The A-Team Van: TV vs. Movie

The A-Team is a classic TV show from the ‘80s. We have a group of ex-Vietnam Green Berets, who’ve been shunned by the government they once worked for and now offer their services as soldiers of fortune with hearts of gold. You might even remember the show’s opening with the narrator ending with a series of gunfire and the ever-so-catchy parade-like theme song.

The A-Team was created by writers and producers Stephen J. Cannell and Frank Lupo at the behest of Brandon Tartikoff, NBC’s Entertainment president. Brandon Tartikoff pitched the series to Cannell as a combination of The Dirty Dozen, Mission Impossible, The Magnificent Seven, Mad Max, and Hill Street Blues, with “Mr. T” driving the van.

Do you remember that van? A black/metallic grey ’83 GMC Vandura. GMC red logo on the front, red stripe with a matching spoiler and red turbine mag wheels? It’s become an enduring pop culture icon. One of the original six vans used for the show is displayed in the Cars of the Stars Motor Museum in Keswick, northern England. The GMC Vandura used on the A-Team movie was on display at the New York International Auto Show and countless other shows. It’s difficult to tell a 1983 Vandura from a 1971 – or a 1995 – or any year’s models in between. Yes, General Motors made virtually the same van for 25 years. This stagnation helps usher in a time in which our great American automotive industry suffered.

While GMC was churning out the Vandura, Chevrolet was producing its own version – the virtually identical Chevy Beauville. Internally, they’re known as G-Series or G20 vans. These are “made in America” specials – products of union labor in Ohio and Michigan. Built to last – until the warranty expired.

Early examples of the van had a red GMC logo on the front grille, and an additional GMC logo on the rear left door. Early in the second season, these logos were blacked out, although GMC continued to supply vans and receive a credit on the closing credits of each episode.

It’s a common error that the van is said to be all-black, where in fact, the section above the red stripe is metallic gray; this error was even continued on most toy models of the van. The angle of the rear spoiler varies throughout the series. Additionally, some versions of the van have a sunroof, where others, typically those used for stunts (and including the one displayed in the aforementioned Cars of the Stars Motor Museum) do not. This led to continuity errors in some episodes, such as in the third season’s “The Bells of St. Mary’s,” in a scene where (the double of) Face jumps from a building onto the roof of the van. There’s clearly no sunroof. Moments later, in an interior studio shot, Face climbs in through the sunroof. Also, in many stunts where the van would surely be totaled, other makes have been used, such as a black Ford Econoline with red hubcaps painted to simulate the original red turbine mag wheels.

A number of devices were seen in the back of the van in different episodes, including a mini printing press (“Pros and Cons”), an audio surveillance recording device (“A Small and Deadly War”), and Hannibal’s disguise kits in various episodes.

In 2010 there was a reboot film made Staring Bradley Cooper and Liam Neeson. When the producers of the movie were considering what incarnation the team’s vehicular transportation should take, they initially considered the Knight XV. The XV is a $295,000 armored vehicle, based on a Gurkha military transport made in Canada by Conquest Vehicles. It was eventually up to customizer Rick Rasmussen, who got his start as a “picture car coordinator” with the TV show “Viper.” When Mr. Rasmussen, who lives in suburban Vancouver, B.C., got the “A-Team” assignment, he selected a 1994 Chevrolet G20. Why a ‘94? Why a Chevy instead of a GMC? Rasmussen needed several of them; not many GMCs were sold in Canada, where the film was made, and the models produced earlier than the mid-1990s are not now known for their longevity. So the ubiquitous Chevy was available, not to mention attractively priced. (Trade-in value, as of June 2010: $500.)

Talking about the film’s notorious vans, “There’s nothing,” Mr. Rasmussen noted, “that is special about these vans.” So, moviegoers are likely to shed few tears when these vans are blown up, torched or crushed. Previous owners may even cheer.

How’s the movie version of the van different from the TV version? Visually, there’s a contradictory paint job. The original featured a medium gray-on-black scheme, with an almost diagonal red stripe separating the two colors. The new one is a dark charcoal-on-black black, with more of a “hockey stick” stripe. “We gave the stripe a new feel,” Mr. Rasmussen said.

The reboot didn’t do as well as the world of fans would have liked, but the memories of the show carry on.

In the last major sighting of this icon of the ’80s was seen in Ready Player One, during the race for the Copper Key.

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