Oh the lengths that some people will go to in order to get what they want. When news that the red Chevy van from the cult classic “Van Nuys Blvd” had been found and had been painstakingly restored, we were both flabbergasted and thrilled. With its iconic gold “Wild Cherry” motif painted on each side to match the fresh pinstriping, this retro “shaggin’ wagon” has been restored to its 1970s funky glory after decades of neglect. Now, the man who saved it is being labeled as a thieving criminal.
According to a report by The Belleveille News-Democrat, in the late 1970s, a man by the name of Nick Massalas bought the van and named it such after his girlfriend at the time hopped in his ride and plopped a can of wild cherry soda in the doghouse console. With the memory permanently cemented in his psyche, Massalas spent $75 and had the words “Wild Cherry” hand-painted on each side of his van, with matching pinstriping for added flair. This custom artwork, and various other mods, encouraged producers to shoot it cruising down the strip one night, landing Massalas’ ride a brief spot in a 2-minute movie trailer.
After trading the van for a ’57 Chevy and a wad of cold hard cash, Massalas lost track of the vehicle. The van eventually ended up in the hands of Steven and Laura Godin, who bought Wild Cherry from a neighbor in 1980. The young couple did everything from cruise Van Nuys Boulevard, to live out of it for a six-month stint. Eventually, the van was relegated to sitting at their mountain farm. After years of neglect, along with two wildfires and a tree devastating the roof, Wild Cherry was looking destined for the scrap heap.
Eventually, Laura and Steven moved to Burbank for work, but kept paying taxes on the mountain property – visiting when time permitted. In June of 2018, things got messy when a man named Chris Carter contacted their son looking for information on where he might find one dilapidated, burned-out tin can of a Wild Cherry van.
According to Carter, the entire escapade started back in 2016, when a Facebook post showed a snapshot of a clapped-out Wild Cherry van sitting next to its pristine movie screen shot. Carter was hell bent on finding the van, reportedly spending the better part of a year messaging, emailing, and calling people all over the country in his spare time. “After I saw the picture, I just couldn’t get it out of my mind,” Carter says, “To see that van abandoned with a tree on it, and to know its former glory, how nice it looked, how it was in a movie … I knew I had to do something.”
Eventually, Carter was able to track down the man who took the photo of the rusted out Chevy. After discussing the vehicle’s location, he realized a brown spec on Google maps, near Lancaster, California, was more than likely Wild Cherry. After researching the legalities of removing said vehicle from the property, and roping in a friend to help trailer the van back home to Illinois, Carter split for California.
After getting a locked gate opened by a local landowner, Carter later found himself facing off with a Deputy Sheriff. After assuring the Deputy they weren’t doing anything nefarious, the officer allowed them to leave with the van. Returning home, Carter got to work setting up a GoFundMe page and sourcing sponsors – in the process laying the groundwork for a hotbed of backlash.
Chris Carter claims that he operated within the state’s legal limits in order to gain ownership of the van. On the other hand, the Godin family claims that he illegally swiped Wild Cherry from their property, and despite not having registered it since the early 1990s, insist that it was a forthcoming restoration project for the couple. After reporting the vehicle stolen to the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department, Laura Godin had this to say: “Nobody has the right to go on anybody’s property and do this… we thought it was still there. We didn’t know it was missing. [Carter] has no idea the sentimental value that I hold in my heart for that van.”
Godin also claims the title to the Wild Cherry was inside the van, asserting this was the reason why she no longer possessed it. Carter, on the other hand, says that after stripping the van down to the frame, nary a remnant of said title could be found.
“In California, you have to register a vehicle every year,” Carter says, “And if you don’t do it for so many years, you lose ownership. If it’s abandoned, the state can impound it and sell it for scrap or whatever.”
Although Carter was little more than a baby when the film “Van Nuys Blvd.” was released, the flick became a favorite for the van fanatic. Surrounding the shenanigans associated with the 10-mile stretch of cruising paradise in the center of the San Fernando Valley, the film serves as a time capsule for one of America’s top ’70s cruising spots.
After obtaining Wild Cherry and hauling it back home, Carter started restoring the vehicle. Once complete, Carter reportedly took the vehicles original owner to the Van Nationals in Indiana, presenting Nick Massalas with a portion of the van he removed – the name “Nick” artfully scrawled across it.
Sadly, Wild Cherry’s reincarnation has since been overshadowed by Carter’s sordid history and actions surrounding the vehicle’s restoration, both of which remain a social media steamroller within the van community. From GoFundMe pages and sponsor concerns, to questions surrounding registration discrepancies and rightful ownership, there’s a lot of contention surrounding this van and the man who claimed it for his own.
Last we heard, Carter had just lead a caravan of vehicles from Illinois, to Los Angeles, in what has become known as the “Wild Cherry Van Run.” After cruising Van Nuys Boulevard upon arrival, he disappeared along with the van. The last known photo of Chris Carter is of him posing with two California cops, grinning from ear-to-ear, with middle fingers raised in defiance toward the camera. So with little else to go on, we are left with speculation as to when and where the vehicle will emerge, and who should rightfully own the world’s wildest cherry.