Saturday, June 27, 2020

San Ramon Street Sighting - 1973 Ford Econoline E-100

Many moons ago I used to enjoy going to K-B Toys at my local mall. I was a budding diecast collector who loved the Johnny Lightning brand of 1:64 scale collectibles but could rarely find or afford them. Luckily for me, K-B Toys used to put them on sale periodically at the unheard-of price of three cars for $5. This was around the time that JL produced their Boogie Vans series of 1970s custom vans. I picked up some good stuff for dirt cheap. I fell in love with a couple of the Boogie Vans, namely a metallic blue 1977 Dodge B-150 with American flag graphics, and a white 1977 Ford Econoline 150 decorated as a dealership parts chaser. My small assortment of diecast vans helped foster an appreciation of vintage custom vans as more than an old steel box full of dirty carpet left over from the disco era.

Commercial and utility vehicles generally aren't as flashy as regular passenger cars, or are still too common, or just don't catch my eye for a full photo shoot. We haven't looked at many old vans here and most of the features have been passenger variants also called "window vans". Most of the cargo versions disappeared years ago through attrition, used up by hard work or consumed by rust. Many cargo vans were transformed into shaggin' wagons with crazy custom shaped side windows; fiberglass body accessories like air dams, spoilers and fender flares; wheels; wild paint and pinstriping; airbrushed murals; shag carpet on the floor and sometimes the walls; beds and chairs and electronics. I can't help thinking those novelty builds paved the way toward the modern-day conversion van. They are icons of the era, still referenced in pop culture in such films as Zootopia and Onward, and TV shows like Steven Universe. The GMC Vandura from The A-Team is so legendary that it still spawns numerous toys and models and popped up as a background Easter egg in 2018's Ready Player One. I even found a replica once parked on the street!

This is the first 1970s Ford Econoline that's appeared on California Streets. There have been a couple of 1960s Falcon Club Wagons and an Econoline pickup, but the second-generation body introduced in 1968 doesn't show up that often. The '68-74 E-Series didn't sell particularly well compared with competition from Chevrolet/GMC and especially Dodge. Dodge's recently redesigned B-series vans handily outsold the Ford E-Series well into the 1970s.
This generation of E-Series was of unibody construction like its Falcon-based forward control predecessor, but used chassis components borrowed from the F-Series pickups and was much larger overall. It was also the first E-Series to offer a V8 engine. All of these things made it a more capable vehicle, but a totally different size class that may have alienated some buyers looking for an economical van. You pretty much had to go to Volkswagen if you still wanted the compact, frugal forward control van formula, or buy a panel delivery station wagon.

I briefly had the chance to chat with the owner of this van. He was a younger guy who told me some details about it. The truck was originally painted a solid red color, and was modified some years ago by a San Francisco 49ers fan. I can only guess what the interior looked like based on that information but I was told it had retrofitted later model swiveling black vinyl captain's chairs and a reclining rear bench seat. I assume the oval window and pop-up roof vent were added as part of the original custom build. Under the hood was a 302 V8 automatic combo with dual exhaust. It rides on Unique Series 177 Super Supreme wheels with thin whitewall tires. I actually quite like the stance, though the rims could stand a really good polishing.
These photos were taken in 2016 and the owner had big plans for the vehicle. He told me he wanted to repair the rust, fill in the roof vent hole and repaint the body the original factory red color. I don't know if that meant Rangoon Red or Candy Apple but I assume the former since he said "solid" red. On the inside he planned a full custom interior build, and possibly add solar panels of some kind to the roof. I have no way of knowing if the owner's plans ever came to fruition. I haven't seen it since. It's definitely a cool truck that was worth saving.

Photographed September 2016

No comments:

Post a Comment