I was looking for a tow vehicle for my other "strange" vehicles to bring them to car shows, or tow them if they should break down.

I then found the following listing on EBAY. With no intention of buying it, I showed the listing to my wife. I quite often show "odd" items I find there to her. The first thing she said was "are you going to buy it?"

I viewed it again with new eyes. It was a 1983 van, pretty old but it only had 19,000 miles on it. But the coolness factor was very high with this van. A nearly complete Government spy/surveillance van was just too much to let pass. I knew the Government had vehicles like this but no idea that they ever sold them!

I had a maximum price in mind I was willing to pay for it and it got to within $50 of my maximum bid amount. I guess it was just meant to be. I called the seller and arranged a time to go pick it up. He was in Maryland and I am in Indiana. It turned out a major snowstorm was going to hit during the time we were going to pick up the van and drop over one foot of snow along most of our path. Vans don't usually handle that well (compared with cars) in snow but add to that a blizzard and the mountains and it was adding up. We decided to drive out in one day (1 car) and back the next (1 car and 1 spy van) and be back before the snow hit.

I needed plates to get the vehicle home so I called Indiana Department of Motor Vehicles. They informed me that I needed to bring in the tiltle to get plates (even temporary ones). Calling Maryland's Department of Motor Vehicles they said they would only give me temporary plates if I was a Maryland resident. Another call to Indiana's Department of Motor Vehicles. This time after telling them my story they said I could take the plates off of another vehicle and just use them. This was a lot easier and what we did.

The drive out to pick up the van was uneventful with just a very minor amount of snow, my wife and I shared the driving. We got into Maryland, had a nice meal, went to the hotel and called the seller to let him know we were on track to be there the next morning. By the way the days we picked to get the van, because of storm, were during the President's inauguration! If we were stopped in the area with a spy van it would be an interesting conversation with the police. Remember, the plates didn't match the vehicle.

We arrived at the seller's house at 8:30 AM. We talked for a little bit before I took the van for a test drive. I was concerned about driving the van across country. As it turned out the van had sat in a government garage idle for 2 years before he bought it 2 months before. He then put just 26 miles on it before I bought it from him. It was better than he described it in the EBAY auction but did need some real work done for the surveillance compartment to be operational.

The drive back home was uneventful but it did lag a bit going uphill in the mountains slowing to 55 miles per hour. It also guzzled gas at a highway rate of 9 miles per gallon - it's a 5.8 liter engine. Thank God it has a good heater.

When I got it home I started to really look it over. Besides sitting idle for 2 years, it also hadn't been cleaned for 2 years.

Let me say at this point that this didn't exactly come with an instruction manual so everything was trial and error. To complicate things, it also came with an active halon fire supression system and I wanted to be careful not to set it off while working on the van. I tried to power up the surveillance compartment and nothing. I decided to try the periscope system and since it needed no power worked just great. I was also able to start the van from the rear compartment - cool.

Decided to disconnect the existing batteries (4 deep cycle marine) that power the rear cabin. Then connected another deep cycle battery to the leads I just diconnected the other batteries from. Things started comming to life!! Overhead lights, 117 VAC inverter, clock/timers, refrigerator, and some other systems. It was good to finally see life signs.

I tried to get some other systems working now that I had power and lights. After a few days this battery went dead. It should have been being charged while running the van's engine but wasn't. Installed a new battery isolator and 4 new batteries.

In trying to find out why the intercom wasn't working I found some broken wires. Repaired the wiring and got it working.

Wanted to get the liquid propane heater working but first had to get the tank filled. Went to a propane place and they wouldn't fill it because they said the fixtures were the "old type". They told me of a place that could change out these fittings (they couldn't). That place checked the fittings and said that the fittings were fine and that any propane place could fill the tank (they didn't fill tanks). Went to another propane place and got the tank filled. They tried to start the heater for me but couldn't. Their repair department could look at it in a week. I was cold working on the inside of the van and didn't want to wait the week so I started to work on it myself.

This heater, unlike all others I've seen, has no visible pilot light hole, so you couldn't tell if it was lit or not. This was not wired conventionally which made it all the more interesting to get working. There are 6 different controls that must be set properly to get the heater to work! Seems a bit over engineered but everything thus far has been a challenge, and a lot of fun, to figure out. Still no heat. One of the two external thermostats was broken and needed to be replaced. Replaced it and now I've got heat. Since many systems are interrelated, as soon as the heating system became functional so did the cooling system. There is an electronic interlock to keep the heating and cooling systems from operating at the same time.

I went to a meeting in Chicago that was getting together to talk about "Litestars" another weird vehicle I own. While there, one of the other members of the group told me about a strange vehicle he had seen listed on EBAY - it was a spy van. He went on to describe the vehicle I had just bought. I should have stopped him but I let him continue to describe it, he had really checked it out. He then asked me "who would buy such a thing?" and I said "I would". He said "would you really?" and I told him "I did buy it!". It was the new topic of discussion for a while.
The van had no "title", instead it had some federal government document that was to be used to transfer the van to "private" use.

Since December 8, 2006