The Daily Jaws caught up with super Jaws fan Chris, owner of the world famous ‘Jaws Van’.
How did the idea for the Jaws van come about?
Here is how I understand it from the original owner's family and close friends...
The van was originally sent to the conversion company Leisure & Recreational Products, Inc. (LRP) in Wisconsin. Being a 1976 model, it was converted to a Bicentennial Commemorative edition <picture> celebrating our country's 200 year anniversary. The van sat unsold for some time on the dealer lot in the Midwest US. In order to sell, the dealer transformed the Bicentennial paint scheme to a shark theme. <picture> This is where the eventual owner, Bob Large, saw the shark themed van at the dealership and made the purchase. During this time, the vanning scene was in full swing and Mr. Large was interested in joining the "vanner" lifestyle. Usual fashion with a van-in is only van's are permitted, no other vehicle types. Unfortunately at the time, Mr. Large was unable to enter/participate in certain van-in's because requirements called for custom vans, not conversion vans. Mr. Large's shark theme van was basically a redo of a LRP conversion van. This, in addition to popularity of the movie JAWS at the time, had Mr. Large take his basic shark themed conversion van and customize it into the one and only JAWS Van.
How did you build it? How long did it take?
I suspect Mr. Large had assistance from friends and local customization shops. The full wraparound airbrushed mural took about 1 year to complete. The artist signature on back of the JAWS Van says 1983. The earliest picture I have thus far is from Truckin' Magazine, March 1984 <picture> .
Which parts of the van were the toughest to complete and why?
Can't speak for Mr. Large, but while I've owned the JAWS Van, a difficult part has been to replace a broken piece of glass in the LeVan split SportTtop sunroof. This is a unique design that has his and hers openings separated by channel light bar in the center <picture> . Further complicating the issue is that each pane of glass has a one off window etching design of JAWS. Story is that the previous owner's friend who was taking care of the JAWS Van had the drivers side window open while in a garage. Not closing the window while backing out of the garage resulted in the window pane shattering. The replacement was to put a cut piece of plexiglass and use what seemed like a tube of silicone to hold it down.
Spent hours searching online if a pane of glass is available, be it used or new. Contacted local glass shops and sunroof companies with no luck. Finally, I saw a post on Facebook where someone had known of a full complete used SportTtop. We worked out a deal and it seemed like forever for it to arrive. Next was to find a local glass etcher who I gave the good passenger side glass as a pattern. He made a duplicate pattern for both sides and applied to the glass. It came out perfect! I then spend hours removing water stains from both glass panes as I suspect the unit sat outside for some time over the years.
As the wraparound airbrushed mural had some issues from neglect over the past 7 years, this will probably be a difficult project to fix while retaining as much of the original artistry as possible.
What type of van is it and how did you acquire it?
It is a 1976 GMC Vandura G25 3/4 ton van.
I understand Mr. Large had mixed emotions about selling the JAWS Van but after his wife, JoAnn passed, he just didn't use it and felt someone else would enjoy it. He thought the person he sold it to really liked it and would take care of it, but sad to see it hauled away.
I remember when it first was for sale in 2011. I wanted to pursue it but the economy was upside down at the time. It eventually sold I believe in 2012 to someone in Dallas Texas where it disappeared. It was posted on Craigslist for sale in 2015 and a University Professor living at the time in Connecticut bought it sight unseen. At this point it was not cared for as it was mostly abandoned sitting outside in a field deteriorating. The Professor in CT also had a house in Austin. He had a friend purchase it and put it aside. His friend was not a car person so it sat outside under a tarp for awhile, increasing its deterioration. The Professor from CT returned to Austin and put it in storage for a month. Well, that 1 month extended to almost 1.5 years.
I never forgot about the JAWS Van. My wife and I grew up in Massachusetts and love the movie. I saw a picture online a few years ago that showed its Texas license plate. After a few years sitting on this license plate information, I started pursuing info about the plate. I found a name, which was very unique and not common. I searched the Internet and found someone with the same name working as a professor at a University. His email was listed on his university page so I took a chance and sent him a message inquiring about the JAWS Van. He did reply confirming he owned it. He said it was not currently for sale but that he did need funds for furniture to furnish his newly bought house in another part of Texas. We discussed back and fourth for about a month.
He eventually decided to sell and I’d have first opportunity before it being listed and advertised. He sent some pictures which did not add up, some being a few years older and not really true to current condition. He gave me a price and we made plans to see it in Austin. I rented a big trailer and my wife and I went on our road trip from Dallas to his place in Austin. When we got to his house, the JAWS Van was parked on the street in front of his house. From a distance, it looked amazing but upon approach, we were very disappointed in how the vehicle in only about 6 years could have looked so bad. It had not been washed since probably back when owned by Mr. Large, the original owner, and the paint starting to crack due to sitting outside enduring extreme heat. What made it look worse is all the rust dripping down from within all the paint cracks. We were speechless. I took it for a drive and it drove great. I stopped along my ride to really inspect it without anyone looking over my shoulder. The interior needed cleaning and aside from some cracked mirror veined glass and some ripped/worn naugahyde (vinyl), was generally in good shape. The exterior was a whole other story. Very difficult to look past all the dirt. The roof has a vinyl top which is so cool and a great custom feature when properly cared. My concern from the beginning in our conversations was any bubbling under the vinyl top, which would be indicative of rusting and needing significant roof repair and possible replacement. He said it was fine while we were discussing over the phone but when seen in person, the roof was bubbling very badly. That’s just what happens when moisture get trapped under vinyl. I was very upset with him and decided to pass on the purchase. My wife was pissed and asked him his best price trying to salvage our trip. He came off a few hundred which I thought was an insult so we left with an empty trailer. That was on a Saturday. On Sunday night I sent him a polite email explaining what I saw and what I thought the JAWS Van is worth. I gave him my best offer.
I was already in another room when my phone chimed with his response. My wife yelled it was the JAWS owner. I immediately thought he replied quickly to dispute my offer but my wife ran in the other room and said we are new owners of the JAWS Van as he accepted our offer. He said he needed it gone and when he was driving it back to his other house about 45 minutes away it allowed him to reflect that I would be the perfect owner to ensure the JAWS Van lives on. We made arrangements for another trip later that week. It was so dang hot that day. Strapping the JAWS Van down on the trailer almost knocked me out due to the heat and thinking logically to ensure the van was secured down for its 3 hour trip north. Upon leaving, it was almost exactly 5pm, right during horrible Austin rush hour traffic. I looked at it positively in driving slowly to get the feel of towing the van before we got up to normal cruising speeds. I really feel Mr. Large saw this through. After spending every night for two months going through everything, it’s definitely not as bad as it looked once cleaned up. So happy and fortunate to own the JAWS Van.
The art work is amazing, did you do this yourself? How did you achieve such a great finish?
The artwork was originally applied by Mike Pierce, Independence Missouri, dated 1983. I have been in contact with Mike to assist with some body work and redo the mural in certain spots that he airbrushed. The great glossy finish is by applying layers of clear coat followed by wet sanding with very fine grade sandpaper, a typical last step in all modern paint jobs.
Why is jaws your favorite movie?
Suspense, legendary quotes, one of the first "thriller" movies while growing up, based out of New England where we are from, excellent production that stands up today, basically two movies into one.
Who is your favourite Jaws character and why?
The great white shark JAWS (Bruce) is of course the star of the movie. Seems to depict satire compared to real life great white sharks, but that's Hollywood! If pressed to pick a human, can't decide. Each had their distinct roll and were perfect for their rolls. I can relate to Mayor Vaughn as he has a job to carry out on behalf those who elected him and is kinda sinister in his ways due to making decisions on facts presented to him (keeping in mind the original novel by Peter Benchley that highlights Mayor Vaughn is in bad with the mob so he needs the summer tourist monies to repay past deals...typical politician lol).
When/where did you first see jaws? how old were you?
Can't recall exactly, but most likely when ABC aired it in 1979/1980. That would make me 9/10 years old.
Any plans to create more Jaws vehicles, a Jaws copter perhaps?
LOL. Not at this time. Restoring the JAWS Van to its former show vehicle glory will keep me busy for awhile.
Any advice to anyone wanting to create their own jaws vehicle?
Eat your heart out. Have an initial plan, prepare a budget, keep an open mind to incorporate changes along the way, and don't get frustrated at hindrances. Most importantly, HAVE FUN! When the work is complete, many will enjoy its creativity and effort.