Now that the Ford Econoline van has finally gone the way of so many other automotive dinosaurs, we might want to give it a bit of rear-mirror recognition. There were ever only four generations of E-lines over a lifespan of some 55 years. We’ve covered gen1 here, and Jim Cavanaugh also did a full CC on the gen2 here. But that was an ugly, Midwest rust bucket, so let’s just peruse this nice, clean long-wheelbase window van, and remind ourselves of how common these were once. Because now they’re a rarity.
This generation Econoline appeared in the spring of 1968, as a 1969 model, due to a lengthy UAW strike at Ford that year. That means there are no 1968 models, of any generation. This second generation was rather revolutionary, in terms of the US van market, as it was the first to push the engine forward from between the front seats to…still between the front seats, although enough to the front so that there was now was access from the seats to the rear cargo area without climbing over the dog house.
But since Ford apparently was concerned about overall length, they made the nose very short, and the bulk of the engine was still inside the cab.
That made getting into and out of them awkward; never mind sitting in them. The next generation (1975) improved on that, by extending the nose and pushing the dog house forward some, but it was always a bit of a problem with these van; GM’s and Dodge’s too.
It’s a bit odd that Ford decided to go with such a compromised design, as Ford’s original UK Transit, the forerunner of the Transit that now has replaced the Econoline, arrived in 1965 with a distinctly longer nose, allowing the engine to sit under it without any significant intrusion into the passenger compartment. I hate to be such a Europhile, but it’s another example where the Europeans got it righter, which eventually led to their designs being adopted globally, although it took decades in the US. The new crop of Eurovans here are a big improvement, ergonomically as well as in every other way.
It’s hard to see exactly in this shot, but the passenger in these Econolines really gets short shrift. The engine is substantially offset from the centerline to the passenger side, which necessitates the passenger seat being attached further to the rear, as well as having only a minute amount of actual leg room. It’s impossible to sit normally or comfortably in the passenger seat, unlike the predecessor Econoline. Frankly, this design was highly compromised.
None of that kept the new Econoline from dominating its field. GM and Dodge were still stuck with their older designs until 1971, but then both of them took leapfrogged the Econoline with longer noses and more front seat room, although the Dodge less so than the Chevy and GMC.
These Econolines came in two wheelbases; the short one was 105.5″ long, and the long one was 123.5″. This is one of the latter, and badged “SuperVan” as a consequence.
They came in three weight-rated series: E100, E200, and E300. The first two were roughly analogous to the F100 and f150 pickups, with passenger-car sized brakes, axles and wheels. The e300 got the big full-floating rear axle and wheels from the F250. Power was supplied by the 240 CID six or the 302 CID V8.
These were of course wider and longer than their predecessors, and pretty much the same size as their successors, except for the longer noses. As such, the term “compact van”, which had been applied to the first Falcon-based Econoline, was no longer relevant. The compact van grew up, in one fell swoop, even if the nose suffered from developmental delay. That would come soon enough.
A similar short wheelbase 1971 Econoline played a pivotal role in my alter-autobiography: 1971 Econoline: What Might Have Been