Land of 10,000 Lakes … and Uncle Rico’s van from “Napoleon Dynamite”

Uncle Rico's van from Napoleon Dynamite

The actual 1975 Dodge Tradesman van from "Napoleon Dynamite"

Mark Shields, a Minneapolis programmer, is now the proud owner of the 1975 Dodge Tradesman van used in the filming of the 2004 indy hit “Napoleon Dynamite.”

And guess what? You can rent the orange beauty to impress all your geeky friends.

In case you haven’t memorized every line and every scene from the cult classic, this van was Uncle Rico’s ride. Rico is the nutty guy stuck in the past, forever trying to overcome a devastating rejection he suffered as a high school football player.

I first learned that Uncle Rico’s van arrived in Minnesota via the LOL/OMG blog.

My first thought was, “Hey, cool.” My second thought was, “Is this guy nuts?”

To get at that question, I sent some questions to Mark. Here are his replies:

Q: How did you learn the van was for sale?

I was browsing eBay looking for movie car replicas and stumbled across an auction for the van. While I did win the auction, I did not make the reserve price. I e-mailed the seller and, after a few weeks of haggling, came up with a price that he was comfortable with. I’m not sure what he’s going to do with my first born child’s placenta, but I digress.

Q: Who was the seller?

A guy in Grand Rapids, Mich., named Dave Durst. The van has gone through several owners since filming of “Napoleon Dynamite” took place in Preston, Idaho. All of the previous owners left behind tiny bits of documentation detailing the succession of ownership. These include titles, bills of sale and several license plate frames.

From the movie: Uncle Rico and his ride

From the movie: Uncle Rico and his ride

Q: Where did you buy the van? How’d you get it back to Minnesota?

I flew into Michigan two weeks ago and drove back the van, taking the high speed ferry to Milwaukee. As far as how the van did on the road, the driver’s seat is in terrible condition as far as comfort. I was a little rusty on 1970s era engine tips and tricks (e.g. hold down the gas to choke, etc), but overall the experience wasn’t too bad. I had to remove the vent hood from the roof in order to fit onto the ferry as the van stands more than eight feet tall. The screen used original vent is sitting on my mantle. I have a van conversion facility in Farmington doing some work for me as far as remedying my seating and venting maladies.

Certificate for the Uncle Rico van from Napoleon Dynamite

Q: You have paperwork authenticating this van was used in the movie. What type of paperwork exactly?

I have the title from the owners in Preston, Idaho. There’s also a certificate of authenticity that someone created, but it appears to be a copy of the original. There’s also a mountain of corroborating evidence to confirm the van’s authenticity. I’m actually surprised that it didn’t end up in a private collection somewhere. The owners in Preston held on to the van in hopes there would be a “Napoleon Dynamite 2.” When no sequel surfaced, the van went on to owners in California, Ohio and Michigan.

Q: Why on earth did you buy this thing?

I collect movie cars. Also, I felt like the van could be preserved, but also shared at the same time. Nothing against them, but the previous owners seemed more interested in drawing attention to the van by pasting giant copies of the certificate of authenticity on the car, quoting lines from the film using shoe polish on the windows, and doing whatever possible to draw attention to the van by besmirching it. I think the van is recognizable on its own merit without all of those things. Even if it isn’t, that’s OK. Low key is good.

Mark Shields and the Napoleon Dynamite van

Mark Shields imitates Uncle Rico

Q: You willing to say what you paid? If so, how much?

I typically try not to spend more than $15,000 when purchasing a movie car, so it was definitely in that range. The previous owner purchased the car at auction for $12,000, if that gives you a better idea of the perceived value. I do plan on improving the interior. There are several portions which did not appear on camera that I plan to improve upon, as well as some that have been modified that I will restore back to their screen used condition. Getting enough comfortable seating in there for a small group is my primary goal right now. The original sink, stove top, and ice box will remain as is. The orange curtains are missing and someone tinted the formerly curtained windows, so reversing that is on the agenda.

Napoleon Dynamite van with Minnesota plates

Uncle Rico's van has Minnesota plates

Q: What kind of shape is this sucker in? How many miles on it?

There are 70,000 miles on the odometer, but it’s been through several odometer rollovers, I’m sure. The owners in Preston, Idaho, purchased the car for $2,000 in 2001 and even by then the odometer reading was not verifiable. The owner in Michigan put some work into overhauling the engine, so it’s been quite reliable. As with any 35-year-old vehicle, you have to expect care and maintenance will be necessary.

Q: How’s it going so far getting people to rent the van? Any takers yet?

I only created the site a few days ago, so I’m not expecting an avalanche of interest. In fact, my DeLorean — which is far more recognizable — is only rented out a few times a year. Doing something with a movie car is a very small niche to fill here. Opportunities do arise but I’m in no hurry. Still, how cool would it be to be chaperoned to prom or homecoming in this thing, right?

Mark Shields

Mark Shields

Q: What are you doing to try to spread the word that the van is available for rent?

I’m going to settle for word of mouth and whomever the search engines pass my way. This is a hobby for me. I plan to get a lot of enjoyment out of just owning the van and participating in events as they arise (e.g. midnight showings of “Napoleon Dynamite”, etc).

Q: What other famous vehicles do you own?

I also own a replica of the DeLorean Time Machine from “Back to the Future”, a Chevrolet Corvette Stingray that has been made up to look like the 1989 Michael Keaton Batmobile, and a 2010 Chevrolet Camaro 2SS that’s yellow with a black stripe done up as Transformers’ Bumbleebee.  I also have a normal daily driver that I use to drive to work — and to appear normal.


Need more? Here’s Mark showing off his new toy.