The Ford E-Series, formerly known as the Econoline or Club Wagon, is a line of full-size vans (both cargo and passenger) and truck chassis from the Ford Motor Company. The line was introduced in 1961 as a compact van and its descendants are still produced today. Although based on its own platform, since 1968, the E-Series has used many components from the F-Series line of pickup trucks. The Econoline is manufactured solely at Ford's Ohio Assembly plant in Avon Lake, Ohio—after the closure of the Lorain, Ohio plant in December 2005 and the consolidation of all production at Avon Lake. As of the 2012 model year, the E-Series and the Transit Connect compact MPV (which debuted for the 2010 model year) are the only vans in the Ford lineup in North America.
The Ford E-Series currently holds 79.6% of the full-size van market in the United States with 168,722 sales in the United States in 2007. Since 1980, it has been the best selling American full-sized van.
The E-series is a tow vehicle, due to the available GCWR (Gross Combined Weight Rating) of up to 20,000 lb (9076 kg), and its relatively low curb weight.
95 percent of van sales are to commercial or fleet-end users, about half are cargo vans. The E-Series cargo area features a double-wall design which leaves the exterior sheet metal less vulnerable to damage from shifting cargo.
In early 2007, the E-Series was listed by Autodata as one of the top 20 best-selling vehicles in the United States, most likely due to fleet sales. The competing models from GM have only been lightly updated since their 1995 redesign. Chrysler abandoned its Dodge Ram Van, a body style essentially unchanged from the 1970s, in favor of the Sprinter, a narrow European Mercedes-Benz van with a 150 hp (112 kW) turbodiesel engine, which has found favor primarily in commercial delivery with its high roof, and high-end, high-mileage Class C RV.
1961–1967 Compact Van
Based on the compact Ford Falcon, the first Ford Econoline was introduced for the 1961 model year. Sized roughly to compete with the Chevrolet Corvair 95 (Greenbrier Sportswagon) and Volkswagen Type 2, which was 172.3 in (4,376 mm) long. It was originally offered as a cargo van, an 8-passenger van with 3 rows of seats (which carried the Ford Falcon name) and as a pickup truck. A 165 lb (75 kg) counterweight was fitted over the rear wheels to balance the front-heavy vehicle; this was sometimes removed by later owners. The implementation of situating the driver on top of the front axle with the engine near the front wheels is called internationally a "cab over" vehicle.
Instead of the rear-mounted engine used by Volkswagen and Chevrolet, the first E-Series had a flat nose with the engine between and behind the front seats. Early models had a 144 CID 6-cylinder engine with a 3-speed manual transmission. Later models had a 170 CID or 240 CID engines with a 3 speed manual or automatic transmission. It was an immediate success with utilities like the Bell Telephone System.
In its first year, 29,932 standard vans, 6,571 custom Econoline buses, 11,893 standard pickups and 3,000 custom pickups were made. The success of the Econoline led to its layout adopted in 1964 by the Chevrolet Van/GMC Handi-Van and Dodge A100; it would also be revived in the first American-market minivans sold by Mitsubishi, Nissan, and Toyota.
In rural Canada, where automobile dealers were scarce, the Econoline was sold as a Mercury alongside the M-Series truck lineup. Only the first generation of Econolines were sold as Mercurys; the next van sold by the division would be the 1993 Villager minivan.
Due to a strike by the United Auto Workers, introduction of 2nd generation vans were delayed until late spring 1968, causing the vehicles to be marketed as 1969 models rather than as 1968 or 1968-1/2 models.
The Second Generation Ford E-Series revolutionized US van design by moving the engine all the way to the front under a short hood, as they had done with the European market 1965 Ford Transit. These would be the first vans used as the basis for the now popular Class C van cab motorhomes, a class still dominated by Ford. This E-Series also used Ford's "Twin I-Beam" front suspension design, and was now available with a V8 engine. Over the next six years, the Big Three would all redesign their vans, with hoods gradually evolving to a short conventional truck-like hood, and evolving from being based on compact cars to using components from full-sized pickup trucks. The top trim package Club Chateau was introduced with this generation, consisting with houndstooth fabric on all seats, air conditioning, AM-FM stereo, and the ability to accommodate 9 passengers.
The grille was redesigned in 1971, and a year later E-Series offered a new feature, and a new model. Sliding rear doors were an option for 1972, as well as the Hi-Cube van, the first van with a stripped chassis used for something other than recreational vehicles.
For the 1975 model year, the Econoline was given a ground-up redesign using an all-new platform. The nose now had a proper hood, very close to the length used today. Similar exterior styling indicated its close mechanical relationship to the F-Series; the vent windows and taillights were common between the two. Inside, the drivers' compartment was redesigned with more ergonomic controls; many shared with F-Series. The Econoline was available in two wheelbases and three body lengths. Passenger vans could seat between 2 and 15 passengers, depending on the number of seats installed; standard-length wagons typically held 2 bench seats behind the driver.
With a full frame, its chassis could now be used for cutaway vans, the basis of buses, trucks, and ambulances. This was also the beginning of aftermarket four wheel drive conversions for the van.
For sixteen years, this generation of the Econoline would continue nearly unchanged over its entire production run. In 1979, a minor facelift added a new front grille; square headlights replaced the round units. In 1983, Ford's "Blue Oval" logo was integrated into the front grille. Van conversions became a popular alternative to sparse factory passenger accommodations. In the mid-1980s, the short-wheelbase (124-inch) bodystyle was discontinued, leaving the 138-inch wheelbase as standard.
Although the 1986 Aerostar minivan would introduce styling far different from the Econoline, the basic styling of the full-size van would heavily influence the Ford Ranger (and its SUV offspring, the Ford Bronco II).