Cohort Pic(k) of the Day: How The Ford Econoline Van Was Influenced And Ultimately Replaced By The European Transit Van

The other day we looked at the similar-looking Bedford and GM NA vans, and pointed out the Bedford came along two years before the American version, which it undoubtedly influenced stylistically. Thanks to this shot of a fine survivor gen2 Econoline (by Mike Hayes), let’s take a look at the situation with Ford vans on both sides of the big pond. It was quite similar to GM, where the European Mark1 Transit came out a couple of years before this generation of Econoline, and its influence can be seen here.

The Mk1 Transit arrived in 1965, and was a very important vehicle in a number of ways. It was Ford’s first pan-European vehicle, replacing the German Ford Taunus Transit and the British Ford Thames 400 vans, both of which were obsolete, narrow little vans with their engines between the front seats like the gen1 Econoline, which was also quickly becoming obsolete.

The Transit Mk1 being the first pan-European project was of course just a preview of the consolidation that would happen, since Ford of Europe was not created until 1967, two years after the Transit arrived. But it was very much a harbinger of things to come.

Not surprisingly, the UK and continental versions had engines from their respective home countries; either the Cologne V4s or the Essex V4s, in displacements from 1.3 to 2.0 L. Using these very short V4s allowed the hood to be short, and minimized intrusion into the cockpit.

Actually, it didn’t intrude at all; it was completely ahead of the firewall, which allowed three-across seating on a bench seat (buckets shown here).

This is vastly different from the American version, which had a massive dog house that intruded very significantly and obnoxiously. It was also offset to the right some, meaning that the passenger had almost no leg room. It was actually quite primitive in that regard, and helps explain why this second generation of Econoline did not last very long (1969-1974), and was replaced by the much-improved 1975 version, with its longer nose and less intrusive dog house.

In 1971, the Transit got a different grille, which actually makes it look quite related to the Taunus 12M. Or a Chevy Vega. Well, this look had rather become generic.

Since a diesel version was desirable, the Transit’s nose had to be significantly elongated to fit the Perkins 1.8 L inline four, which was later replaced by a Ford 2.5 L diesel. That also made room for the big Essex gas 3.0L V6, which then became the favorite of the Metropolitan Police as well as certain underworld users who needed a quick but roomy get-away vehicle. And in Australia, the 3.3 L Falcon six was even shoehorned in, perhaps with a bit of firewall bashing.

The Transit deserves a full write up one of these days, but here’s the face-lifted version that arrived in 1977 and carried it all the way to 1986. It was the beginning of an extremely important and profitable van franchise for Ford, which has become only more important to Ford than ever.

And Ford did well in the US, with its generations of Econolines, which has of course been replaced by the European-style Transit van. So the European Transit not only showed the way with engine-in-front configuration, but in the end replaced the more conservative Econoline all together.

Ultimately, that’s not surprising, since vans historically paid a bigger role in Europe than in the US, since there was no role for pickups to play in the mix of commercial vehicles. It’s always been all vans, and therefore the competition was greater, which drove more innovation. The European van market is now extremely diverse, with some 3-4 general classes/size ranges, and a number of variants in each of those classes.

As a result, there’s significantly more variations to the Transit in Europe than in the US.