What came first, the van or the lifestyle?
For newly married Winslow and Soumaya Bent, exploring the backstory of why and how this opposites-attract couple came to be headed to Coachella in a tricked out 1970s ride is a study in sociology.
This is a story about how two diverse people found each other, then found a van. Or rather, how the van found them.
Long and Winding Road
Winslow Bent and Soumaya Majout took the long road to each other. Winslow was born and raised in Lake Forest, Illinois, before making his way to Wyoming to settle in Wilson. Soumaya is of Moroccan descent, born and raised in Brussels, Belgium.
The two could not be more different.
He’s rather pedestrian. She’s a self-described “spicy disaster.” Their relationship is commonly uncommon ― a timeless classic partnership featuring one spider-killer, one shrieker. Leather and lace. Winslow, the utilitarian wrench-turner and Soumaya, the exotic bohemian beauty who finds fashion and flair in most everything.
They met online while Soumaya was taking a sabbatical from New York City, boldly venturing out West.
“After 10 years in New York, I wanted to see the real U.S., so I moved to Red Lodge, Montana. I've always lived in a city, I wanted to explore something out of my comfort zone,” Soumaya said in a decidedly French accent peppered with the hard plosives typical of Arabic languages.
The two took turns road tripping in each other’s direction before a wedding date was set last August. One day before the nuptials, the couple was taking a pleasure drive to relieve jitters and the stress of wedding planning when they saw it.
Fine-tuning those wedding vows would have to wait. When the universe knocks, you answer.
That '70s Show
It was a 1977 Dodge custom van with an exterior and interior finish straight out of the groovy disco era, including a vintage Waylon Jennings Flying W spare tire cover.
“We were in this very nice neighborhood and seeing this van was so strange, so out of place,” Soumaya recalled. “There were two people looking at it and I thought, ‘No, no, that has to be mine.’”
That didn’t leave Winslow in a strong bargaining position ― trying to please his bride to be ― as he dialed the number on the for sale sign.
“The guy said I was his third call on it and he just parked it there, like, 20 minutes ago,” Winslow said. “I told him I'm this auto restoration guy [Bent owns and operates Legacy Classic Trucks] and I am getting married tomorrow. I pulled everything I could think of.”
Well, $12,000 later and “Fez” was headed home to Wyoming. Soumaya and Winslow began their van life on Aug. 5, 2021 A.V. (After Van).
Van Life Begins
Van life people are different.
For starters, almost all of them name their rides. From Shaggin’ Waggin’ to Van Halen, van owners’ passion and buy-in is next level, beginning with “vanthromorphic” nomenclature.
“I like naming everything, really. So we knew we were going to name the van from the beginning,” Soumaya admitted.
The name Fez fell into place after the couple met Wilmer Valderrama at an airport in Mexico. The actor played Fez on “That '70s Show,” predictably a favorite of Soumaya’s.
“Fez is also a city in Morocco, so it all just fell into place,” she said.
Winslow and Soumaya got to work completing the '70s look. Most of the exterior was bang on, so they left that alone, adding only twin moonlight bubble windows to either side. The interior came together quickly under Soumaya’s vision.
The 35-year-old said she set about “building a theme to the vehicle” that would pay homage to a decade she never witnessed firsthand. She was born in 1988.
“I wanted it to be super cheesy, kitsch, you know? Give it even more of a '70s vibe. We put in a little VCR/TV combo with 'Animal House,' '2001 Space Odyssey' and 'South Park' VHS cassette tapes,” Soumaya said.
While the van came with a groovy turquoise shag carpet, the Bents were quick to swap that out with something that conveyed the look and feel of the era without the smell of it.
“The first thing you have to do when you buy a 45-year-old custom van that has shag carpet is replace the shag carpet,” Winslow said.
Once Soumaya had the van dripping with finesse, they added beefed-up air conditioning to make sure the couple’s 200-pound Leonberger named Whiskey would stay as chill as the decade of disco.
Roll On Down The Highway
It wasn’t long before the Bents learned some important things about their newlywed life with a retro van.
“We’ve found it is such a conversation starter mainly because it is not a polarizing vehicle. It’s very approachable,” Winslow said. “You drive around in a Hummer. Let’s say, maybe half the people like you, half think you are the worst human being on earth. Same deal if you drove a Tesla, for example.”
“But everyone loves Fez the '70s van!” Soumaya chimed in.
Winslow continued, “Perfect example the other day. We were in Lancaster, California, at a gas station. These Latino bikers on Harleys are there, like four or five of them, and they come over to check it out and ask all kinds of questions. They loved it.
“A few minutes later, a police officer pulls up. He takes a picture of the van with his phone and starts walking straight over to us. I was like, ‘Oh shit, is this going to be a problem?’
“He came up to the window and said, ‘Is this your van?’”
“I said, ‘Yeah.’”
“’Is this a '77?’ he asks. ‘Because my brother has a really similar van he is just starting to build out. This is so cool. Have a great day.’”
Another thing Fez taught Winslow and Soumaya was the importance of slowing down and embracing a more relaxed pace. Life is about the journey, not the destination, the van said.
“One thing to note is [Fez] doesn’t exactly go 80 mph down the interstate. I find 60-65 is right where this vehicle wants to be, top end,” Winslow said. “As a result, we are more inclined to take secondary highways than we are the interstate because it’s not fun to have semis just whizzing past you all day.
"We’ve been taking these backroads through places like Nevada, for instance, as a means to get from Jackson Hole to southern California. We spend three days on backroads rather than two days on the interstate.”
Crash Test Dummies
While Soumaya brings the feels (“I love the fashion of the '70s ― the flared pants and hairstyles”), Winslow is by trade more of the nuts-and-bolts partner in the relationship. He cherishes older classic vehicles and his passion is to restore them to their former, and even better, glory.
But he never would have given a 1977 Dodge van a second thought if not for his wife.
“It’s a piece of crap, and let me tell you why,” Winslow said. “In the 1970s, you are talking the OPEC years and oil embargoes. And interest rates were sky high. All of it contributed to stifling innovation and hampering execution in the automotive industry.”
The 1960s, in contrast, gave the American public iconic muscle cars like the Dodge Charger, the Pontiac GTO and the Ford Mustang. Instant classics still sought after today. The 1970s was the decade of the Pacer and Pinto.
Lee Iacocca eventually rescued the auto industry by the time Donna Summer faded from the pop charts, but by most accounts the 1970s were certainly a down time for American cars.
“It’s interesting to take a late-‘70s model from America and put it side-by-side with, say, a Toyota Land Cruiser, and disassemble both vehicles and study them," Winslow said. "I mean, it’s no wonder we got our asses handed to us during that time.”
Form and Function
Winslow is picky about what’s under the hood and between the bumpers, but Soumaya sees more than blueprints.
“Maybe a perfume takes you back to some place and time. Or a song. It’s the same with a car for me. It conjures up everything about that period,” she said.
“And that’s one of the coolest things I’m discovering about Soumaya,” Winslow said. “Look, I'm a car guy in his 50s. Soumaya is 35. She is introducing me to a new way of seeing things.
"Before her, I hung out with a lot of old white guys like me and we all stood around looking at each other’s cars commenting on the parts or the specs. It was starting to get a little old. But she’s brought this breath of fresh air where she sees a car and plans a whole backstory and theme for it.”
And names it.
“Maren [Morris]” or “Janis [Joplin]” might have to be the name of her latest project ― a yuppy 1988 Mercedes ― made the year Soumaya was born.
“The way Soumaya fleshes out these vehicles, accessorizing them and building them out in a different way,” Winslow said, shaking his head slowly in disbelief. “I would just stop at talking about the different engine options available on the '88 model, or the transmission, or the design or something, where she sees it as a polaroid snapshot into a different time period.
"The next thing you know she’s on eBay shopping for those big Motorola car phones from the era. It’s what she loves doing ― adding life and texture to life’s plainer things.”
Soumaya sees potential in nearly everything made before she was born.
“These are vintage pieces. They are so special," she said.
Winslow summed up their relationship with a metaphor he probably didn’t even know he was making.
“I can keep the van moving forward, Soumaya brings the style, the cool factor,” he said. “From the very first road trip we took together in March 2020, we have found this chemistry.”
Life Is a Highway
If you are in Jackson this summer, or southern California next winter, or on any podunk backroad in between, keep an eye for one of the grooviest couples you will ever meet. And their dog Whiskey.
You’ll know them by their van the minute you see it, but if you’re hesitant to tap on the window, check for the Wyoming vanity plates “FEZ” and listen closely. Is that an 8-track tape playing Lobo’s “Me and You and a Dog Named Boo?”
Eight months into the honeymoon road trip and the Wyoming couple is still rounding out their relationship, exploring each other’s roles and astounded, daily, by what outside-the-box thing the other might say or do to brighten the day.
“It’s been a really cool experience,” Winslow said. “Still, now, we are thinking: What’s the next thing going to be? A rad station wagon? Are we headed north? Who knows? We’ll see where cool cars and adventure take us next.”
Jake Nichols can be reached at: Jake@CowboyStateDaily.com