Curbside Classic: 1971-ish Ford Econoline 200 – Keep On Keeping On

Earlier this spring, my daughter rekindled her relationship with Miss Carol, her dance teacher from when we lived in Hannibal.  Miss Carol’s dance school seems to be as well known locally as is Mark Twain, another Hannibal resident of notoriety.  Our first trip back there this spring served up a solid reason toward Miss Carol’s school being as close to an institution (in a good sense) as anything in the area – Carol had a banner on the wall of her studio congratulating her on the sixty-fifth anniversary of opening her school.

That’s no typo; and, that banner was several years old.  Carol is currently entering her sixty-ninth year in business.

It is likely safe to speculate Carol is not a van person.  When we met with her again about ten days ago, she was driving a Lincoln Town Car.  Yet upon finding this Ford van of indeterminate model year the following day, it became difficult to not see some similarities.

Perhaps the most obvious are revealed from the scratches all over this old Ford.  While the lettering has been mostly obliterated, it takes very little imagination to deduce this van has had a business career working for a locksmith.  Carol was quite young when she began her dance school.  Odds are strong this Ford was a relative newborn when it entered into the business world.  Speculating this Econoline is a 1971 model, Carol still has an eighteen year edge of experience over our Ford.

How long ago this short wheelbase Econoline retired from its business venture is hard to know, but, like Carol, it is no stranger to the challenges and rewards of the small business world.

It appears the current owner has a similar entrepreneurial spirit – or at least is a professed disciple of bartering.

This is one area in which our featured Ford diverges from Carol.  In fact, I suspect she likely would take a rather dim view of such a business model.  Miss Carol is a “Cash is King” sort of person and this sort of system is great for the short-term but does not yield anything long term.  Well, it could, but anyway…

Carol would undoubtedly agree with utilizing what you have if needing to make a repair.  Aluminum does not rust, although if in a similar situation Carol would have likely faced the beer can inwards; it’s less proprietary that way.

During our most recent visit with Carol, she mentioned the assorted adventures she has experienced during the years of having her dance school.  At various times she and her students have been invited to perform in many places, with these invitations having taken Carol all over North America and Europe.

Carol is understandably quite proud of this.  For a dance school located in a town currently having a population of 20,000, it demonstrates Carol’s talent could conquer the distances and visibility of contemporaries in more populated areas.

Similarly, this bicentennial bumper sticker demonstrates our Econoline’s talent in conquering distances and taking people wherever they needed to go. How so?

Allen Elementary isn’t exactly a unique name for an elementary school although none are close to where this Ford was parked.  A quick google search reveals elementary schools of this name in Marion, Indiana; Wichita, Kansas; Columbus, Georgia; both Frisco and San Antonio, Texas; Southgate, Michigan; San Bruno, California; Aurora, Illinois; and, Soddy Daisy, Tennessee.  That is only on the initial page of search results; I dove no further.

These schools are all over the United States and are many, many hours of driving from where I found this Econoline.  This old box looks like it is ready to make the return trip to any of these Allen Elementary schools.

It really isn’t a stretch to see this Ford camped out in the parking lot of any Allen High School back in, say, 1980.  Perhaps not parked there by staff, but seeing such a van driven by a male high schooler isn’t hard to imagine, is it?

As an aside, for those who appreciate license plates, you may notice these are advertising Missouri’s bicentennial.  Missouri became the 24th state on August 10, 1821.

Being one who has owned older vehicles at various times, more vigilance is needed in keeping up with maintenance.  Sure, there are the maintenance schedules found in the owner’s manual, but these fail to account for entropy.  Time marches on, things wear out.

For example, my wife and I purchased a 2000 model, 4th Generation Econoline in July 2010.  It needed tie-rods at that time and the ball joints were replaced last year.  Our featured 2nd Generation Econoline was the first Ford van having Ford’s long-lived Twin I-Beam front suspension, a trait that would continue for subsequent generations.  While the front suspension on our featured van is as stout and robust as anything on the market in 1971, this isn’t to say it is immune from wear.

Odds are pretty good our featured E200 has had a few replacements of its ball joints and other wear items.  Not surprisingly, Carol has also, as she told me she’s on her third set of knees.

It is maintenance, just amplified.

Recently on a Facebook page about the Ford E-Series, a comment was made about how the Econoline was built to last for fifteen to twenty years in commercial use, being driven harshly by many different drivers.  While the validity of that claimed design brief is hard to verify, there is no arguing these Econolines are remarkably durable vehicles.

But it got me to thinking…if an Econoline such as this one is intended for harsh treatment, yet is treated more carefully than most, and barring any unforeseen negative intervention, what length of life expectancy can be anticipated?

Might it be similar to the woman who has remained quite active and is in phenomenal shape after being in business for nearly seventy years?

I think we are looking at our answer.

Found August 13, 2021

Rolla, Missouri