CC Capsule: 1981 Ford Club Wagon XL – The Mystery Machine

“Oooh, a Ford van, how exciting!” Said very, very few people, if anyone, ever. Well, it’s all about context, isn’t it? In its native land, this old Club Wagon would probably not warrant much of a second look, aside from its very decent condition. And over here, on the Kanto Plane of existence, it would also be pretty hard to notice, given the local affection for Chevy 20s and Dodge Rams of a similar shape and model year.

But that’s just it: this is a Ford, which makes this a genuine rarity here. I’ve written it before, but it bears repeating: Japan is the only market that Ford really failed to crack. And it wasn’t that they did not try: they were assembling Fords in Yokohama back in 1930 – way before any other foreign carmaker. In the ‘60s, they tried selling British and German Fords, with little to show for it. They almost took over Mazda in the ‘90s, which definitely put Ford on the local map, but it fizzled out eventually.

That goes for the 3rd gen (1975-91) Econoline / E-Series vans. American vans have a very dedicated (if somewhat puzzling) following here: it’s almost impossible not to encounter Astros and G20 Chevys, as well as 2nd gen Rams, on a daily basis. Ford vans, which to my untrained eye seem quite similar to the other two in every way, are extremely rare by contrast. I think I’ve seen a grand total of three of this 3rd generation here in five years, but multiple dozens of the other two.

The Big Three vans of the ‘70s/‘80s were pretty much identical in every respect – big V8-powered RWD machines, about as close to an elongated cube as possible, with a semi cab-over design and many trim options, from the most basic of Plane Janes to an all-mod-con living room on wheels. One thing that did set the Ford apart was its body-on-frame construction. Was this seen as a significant feature?

So if all vans were created equal, massively favouring GM and Chrysler over Ford has to be down to other factors than the vehicles’ intrinsic qualities. I’m guessing Ford never bothered to offer these on the Japanese market, while Chrysler and GM offered theirs, but I have no hard proof (in the form of a bunch of Japanese market brochures from all three carmakers from circa 1975 through to 1990) to back this up.

Or perhaps Ford did offer these and very few Japanese punters bought them. In which case, one has to wonder why Sure, it’s completely unsuited to local streets and very thirsty, but clearly some people here do not mind that at all. Riddle me this enigma, CCompadres.


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Curbside Classic: 1989 Ford Club Wagon – In Life, Hope Springs Eternal, by Jason Shafer

CC Outtake: Ford Econoline Tow Rig, by David Saunders

CC Outtake: 1976 Ford Club Wagon 4×4 High-Roof – Ready For Anything, by PN

COAL: 1988 Ford Diesel Van – A Killer Van Or Big Ugly Number Two, by JunkHarvester

COAL: 1986 Ford Van- The Big Ugly, by JunkHarvester