The Surveyor—Mitchell’s Final Bike Racer Van – Dean’s Storage

The Final Bike Racer Van

By Tony Murphy

From Sizzling Rod Journal, December, 1974

Photographs courtesy of Normal Motors

Background: I used to be speaking to Bernie Smith on the telephone lately, and he casually talked about that the final time I went driving with him, his son, and others, he used the Surveyor to move his bikes. I had no recollection of the van, so went looking. I discovered the Sizzling Rod article, then contacted GM for some photographs which they graciously offered.

The last word van? That’s fairly a press release lately. There are actually hundreds of particular vans all through the nation which have been modified to swimsuit the homeowners’ wants, whether or not he be motorcyclist, camper or only a dude sensible sufficient to understand {that a} van makes one of the best second automotive. So how come this one explicit car is particular sufficient to be referred to as the final word?

When you spend a couple of minutes taking a look at it the reply turns into apparent. It’s a type of cost-no-object jobs that often roll out one finish of the huge Normal Motors Design Workers. Whereas we’re used to seeing Corvettes or Cadillacs in unique garb, the results of the fertile minds of design chief Invoice Mitchell and his workers, it appears unusual {that a} truck (for that’s actually what a van is) ought to obtain that basic “silk purse out of a sow’s ear” remedy. Particularly when that particular truck has one of the best pursuits of the motorcyclist at coronary heart.

A part of the rationale for that’s the truth that “the boss,” William L. Mitchell, is himself a motorbike fanatic. Proudly owning a minimal of a dozen machines at any time, he little doubt bumped into the identical drawback that bike riders the world over have lengthy been conscious of. There are few autos which can be actually appropriate for transporting each bikes and driving gear in an organized method. Along with GMC Truck and Coach honcho Alex Mair, one other avid biker, Mitchell got down to construct the final word van out of a peasant mannequin GMC Vandura. Six months and about $100,000 later the Vandura turned the S-6 Surveyor.

Vehicles are constructed by truck individuals so the accountability for the S-6 was handed to Mike Lathers on the Design Workers. He’d headed up the profitable GMC motor residence venture in addition to any variety of different “industrial” ventures that fail to get publicity regardless of their particular contributions to GM earnings.

Lathers was fast to analysis the two-wheelers’ wants, consulting with an unlimited variety of GM workers who trip bikes and likewise personal GMC vans. He additionally invited enter from PPC’s personal Motorcyclist journal, a contact that led to most of the improvements that the S-6 options.

The issue was shortly pinpointed. Vans lack space for storing for the necessities that associate with two-wheel sport. By the point three bikes are loaded in a traditional van, there’s no area left for anything. Lathers got here up with some saddlebags: fiberglass pods that change the standard rear aspect home windows and supply space for storing for boots, leathers and helmets. They’re accessible from the surface, making it pointless to crawl beneath, or climb over, the bikes within the van.

Subsequent he turned his consideration to all that wasted area beneath the rear bench seat. By designing a completely new module, the rear seat turned a double-size mattress in addition to a device field that’s hidden once you don’t want it and but turns into a conveyable workbench once you do. For the reason that aspect door needed to be rehung with hinges on the entrance to clear the protruding saddlebags, it offered a pure location for an awning over the struggling mechanic utilizing the toolbox. Tough life.

All the things to date is fairly sensible. How about one thing dazzling? Like what? Like an electrically operated rear door that adjustments from door to loading ramp with the flip of a key. The S-6 has it and it’s assured to attract a crowd any time it’s operated. How a couple of sliding sunroof that doubles as a race-viewing platform full with guard rails? The S-6 has that too. It additionally has wheelwells within the rear ground to simply accept three entrance wheels. It has a double battery system that permits the usage of all {the electrical} methods at a campsite with out worry of working out of juice as soon as the occasions comes to depart for residence. And let’s not overlook the rear door awning and the high-back swivel seats and the AM/FM-tape and the Cibie driving lights and the T&H entrance spoiler and the Tacoma wheels and the B.F. Goodrich tires and the Hooker headers and the opposite Cibie back lights that go on as quickly because the rear door opens. Or the indoor-outdoor carpeting and the Firebird fuel tank and the build-in Ancra bike tie-downs, custom-made in blue since Ancra solely makes pink ones. Let’s not overlook that each becoming, every bit of bracketry or reinforcement that has been added is brightly chromed, a fortune in itself. And the truth that the chassis needed to be modified to decrease the ground to help the aspect door and retain structural integrity as soon as that vast gap was reduce within the roof. Let’s not overlook this, and the truth that the “Surveyor” and “S-6” are decals, not hand-painted one-offs, and we might start to understand that it actually does qualify as the final word van. That qualification is twofold; it is vitally, very useful and but it has the category of a rear-engined Corvette. What biker wouldn’t need it?


“Its not a van, it’s a spot” is an efficient description of the S-6, so named due to its six separate methods supposed for leisure use. The sliding toolbox, or “camper hamper,” incorporates its personal workbench. Facet pods for further storage might be opened from both inside or exterior, locked for safety. Customized rear bench seat folds into 4-by 6-foot mattress. The electrically operated tailgate serves double obligation as a loading ramp. Makes loading bikes a breeze. Mixture sunroof and viewing platform has fold-up guard rail and carpeting. Each rear and aspect doorways have their very own roll-out awnings, offering shade for working within the area. Inventory 350 engine will get a lift from Hooker headers and sidepipes. Weight is carried by B.F. Goodrich on Tacoma wheels.

Take a look at Mitchell’s different {custom} bike hauler, the Dragon Wagon, on Dean’s Storage.