By on July 17, 2020

The Rare Rides series has featured around 10 special edition cars in past, depending on how generous you are with the term.

And while every special edition presented here thus far was designed to add some padding to a manufacturer’s bottom line, today’s special edition McDonald’s van had a much more benevolent purpose.

First, some Econoline history. Ford started its Econoline van series in 1961, when it debuted an all-new forward-control unibody van. The engine’s initial location between the front seats lasted only through 1967, as the second generation for 1968 utilized a front-engined layout that was more acceptable to American consumers. Econoline’s second generation was rather short-lived, as well, lasting only through 1974.

The Econoline was entirely redesigned for 1975, moving from a unibody construction to the body-on-frame VN platform. Ford was the first American manufacturer to implement a body-on-frame design in a full-size van. With this third generation, Ford found its footing for van design. The van proved very popular among a broad consumer base and remained in production through 1991. The fourth generation debuted for the ’92 model year, and still uses a version of the VN platform today.

Between 1975 and 1991, Econoline was available in two different wheelbase lengths: 124 inches, and 138 inches as a standard van. The 138-inch wheelbase was also used for the Super Van, which added 20 extra inches to the standard’s 206.8-inch length. Throughout its run, the third generation used manual transmissions of three-, four-, and five-speeds, and automatics with forward gears numbering three and four. Engines started at the 3.9-liter inline-six and ranged up to the 7.5-liter (460) V8. There were also two Navistar diesels on offer, in 6.9- and 7.3-liter displacements.

In the Eighties, Ronald McDonald House Charities selected selected Ford’s Econoline as their patient transportation of choice. Converted by Sands (which may now be this Chevrolet conversion dealer), the McDonald’s vans received a special tape stripe scheme which matched among vans of different paint colors. Running boards were color matched and integrated into the fenders in a nicer way than other Econoline conversions of the period. Exterior looks were completed with a McDonald’s logo on either front door, and some upscale lace alloys. Inside this particular van, there’s a luxurious monochromatic velour interior, as well as many embroidery spots bearing the McD’s logo.

Since 1974, the mission of the RMHC as an independent nonprofit has been to keep families with seriously ill children together during the child’s treatment. The organization provides financial assistance, housing, transportation, and other basic medical care needs in vulnerable communities. Today the charity has expanded to 65 different countries, has 375 Ronald McDonald Houses, and over 536,000 global volunteers.

At the time the Econoline vans were outfitted for different purposes. While some like this one were for shorter trips, others were fitted with accessories like beds and wheelchair lifts. Used around the country, they brought patients and their families to the charities’ locations comfortably, and ensured the whole family could travel together. These vans did important work.

Today’s retired McDonald’s van is located in Arizona. In slightly faded condition and with 68,000 miles, it’s presently listed without a price.

[Images: seller]

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33 Comments on “Rare Rides: A McDonald’s Edition 1986 Ford E-150 Econoline Conversion...”


  • avatar
    Imagefont

    I have dreamed of having an old van just like this to convert into a rudimentary camper. Raised platform for a bed, storage underneath, A/C and heat and a 120V plug for a camp site with power.

    • 0 avatar
      Kenn

      I loved owning a short wheelbase ’76 Chevy Van outfitted like that for 10 years. The worst thing about it (besides fuel economy) was the pitifully-weak unibody construction, yielding a symphony of squeaks and rattles from day-1, and a sliding door that would nearly refuse to open or close when parked on an uneven surface. But I still miss it for traveling and camping.

  • avatar
    Lou_BC

    Having the MacDonald’s name on the van might make it more rare but these sorts of vans were far from rare. They were quite common with trim packages like this.

    • 0 avatar
      Scoutdude

      Yup there were dozens of companies cranking these things out all over the country. There was one dealer not too far from me that exclusively dealt in conversion vans, and they sold them from all makes. They probably kept 50-60 new ones in stock.

      A local Chevy dealer had a dedicated lot, across the street from the new car operation that normally had something like 30 or so in stock. It lasted until sometime in the 90’s when they moved.

  • avatar
    dukeisduke

    Is there a McDonalds museum? Do they have one of these? Do they want one?

  • avatar
    Lie2me

    Looking at that picture of the back seat I suddenly got a whiff of stale french fries :(

  • avatar
    Scoutdude

    I’m not sure how 20 years qualifies as “followed suit soon thereafter.” Since 1996 is the first time GM offered a van with BOF construction. Meanwhile the Pentastar has never offered a BOF van.

    The model introduced in 1975 is on the Nantucket Platform. It wasn’t until after the introduction of the VN1 Aerostar Platform that they started referring to it as the VN.

    The Chassis for 1992 is only a version of the 1991 if you count using the same radius arm brackets. Yes it was supposed to just be a new body on the old frame but by the time they were done, only those two brackets remained unchanged and fully interchangeable between the two. Ok so the U-joints and rear brake shoes on 250/350 were also carried over, but those are industry standard items.

    The 240 was discontinued after 1974 making the 300 the base model engine for 1975 until the 4.2 V-6 replaced it.

    • 0 avatar

      I really should swap the article format of Rare Rides to be more like another website.

      “From the photos we can see that the van is black. The owner says it is a Ford van, and it appears to be one. There are seats in the back which are cloth and not leather. It has a steering wheel.”

      • 0 avatar
        Scoutdude

        Or not use Wikipedia…

      • 0 avatar
        Arthur Dailey

        Well the title is ‘The Truth About Cars’ and @Scoutdude did post ‘the truth’. -;) But seriously and exchange about information regarding vehicles is what brought/brings many of us to this site. You found and wrote about this vehicle. Now it is up to the B&B to provide additional insight (and draw clicks).

        @Kenn, your 76 GM van may have been assembled by a bunch of my old classmates/friends at the GM Scarborough Plant.

  • avatar
    Arthur Dailey

    I still have a soft spot for conversion (disco) vans, although they are generally terrible to drive in deep snow/ice.

    We operated dozens of passenger vans throughout the 80’s and 90’s and discovered to our surprise that the Fords generally were more durable, and reliable than our GM and Chrysler vans.

    The owner of this vehicle should contact George Cohon, President (Emeritus) of McDonalds Canada who was the initial champion and brains behind the creation of the Ronald McDonald House (Canada) program, a great champion of charities, and the owner of an Amphicar.

    • 0 avatar

      Wow that guy’s gotta be getting up there in age.

      • 0 avatar
        Arthur Dailey

        George is 83. He was responsible for bringing McDonalds to the Soviet Union. And for the introduction of the McPizza which was a hit in Canada.

        And in 2004 (2004!!!!!!) he was involved in a suit against one of Toronto’s most prestigious golf courses for anti-Semitic conduct.

        Country Club Penalized
        https://forward.com/news/4937/newsdesk-july-2-2004/

        A former manager of a Toronto golf club was awarded $370,000 by an Ontario judge as compensation for being fired after he tried to change the club’s no-Jews policy. Michael Geluch, the former general manager of Toronto’s Rosedale Golf Club, was dismissed in 1997. Geluch charged that board members had tried to prevent Toronto Jewish businessman George Cohon from joining the club on the grounds that his admittance would be tantamount to “opening the floodgates to Jewish members.” The 111-year-old club has since admitted Cohon, who is chairman of McDonald’s Canada.

  • avatar
    FreedMike

    I think we need a new column exclusively for old conversion vans. Call it “Velour Venom”.

    (Tips hat to Sajeev.)

    • 0 avatar

      They’re too common and we shouldn’t feature any conversion vans!

      Remember this camper conversion?
      https://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2019/07/rare-rides-an-all-wheel-drive-chevrolet-astro-rv-from-1991/

  • avatar
    monkeydelmagico

    The family wagon was a Waldoch conversion of an 80’s ford econoline. It was the absolute greatest way to go cross country with a family of 5. The big bucket seats…..the fold down couch…..the super plush ride…..all the kiddies had their own space…..HUGE side panel one way glass windows. That thing was the cat’s meow.

    This McDonalds version is a drab ugly sort of thing comparatively. Not really a good example of the breed.

  • avatar
    ToolGuy

    Does “Econoline” refer to the amazingly thrifty fuel economy?

  • avatar
    Art Vandelay

    If this vans rockin’, don’t bother knockin’

  • avatar
    pveezy

    I wonder what sort of offences have been committed on that fold out bed over the years…

  • avatar
    DenverMike

    Van conversions mostly missed the whole disco/surfer/hippy/custom van movement. Most came on by ’82 with a couple innovators around ’78. Some companies folded or did mini truck stretch-cabs, McFly lifts/nerfs/tube bars, and full custom (for their day, pre King Ranch), fullsize pickups by upfitters clearly with nothing better to do by the late ’80s to late ’90s .

  • avatar
    -Nate

    Pretty cool and obscure .

    We had a late 1980’s (?) Econoline crew van with a 460, boy howdy did that thing get up and _GO_ ! .

    -Nate

    • 0 avatar
      Lou_BC

      @Nate:
      In the 80’s working as a paramedic we went from a fleet of Tradesman vans to a mix of Ford E series with 460’s. A lot of the guys were complaining that the E Series had crappy brakes but what was happening was that the crews were hitting much higher speeds than accustomed. I noticed it right away. You could easily be 20 km/hr faster on acceleration or passing traffic.

      • 0 avatar
        -Nate

        Now imagine it sans all the EMT equipments weight slowing it down….

        I was driving my boss some where and he commented I was driving too slowly, I should see what it’ll do .

        So, I floored it as we approached a freeway on ramp and flew up it and past all the other traffic easily .

        He got *very* quiet, I don’t think he realized I like speed and know how to drive quickly .

        Glad I wasn’t footing the fuel bill on that beast .

        -Nate

        • 0 avatar
          Lou_BC

          @Nate – LOL. They were thirsty beasts. I liked the diesels best since you could rely on engine braking. If you were a smooth driver and thought ahead you could get away with rarely ever touching the brakes. It made for a much smoother ride.

          • 0 avatar
            DenverMike

            I drove a 460 V8 EFI, 15 passenger shuttle van, but with both fillers on the same side, I’d fill them at the same time with the 2nd nossle from the other side of the pump. Yeah and obviously glad I wasn’t paying the bill.

            It made an unmistakably sucking sound at full throttle acceleration, like it was trying to breath though a straw. The 460 pickups did to too, but it was a restrictor plate, clearly a last minute mod for emissions reasons? EPA? CARB? It severely embarrassed the 6.9/7.3 diesels without it?

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