Review: Ford Econoline Conversion

Sajeev Mehta
by Sajeev Mehta
review ford econoline conversion

Here are some comments you don’t normally associate with the Ford Econoline: lack of manufacturer support and repair facilities, high repair cost and crippling loss of revenue during downtime. That’s what I gleaned from a Dodge Sprinter fansite and those comments came from one of the forum’s more even-handed members. Which explains the sea of Econolines (white paint, out of state plates) on the Bayou City’s expressways after the devastation of Hurricane Ike and not a single Sprinter. So let’s check out a Regency conversion van to find the Econoline’s inherent goodness, hmm-kay?

Right. Aside from the early 90s wind tunnel testing, a Super Duty-esque schnoz and Kenny G friendly color palette, the Econoline’s form hasn’t changed much since its 1970s heyday. It’s a classic two-box design, with a stubby hood and upright rear pillar for maximum cargo space. The stamped fender flares and forged five-spoke mag wheels lack yesteryear’s mullet-worthy flair, but work nicely with the van’s silhouette. It’s a somewhat more refined look than the afterthought, tinker toy appearance of its archrival, the Chevrolet Express.

But the Econoline’s Regency Conversion isn’t all sugar and spice: peep those paint schemes worthy of artwork in a Motel 6 bedroom and Pontiac-ready side skirting. But the high top conversion tells everyone it’s time to “raise the roof” all up in this mother-trucker.

When the party gets started, there’s no better place than inside the Custom Van Lounge. That’s because the Regency-fettled Econoline has all the toys: even the heated/cooled drink compartment keeps beverages handy and healthy. Touch the rich carpeting, wood appliqué afterthoughts and remarkably well-crafted leather captain’s chairs. I wish my apartment was that frickin’ nice. Note to the Ford Flex: who’s your daddy?

For the trendy gangsta-wannabe, why not flip the switch on the power-folding third row, hit the mood lighting, pop some chilled Cristal and make a rolling VIP room? Or grab your buddies, connect the PS3, boot up “Rock Band” and hit the Grand Funk Railroad on the plasma screen before the tailgate party? Dig it: we’ll help you party down, because we’re an American Van.

The Econoline’s street cred (so to speak) is virtually bulletproof, but that’s not the point. Ford’s forgotten soldier carries the whole family to weekend vacations in the kind of luxury unattainable in a mere SUV. The ride on any road is undeniably decadent and disturbingly silent. The Regency conversion adds many moving parts, mercifully void of squeaks or rattles. Even the mini blinds kept their collective mouths shut within their integral plastic channels.

Well, at least for now. I remember the hack job, rattletrap conversions of yesteryear, so there’s a good reason why Ford’s warranty doesn’t cover the aftermarket luxuries. But the Econoline isn’t for passengers only: the driver has the goods for a few Pistonhead-approved giggles. Perhaps the tragic accidents in 15-passenger rental vans lit a fire under the Blue Oval Boyz, because the fresh suspension tuning, big-ass brakes and active handling put the monster van in its place.

And it’s about damn time: the pinky-finger steering feel and highway wander are history, replaced by somewhat wonderful feel and arrow-straight highway tracking with the Econoline’s leather wrapped tiller. Better spring tuning with an Addco-worthy swaybar help the Econoline in the corners, putting the bonehead Twin I-Beam suspension on par with the fancy pants wishbones of its F-150 cousin. More to the point, the Econoline handles like a Chevy Suburban in most situations.

But it feels wrong: sitting north of the engine, the driver’s uninterrupted view of the road garners the reactions of a drunken tourist gawking over the railing of a cruise ship. Push the Econoline hard and you’ll go overboard. The active handling nanny is just that, the laws of physics hit faster in the Econoline. That’s partially why people flock to mega-SUVs of questionable utility in the first place.

What a shame. The Econoline is a treat to drive on occasion, but the EPA doesn’t bother testing its economy for good reason. (I averaged 14 MPG in mixed driving.) The trio of 2-valve gasoline engines are responsive enough: our midgrade 5.4L tester cruised nicely and made some genuinely entertaining noises too. But the Ford trucks get more juice from their 3-valve motors, not to mention the craptastic 6.0L Power Stroke Diesel is the sole oil-burner on the Econoline’s options list. Epic fail.

But the Econoline refuses to die. Maybe it’s nearasdammit to perfection: one version is a responsible working machine while another is an immensely practical play toy. Who knew a vehicle with a “School Bus Prep Package” on the options list transforms into one of the best luxury cocoons on the road? Next time you see a Pistonhead towing his pride and joy behind a mega-dollar SUV, shake your head in disapproval. They’re better served with an Econoline.

[ Joe Meyers Ford provided the vehicle reviewed.]

Join the conversation
2 of 44 comments
  • Eric Wilcox Eric Wilcox on Jan 28, 2010

    I'm glad I found you guys. A conversion van is not a vehicle I ever considered owning until today. A friend of mine gave me their Ford Econoline 150 conversion. I belive it is a 2000 or 2002. Actually I told him I would need to think about it before he signs the pink slip over to me. I currently own two very nice, new vehicles and a extremely nice older sports car. I in no way need this van. As a matter of fact I don't want it parked in my front yard. With the extended roof I can't fit it in my garage. But, the more I think about it, this living room on wheels could be loads of fun. It has four pivoting chairs. The rear bench seat flattens to a bed with the push of a finger. T.V, tons of storage space. It has cool hidden LED lighting everywhere. It looks to be in great shape. If I accept the van I would not feel right turning around and selling it. I need to decide if I want to own this beast. It would rarely be driven. An occasional road trip. Or perhaps a few camping trips a year. My thirteen year old daughter asked if we could keep it for her until she is able to drive. I explained there is no way her first car was going to be a party bus. She seemed to understand and asked if she could live in it parked in the driveway until she turns 18. This being said. Mainly you guys that do, or have owned these rigs, what would you do in my situation? I'm sure many would say a free van is a good van. Or take the van and sale it. But again, I would not accept the van to turn around and sale. Please give me some advice or feed back! Thanks.

  • The Groominator The Groominator on Jul 02, 2010

    Well, I'll tell ya' eric, I came across a situation almost the same as yours. I needed a truck and was looking around when my brother's neighbor mentioned that he wanted to sell his Regency conversion van, a 1997 model. He told my brother that if I wanted it he would sell it for $2800 because he was tired of looking at it in his driveway. It had 49,000 miles on it, they bought it on a whim to do some traveling in. (This could be you in the The only thing they used it for was to go to some Saints games and a few nights out. We had to brush the 1/4 inch thick tree pollen off of it just to see out the windows. It sat so long that I had to buy new tires to replace the ones with about 70% tread left on them because they were dry rotted. I've had it for a couple of months and LOVE it. The thing rides like a cadillac. So if you think you might use it at least every once in a while I sure wouldn't pass up a free one, if it's not too late, but if your daughter is not going to get it and you don't think you really care to have it you can either take it and sell it now, take it to let it sit in your driveway until who knows when and then sell it for much less than you could have gotten for it or just not take it. Me?? I'm glad I took it. I'd like to know what you decided to do.

  • Art Vandelay Dodge should bring this back. They could sell it as the classic classic classic model
  • Surferjoe Still have a 2013 RDX, naturally aspirated V6, just can't get behind a 4 banger turbo.Also gloriously absent, ESS, lane departure warnings, etc.
  • ToolGuy Is it a genuine Top Hand? Oh, I forgot, I don't care. 🙂
  • ToolGuy I did truck things with my truck this past week, twenty-odd miles from home (farther than usual). Recall that the interior bed space of my (modified) truck is 98" x 74". On the ride home yesterday the bed carried a 20 foot extension ladder (10 feet long, flagged 14 inches past the rear bumper), two other ladders, a smallish air compressor, a largish shop vac, three large bins, some materials, some scrap, and a slew of tool cases/bags. It was pretty full, is what I'm saying.The range of the Cybertruck would have been just fine. Nothing I carried had any substantial weight to it, in truck terms. The frunk would have been extremely useful (lock the tool cases there, out of the way of the Bed Stuff, away from prying eyes and grasping fingers -- you say I can charge my cordless tools there? bonus). Stainless steel plus no paint is a plus.Apparently the Cybertruck bed will be 78" long (but over 96" with the tailgate folded down) and 60-65" wide. And then Tesla promises "100 cubic feet of exterior, lockable storage — including the under-bed, frunk and sail pillars." Underbed storage requires the bed to be clear of other stuff, but bottom line everything would have fit, especially when we consider the second row of seats (tools and some materials out of the weather).Some days I was hauling mostly air on one leg of the trip. There were several store runs involved, some for 8-foot stock. One day I bummed a ride in a Roush Mustang. Three separate times other drivers tried to run into my truck (stainless steel panels, yes please). The fuel savings would be large enough for me to notice and to care.TL;DR: This truck would work for me, as a truck. Sample size = 1.
  • Ed That has to be a joke.