It’s a proven fact that you surf better when you show up to the beach in a dialed-in surf rig. It’s also a fact that you will heinously ruin the interior of a normal sedan with wax, sand, and foul smells if you’re wedging boards and wetsuits in the back. You need a good surf car, so if you’re on the market for dedicated surf transport, here are the models you want. All can be had for less than $7,500.
Toyota Pickup (late 1980s – 1990s)
You Want This Because: Legendary reliability; economical; compact truck with plenty of space
If you’re fortunate enough to find a mid-1990s ‘Yota in decent shape, especially with the 4-cylinder motor and the 5-speed transmission, grab hold of the thing with both hands and never, ever let go. They get great gas mileage (mid 20s mpg), boast simple engines that are easy to repair, and parts are cheap. Throw a camper shell on the bed and you can do whatever the hell you want back there. The 4×4 models practically beg to be driven to Baja.
Cons: They look like surf cars, and may attract unwanted attention to your secret spot
Volkwagen Vanagon (early 1980s – 1990)
You Want This Because: Big as a studio apartment inside; the right one will outlive you.
Forget about the VW Bus. Too old, way too slow, and terrible to drive. The Vanagon has all kinds of “modern” amenities (power steering!) and enough oomph to coax it out onto the freeway. But the best part is that roomy interior. You can have a stove, a bed, a sink, a TV, a stereo, a ding repair shop, a tacqueria, or hold ballroom dance classes in there. You can also fit about 75 boards up to 9 feet long in the thing.
Cons: While a good one will run forever, bad ones will rip giant holes in your wallet. The really good Westfalia editions cost about a million dollars.
Toyota Van (1982 – 1990)
You Want This Because: The best parts of the Vanagon and the Toyota pickup in one stout little van.
In the Japanese market, the van was called the “Master Ace.” In Europe it was marketed as the “Toyota Space Cruiser.” Need to know any more? Well, in addition to all the badassery of being able to cram the quivers of you and five of your friends in the Toyota Van, all the weight in these things is concentrated up front with the engine, so, if you are feeling particularly reckless, you can bust an endo if you stop quickly enough. Also, they’re cheaper than Vanagons, and 4×4 versions of the Toyota Van can be had for around $5,000.
Subaru AWD Wagon (any year you want)
You Want This Because: You are practical and you want a (fingers-crossed) reliable wagon with AWD
Subarus are either plucky little champions, getting you wherever you need to go for hundreds of thousands of miles, or heart-wrenching nightmares of blown head gasket upon blown head gasket. But, they are just about the perfect car. The 6-cylinder turbo editions will get you to the beach in a hurry. The AWD can deliver you safely to Scorpion Bay. You can fit a few boards inside, or strap your sleds to the roof and sleep in the thing on surf/camp trips.
Cons: You know about the head gasket thing, right?
Ford Econoline Van (mid 1960s – mid 2000s)
You Want This Because: So big, you could conceivably get lost inside one; virtually impossible to destroy
The Ford Econoline is like the B-52 of the car world; America’s been churning out these workhorses since the dawn of the Cold War. They grew bigger over the decades, but they never lost their charm. Weirdly, these things are widely available on the cheap, even though they run forever. You could live your whole life in an E-series van from the early 2000s and never feel cramped. Basically just rolling rectangles, the Econolines are blank canvases for your surf rig fantasies.
Cons: Vans like this are always just one missed wash away from being super creepy.