This Provan Tiger GT Camper Is The Coolest Version Of The Legendary Chevy Astro Van

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The Chevrolet Astro may have been out of production for 17 years now, but don’t forget how cool and reliable these things were. They came with the unkillable 4.3-liter V6, could be had with rear or four-wheel drive, were offered as cargo vans, could have barn doors out back, and could even be bought with a weird three-piece rear hatch. You could even get one with a stick! The very coolest of all Astros , though, has to be the Provan Tiger GT 4×4 — handsome camper with a beefy 4×4 system.

The Chevrolet Astro and the GMC Safari survived an impressive 20 years on the market before seemingly disappearing. I mean, when was the last time that you’ve seen one outside of a Gambler 500? They were prone to rust, but they were unstoppable; where, then, are they all now?!

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Chevrolet

Anyway, back in 1977, Chrysler designers began work on what they would call the “magic wagon,” as Stellantis puts it, Their work culminated with the first-generation Dodge Caravan and Plymouth Voyager. Chrysler brought innovation to vans with its front-engine, front-wheel-drive design. The van had a low, flat floor and it felt and drove more like a car than the vans of old. In 1983, these vans captured lightning in a bottle. Before long, the minivan became the family car, and Chrysler led the way.

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Chrysler

General Motors answered the call in 1985 with the Astro and Safari. However, unlike the Chrysler vans, the General’s would be more conventional. The company’s vans were built with unitized construction like Chrysler, but departed from them in other ways. The Astro kept an old-school rear-wheel-drive layout and borrowed its drivetrain from the S-10 pickup.

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GMC

General Motors’ first minivans felt a bit like the vans of the past, but shorter and with a modern design for the era. And while Chrysler vans boasted trick features like bench seats that could turn into beds, the GM ones won with utility. According to Allpar, a first-generation Chrysler van could tow 1,000 pounds. But the Astro? With its 5,000 pounds of hauling prowess, it could tow a Dodge Caravan.

When GM was a year into having these vans in production, Provan Industries opened up shop in Colorado. From the jump, Provan set to build adventure camping rigs. And the company’s vehicle of choice for van-based campers? The Chevrolet Astro.

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Facebook Marketplace

History on these campers is hard to find, but I’ve been able to find some details through searching around the net. Grafted onto the back of the Astro by Provan is a camping unit. Inside, you’ll find sleeping space for up to four and some basic amenities.

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Facebook Marketplace

You get a stove, a sink, and a refrigerator. Options included air-conditioning, a shower and toilet unit, a microwave, and even a generator. If you got a GT, your camper top was a tent that retracts into the camping unit. This would allow the van to fit in a garage. But if you liked your campers with hard sides, there was the Provan Tiger XL, which featured a fixed fiberglass top.

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eBay via Expedition Portal

There are a bunch of Provan Astros for sale all over the internet right now, but one of them caught my eye. Sadly, this 1988 Provan Tiger GT doesn’t have the shower and toilet unit. However, it does have an option that may be better: Four-wheel-drive.

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Facebook Marketplace

Now, I know what you’re thinking. The Astro didn’t get all-wheel-drive until 1990! Indeed, this van’s four-wheel-drive predates the GM factory option. And this four-wheel-drive is better than the one offered by GM, too.

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GM’s AWD option for the Astro was designed by Ferguson Formula Developments Ltd. in the UK. Like many AWD systems of today it was automatic, delivering power to the front when the system felt it was needed. Provan’s choice for 4×4 conversions was reportedly Four Wheel Drive Engineering Inc. And this company went all of the way. This van has a solid front axle and the four-wheel-drive has a selectable low range. Oh, and you get locking hubs, 30-inch tires, and a lift.

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Facebook Marketplace

The seller for this van notes that you get a propane heater, a 100Ah house battery, a freshly rebuilt transmission, and an airbag suspension. Power comes from a 4.3-liter V6 making 150 horsepower and 230 lb-ft torque. This seems like a good enough setup for some fun on some trails before parking someplace for the night. The interior definitely shows its age, but it still looks awesome to me.

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Facebook Marketplace

Provan kept these in production all of the way until GM discontinued the Astro and Safari. So if this one is too old, then you can find newer ones. The company is still around, too, but has moved on from vans to building campers on the backs of pickup trucks.

This rig is on the cheaper side of what I’ve seen for van camper builds. The seller, located in Bellevue, Washington, wants $16,000 for it. Normally, I’d say that’s a lot for a 34-year-old van, but this one is pretty neat. And I firmly believe that these campers are the coolest Astros that you’ll find.

 

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23 Responses

    1. Google search result turned up this:
      “Explore the 2022 GMC Savana Cargo Van available features including the spray-in cargo liner, standard 4.3L V6 engine, Assists Steps, and so much more.”

      and…so…much…more…

  1. I saw one of these in the wild in Sisters Oregon about 8-10 years ago. It looked a bit cramped but very easily parked. IIRC that one had a rear door like a Chinook so either someone else made an Astro class C or they had multiple bodies.
    Central Oregon sees some interesting rigs. I’ve spotted a Swiss registered Landrover Defender 110 with a pop top, at least two locally owned Landcruiser 78 troop carriers with pop tops and some HiAce rigs. There was also a Magirus Deutz cabover expedition rig circa 2009, the Iveco Z fire engine converted to a camper and the Earth Cruiser since their US shop is in Bend

  2. I was watching old Wheeler Dealer episodes. One had them in the UK had them restored a Dormobile, or something, it was a 50s or 60s cute as hell pop up top stove bed shelf closet they needed to upgrade engine and transmission but after repaint thing was awesome

  3. I was 2nd owner of an Astro cargo van that had 460k miles on it when I got rid of it. My uncle was a hardware distributor and drove it all over Washington state before selling it to me cheap. It was a great surfmobile. The only real problem it had while I owned it was the mounting bracket that held the power steering pump, AC, and alternator warped which led to overheating because the serpentine belt started slipping and I couldn’t tension it correctly. Replacing the bracket fixed it. Pretty sure my uncle had the same problem once.
    I am 5 miles from Belleveue right now and looking for a camper van. I would buy this tomorrow for asking price, but I’m getting on a flight to Europe in the morning. I’ll check when I get back in 3 weeks before I head home, but I’m pretty sure it will be gone.

  4. A guy down the road from me has an astro van. Looks like it just rolled off the showroom but he takes immaculate care of all of his vehicles (66 Cutlass, 90’s Cadillac, early 80s kawasaki) They all look brand new.

  5. After GM responded to Chrysler’s offerings (which WERE category disrupters) Chrysler ran ads that said something like “even when we showed them how to do it, they got it wrong” (referring to GMs minivans).
    The fact is, as Mercedes pointed out, they were very different vehicles serving different markets, at least for anyone who thought about how they would use their vehicles and any brand loyalty notwithstanding. In northeast Michigan an Astro Van (rwd) would get stuck on a snowflake and a Dodge Caravan would handle snow very well.
    But if you needed to tow or haul something, GM was the way to go.

  6. I have followed Kristin Hanes for a long time and she has had a 4WD Astro for years. Hers is a rare raised roof model and I like it better than this canvas pop top. I’ve owned all kinds and sizes of RV’s and tent sides suck. I had a pop top Westy and that was the only thing I didn’t like about it. Well, that and the under-powered engine, but I fixed that. Kristin and here boyfriend have been all over the Western states in the Astro, but recently bought a 4WD M-B Sprinter. They still use the Astro though. Here’s a link to her website. https://www.thewaywardhome.com/

  7. Cool story. I loved the M/L platform. The one downside to the M/L based campers/motorhomes was that when sold new, the GM warranty was voided. GM never offered the M/L platform as a cutaway. With MAJOR modifications to the unibody, these VINs were blocked in the GM warranty system. So when you were buying new, and got NO GM warranty…that had to be a tough sell. Which is at least in part why you didn’t see these sell better back in the day, I suspect.

  8. Problem is you are still stuck driving a rattle trap Chevy Astro. I get why people like these, theyre durable and reliable.

    My hangup is they are uncomfortable as hell to drive. Crap seats, crap ergonomics, its like they designed it for left foot amputees. Add in they suck the gas almost as bad as a full size van but with less space, I dont see the appeal.

    I also dont trust this conversion. Astros are a unibody, you really shouldnt be hacking up the whole back half of the van. GM offered a stripped chassis van for this exact type of application with factory backed engineering and a warranty

  9. I see Astros and the GMC Savanahs occasionally in the construction insustry. But they are beat to snot and probably won’t last much longer.
    Can’t remember the last clean example it’s been that long.

  10. I logged thousands of miles in an Astro delivering office supplies. I loved that thing! It was a great middle ground between a full-sized van and the car-like minivans. The mighty Vortec V6 pulled nicely and it was a hell of a lot easier to drive than the old Step Van it replaced. This camper version is awesome!

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