By on September 25, 2010

The Panther was celebrated (and denigrated) all week here at TTAC, one of the justifications given by its proponents being that it is the oldest continuous platform still in production in the US. Well, a few strong howls of protest were heard: the Econoline has been around since the fall of 1974! Thirty six years, no less. And a chorus cry for Econoline Appreciation Week ensued. Well, some think that TTAC’s image has already been, ah…burdened a bit with all the Panther gushing, and a whole week of continuous Econoline love (in the back, I assume) would be a bit…tiring. Since I’ve established trucks as fair game on the weekends, welcome to EAW (Econoline Appreciation Weekend).

If you need some warm-up material while we get some E-posts together, head here for a superb example of an early Econoline Curbside Classic. And here’s a TTAC review of a recent Econoline conversion van.  [PS: gen1 and gen2 Econolines are not excluded from the love-fest]

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19 Comments on “Welcome To Econoline Appreciation Weekend...”

  • avatar

    Oldest continuous platform in production?  The second-generation VW Transporter is still being built in Brazil.  That’s 43 years since the second-gen introduction in 1967, and really 60 (!) years since the original Transporter debuted in 1950 (there wasn’t really a “platform” change from first to second generation).

    • 0 avatar

      I didn’t think that the old second generation VW Type 2 was still in production and then I looked it up.
      So it is, but with a water cooled engine – which looks better suited for the task than the old air-cooled flat-four.
      As for the Econoline, I took a test drive with one of the last inline sixes back in 1990.  It wallowed around corners like a water bed with wheels. I wound keep a former 71 VW Van for a couple of more years, before moving onto a 74 Westfalia.

    • 0 avatar

      The VW Bus (os Kombi as its called in Brazil) was the first VW product built in Brazil. It beat the Beetle by a couple of years. It has outlasted it, too, by two decades no less. It’ll be thrown into the trash heap of history though in 2014. That year new legislation comes in force saying all brand-new cars must leave the factory with ABS and air bags. VW has stated it is to expensive to re-engineer the thing to have air bags. So, hurry on down and buy it while you can ’cause its going into oblivion.

  • avatar

    I remember as a little kid looking at that very brochure up above!!!  I remember hammering my father (who worked at Ford as an engineer) that we needed THAT van.  Now that I drive I now understand why dad threw up in mouth a little bit; but it still would have been a kick ass van for a passenger.  Swivel seats dad, SWIVEL SEATS!!!

    • 0 avatar

      “dad threw up in mouth a little bit”
      Indeed. I had an ’82 E150 conversion van for a short time. It wasn’t all bad, but the handling was even worse than the ’56 Chevy Grumman Olsen stepvan I once drove.

    • 0 avatar

      I vaguely recall that Ford offered the same ’70s paint scheme on the Pinto Cruising Wagon as well.

    • 0 avatar

      “I vaguely recall that Ford offered the same ’70s paint scheme on the Pinto Cruising Wagon as well.”

      Yep, complete with that goofy little smoked glass porthole window at the back. IIRC, the Aussie version of the Pinto was Mad Max’s ride before he got so mad.

  • avatar

    I can hardly wait for “Chevy Citation Appreciation Month.”

  • avatar

    I spent much of the ’90s driving an ’84 long wheelbase E-150 Van Express conversion with a 302 and automatic w/overdrive. Seemed to handle fine to me, and the Twin I-Beam suspension was more reliable than I expected. It only got 13 MPG’s, but it was the ’90s! Gas was a buck a gallon, so $20 a week was no big deal. It hit 175,000 miles when rust and general tiredness overtook it. And I STILL miss driving a van.

  • avatar

    Be it ever so humble………………

  • avatar

    I don’t have a single Ford Econoline story to share, but a series of vignettes that cover pretty much my entire 40 years on this marble. For while I come from a GM family (though I now own several Volkswagens, go figure) the Ford Econoline has always been a part of my life.

    – Living on Cape Cod as a little kid in the 70’s, our neighbor’s oldest son and his friend owned almost matching early 60’s Econoline vans (both primer black on Cragar S/S wheels, one was a short body the other stuck out more in the rear), both of which had been done up, at least on the inside, in the stereotypical 70’s custom van fashion; shag carpet, funky shaped windows cut into the rear quarters, a platform bed and a hi-fi complete with 8-track. My crystal clear memory of this time was climbing into the back of one of the vans to be greeted by a mirror with the phrase “Disco Sucks” on it. I asked, “What is wrong with disco?”

    I was never allowed near the vans again.

    – Fast forward to the late eighties and my brief sojourn into being a line technician at a Ford dealership. Being the low man on the totem pole I usually ended up with anything warranty or van-related. Even with the long nose pulling the engine out of one of those things was brutal. Even more brutal was working on the E-350 with a 460 big block in it. Still gives me chills.

    – A good friend of mine was paralyzed in a one-car accident shortly after we graduated high school. After surgery and rehab he went to school, earned his bachelor’s degree and along the way became the owner of a mid 80’s Econoline with the side door lift and hand controls which included a lever to operate the throttle and brake along with what they call “zero effort” steering. Through some sort of alignment or power steering magic they defeated the self centering of the van’s steering, meaning if you turned the van it would keep following that arc until you either moved the wheel or hit something.

    Between the hack wiring job and the plain old abuse by the mid 90’s the van was pretty clapped out, so my friend purchased a newer Econoline with a better quality conversion, packed it up and moved to Florida, where he found a booming market for clapped out old handicap vans.

    So I’m driving the van, hand controls, zero-effort steering and all, down I-95 from Connecticut to central Florida. To add to the misery of the hand control lever constantly bouncing of my left knee were the facts that the van had 1) a non-functioning radio, 2) one poorly adjusted windshield wiper, 3) a broken fuel gauge so I would have to stop every 200 miles or so to make sure I didn’t run out of gas and 4) due to a broken spring on the hand controls, the brake lights stayed on to the point that the housings melted, which allowed rain water in, blowing the brake light bulbs. Since it rained pretty much the entire trip I replaced the bulbs every 200 miles or so when I refueled. Despite these issues the van not only made it to Lakeland, where my friend lived, but I then drove it over to Daytona to check out the Speedway and up to Ocala to visit Don Garlits Museum of Drag Racing. By the time I flew home the van had already been sold. Good riddance.

    – In my most recent position at the world’s largest racing and driving school, Econolines replaced the Sprinters when Mazda replaced Dodge as the official vehicle of the company. The instructors preferred the Econolines mainly because the roof mounted A/C units on the Sprinters would barely clear the bridge between West Bend and the Downhill at Lime Rock Park. There is nothing quite like an instructor taking a group of students around the track in one of those vans; turned sideways in the seat, working the pedals with his left foot and explaining the racing line while bouncing over the curbs at speeds most of the students won’t attain in the race cars they are about to drive.

  • avatar

    My parents bought one of these new in 1977.  They custom ordered it.  It had blue carpet, blue exterior with silver highlights (came in handy when a few years later at college I coincidently joined a frat whose colors were blue and silver) four fully swiveling captain’s chairs (driver, passenger, and my brother and I in the back two), dual gas tanks, and no power steering. The last was an error, my dad simply forgot to check that option box and Ford dutifully built it as ordered.  That van was PAIN to drive in parking lots and other low-speed environments with no power steering.  The van also had the 300 cid 6 cylinder or as I used to say, all the performance of a 6 cylinder with the mpg of an 8 cylinder (averaged 13-14 mpg in mainly highway driving).

    Lots of great memories in that van.  I took to to college and it was the party van for my frat.   Camped in it at a Grateful Dead concert, took it to minor league hockey games, etc etc.

    The dual gas tanks had some quirks.  First it was fun to pull up to a gas station, fill one tank, then switch to the other and start filling it, and watch the driver waiting behind me for the gas pump get exasperated and move to another pump.  It wasn’t as much fun to pay for the gas after pumping all that money into the tank though (total capacity was 45 gallons).

    My dad got the bright idea to buy a 1000 gallon gas tank, bury it on our property, and buy gasoline by the truckload. I doubt someone could do that today. but we were using gas we’d paid 80 cents a gallon for while everyone else was paying over $1.  Sweet.  Of course as his oldest son I got the job of filling the tanks using the hand pump, always a good workout.  We always had gas, when it was short elsewhere!

    The two tanks had an electric switch controlling which one the engine draws from.  What none of us knew was that the circuit for the electric switch was jury-rigged and piggybacked on the seat belt buzzer circuit.  While the van was in my custody I switched out the radio and in doing so I broke the radio fuse.  Oops, but no problem, who needs the seat belt buzzer so I removed that fuse and put it in the radio spot.  All was fine until the engine started coughing, indicating time for a change of tank.  Of course I flipped the tank switch and… nothing.   It took a lot more time and money than it should have to figure out what was wrong.

    Eventually my parents moved on to the those newfangled Chrysler minivans and sold that van to (of course) a painter and it was seen around town for a few years with ladders hanging off the side.  It was a workhorse.

    • 0 avatar

      Oh one other thing.  The 1977 E-150 had pop-open windows in the back doors.  The only thing they were good at was drawing the van’s exhaust into the cabin.  We quickly learned to keep those closed when in motion, and only use them for some small ventilation when camping in it.

  • avatar

    Good things don’t need an appreciation week, month, year, etc… that’s why GM’s awesome 77-89 B-Body got that awesome CC.
    There are still many old platforms in production today: Fiat 131 is still being manufactured in Etiopia, Mazda 121/Ford Festiva/Kia Pride/SAIPA Saba-Nasim Peugeot 405 and a derivative of the Hillman Hunter are still being produced in Iran. And if you look in the interwebZ there are also trucks, SUVs and other models.

  • avatar

    I learned to drive in an 83/84 Econoline “Club Wagon.” I could parallel park that thing, put into tight parking places, etc. It was a blast! We had it because we (effectively the whole family!) were in Boy Scouts and it was a helluva people mover for a bunch of Scouts and their crap.

  • avatar

    I have a ’93 E-350 Club Wagon; it seats 15. Kinda challenging to park; it’s almost 20 feet long. The oil pan gasket failed around 80K, differential bearings at 100K, the torque converter at 120K. The transmission I installed failed too, but FORD replaced that for free (including labor). It’s gone through three A/C compressors, one master cylinder, and a steering box. The paint is now peeling off. It passed CA smog recently, but I think it needs a catalyst (about $1K to replace). I just replaced the engine at 170K.

    Frankly, I’m tired of hassling with it, but my kids love it for vacations; each kid gets a bench seat to themselves. And we don’t have anything else that can tow our boat. A newer one is out of the question with our current budget.

    In the amusing anecdote department, airports ban it from the close parking lots because it’s big enough to haul a small diesel/fertilizer bomb.


  • avatar

    I have a long history with these and have driven several from the 70s through the 90s.  When I was in high school, a buddy’s dad traded his 69 Club Wagon (6, 3 speed, base base model) for a new 76 Custom Club Wagon.  Silver with blue interior.  351 V8, auto, and even air.  This was a really nice vehicle and was fabulous for travel.
    Another friend’s dad traded a 73 Dodge Royal Sportsman van (my favorite van ever) for a 78 or 79 Ford Club Wagon Chateau.  I think that this one had the 302, but with the old 3 speed auto was not too bad.
    A friend had an 84 Club Wagon XLT with the 302 and the AOD.  You all know my opinion of this drivetrain, and putting it in a 5000 pound vehicle did not make it any more pleasant.
    Finally I spent many happy years in a 94 Club Wagon Chateau with a 351 and the E4OD.  This was a great family vehicle for the 140K that I put on it.  Actually, the first 80K were less than stellar, with ball joints, tire issues and a torque converter rebuild.  But after 80K (and aftermarket ball joints with grease fittings) The Club Wagon ran like a champ right to the end when it was done in by the need for a differential rebuild at 165K during the summer of $4 gasoline.  I miss it.
    It is difficult to describe how far ahead this Ford platform was when it came out as a 1975 model.  It was light years ahead of everything else in quiet and refinement.  Although it was not as tight as the Dodge, it was smooth, quiet, and roomy.  The forward-mounted engine provided a LOT more room in the front seats.  It is amazing that it took the Chevy so long to follow suit (and Dodge never did).  This was the first van to give you a car-like driving position (as opposed to the semi-like steering wheel angle that had been common up to then).
    This is the last of the Ford Twin I Beam vehicles.  Actually, Ford ruined this one with its Nasser era decontenting around 1997.  Up to that time, the Club Wagon was a credible competitor with any minivan for amenities.  After a halfhearted promo effort around 2000-01, Ford has let the “civilian” version wither on the vine.  The E-series is still the choice among contractors, plumbers and delivery services.  Chevy seems to have taken the lead in the passenger market, but only by default.  I will miss the old E-series when it finally goes away.  At the age of 35, it is still a productive member of automotive society.

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