By on March 21, 2010

History does tend to repeat itself, especially in the car business. Detroit’s more recent efforts to compete with import compact trucks was once a serious undertaking, and is now quickly dwindling away to nothing. The same thing happened once before, in the early sixties. In response to real (or imagined) incursions into the light truck field by imports, Detroit launched a barrage of new compact vans and trucks.  Ford was the most prolific in the 1960-1961 period, offering no less than three distinct types of pickups. The most creative and nontraditional one was the Econoline pickup. Not surprisingly, it was the least successful (of Ford’s three types), and petered out after a few years. Americans know how they like their Ford trucks, and the Econoline was not it

Of course, the Econoline van and pickup, as well as the Corvair and the later Dodge versions were all inspired by the VW Bus and pickup (coming very soon here). The VW pickup probably wasn’t really that much of a threat due to the 25% “chicken tax” that kept sales mainly confined to VW dealers as parts haulers and a few die-hards. But the raging success of the VW Beetle and to some extent the VW bus put Detroit on edge, and largely precipitated the creative rush of compact cars and trucks that all came gushing forth in ’60 and ’61.

Ford and Chevrolet based their new compact vans and trucks on their respective new compact cars, the Falcon and Corvair. And just like with the car versions, the pragmatic and utterly conventional, simple and cheap to build RWD Falcon trounced the adventurous rear-engined air-cooled Corvair in the car segment, so did their offshoot trucks. The Econoline van instantly became the best seller in the field, and Chevy quickly cobbled up a Chevy-II based van-only version to compete (CC here), and Dodge followed the same steps with their D-100 Van and pickup.  Obviously, the Corvair van’s inherent advantages of drastically better traction, braking and handling were offset by its lack of a flat floor throughout.

It doesn’t take more than a casual glance at the Econoline pickup to tell that it has a serious weight distribution problem. Ford installed a 165lb weight over the rear wheels in a effort to mitigate the problem, but lets just say this is not the thing to take out in the snow. But it was remarkably compact, yeat it sported a 7.5 foot long bed and a roomy cab with storage behind the rear seats; essentially the first extended cab pickup ever. And it was economical to run , with its light weight offering modest resistance to the little 144 and 170 cubic inch sixes. Ford claimed that up to 30 mpg in its ads.

The Econoline pickup faced a lot of internal competition as well as external. In 1960, Ford relaunched the Ranchero as a Falcon. And a conventional F-100 cost some $86 more. That left a pretty compact niche left, and public utilities turned out to be the big buyers of the little Econoline and Corvair pickups. Phone companies loved the space efficiency and low operating costs. But even then, after first year sales of 14k Econole pickups, their sales steadily dwindled, down to two thousand in their final year, 1967. That pretty much coincides with the birth of Japanese small pickup sales on the west coast.

I’ve always been drawn to these trucks for their compact size yet roomy cabs, despite their limitations. Of course, as the former owner of a Dodge A-100 van, I can well imagine what they handled like with another couple hundred pounds less in the rear quarters. And the front crush zone is a comparable to a can of Orange Crush. But it makes a handy around-the-town scooter, like this one, which is the daily driver of Joe, who does superb vintage restoration work on European cars out of his small shop. He picked it up recently, rebuilt the tired 170 six, and will eventually get to the body. Don’t ask why, but I love the exhaust sound of that little Falcon six, a pleasant mixture of nasal smoothness with an overlay of raspiness.

For some reason, this is a vehicle that I can’t quite take my eyes off: the combination of its odd proportions that challenge the conventions, and its jaunty cuteness. It’s also an extremely European-looking vehicle, although pickups in the American sense just weren’t hardly a reality there. And those red wheels don’t hurt either. These pickups may have been a sales dud, but they sure brightened up our carscape in their day. And today. Enjoy.

More new Curbside Classics here

Get the latest TTAC e-Newsletter!

44 Comments on “Curbside Classic: 1963 Ford Econoline Pickup...”


  • avatar
    littlehulkster

    Farmers around here loved the things, and they were known as hotshots for some reason.

    Rust got most of them, but you’ll still see a few rolling around from time to time.

  • avatar
    tced2

    I drove an enclosed van version of this vehicle for my father’s business (laundry and dry cleaning). The driving position was “different” being so far forward. And the steering was only vaguely related to which direction the van was going. We were very disappointed if 200,000 miles of service was not obtained.

    • 0 avatar
      dmrdano

      My brother had the ‘61 Ford 8-door van. Extra cool. Steering was definitely indefinite.

      My dad ran his ‘71 Ford (second generation, still with the engine beside you) head-on into a ‘70 Road Runner. Dad walked away, the other guy got a ride in an ambulance.

      As for me, I just sold my ‘67 Chevy Van last year. I cannot tell you how much I loved it, and how much it pained me to sell it before my son got his driver’s license (I wanted him to live). I had a straight six, but you could put any small block Chevy V8 in the doghouse. I could spin the tires indefinitely, as it weighed about 12 pounds in back.

      Most of these were bought new by Bell Telephone, Sears and Roebuck, and the Army (stateside use for moving food and junk). Mine still smelled of “grass” after 3 years in a junkyard when I bought it for $50. It fired up to drive onto the dolly, as the standard 250-6 was bullet-proof. It still had Grateful Dead ticket stubs under the bed in back. Sammy Johns probably owned it before me. Considering I was a pastor at the time, I thought I should get rid of everything inside. Quickly.

  • avatar
    Moparman426W

    This thing sure brings back some memories. A high school buddy of mine had a 65, with the 170 engine and 3 speed. I think top speed was about 55-60.
    We did a lot of drinking and cruising in that sucker. Once when the alternator died we were pushing it to try and get it started, my friend was pushing from outside the driver’s door with his hands on the steering wheel and the front tire went over his foot.
    He sold it after a few months, and for a few years afterward I would see it around town every so often, usually with a different owner. The last time I saw it someone had painted it black with a brush, with big white stripes down the side.
    A few years ago they showed a blue one on america’s funniest home videos. It was going across a field and the front tires hit a small concrete barrier, about 6-8 inches high and the truck flipped over forward.
    I’ve always wanted the A-100 with a slant 6.

  • avatar
    ronhawk62

    I know one parked out in the country by an old barn. I know its been there at least five years, I haven’t seen one on the road in many years. I think I’ll give it a closer look next time I’m out that way. Pretty cool little truck.

  • avatar
    NulloModo

    The driving position and overall silhouette remind me a lot of the ubiquitous low cab foward style Isuzu trucks.

    It’s rare to see a LCF with a traditional pickup bed, but down here you see tons with landscape beds (basically very high walled pickup beds, often with the upper portion made of metal mesh material).

    The design has a lot of positives, great visibility for the driver, small turning radius, and an easy to design flip-forward cab that makes getting at the engine easy for service.

    Ford tried a few years ago to break into the LCF market, but as far as I know 2009 was the last year for the Ford LCF truck. Isuzu and Mitsubishi own this market, with Isuzu taking the lion’s share.

    • 0 avatar
      crash sled

      Nullo, I believe LCF was gonna cost Ford some fairly fat investment money, and involve some more nasty partnerships with those dang furriners (and I believe International too, and they were fighting with them over PowerStroke at the time). Probably a good call by Mullaly, if he finally pulled out of all that. He’s got enough on his plate, and Transit gives him entre to a new segment, on his own terms, and better to focus on that.

      Ford should have never sold their big truck business. That was a blunder, imo.

    • 0 avatar
      NulloModo

      Crash –

      I assume you mean Sterling? Last I heard Chrysler (or more accurately Daimler) was doing away with Sterling altogether after buying it, so, it couldn’t have been that big of a cash cow.

      Ford still makes some pretty heavy duty trucks when you look at the F650/F750. Who knows, maybe once things are profitable again for the core business Ford might venture into expanding into big-rigs again.

      As far as the LCF goes, I agree that it was probably not profitable, and yes, the mess with Navistar probably didn’t help. According to the last Ford engineer I spoke with on the matter, apparently under the terms of the partnership with Navistar, Ford was able to run certain tests and demand certain changes in the engines, but other things were barred, thus the end result was a product that was compromised from what Ford wanted to do with it. The upcoming 6.7 liter Scorpion diesel, being an entirely in house design, was able to be fully torture-tested to Fords higher standards and won’t have any of the issues as a result of compromise that the previous engines had.

      The other big issue with LCFs is, as I said before, Isuzu. Mitsubishi makes what a lot of people consider to be a better product, but Isuzu has a bigger dealer network, more service stations, a lower price, and a much larger marketshare to begin with, it would take a huge investment of time, resources, and money to unseat them from kings of that particular hill.

    • 0 avatar
      crash sled

      Nullo, big trucks aren’t a cash cow, but they’re a firm segment. Selling it off, and signing a non-compete as Ford did, just seems a poor thought to me. Not sure if the non-compete has run out, but it’d take a bundle to get back into something that they maybe should have never left. I see Volvo tractors everywhere on the roads, and they weren’t included in that sale so Ford sees none of that cash. Billy strikes again.

      Don’t believe your engineer buddy about PowerStroke. Navistar won in court. That agreement was properly executed by Navistar, it was just another Ford screw up. Scorpion will wipe away all sins, I agree. Those guys no doubt learned their lessons well on the 6.0/6.4 with International, and Kuzak has fired the deadwood by now I’m guessing, so it’ll be world class.

      Isuzu was the gold standard in LCF I agree. When the numbers were coming in with Izu big and Ford selling in the tens, I figured it was gonna be over soon. Looks like you’re telling us it is.

      Commercial Truck will be alright. They just need to keep plugging along.

  • avatar
    Moparman426W

    Ronhawk62…….I have also seen one beside a barn for the past 5 years or so. It’s blue, and is visible from I-77 south in southern ohio near bolivar.
    If anyone is looking to buy one and is out that way there you go.

  • avatar
    Moparman426W

    Would that be anywhere near rome? I have an aunt and uncle in rome, that I visit every year when I go to visit my mother in nearby cedar bluff, alabama.

  • avatar
    educatordan

    My grandfather had one of the van variety. It was long before my time. My mother says he referred to it as the “suffering 6″ because of its lack of power, especially when loaded down for family vacations.

  • avatar
    Dr. Kenneth Noisewater

    That looks like an almost ideal motorcycle hauler. I kinda want one.

  • avatar
    Dynamic88

    It’s too bad they didn’t have a FWD platform to work with. They were really close to developing the minivan. So close, yet so far away.

    • 0 avatar
      Hank

      And the Corvair Greenbrier van, not the Chrysler T&C, was the first with passenger doors on both sides, but they rarely get any credit for that.

      http://file042b.bebo.com/9/large/2008/10/13/06/10531914a9133423588l.jpg

  • avatar
    CyCarConsulting

    Very cool, love the vintage wheel treatment

  • avatar
    Hank

    I’ve always had a soft-spot for this class of light truck, don’t know why. I’m more partial to the Rampside Corvair.

    http://image.motortrend.com/f/8559322/c12_0601_06z+1961_chevrolet_corvair_rampside+rear_side_view.jpg

  • avatar
    Juniper

    Here’s a small shot of one of these turned into a wheel standing exhibition car by putting a blown hemi in the bed and reversing the drivetrain. I saw it several times. Great show.
    http://www.flickr.com/photos/tom-margie/2818786230/

  • avatar
    zbnutcase

    I would love to have one of these. I would, however, swap a 250CI 6 into it. ‘nutcase

  • avatar

    My brother had a hemi-orange Econoline with a Dodge 383 in it. Very fast. Here’s one that has a nice custom paint job that accentuates the lines very well. Stock power-train though. http://www.mystarcollectorcar.com/3-the-stars/star-truckin/527-1965-ford-econoline-truck-not-something-you-see-every-day.html

  • avatar
    Dr Lemming

    Kaiser-Willys had a small “van-truck” in the 1950s — the FC-170. It was much lower than the Econoline, and rather European in its compact dimensions.

  • avatar
    lprocter1982

    I saw one of these just yesterday in Oakville, Ontario. Not sure of the year, but it sure was odd-looking. Actually, there seems to be a number of odd trucks around here – I know three people who regularly use mid-90′s Honda or Subaru mini-trucks they imported from Japan, and there’s at least 2 auto dealers within a half hour drive who specialize in Japanese mini-trucks.

  • avatar

    I love the last photo.

  • avatar
    Moparman426W

    ronhawk……you live in a beautiful place. If i live long enough to retire I plan to sell & move down there. My dad grew up not too far from there, in Tenn. He came to Ohio in 51 at age 19 to work for firestone.
    In the 90′s my parents moved to cedar bluff. I just love that area, where tenn, alabama and ga run together. The lakes and mountains are stunning.

    • 0 avatar
      ronhawk62

      I retired and moved here about five years ago,love it here. We ride motorcycles year round and I think I’ve been on just about every back road within fifty miles. You find some great looking old vehicles parked in this area. The cost of living is low and I’ve made some great friends. Come on down.

  • avatar
    relton

    I had oneof these clunkers briefly. Lousy engine, stiff steering ’cause it had kingpins at the ends of the solid front axle, crummy seats. While it still looked good, several structural members rusted and let the engine fallpartly out. Needless to say, I didn’t have this truck very long.

    Bob

  • avatar
    crash sled

    If this tugboat could float, you could take it out in the harbor and do marine work. It’s dressed for it.

  • avatar
    Martin Schwoerer

    Admittedly a van, but… The Getaway!

    In other words: any vehicle that was driven by both McQueen and McGraw in a heist can’t be all bad.

  • avatar
    Jseis

    In the early 70′s I drove one of these while on a high school maintenance crew. We hauled paint, floor polishers, lumber, trash, and lawnmowers. It’s soft and spongy ride was great for upright pianos that were easy to load over the low rear tailgate that went set down was perfect for backing up to steps. Very manueverable in tight spots and easy on gas.

  • avatar
    Jerry Sutherland

    I like this example-it’s so bare bones stock looking.They were pretty rare back in the day and now it’s even rarer to see these,the
    ‘vair or the Dodge.

  • avatar
    jonnyguitar

    Remove the bed, and its a Smart.

  • avatar
    1996MEdition

    My Dad, brother and I inherited one of these from my uncle. He had used it to haul hay, so it barely had a scratch in the bed. The tin can thin front end was pushed in a bit and my cousin had dropped a bolt down the intake….not good when the engine is running. We stripped it, rebuilt the engine, pounded out the front end…..learned a lot. One of the best things I liked about it was that we could work on the engine in the rain without getting soaked. To soon it became an unfinished project…..me to college, brother to the Navy. Dad sold it primered and unfinished. Only got ot drive the thing once, but it was pretty fun and different.

  • avatar
    A is A

    “Ford installed a 165lb weight over the rear wheels in a effort to mitigate the problem”

    Ouch!. Bad engineering!. Sounds like a Windows patch.

    Please keep these articles about commercial vehicles. In my eyes these forgotten vehicles nobody talks about are more interesting than a Ferrari or an AC Cobra. There is something HONEST in commercials.

  • avatar
    Moparman426W

    Ronhawk…….you’re not kidding about the cost of living being low down there. My parents bought a home there on 5 acres with pond, for not much more than they sold their home here for. It was on a 60×210 ft. lot!
    And it’s awesome there with all of the old cars and trucks everywhere you go. And the people are amazing! So much friendlier than up north. Time to leave for work now.

  • avatar
    Mark MacInnis

    Infinitely cooler are the ones like this, but they have a tailgate-like structure where the door opening on a van would be….usable as a ramp for livestock (sheep) or small, wheeled tools. Quirky but fun.

    I remember a famous drag racer based on one of these, painted bright, fire-engine red, dubbed “The Little Red Wagon.” Actually had enough torque to pull the front wheels off the ground….pretty cool.

    But actually what probably killed these off (literally) was the Darwinian tendency…people who liked these and bought and drove them, tended to be DRT in a head-on or rollover….messily.

  • avatar
    john.fritz

    It is very easy to get these things up on two wheels. Two wheels not belonging to the same axle. You ever see the Tippy Truck warning sign on circular exit ramps? One of those signs should be on the dashboard of these trucks.

  • avatar
    texlovera

    Wow, I remember seeing the old Econolines all the time when I was a kid, and more rarely these pickups. For some reason they bring a smile to my face. I’d love to take one for a spin.

    And they must have really outsold the Corvair vans, because I don’t remember EVER seeing one of those!

  • avatar

    I do like the looks of these. I’m sure the handling is interesting unloaded. There was a very rare Mercury (Canada only) version for sale here not too long ago.

  • avatar
    porschespeed

    “Ford installed a 165lb weight over the rear wheels in a effort to mitigate the problem”

    “Ouch!. Bad engineering!. Sounds like a Windows patch.”

    More like one of many Porsche rigs for the 911 – ‘cept it wasn’t 165, and ‘natch it was up front.

  • avatar
    Moparman426W

    If i owned this truck, I would have stored the original 170 and installed a later 250 engine. You would need to change the bellhousing, but everything else is exactly the same. You could use the valve cover and other pieces from the 170, and paint it the same color for the vintage 65 look.
    Even a 200 would make a bit more torque, and you could keep the same bellhousing.
    Marc Macinnis……the little red wagon was a dodge. There was also an econoline dragster, but I can’t remember what the owner named it.
    He actually had it set up so that the body went down the dragstrip backwards. I believe it had a ford 427 cammer.
    I was lucky enough to see it in person back in the day at dragway 42 in salem, as well as the little red wagon.

  • avatar
    StatisticalDolphin

    Bruce Berry was a working man
    He used to load that Econoline van.
    A sparkle was in his eye
    But his life was in his hands.


Back to TopLeave a Reply

You must be logged in to post a comment.

Subscribe without commenting

Recent Comments

New Car Research

Get a Free Dealer Quote

Staff

  • Authors

  • Brendan McAleer, Canada
  • Marcelo De Vasconcellos, Brazil
  • Matthias Gasnier, Australia
  • W. Christian 'Mental' Ward, Abu Dhabi
  • Mark Stevenson, Canada
  • Faisal Ali Khan, India