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Fond farewell as Ford Econoline shifts to European Transit

Posted by Bill Griffith  December 14, 2011 01:16 PM

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Ford-Econoline-1961-vans.jpg

(All photos: Ford). Click photo for larger version.

The full-sized Ford Econoline van was introduced in 1960 and sold as a 1961 model. The Econoline van, bus, and pickup were among the first vehicles built at Ford’s Lorain, Ohio, assembly plant.

The Econoline deserves a better epitaph than this month’s impersonal news release from Ford, one that arrived on Dec. 7 (the 70th anniversary of Pearl Harbor).

The news was that “Ford will migrate its commercial vans around the world to a common, global platform in 2013, when Kansas City begins producing the full-size Transit for North America.”

In other words: Goodbye, Econoline.

We’ll let its successor, the Transit, already the best-selling van in Europe, write its own success (or otherwise) story in coming years.

Modern Econolines


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2012 Econoline


2005-Ford-Econoline-school-bus.jpg

2005 Econoline school bus


2008-Ford-Econoline-tractor.jpg

2008 Econoline tractor chassis

Today is about paying homage to the E-Series, which has been around for more than 50 years, having made its debut in 1960 as a 1961 model. Along the way, it became America’s best-selling van for 31 straight years.

Ford and other manufacturers were exploring new territory with these vehicles. The first Econolines were available in three configurations: pickup, delivery van, and station bus. The pickup delivered (gulp!) up to 30 miles per gallon. Remember it was a Falcon with a big body, but it could carry a three-quarter ton payload in a seven-foot box. The van offered a staggering (for the times) 204 cubic feet of cargo space with double doors on the side and rear.

The station van could accommodate eight passengers (and their luggage) with two optional bench seats in addition to the standard driver and passenger bucket seats. As the years passed, the Econoline grew to have many iterations, later becoming ambulances, campers, shuttles, buses, conversion vans and innumerable other useful carryalls.

Right at the beginning, a Globe co-worker bought one of those early-‘60s Econolines for use as a passenger van. It was the first of the “club wagons,” and had about twice the carrying capacity of the station wagons of the day. My memory may be faulty, but I believe either that van or its successor may have been a participant at Woodstock. Over the years, this owner bought at least four of them, driving each for eight or nine years.

When the EPA instituted the stultifying pollution control regulations that made the mid-‘70s and beyond cars almost useless, Econolines and other truck-rated vehicles became attractive options.

In 1978, my family station wagon became a Chevy Suburban Silverado (talk about being ahead of the SUV curve!). After more than 100,000 miles, it was replaced by a pair of Ford E-Series Club Wagon Chateau Vans — the high-end passenger versions. The first was a “retired” Hertz shuttle van. We ferried three children off to college in Virginia and North Carolina in those hard-working vehicles. When Motor Trend magazine named the 1992 Chateau Club Wagon its “Truck of the Year,” I took a bow for being three years ahead of that trend.

By 2008, Ford cut back on E-Series options, making it a strictly commercial vehicle and gearing it to fleet sales. Now the end is near.

Ford-Transit-van.jpg

So … good luck to the Transit. Ford says it will return 25 percent better fuel economy than the Econoline, thanks in part to weighing 300 pounds less.

In addition, Ford is building a new stretch of road filled with potholes, bumps, and curbs to test the full-sized version of the Transit at its Michigan proving grounds. A lot of us would say, “Just send a dozen to Boston. We have plenty of bumps, potholes and curbs to drive over.”

That won’t happen because Ford has to quantify the torture tests. “At the proving grounds, the Transit will climb the curbs thousands of times on top of navigating the bumpy and pothole-ridden road surface vehicles are sometimes required to endure.” Ford has a similar test road in Belgium.

(Now, curb-hopping is something I always figured was something for skateboarders and BMX cyclists. However, after many trips to Italy, I understand that delivery drivers have to be endlessly creative to get to their appointed rounds and jumping curbs and parking-lot barriers are part of a day’s work.)

Clearly, Ford will offer the new Transit in a endless number of lengths and configurations. Buyers need taller and more fuel-efficient options. The Transit name is expected to also encompass the smaller — and already successful — Transit Connect.

And there are other options for consumers, including the Sprinter van. Dodge plans to sell a Fiat-based version, also presumably Euro-tough, and Nissan’s NV2500 will be available early in 2012.

Bill Griffith can be reached at WGriffith@globe.com.

This blog is not written or edited by Boston.com or the Boston Globe.
The author is solely responsible for the content.

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