A panel van — also known as a car-derived van (United Kingdom) or sedan delivery (United States) — is a cargo vehicle based on a passenger car chassis, and typically has one row of seats and no side windows at the rear. Panel vans are smaller than panel trucks and cargo vans, both of which are built on a truck chassis.
The evolution of the panel van design is largely dependant on the passenger car upon which it is based, which historically has varied between regions. In North America, the panel van was initially based upon the two-door station wagon models. In Europe, panel vans are typically smaller vehicles than in other regions and are built on either a bespoke chassis or the chassis of a subcompact car. In Australia, panel vans were a development of the ute (a small pickup truck based on a passenger car chassis, e.g. Chevrolet El Camino), often using the longer wheelbase of the station wagon chassis.
It is not known when the first panel van entered production, however it became an established type of vehicle by the end of the 1920s.
The panel van body style has experienced separate evolutions in America, Europe and Australia, as a result of the separate evolutions of the passenger car platforms (upon which the panel van is based) in each region.
A panel van is often known as a "sedan delivery" in North America. As per panel vans in other countries, North American sedan deliveries are based on a passenger car chassis, for example the Ford Transit Connect and Ram ProMaster City. One exception is the 1954 Chevrolet 3100 panel van, which is based on a truck chassis but named a panel van. Usually vehicles which are based on a truck chassis are called "panel trucks".
In the late 1920s, Ford produced "Town Car Delivery" and "Wood Panel Delivery" as part of the Ford Model A model range. Later Plymouth produced a sedan delivery from 1935 until 1941. Pontiac produced deliveries until 1953 in the U.S. and until 1958 in Canada based on the Pontiac Pathfinder. Sedan delivery models were usually produced in small quantities of 200 or less, for example 449 Canadian Pontiac sedan deliveries were built in 1958.
From 1959 on, the sedan delivery was no longer practical; it was phased out in 1960 as a Chevrolet model, so the requisite Chevrolet body was no longer available. With the growing sales of the Volkswagen Type 2 and the introduction of compact vans, sedan deliveries faded from the scene. Chevrolet dropped the body type after 1960, while Ford moved it to the Falcon line-up until 1965.
In the 1970s, Chevrolet and Ford offered subcompact sedan deliveries with the Chevrolet Vega Panel Express and the Ford Pinto Panel Wagon. The Vega Panel Express was introduced in September 1970 and it was Chevy's first sedan delivery in ten years since the final full-size model was offered in 1960. The Vega Panel Express body style accounted for less than 2% of the total Chevrolet Vegas produced during the 1971 through 1975 model years. First year sales of the Vega Panel Express peaked at 7,800 units and after leveling off to 4,000 units per year, only 1,525 were sold in 1975. The Pontiac Astre Panel, Pontiac's version of the Vega Panel Express, was available in Canada in the 1973-75 model years and in the US for 1975. The Pinto Panel Wagon was introduced in 1976 and was offered in both a commercial and a "factory customized" Pinto Cruising Wagon version that featured a round porthole style window on each side. The Ford Courier name, previously used for Ford sedan delivery vans, began to be used with Ford's import pickup truck line.
In 2002, Chrysler showed a concept car edition of a sedan delivery based on the PT Cruiser at the North American International Auto Show, but it was not manufactured. In 2007 Chevrolet released a Sedan delivery version of the HHR, marketed as the HHR Panel.
European panel vans of the 20th century include the Citroën 2CV Fourgonnette, Morris Minor, Renault Estafette, Citroën H Van, Citroën C15, SEAT Inca and more recently the Renault Kangoo and the Opel Combo. Currently, panel van body styles are offered on vehicles including the Škoda Fabia, Opel Astra, Fiat Uno, Peugeot 205 and Ford Fiesta.
From the 1950s onwards, a larger alternative to the panel van was the van (based on a commercial vehicle chassis instead of a passenger car chassis), such as the Volkswagen Type 2, the DKW van and the first-generation Ford Transit in 1965.
In the United Kingdom, panel vans benefit from having lower taxes than station wagons and do not have the speed restrictions which apply to larger vans. This has given rise to some anomalies, such as the first Citroën Berlingo model. As this was first sold in the UK as a van, it's counted as a van-derived car and so does not have the speed advantage, despite the two vehicles being otherwise comparable.
Examples of panel vans from the last 20 years are the Renault Kangoo (1997), the Fiat Doblò (2001), Opel Combo (2001), Ford Transit Connect (2002) or the Volkswagen Caddy (2004). They are also purpose-designed to be utilitarian base model MPVs / people carriers, for a range of such vehicles. In 2012, Ford Europe introduced a Sedan Delivery configuration of the Ford Fiesta.
The first panel van produced in Australia was the FJ Holden, which was released in December 1953. As per many Australian panel vans, it was based on the ute model, with additional body work at the rear. In May 1961, Ford Australia released a panel van version of the XK Falcon, marketed as the "sedan delivery" body style. The first panel van by Chrysler Valiant was part of the CL Valiant model range and was introduced in April 1977.
Painters, electricians, general labourers and film crews would often use panel vans, due to the extra cargo area and customisable interior in a relatively compact vehicle. Australian police forces also used panel vans as police vans (nicknamed "divvy vans" or "paddywagons").
Early Australian panel vans used swing-down and -up tailgates and a standard roof height, due to their origins of the ute body style. Some later models offered horizontally opening rear doors (nicknamed "barn doors") and a higher roofline for increased cargo area.
By the early 1970s, at a time when the American panelvan was in decline, panel vans had become Australian cultural icons. The most popular model was the Holden Sandman, which was marketed towards young men, in particular targeting the surfing lifestyle. The first Sandman was built in small numbers in 1974 for the HQ model range, however the model's popularity greatly increased with the following HJ generation, which was released in October 1974. In the 1979 movie Mad Max, a modified 1975 HJ Sandman model appeared as one of the vehicles driven by the lead character (played by Mel Gibson).
Ford's equivalent of the Sandman was the Surferoo model, which was introduced into the XB Falcon model range in 1973, which was not a successful model. The Surfaroo was replaced by the more popular Sundowner model, which was introduced into the XC Falcon range in 1977. In 1976, Chrysler released a similar model called the Drifter, which was part of the Chrysler CL Valiant. The Drifter was not a success and ceased production in 1978.
Younger drivers were especially attracted to panel vans, for reasons such as the ease with which a mattress could be installed within the cargo bay. Consequently, panel vans also attracted nicknames such as "sin bins," and "shaggin' wagons". This kind of activity was frequently carried out at the local drive-in theatre. During the 1970s it also became fashionable to decorate the exterior sides with murals, often painted with intricate detail. Along with the Volkswagen Kombi, panel vans were very popular with surfers, as it was convenient to sleep in the cargo bay while carrying surfboards on the roof.
By the end of 1979, the Sandman had largely lost its place in the contemporary Australian youth culture - order figures were down and many of the vehicles were now being sold with the stripes and tailgate logos deleted. The final Sandman model was during the Holden HZ series and featured a choice of V8 engines only, along with a four-headlight grille and under bumper front spoiler. According to a GMH Price List dated 25 January 1979, a basic HZ Holden panel van was priced at A$6,076, with the Sandman option package an additional A$1,700. If a buyer selected every Sandman extra, which would cost in excess of 50% more than a basic HZ panel van, Holden would include a velvet mattress with Holden logo embroidered. The Sandman ute was phased out in October 1979, followed by the Sandman panel van prior to the end of the HZ series.
Panel vans in general were declining in popularity during the 1980s. Holden's last panel van was the WB model, which ceased production in 1984. Subsequently, Ford became the sole manufacturer of them until 1999 when production of last entry in the history of the Australian panel van, the XH Falcon, ceased.
In 2000, Holden unveiled a Sandman show car based on their Holden VU Ute of the time. This Sandman was never released, however from 2003 to 2005 an optional canopy in the same style was sold as panel vans, however they still retained the rear window and firewall of the ute they were originally based on, preventing movement between the cargo bay and the passenger cab, as offered by traditional panel vans.
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