When Mike Wolfe and Frank Fritz laid their eyes on a beat-up and rusted old van that had been pulled up from the dirt in the Massachusetts woods—they noticed it had a few distinctive features: there was a cartoon in the same pose as the signature Keep on Truckin’ comic on the side, along with the name Aerosmith in a design that in no way resembled the logo the rock band is known for.
Although the duo had gone to investigate the relic based on little more than a hunch by the van’s owner, it turns out they had struck gold. The van had belonged to the legendary band Aerosmith, and played a significant part in the band’s story when they first began performing in the 1970s.
As hosts of HISTORY series American Pickers, Wolfe and Fritz have come across a wide array of premium picks in their years travelling the country, but rarely have they come across a find as monumental as this one.
The 1964 International Harvester Metro was found on the property of a Chesterfield, Massachusetts resident who had lived on the property since 2005. The owner, Phil, pulled the decrepit van up from beneath the dirt with his son, and it had remained untouched on a car trailer ever since. Unsure if the van belonged to a fan or the band itself, Phil called in the help of Wolfe and Fritz to check it out. Thanks to some sleuthing by two, the record of the van’s history began to take shape.
Before Aerosmith was selling out arenas across the globe, they started as a typical struggling band from Boston, Massachusetts, in 1970. The specific model of the recovered van was produced from the late-1930s to the late-1970s, which piqued Wolfe’s interest.
“If they used this van when they first started rocking, it would have been old enough where they could acquire it pretty cheap,” says Wolfe in the episode.
So the location of the van in Massachusetts, and the potential price tag of the van when the band would’ve started performing, both added up. But for confirmation, they’d need someone from the band or close to it. Luckily, Wolfe was a just a few degrees of separation from founding band member Ray Tabano.
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Tabano was the guitarist for Aerosmith when it was formed, before leaving the band at the tail end of the following year. One year later, lead singer Steven Tyler got in touch with his old friend and asked Tabano to come back to the band after they signed their first album deal. He did come back, but as an organizer who sold merchandise and redesigned the logo.
Tabano agreed to come see the van in person to confirm if it was the real deal. When he arrived and saw the van firsthand, there was no denying that this was the vehicle that had started it all.
“I’m afraid to say how long it is, but it’s like 40 years since we’ve been in this thing,” says Tabano in the episode. “I just flash back to when we first started the band, ‘cause it was an amazing thing, you know. All of a sudden, here’s this thing that you know, we lived in. It was like our dressing room, you know, it was like a rolling hotel.”
Tabano showed pictures of the greenhorn band in the van, pointing out characteristics like the rug draped from the ceiling and the small sliding window. Tabano also revealed that the now defunct logo on the side of the van was significant in that it was the first time the band’s name had ever been written out.
In the end, the owner was still interested in selling the van after learning about its extraordinary history. The pickers took it off his hands for the grand price of $25,000. Was it worth the heft price tag? Wolfe thinks so.
“We just got a piece of American rock ‘n’ roll history!” he yelled.
You can watch the full episode of the historic pick, “Roll Like a Rock Star,” here.