This is what really turns my crank, seeing a 51 year old Dodge van still doing the work it was designed to be doing 51 years earlier. Of course, I have a rather special affinity to these Dodge A Series vans, having owned one myself. And I suppose my ProMaster van is something of a spiritual successor to this, the very first extended body Dodge van. And this is sort of an enclosed-body counterpart to my ’66 F-100, which still goes to work, although not every day like this one, whose owner was laying pavers at these new houses.
So yes, this is how I like my CCs; black with no cream but a dash of cherry.
Here’s how this van looked 51 years ago before it was painted flat black. Of course the house that it was helping to get built back then looked a bit different then the one now; guess which style I like better?
Dodge was three years late to the compact van/pickup party, after Chevrolet and Ford came out with theirs in 1961, the Corvan/Rampside and Econoline. Of course GM and Ford were just responding to the market pioneered by the VW Transporter in the ’50s.
And yes, the VW Transporter and Pickup were quite popular in mid-late 50s, which explains why the Big Three felt so threatened by it. And why the government enacted the “chicken tax”, which targeted solely the VW pickup and gave it a KO punch.
Ford’s Econoline set the format, with a pragmatic (and crude) configuration of a box with a Falcon drive train and a solid front axle. Cheap but effective. Except in snow, of course. Or heavy braking. Or over a rough road. Or…
But the Dodge wasn’t alone with a new Econoline-wanna-be compact van in 1964, as Chevrolet introduced its new Chevy-Van the same year, having seen the writing on the wall with its rear-engine Corvan. The Econoline had shown the way to build the cheapest type of compact van, and the other two quickly fell in line.
And of course when in 1966 Ford introduced its “Super-Van” extend-body Econoline by extending its rear overhang, Chevy and Dodge had to answer.
But at least they did it better than Ford, both of them extending their wheelbases by a full 18″, from a stubby 90″ to 108″. This gave the Dodge and comparable Chevy vans a full 10′ of flat floor space, making them really suitable for serious tradesman work. Especially carpet and vinyl flooring installers. With the passenger seat easily removed, a full 14′ of floor space was available for extra-long loads. or just stick them out the back and tie the doors together, the way everyone did it back then.
The Dodge came in a variety of body styles, including a Panel van with no side doors. That’s a new one for me, and I don’t think I’ve ever seen one. In addition to these, one could order other combinations of windows and doors.
What set the Dodge apart in 1967 was its optional 318 LA V8, which made it “the world’s most powerful compact van”. Chevy started offering their 283 and 307 V8s in their van, but Ford waited until its all-new second generation Econoline for V8 power.
Of course that new van, introduced in January of 1968 as a 1969 model, with its engine now in the front, redefined the American van forever, and left Dodge and Chevy looking out of date until they once again came up with their responses in 1971. Follow the leader…
Needless to say, these first generation vans all have their loyal fans. The early Econolines with the Falcon 144/170 six were of course on the wheezy side, but the later ones also had the excellent 240 six as an option. But Chrysler’s engines and transmissions were always held in high regard, and thus the Dodge has arguably the strongest following, with the Chevy the weakest. The gen1 Econoline has a cult following mostly due to its more distinctive styling and the sheer numbers built.
But you know which one I’d take…
Actually, it would be this one, a Corey Cruiser, which I found in a storage lot and posted here. Now this is really the antecedent to my van. Too many windows, though; I don’t like to be on stage when camping.
This Dodge has windows just on the back doors, but they’re of the flip-open variety. Maybe the original owner wanted some flow-through ventilation?
Oh boy, does this take me back. It’s exactly like my A100 van up there, including that “spoiler” on the passenger side, presumably added in 1967 or so to provide some semblance of crash padding. Pretty odd, but my girl friend at the time did like putting her bare feet up there.
This van does have the 318 V8 and three speed manual, so it’s one of “the world’s most powerful vans”, although given how balky that shifter was in my van, the LoadFlite (Torqueflite) automatic was quite likely the faster combination.
My truck had been a plumber’s truck, and its 225 slant six was genuinely tired, contrary to the myth of them lasting forever. As in, it burned oil, and lots of it, which meant that its plugs fouled from time to time, especially under engine braking coming down grades, so I got mighty good at ripping off that engine cover to clean or replace them. I finally bought some of those plug extenders, which claimed to prevent pug fouling. They really did work.
But my tired old engine soldiered on for several more hard years of use, including lots of off-road excursions in the Anza Borrego desert and in and around Death Valley. I remember trying to drive up a crazy steep rugged and rocky jeep trail up to a crest near Death Valley late at night to see the stars better. The poor old six was working its heart out, but it just couldn’t make it all the way, as the rocks turned into boulders. I had no choice but to back all the way down, as it was way too steep and rough to turn around. My rear brakes were well adjusted after that half-mile descent in the blackness of night on the barely-existent tracks. Fortunately, my night-time vision was better than my judgment. At least back then.
But the van survived, as did my back from having both my brother and girl friend on my shoulders. We were Ram tough.
When I first poked my head in to this van (with the owner’s permission), I was greeted by this little…thing. It reminded my of a camping trip to Mt. Palomar and the Anza Borrego we made in the Dodge with Stephanie, her mom, her brother and Bambi, the family chihuahua. It got cold, and all of us slept in the back of the van; Stephanie and I on the transverse bed in the back, and the others on the floor. Cozy. A longer A108 would have been a bit more commodious.
The owner of this van, a youngish guy, bought it recently from an old timer who had been storing it for quite a few years. It didn’t take much to get the old Dodge running again and putting it back to work.
Where it belongs.