Not since the debut of the New Beetle back in 1997 has a vehicle launch been as anticipated as the revival of the classic Volkswagen Bus. Arguably one of the first minivans, the original rear-engined Type 2 Transporter was the icon that boomers used to go surfing (the most expensive Hot Wheels toy ever sold was a custom VW Bus with surfboards in it). Followers of the Grateful Dead painted up their VW vans and hit the road for the summer. Steve Jobs famously sold his Bus to fund the start up of Apple computer. It might have been a utilitarian family wagon, but for whatever reason the VW Bus seemed to get cooler with age.
The Bus Is Back
The underlying hope has always been that a revived Bus could make for minivan that family would buy out of choice and not necessity. It’s certainly taken long enough. The first Bus revival concept was displayed over twenty years ago, only recently being finally put into production as the all-electric ID Buzz. Our man Jason Torchinsky has previewed the version coming to the United States; he seems rather smitten, but it isn’t perfect.
Volkswagen refused to release pricing at the preview, but Jason’s experience as a TMZ reporter (he claims) meant that these poor PR people suffered near-water-boarding levels of torturous questioning until they fessed up to him that it would likely end up starting at around $60,000 or more. Supposedly it will be ‘fully equipped’ at that price, but I wouldn’t doubt that many things you really want will be options that could push that price up even higher. I mean, that’s about the average price for a larger EV these days, but still a bit disappointing. Like many of us, I am sure Jason went from figuring how much VW would give him in trade for his Yugo and instead wondered how old he’ll be when used examples are affordable. Put it this way: If you’re a family guy about to drop $40,000 on a new Pacifica and stopped because you were excited about the ID Buzz, you can probably safely go down to the Chrysler dealer with your checkbook right now. Sorry.
I do think the ID Buzz will be popular, but sadly the sticker will make it more of boutique car than a People’s Van. It will, absolutely, get people excited about minivans again on some level, and somebody could profit from that. What if that somebody was the American company that missed the boat of the minivan in the first place, despite being poised to create the market?
Ford Drops The Ball
You might already know this, but in the seventies, Ford went rather far into development of several minivan proposals, including the rear drive Carousel…
…and the later front wheel drive Mini Max.
These were ideas championed by then-Ford President Lee Iacocca, but disliked by Henry II who was rather against front wheel drive and funny little vans that would cannibalize station wagon sales. Oh, did I mention what Henry II’s last name was? It’s in a big oval on the side of his Dearborn office building. Guess who won this battle? But you also know who ultimately won the minivan war. When Henry II inevitably kicked Iacocca out of his company a few years later, Lee went on to lead Chrysler corporation. There was nobody standing in his way now- the 1984 Dodge Caravan was a smash hit that Ford never, ever came up with a strongly competitive solution for.
Until now. Well, at least in my alternate reality, where Ford will have the answer for not only Chrysler but also that ID Buzz. In this case, Ford will also go back in time and pull a page from their history of actual production vans.
This Van Is Not Rocking
In the sixties, all of the big three offered cabover style vans (and General Motors even sold a VW Bus-style rear engined Corvair van). These compact, squatty vans had a cute look that predated the later van designs of the next decade that often became bubble-windowed dens of sin. These old cabovers always brought to mind something that would be the basis for Scooby Doo’s Mystery Machine.
Ford’s entry in this era was the first Econoline with a rather humanoid style face featuring almost elliptical ‘eyes’.
Here’s a commercial showing some of the variations of the Econoline; you’ll have to scroll to around 3:15 to see it (after that is some good OG Bronco footage if you’re into that, and you are):
How about we use this funky faced bread loaf as our inspiration?
Ford’s Minivan Redemption?
The play-on-the-name Ecoline would be Ford’s Mach E chassis based re-entry into the minivan market, a direct competitor to the ID Buzz. Like the Volkswagen, it would be an all-electric three row family carrier that would pick up on the look of the Blue Oval’s 1961-67 Econoline passenger van. It seems like $40,000 is the magic number that many people thought the ID Buzz would sell for, so that would be I think is an achievable goal for at least a base model. Mind you, that would be for a rear wheel drive model and not with the optional ‘PowerSync’ all wheel drive (which allows you to choose front/rear bias based on ‘sport’ and ‘safety’ or various climate conditions via the touch screen).
Even if you’ve never seen an old Econoline, the friendly face is just as appealing today as it was then. Available two tone paint would be complemented by features like color-coded wheels that mimic the chrome-capped steelies on later sixties Ford Mustangs. The forward-slanting pillar on the side picks up the feature from the old van, and taillights shaped like those on the original model finish off the nod to nostalgia.
Looks are one thing, but what would make the Ecoline a category ninja are the special interior features.
WARNING: The following interior design musings are baby and child related. If you have no interest in that sort of thing, neither do I. Feel free to jump on to Mercedes or Thomas’s next article about some motorcycle or car we can never afford. I’d rather read that, too.
The fact is that essentially anyone buying a minivan is doing it, like Wu Tang, for the children. I don’t care how many pictures of attractive young couples standing next to your new minivan with surfboards you show; it’s for families. As such, the interior should have some discreet capabilities to make a parent’s life a little easier. God knows we need it.
For one, I hate booster seats. Designed to elevate a child so the seat belt hits them just right and they can see out, these things take up space when not in use, screw up the seats, and even prevent the kid from feeling the rear seat heaters if you drive a dilapidated old luxury vehicle like I do. The Ecoline’s second row chairs can pump up in height to match the level of a booster seat without needing a booster seat. A fold down table could also be offered, with tethers attached that you can hook onto the kids toy so that when they drop it they can pull it up instead of screaming I DROPPED QUAGSIRE AGAIN STOP THE CAR STOP THE CAR.
That fold down tray reminds me of the baby seat that some of us more vintage readers might have sat in; did you parents pick up one of these Tot-Guards at the Ford dealership for you to ride in the Mustang like mine did? Great surface to bash your head on, or a surface on which to put paper and draw cars like some kids we could mention did.
Many car or van owners add little suction cup mirrors to their cars to see what the kids are doing which is extremely dangerous. The Ecoline offers a heads-up display on the huge dash top (remember, this is not a cabover so we have the deep area under the windshield). One feature could be to put a rear view camera on the seat backs here so drivers do not take their eyes off of the road.
There’s plenty of floor space up front for diaper bags and such BUT there are ledges to stop any items (including loose toys) from jamming the pedals. This has happened. I know.
The full width screen lifts in the center for a storage area, and just for our own Jason Torchinsky the storage bin and glovebox are opened by giant, mechanical buttons. I hope he’s happy.
In the back of old station wagons, the ‘three way door gate’ used to be the feature that let you access the cargo area by opening as a regular door or a traditional tailgate.
The Ecoline would twist that up a bit with the UltraGate. This innovative door would be able to open like a one piece liftgate, or you can just pop open the upper part (great for the garage when you don’t want to open the garage door to gain access to your cargo). With the upper glass section raised, you can then flip the lower part down like a tailgate. An optional diaper changing tray with wipes dispenser may fold out from the tailgate, allowing you to change a kid with the open glass above shielding you from rain.
Up front, there’s a tall but skinny frunk; there’s optional cooling to keep Costco items frozen longer, or for your road trip. It’s an odd shape but one that would be perfect for strollers. Headlamps stay in place when the lid is open ala the DKW Schnellaster van.
Collapsed strollers are the banes of parent’s existence and usually have to be jammed in over the rest of your cargo in back of your car (if there’s still room left), and they often have wet wheels and dirt that gets on your baggage when you force it in and DO NOT HAVE KIDS. LISTEN TO ME. If you gain anything from this post just take away the strong suggestion to NOT HAVE KIDS.
Sorry for the sidebar. The bottom line is that the Ecoline would have range and performance similar or better than the ID Buzz, plus more unique, useful features, and hopefully a price closer to what Average Joe can afford to spend. Mind you, the photo car example shown would obviously cost much more than the (hopefully) $42,600 base price with the options I’ve illustrated, such as:
-PowerSync All Wheel Drive System- $4700
-Power Ultragate- $2100
-Power sunroofs front and rear -$1800
-Pearlcoat White/Metallic Bahama Blue Two Tone Paint- $800
-Perforated leather seating surfaces- $2100
-Cooled frunk with power plugs- $950
-B&O 10 speaker 560 watt audio system- $2200
-Family Pak 2 (booster seat middle row, rear video screens, KidCam, diaper changing station)- $3100
-California Special 22” wheels- $2500
Yeah, so these options plus a few more would likely bring the price up to the starting base of the Volkswagen, BUT you’d be getting more for your cash. Plus, do you really need all of this crazy extra shit anyway? Bang and Olufsen sound to play Yo Gabba Gabba?
Can Iacocca’s ghost be banished, and Ford’s snake-bit history with the minivan finally have a good final chapter? I do sincerely hope that the ‘fun’ minivan can be a thing, and that at least one firm can make it an affordable family alternative.