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1998 Chevy Mark III LX Custom Van

SEE ALSO: Chevrolet Buyer's Guide

by Nick Hromiak

While the conversion van market has been on the slow side, these upfitted vehicles offer a compromise for families who are not ready for something larger like a Class C or A motorhome.

Able to do double duty as a daily commuter, conversion vans are versatile. Tailgaters are big on them but they do hold some camping capability.

Chevy leads the conversion van market and their Mark III is the top upfitter per unit volume for their line. Mark III conversions, based in Ocala, Florida, and Elkhart, Indiana, are Dodge's top seller while the company ranks second for Ford and third for GMC vehicles.

My test vehicle began as a Chevy 1500 Express van carrying a 7100-pound GVW rating. It had a 3.42 rear axle ratio, locking rear differential and four-speed automatic transmission. As a stock vehicle from Chevy, Mark III does the rest by adding all the goodies.

The test truck was outfitted with Mark IIIs LX option package which provides a mix of leather and cloth seating surfaces, exterior paint striping, special cast wheels, a raised roof, curtains and a long list of interior amenities complete with an entertainment center which is always the focal point of most conversion vans.

As for quality and stringent standards, Mark III strives for excellence and is the only conversion company with its own 1,300 foot squeak and rattle track - as it's called. The track's surface contains bump strips of varying designs and heights for on-site testing and research and to insure squeaks and rattles are eliminated from the end product.

Powered by Chevy's proven Vortec 5700 250-hp V8 engine, the Vortec seemed to be mated perfectly for the added weight the conversion added. Uphill jaunts were unlaboring with two aboard. And high-speed passing power was decent from 55 mph upward.

With a power folding rear bench seat, it can sleep two or seat three and has decent sleeping length for most average sized folks.

Behind the rearmost bench seat is substantial space for gear, clothing or coolers. And with Chevy's wide opening rear doors with extended hinges, removing or loading items is made considerably easier.

Middle row seats are Captains chairs that can be removed if more interior space is needed. All seats are supportive and comfortable and each have folding armrests.

The raised fiberglass top is high enough only for small youngsters to negotiate without hitting their heads. Part of the fore top is sectioned off to house a built-in 13-inch TV, VCR and storage cabinet all of which are faced with high-gloss burled walnut wood trim. The TV and VCR are remotely operated and there's jacks on the sides of the van for private listening. Only problem with the TV is that it operates only in conjunction with the VCR. There's no auxiliary antenna or provisions for it to be used as a basic TV.

Recessed clothing hangers allow your wardrobe to be carried without wrinkle or crease. And six overhead storage compartments provide small item storage to alleviate floor clutter on lengthy trips.

Despite its size, the Chevy custom van handled nicely and held its own during gusty crosswinds. In town it's not intimidating and parks relatively easily although turns must be taken a little wider than a sedan. If you're not accustomed to using side-view mirrors to park or back up, you have to learn to use them when parking this boat. Visibility out the back window is limited due to the pillar width of the twin rear doors, hence the need for mirror assist. Side doors open easily and offer easy in/egress which is aided by a sculpted running board on the starboard side.

The test van did have a few shortcomings, one of which was the sharp edges of the plastic shroud that encircles the bases of the front seats. As is, they could readily catch and tear pant legs. In fact the drivers side was already cracked, possibly from this situation.

I'd also like to see the second row Captains chairs put on a swivel base. As such, it would be possible to make this a mobile office of sorts. Conversation could be cozier and more friendly.

Price wise, the sticker for the base Chevy van was $24,302 with a list of mandatory features. The Mark III conversion adds another $10,945. Some of the options you may not want like gold foil laser trim for a hefty $1,000, upgraded graphics ($59), two-tone leather seating ($799) and 6-disc CD changer w/remote ($399). As a converted van, EPA gas mileage figures were not available. But with the added weight of the conversion, it cannot be as economical as it was in stock form.

The Chevy Mark III custom conversion van may not be the ultimate camping vehicle, but it's sure a good starter.