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.
Auto-Biography: 1968 Dodge A100 Van – The Dream-mobile PN
CC 1961-1967 Ford Econoline: The Leader of the Pack PN
Interesting article, I to like to see old vehicles still doing what they were designed to do, A vehicle where you can just fling things in the back and not worry about a scratch is very liberating and I can understand the appeal of old pickups and vans in the US or Utes in Oz
It takes so many natural resources to build a vehicle in the first place that its a criminal waste if they have short lifespans.
From the van perspective, Ford had the European Transit in 1965, it is so successful that the generic name for a van in the UK is a Transit . It is a very well designed light cargo vehicle, why did they not market that in the US? the only thing I can think of was the lack of large engines and auto transmission
And the Transit effectively copied the layout of the Bedford CA that, up to the Transit’s introduction, was the best-selling van in the UK. Up to then all the others (BMC, Commer, Ford and Standard) went for the same ‘seats over the front axle’ arrangement; maximising load length but hardly a good driving experience nor good for easy maintenance.
No doubt in 1965 the new Ford Econoline (which has the seats set back from the front axle anyway – obviously some similar thinking going on) was well down the development line and the Transit was both unproven and, in those days, too small anyway. It wasn’t until the 1986 ‘Fastfront’ version that really large Transits appeared. The next generation (2000 on) after that was developed, made and sold in the US as well.
The most powerful early Transits would have been those fitted with the 3 litre V6 (128hp, 173 lb/ft), mainly for Ambulance work. They used the same ‘pig snout’ nose the diesel versions used.
I also expect the ’68 Econoline was designed to use as many F-Series truck mechanical parts as possible. They didn’t make it BOF, but they did in 1975.
Transit vans were fitted with Falcon six motors in Australia and New Zealand as well as the shaky V4, Auto or manual but the not invented here syndrome would have kept them out of the US no matter what they were powered by.
While in the Navy, I drove a very tired 10 year old 1st generation Econoline and a reasonably new 2nd generation Dodge van. I preferred the Dodge in every way, but that was a mushy/overly ripe banana to apple comparison so the Dodge had to win. Yet, even the 1st generation Dodge would seem to best the equivalent Ford.
Interesting model name in the advertisement: Vision Van. On the subject of windows, the hardware on the rear windows of that black van looks near new. My first thought was that the factory fixed rear windows were modified to flip open, but then that isn’t really a simple modification.
I did find one of the windowed Dodge vans for sale on a nearby Craigslist last week. Considering the prices asked for vintage VW vans I guess I should not be surprised that the mechanically superior Dodge had a near 5 figure asking price.
Ok that little dog is a goofy, adorable little thing. And I love taking a trip down memory lane with you, Paul.
A simple, crude van is hardly my cup of tea but I love the styling on these, more so than the Ford and Chevy vans. I also love the look of that house in the brochure photo…
Although I have many hours and miles in later generations of all 3 US vans, these early ones and I have no history at all. I don’t think I ever knew about the one with a full complement of windows on the passenger side only. Or maybe I just never noticed.
I once defended a case involving one of these. The passenger in the Dodge went through that half of the windshield and landed on the hood of the car they hit. He was a little banged up but quite lucky that it wasn’t a lot worse. Wear your sear belts, kids.
I was wondering how much safety played in the eventual switch from mid-to-front engines on these. It can’t have been all that serious since Dodge and Chevy didn’t make the switch until after Ford had already done it nearly a decade after they had come out. Not to mention that VW wouldn’t make the change until many years later with the FWD Eurovan in 1990. Of course, the US wasn’t nearly as litigious as it is today, either.
Then, too, those mid-engine vans had a serious interior heat problem. Even in the winter, the interior would heat up, especially in those small driver and passenger seats nearest the engine cover. I guess there was padding on the inside of the cover, but it still got plenty toasty in there. And if the padding wore out or was removed, well… I can’t imagine how bad it got during the summer. Was A/C even an option on these back in the sixties? That would have been an interesting installation.
Finally, there was the heavy front end weight bias of these. On a previous CC of the Econoline, there was a GM propaganda video promoting the new Corvair-based Rampside that featured a test of the Econoline pickup dramatically raising its hind end during a panic stop. Of course, it wasn’t really quite that bad as the test was rigged with additional front end weight, as well as a passenger literally schmucked up against the windshield.
Still, it would have been amusing to intentionally lift the rear wheels in traffic during a controlled braking, just to see the shocked looks on other motorists’ faces as they got to see the complete undercarriage of the vehicle immediately in front of them.
New England Telephone Co service vans all had passenger side and door glass only, from the A series Dodge to the B series and the second gen Chevys as well, on into the 1980’s
Ford called their vans with a full complement of windows on the passenger side and none on the driver’s side a Display van and they ran into the 80’s at least. They were popular with the phone companies around here. Having owned vans with no windows in the pass side, window(s) in the pass side door(s) and full window vans. I can say I’d be happy if they still offered a Display van. I like the solid driver’s side but appreciate the added visibility of a window in the RR side.
Here is a 62 Econoline Display Van. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Ru_9nh0IDgU
I like using old tools like this, and love the story. One day I might need to find a serviceable one for camping.
Keep an eye out for a pop top Camper Van. They are rare but it sounds like it might be just what you are looking for.
Such memories this brings. I’ve owned three vans, in order, a ’66 A-100 (273,Loadflite), ’74 E-100(302,C4), and ’72 VW(1700 2carb,4 speed). The Dodge was the most crude and trouble free by a longshot, also the fastest. Sorry, no photographic evidence of the adventures taken in the Dodge, mostly north of Santa Barbara and near Big Bear. Learning to drive that thing in snow was interesting.
My dad bought a ’69 Sportsman on the 108″ wheelbase and had the 318/Loadflite. It took everyone on desert adventures. Two small dirt bikes would fit inside. My brother got this one as his first car.
GM and Dodge decided that the big curved windshield on the Econoline was an unnecessary expense. I always thought the Econolne styling was best.
They definitely don’t build houses like that around my neck of the woods. I think they look pretty great. Definitely better than the massive McMansions that seem to spring up regularly around here. Any idea on the layout and square footage of those houses?
Houses like the ones pictured in the first few photos are being built in my area of Jacksonville,Fl. In some cases it looks like one large lot gave up it’s old house so that 2 or in some cases 3 of these houses could be built. Though every now and then a vacant lot gets a new house built on it that looks kind of old so it better fits in with all the “historical” homes in my neighborhood.
As far as the house from the brochure pictured, there are a few in the area, but there are more often Spanish style homes.
These are typical spec tract houses, usually built in new developments at the edge of town. This location, maybe a half mile from my houses, is a former empty lot that wraps around a parking lot of a big church. There were a couple of little crappy houses on it that were removed some years back. This builder is building about a dozen or so on the lots now.
If you’re interested in the details, Google “1410 Polk Street Eugene” and “1422 Polk Street Eugene” and you’ll find all the details and pictures on Zillow or Redfin. One of these two has 1800 square feet and sold instantly for $479k, the other has 2200 sq,ft. and is going for $539k or something like that. Our market is red hot, and these are very basic contractor-quality houses. The kitchens are rather pathetic, in my opinion. As is the rest of it. But that’s the sweet spot of the market, in terms of profitability. And no, those aren’t real wood floors! Vinyl plank, I’m quite sure.
Wow, those are expensive houses! I like the layout, but whatever wood they’re using for the counters and bathroom fixtures is downright ugly. And I’m not a fan of open rooms. I’d rather have a wall between that kitchen and the living room. Those houses also look pretty damn small for 1800 square feet. I think the rooms must be big or something.
Multiply those prices by two in my neighborhood. At least. And I’m not in the most expensive zip code in the greater SF Bay Area, by far.
Multiply by four here. This is an expensive zip code in the LA area, but not the most. At least our beach town lots are relatively large, 6000-8000 sq ft. North of us are Hermosa and Manhattan Beaches, tiny lots and $1000+ per sq ft of house.
Not all the old houses are gone. The house I grew up in is still there. Lots of older folks like myself have not moved out of town yet. So, lots of CC’s can still be found among the Teslas and Land Rovers.
That’s “Luxury” Vinyl Plank. I personally don’t understand the current popularity of it, though I’m certain a good portion is due to a smart marketer that put that Luxury tag on it. I get it from the stand point of it is an easier way to do a vinyl floor for the average DIY’er but putting it in new houses I don’t understand.
The thing that catches my eye as something I’ve never seen before is the combination of the metal roof on some sections combined with standard comp shingles. Interesting selling feature, some of your roof won’t have to be replaced for 50 or more years but the bulk of it will need to be replaced sooner.
I am curious as to why you think the kitchens are pathetic. They have the features buyers in my market say they want.
I love vinyl plank flooring, for my rentals. Tough and waterproof, unlike laminate, which I will never use again. I bought some recently for $1.50 sq.ft., which is reasonable.
“Pathetic” from the lack of zero imagination or creativity. Sure, it’s what the spec market buys. It’s the Nissan Rogue of kitchens. Sometime I should show you the kitchen I did for our house. Not showy or pretentious, but a lot more interesting and colorful.
I’ve never built for the spec market and never will. Way too boring.
At least they didn’t use dark granite countertops. That’s one kitchen design trend I absolutely hate, yet it’s something most home buyers seem to want. So every house-flipper in California obliges by installing them in every house the renovate. Even in mid-century houses where IMO they absolutely don’t belong.
And they appear to have reasonably decent sized yards, at least compared to the newer houses around here. In my town the newer subdivisions are mostly mcmansions built as close together as possible. And not just side to side, the backyards in these houses are literally not much bigger than the patio. You can barely even call them “yards”.
The yards are that size because these are actually old lots and they back up to the existing parking lot. If this was a greenfield development, they’d be closer to the minimum 4500 sq.ft.
That’s a shame the cost there for such a house. Of course where I live it is a bigger shame. However, with a red hot market you do get spec builders and they always seem to price the house high for the de-contenting you end up getting. Nonetheless those desperate for a house, any house, will just fork the money over.
Here, with our market super red hot one has spec builders sometimes using nefarious means to acquire property. An elderly woman, I know, who had an older home on a very large lot was offered money to sell her house. She declined the offer. Her little side street was shared with the house across from it that did sell out. The contractor then parked his equipment in the street preventing her from leaving her house. Heck, I would have sabotaged his equipment but she caved and sold out. The lot now holds four houses.
I was recently in South Dakota and western Nebraska, and was amazed at the number of older trucks I saw still in use – and hard use at that. Absolutely no old vans, though.
Great write-up here on a vehicle I knew very little about.
I wonder sometimes if the main reason owners keep their old business trucks is A) the owner just likes the vehicle — B) new trucks cost an arm and a leg due in part to the fact they have so many goodies that were once the domain of cars –or– C) a combination of both?
Or . . . D) A reason I’ve not thought of as I’ve never owned a truck and cannot attest to the motivation that drives one to keep them for the long haul (pun intended). ‘A’ through ‘C’ above are just my un-scientific thoughts. → I figured an aging truck used for work would have an owner with a different mindset than an owner of an old passenger car like I am. Of course, I could also be full of hot air.
He should rebuild those seats. You can do it your self, but I’d suggest having a upholstery shop do it. It will make the van ride so much smooter and comfortable. Better than new shocks and tires combined.
You briefly discussed the Panel Van. I’ve never seen one, either, and I wonder why anyone would want a van without any side doors at all. Maybe it was $100 cheaper?
I know at least one diesel mechanic that ran a van with no side doors. The lack of doors basically doubled the shelf space in the truck. It’s easier to bring the mechanic to the bulldozer than to bring the bulldozer to the mechanic.
When I was a kid I helped Dad on his milk delivery run. The dairy had an A108 with three sets of cargo doors.
It was the first standard transmission I ever drove. The mighty leaning tower of power 6 and 3 on the tree.
When it was replaced in later years with a 70’s GMC van it was really annoying on the runs because we had gotten so used to having doors on all sides.
I often wondered why that idea went away and didn’t come back until the minivan era.
Paul, if your ProMaster is a spiritual successor of the A100, I think there was a spiritual union somewhere along the way with a Fiat Giardiniera or Multipla. I occasionally see trucks of this vintage, or even older, working for a living around here, but rarely vans. One local painter has a ‘50’s panel truck that I see on the job frequently. I think the vans are too highly sought out by surfers willing to pay big bucks.
The van owner must be very confident that his old rig won’t drip oil all over that new driveway!
My father, who in those days seemed to have a strong preference for fully depreciated vehicles, acquired a 1963 Ford van, already on its last legs in the late 1970s. It had an oily, clattery 6 cylinder engine, a three speed column shift transmission, and I remember the view from the passengers seat was great, albeit a bit scary when Mom drove. Dad worked some magic on the tired engine, gave it a spray-can paint job, and put paneling and seats in the back for the four of us kids. It served as a daily driver and also as a weekend get-away vehicle.
The lack of windows made it unpleasant to ride in the back for long distances, but I liked the heated center front seat in the winter. Though I was not yet of driving age I recall that Dad, who was a professional mechanic, had to give it a lot of attention to keep it on the road, the engine seemed underpowered, and that the front end, even for vehicles of that day, seemed very loose.
I recall that Mom at one point drove it off the road, up and over a curb, and that Dad retrieved it, patched it up and sold it. If not for Mom’s crash, that thing might have been my first vehicle. Seeing the Dodge in this article and the earlier one on the Fords brings up feelings of nostalgia that I am certain would be cured by a brief test drive.