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The Carchive: ’74 Ford Econoline vans

Chris Haining April 28, 2017 Cars You Should Know, The Carchive 12 Comments

The last time we visited the Ford section of The Carchive, it was to take a glimpse at a car that Ford didn’t have the faintest idea how to market. It was the European Ford Fusion, a car that came some way short of appealing to the people it to whom it should. Today’s helping from the venerable vault of vehicles is rather more straightforward.

I do love a vehicle with an earnest name, and Econoline is one of the best – although GMC’s Value Van was pretty good, too. Here’s a slim sales brochure for the ’74 version.

“You made it the first choice van because we make it the way you want it”

I’m not really qualified to agree or disagree with the above, but I do remember vividly the first time I saw one of these. It was in Diamonds are Forever, Sean Connery’s last outing as James Bond if you exclude the bizarre parallel-franchise Never say Never Again.

I remember noting that, from the rear three quarters it looked barely any different to any other American Ford van. But then, when I got a view of the front of the thing; what on Earth happened? It looked like there was about eighteen inches of bodywork missing.

“More loadspace, less roadspace”

’74 was the last year for this variety of Econoline, before it moved to a full-frame chassis and grew a little in every dimension. Until then, Ford would make the very most of what it had, and sing the virtues of the Van’s compact nature.

The longer version was named SuperVan, and had a loadspace that was over ten feet long – which meant that driver and passenger were crammed into a space less than six feet long. Heavy-duty E300 models could haul loads of 4,250lbs.

“Smooth, sure and strong”

Hauling that much mass would require engines to suit, and the ’74 Econoline could offer a 240 or 300 ci six-cylinder or a 302 ci V8, both running on gas, of course. With the latter in situ between the driver and passenger, I can’t imagine that the Econoline was an especially relaxing vehicle to travel in. Despite this, a Club Wagon passenger version was offered as with later E-Series vehicles.

There were several ways you could fancy your van up a bit – deluxe options included a factory air-conditioning setup, the hilariously named Cruise-O-Matic (can you imagine Ford using a name like that today?) automatic transmission and upgraded heaters and defrosters. I suspect that ‘custom’ trim was very much necessary for any kind of comfort.

“Pick a package or mix and match”

As ever, the genius of the Econoline was the fact that it wasn’t a one-size-fits all deal. You could pick from various custom fit-out kits to suit plumbers, dry cleaners, TV service dudes, butchers, bakers, candlestick makers, the lot. And that’s before you get to the chassis cab and camper specials, onto which your body of choice could be slung upon the back.

The Econoline was, then and now, a remarkably similar package to our own Ford Transit. Except we never got a five litre V8.

(All images are of original manufacturer publicity materials, photographed by me. Copyright remains property of Ford Motor Company. And your Transits STILL have bigger engines than ours)

  • Can I imagine Ford using the language of the day to come up with a clever name to promote some new hardware that will likely sound quaint in 40 years? Maybe.

    http://www.road-reality.com/wp-content/uploads/2011/12/2011-Ford-F-150-EcoBoost-Emblem-1.jpg

    Also, my 1960 Thunderbird has a Cruise-O-Matic in it.

  • Van_Sarockin

    This Econoline version pushed the engine out front beyond the windshield, and the front axle. The engines were quite a pain to work on, even though the doghouse console would unclimbed and could be wrestled out of the way.

    The original version was a front mid-engined(ish) setup, with the engine between the front seats, and serving as a jump seat or storage area.

    • outback_ute

      Yes, and then they presumably discovered that the driver and passenger had legs!

      • Van_Sarockin

        Meat bags provide excellent protection for the engine.

        Knowing that the crumple zone starts at your knees, really helps to keep your attention focused on your driving.

        • outback_ute

          Older forward-control Japanese vans are worse still, I’m not disappointed to have only limited seat-time. A coworker years ago broke bones in his foot after a relatively low-speed accident in a Mazda van.