely enough I chose the GM product, just like I did nearly 20 years ago. Back then it was VW Transporter vs Astro Van for our band to do regional touring. I went with the GM product at the time, only because I knew if we broke down in the middle of nowhere here in the western US, VW parts probably wouldn’t exist within a few hundred miles.

Sadly, the Astro was a real POS. If you buy a 3 year old van with 19K miles, you expect to get some life out of it before the air conditioner explodes (twice), or the ABS fails when braking over train track bumps, causing clipped mirrors with another vehicle, or the check engine light to come on and stay on any time it downshifted while going uphill, or the rear diff has to be rebuilt…

67 Oldsmobile
67 Oldsmobile
9 months ago

Those T4 transporters are really quite sturdy,but the rust visible on this is probably just the tip of the iceberg. The Savana is just more van for the money.

Bizness Comma Nunya
Bizness Comma Nunya
9 months ago

The VW is cooler but the GMC is the correct answer. Lower miles (kms), just budget in some time/$ to do the intake gaskets, spider injection (if these years had that, not sure), corvette servo and extra trans cooler for the 4L60e and it’ll keep going for a very long time. Or just don’t do anything to it and It’ll probably still keep going for a long time.

Gubbin
Gubbin
9 months ago

Hooray for Real Vancouver! I was worried you were just going over the Columbia to Vantucky.

IanGTCS
IanGTCS
9 months ago

GMC any day. Easy to find parts, pretty rugged and durable. Any mechanic will be able to fix it.

Brandon Forbes
Brandon Forbes
9 months ago

Without a doubt the Savana is the right choice here, so naturally I went with the VW. I want a 5 cylinder, and manual is more fun. Not sure that’s accurate with 77 hp from new, but still. It’s weird, and I’ll go weird over good an embarrassingly high amount of the time.

Last edited 9 months ago by Brandon Forbes
68
0
Would love your thoughts, please comment.x
()
x