Coronastroll: 1969(?) Ford Econoline minihome, 1968 Mercury Colony Park, 1966 Dodge Dart Wagon and 1963 Dodge Dart Sedan

I went for another Coronastroll in Berkeley a week or so ago in which I wandered through a neighborhood rich in Curbside Classics.  First up is this Ford Econoline Van Conversion.  Ford offered this option from the factory from approximately 1969-1972, though similar units were also offered by independent conversion outfits.   In most of the brochures it was called the “minihome”, with e.e. cummings-style lowercase.

There is an extensive review of the new 1969 minihome in the June 1969 edition of Popular Mechanics (beginning of page 116), where it is called the “MiniHome”.  The body was modified by Motor Homes Inc. of Lorain, Ohio, and was offered through Ford Dealers with a base price of $4800.  The editors had a good time touring Big Bend National Park in Texas and environs, taking advantage of the standard refrigerator, Coleman stove, and sleeping arrangements, though they dared not experiment with the portable outdoor shower.  They did manage to leave a bunch of things on one evening and ran the battery down overnight, but otherwise the trip sounded glorious, something I think a lot of us would like to do once the Coronatime is over.  They averaged 11.1 mpg on their trip, with a best showing of 14.6 and a worst of 9.5 mpg – not too bad even now.

This looks to me to be a 1969 Ford Econoline, but the identifying marks are few between 1969 and 1970.  This may not exactly be a minihome, either, as the brochure images all suggest the body color was repeated partially on the fiberglass, and the fiberglass seems a bit more rounded than those in the photos.  On the other hand, given the condition of this vehicle, it may simply be that the fiberglass has been repainted white and/or smoothed over as part of the ongoing restoration process evidently underway, and the rounded corners of this example may be more of an optical illusion than anything else.

As mentioned, “the minihome” was available directly from the factory in 1969, through a special program.

Seems like a pretty sweet setup even now.

In 1970, it appears that Ford expanded the program (or perhaps lost faith in Motor Homes Incorporated) to offer conversions from number of different outfits.

The minihome remained within this portfolio of options.

In order to compete with the other offerings, it looks like Motor Home, Inc. began to offer a number of different floor plans.  Note that between 1969 and 1970 Motor Homes, Inc. became Motor Home, Inc.  Somewhere along the way they must have lost the “s”.

For 1971 and 1972 the camper conversion was listed as an option in the catalog (noting that this is a Canadian brochure, the only one I could find), though probably again through various manufacturers.

By 1973 the catalog is back to just offering unspecified camper conversions arranged through the factory.

Moving on from the minihome, I admit to cheating a little bit, as this Mercury Colony Park wagon actually came from a Coronastroll in a slightly different neighborhood a few days before.  It seems to fit in nicely right after the minihome, both reverse-chronologically, and as a different interpretation of “luxury people mover” from the same era and manufacturer.

As kids we had a Ford wagon once, and numerous Chryslers.  I remember we always asked to have the rear window rolled down, but usually ended up asking that it be rolled back up because the exhaust would circulate back in there.

Seems like pretty luxurious digs for a third seat.

This wagon has all the nice features of the highest-trim Mercury Wagon.  A pretty nice ride, and a tad bit more luxurious and exclusive, I think, than the equivalent Ford.

I think of all the late 1960’s Mercury Wagons, the 1968’s have to be best looking.

From the grille design, this is a 1968 Mercury Colony Park.

In the brochures the Colony Park is featured with full woodgrain, the lack of such a feature on this model must have reflected a delete option.  Myself, I think I’d rather have the minihome.

Returning to our stroll, just a few blocks away from the minihome we came across this 1963 Dodge Dart, in fine “I’ve owned this a long time and I’m proud of it, and no I’m not going to paint it” shape.

That’s an original black license plate, registered and ready to roll!

There’s some paper towels in the back seat!  I’m afraid for this owner, he or she doesn’t realize how desperate people have become in the Coronatime.

The front seat and dashboard are sensible and spartan, just as I imagine the owner to be.

The front end was so close to the garage door I found it impossible to get a picture of the grille.

It’s in pretty good shape!

It’s definitely a 1963.

Given the spartan trim on this example, I believe this to be a 170 series.  I have never ridden in a pre-1967 Dart, though the later ones were favorites of various members of my Father’s family, though we never had one ourselves.  So I may have ridden in one of the latter ones, I definitely saw a lot of them in our driveway.

The last car on our stroll is the not quite the oldest, it’s actually 3 years or so newer than the 1963 we just examined.  It has probably also led the hardest life, however.  Still, it’s the only one that is actually curbside, and hence almost certainly running around town to this day.

It’s a 1966 Dodge Dart wagon, somewhat worse for wear, but still plugging along.

The interior is a little less ragged than the exterior.  Not a luxury ride by any means, however, not in 1966 and not now.  I think I’d rather have a 1966 Plymouth Valiant, myself.

It’s interesting how the use of script emblems declined in the 1960’s.  I remember the later Dodge Dart “Swinger” was one of the few non-luxury-cars to have a script emblem in the 1970’s.

As many people have noted, Chrysler seems to have lost their way stylistically in the early to mid-1960’s, which was really only rectified in my mind in the Darts with the slab-sided 1967’s.  I don’t really find any of the Darts before 1967 that appealing, though the 1963 version has a little bit more stylistic cohesion, in my mind.

I tend to like the earlier Dart noses with the round headlamps.  The front end on these looks like it’s trying on a buttoned-down look, forgetting that it still has that blow-dried extravaganza going on in back.  Reminds me of all those 1970’s and 1980’s yearbook pictures of the young kid wearing an ill-fitting suit and tie, sporting a mullet.

I hope you’ve enjoyed my little Coronastroll – which of these vehicles is most intriguing to you?  Given the “stay-at-home” order many of us are still operating under, I think I would choose the minihome – then I could stay-at-home while on-the-road, the best of both worlds.  Though, like the editors of Popular Mechanics, I don’t think I would be too enthusiastic about using the shower.

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