By on September 25, 2010

EAW is either just a ploy for me to burn off some of my overflowing files of obscure cars I’ve shot, or to document the history of this storied vehicle. The gen2 Econolines don’t exactly get a lot of interest, and they’re rapidly disappearing from the street scape. There’s two places to find them still: in the parks, and on certain streets in industrial areas. They’ve become prime real estate for the wandering underclass. Everybody needs at least an Econoline to call “home”.

In 1968, Ford revolutionized the American van, by putting the engine up front, and making it essentially a full-sized vehicle, sharing as much as possible with the F-Series pickups rather than the Falcon. Two wheelbase versions were on tap: the one on top is the shorty, the one below is long, as well as someone’s permanent address. It’s been in this spot for years.

The extra width came in mighty handy, especially for sleeping. Now it was possible to stretch out sideways, rather than only longitudinally. No wonder these are so popular with “campers”.

Several years into their run, Ford also made a sliding side door optional. In another clever use of body symmetry, the rear doors also doubled as the side doors, in the non-sliding door versions. Don’t you feel gratified knowing that?

Power also included Ford’s small block V8s, in 289 and 302 versions. But the move to put the engine in front, and still keep the overall length as short as possible meant a serious compromise: the engine was shifted off-center, to the right, meaning that there was barely enough leg room to put two feet side-by-side for the shotgun position. When Chevy and Dodge introduced their new vans in 1971, the engines were a tad less intrusive, especially on the Chevy. Ford was determined to stay out front, literally, so the gen2 had a relatively short shelf life, 1968-1974.

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13 Comments on “Curbside Classic Outtake: Gen2 Econoline...”

  • avatar

    Even with the cramped front quarters, the second generation was my favorite of the Econolines – especially the 3/4 ton camper version shown above.

  • avatar

    I can’t help but think there is a nice man inside who has free candy…

  • avatar

    I tried out a ’74 once. It drove well enough, but I couldn’t get over how ugly I thought it was, especially in front. And I had always thought Fords were third-class vehicles. Now I’ve been driving them for 17years!

  • avatar
    Educator(of teachers)Dan
    I live in a van, down by the river!

  • avatar
    Dr Lemming

    My dad bought a 1968 with a camper conversion.  It was a real workhorse that took us to the most obscure reaches of the West.  Gas mileage with the 302v8 wasn’t so hot, but the van never left us stranded despite racking up high miles.  For years I wished my dad would give me that van; I finally gave up waiting and bought a 1962 Econoline.  Not nearly as versatile but the price was right for a starving college student: $600.

    During the 1970s the Dodge van seemed to overshadow the Econoline in Los Angeles street van culture, perhaps partly because its front end wasn’t as stubby.  But I still have a fondness for the Econoline.

    BTW, back in the 1960s and early 1970s the side doors of the front-engined American vans typically were interchangeable with the rear doors. Particularly with second-generation vans that reduced rear visibility because the door windows were so small (compared to more recent vans, where the doors curve snugly with the body sides). The second-generation Dodge had particularly large blind spots because of its fuselage design.

  • avatar

    My dad bought the very first of the Gen1 Econoline’s in town for his magazine business as delivery trucks.  It was a very good truck and I loved driving it.  When Gen2 Econoline came out he too bought the very first one in town.  Both trucks served his business well.  I serviced many girls in both vehicles.  Yes, I put them to good use.  Henry Ford would be so proud.

  • avatar

    Dang Paul! I swear that blueish one was there in the early 90’s. I remember when the “you are allowed to sleep on public streets in your car” controversy issues were being debated by city council back then. Then they made the transient park at Autzen stadium complete with showers, etc. It was during those days when I decided not to be a Eugenian anymore and moved to K-Falls to go back to college where I lived for a bit in a Chevy Beauville by campus. OIT has a great gym complete with showers and what not. Some things a guy learns in Eugene don’t die easily like Go Ducks! Beat ASU!

  • avatar

    Kind of funny that Jim Farley, Chris’ first cousin, is in charge of marketing the Econoline.  I read that folks ask him to say the famous line from the movie all the time. 

  • avatar

    When I was 15, my then 24 year-old brother’s friends from university came by to visit for a few days that summer. They were traveling across the country in a ’69 Econoline with the almighty 250 cu. in. inline six. Having just met our family the day before, they apparently confused me with my then 21 year-old middle brother and invited me to join them in partaking of some South American smoking materials while tooling along in the Econoline.
    Once in the van, I realized that the engine was running very poorly. After we got back from our little excursion, and my head cleared up, I did some basic maintenance items, such as changing the air filter (it had a bird’s feathers in it…) and cleaning and re-gapping the spark plugs. Once complete, the two travelers were so happy with my efforts, that they wanted to reward me with a large quantity of the aforementioned smoking materials.
    However, my oldest brother got wind of the offering, so to speak, and rapidly put the kibosh on the peace offering. However, they did make it up to me, with a crispy $20 bill (in 1978 that wasn’t bad money for an hour’s work).
    Who says you can’t have fun with an old Econoline?

  • avatar

    Back in the 70s, a friend’s dad had a 69 base model Club Wagon.  6 cyl, 3 speed on the column, and the only non-metal material on the interior was on the dash pad and the seat upholstery.  Side panels and floors were all painted steel.
    There was nothing luxurious about it, but it was durable.  These were rusters in salt country, which might explain their low survival rate.  Another interesting quirk that these had were that after a few years, you could always see the spotwelds over the rear wheel arches.  Looked to me like body stresses pulled on this area, which exposed the arc of dimples, which would usually start to rust.
    These were groundbreaking in being the first to have a stubby hood out front to check fluids, but they were quickly leapfrogged by the 71 Dodge.  Dodge owned this market for a few years until the legendary Chrysler quality of the 70s scared off most van buyers in time for the 75 Ford to hit the market.

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