Home » Pre-Smog Inline Sixes: 1972 Ford Econoline vs 1974 AMC Hornet

Pre-Smog Inline Sixes: 1972 Ford Econoline vs 1974 AMC Hornet

Sbsd 7 19 2023
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Good morning! It’s time once again for Shitbox Showdown. Today we’re celebrating the unsung hero of days gone by: the humble pushrod inline six. But first, we need to see which German bad-guy barge you chose yesterday:

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The Benz wins it by a hood ornament. That would be my choice as well. However, if I wanted a big German sedan, I’d forego either of these and look for something a couple generations older. They just looked cooler back then, and they were way easier to work on.

There certainly was lots of griping about how unreliable both options were yesterday. I mentioned this on Slack, and threatened to do two identical very-reliable-but-dull cars today, a pair of plain white Corollas or something. You were saved from this terrible boring fate, as we all so often are saved, by the Bishop. His piece on “Gremlinizing” the Tesla Model 3 (an absolutely brilliant idea, in my opinion) made me want to look for AMC Hornets and Gremlins. I found a Hornet, but during my search for a Gremlin I was side-tracked by the ultimate surfer van, and so we have today’s matchup. The common thread between them? Both skip the V8 option and rely instead on a tried-and-true inline six. Let’s check them out.

1972 Ford Econoline – $3,800

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Engine/drivetrain: 240 or 300 cubic inch inline 6, three-speed manual, RWD

Location: near Napa, CA

Odometer reading: 31,000 miles (probably rolled over at least once)

Runs/drives? Yep!

Ford’s long-running Econoline is no more, at least in van form, replaced by the Transit. It’s arguably a better van, more efficient and all that, but nobody is going to write not one, but two songs about their Ford Transit. Just saying. Ford officially stopped using the Econoline name in 1999, but the rest of us didn’t. Back when this first-year second-generation van was built, the Econoline name was in full swing.

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The original Econoline (or actually Falcon Van, initially) was a flat-nosed forward-control design, with the front axle under the seats and the engine between them. For this generation, Ford moved the front wheels and the engine both forward, creating the “doghouse” engine cover protruding from the dash that became the hallmark of all American vans for decades. The stubby hood and wheel well cutouts in the doors make for an appealing shape, especially on a short-wheelbase van like this. The mag wheels and side-exit exhaust are just icing on the cake.

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The seller tells us this is a six-cylinder, but not which displacement it is. Ford’s long-serving truck six was available in two displacements back in ’72: the commonly-seen 300 cubic inches, and a smaller 240 cubic inch version. Whichever one this is, it spins those glorious mags through a three-on-the-tree manual.

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This one was originally a work van, I imagine, based on the fact that there’s nothing behind the seats. These days, it looks like the perfect way to transport surfboards or other toys. I would say it would make a good band van, except that there are only two seats. Well, it would work for the White Stripes, I suppose.

1974 AMC Hornet – $3,500

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Engine/drivetrain: 232 or 258 cubic inch inline 6, three-speed automatic, RWD

Location: near Vallejo, CA

Odometer reading: 137,000 miles

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Runs/drives? Indeed it does

“Plucky underdog” is the phrase that comes to mind when I think of ’70s AMC. Terminally short on cash, but blessed with a brilliant designer, the legendary Dick Teague, American Motors Corporation managed to do a lot with a little, and in a lot of cases out-cool the Big Three. AMC made its name early on with small cars, and when the Rambler was due for replacement in 1970, Teague penned the sharp-looking Hornet. The name was a callback to the legendary Hudson Hornet from the ’50s, and the styling echoed the Javelin introduced a couple years earlier.

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This Hornet is the popular two-door hatchback model, introduced in 1973 and famous for performing what might be the coolest movie car stunt of all time. This one is powered by AMC’s trusty inline-six, though here again, the seller doesn’t tell us whether it’s the 232 or 258 cubic inch version. It’s bolted to a “Torque-Command” automatic – AMC’s branding for the Torqueflite automatic it bought from Chrysler. The car runs and drives, but that’s about all the information we get about its mechanical condition.

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Cosmetically it looks pretty good, except for a few bumps and bruises, the most notable of which is a dent in the rear hatch. Honestly, on this car, I don’t even mind the dents. They give it a little character. I also have to give kudos to the seller for taking good photographs; the low angle really shows off this car’s shape well. When you see as many terrible classified photos as I do, you learn to appreciate the good ones.

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The inside looks good, with the vinyl upholstery more or less intact, and that nice Jeep-style three spoke steering wheel instead of the more common two spoke wheel that always looks upside-down. It’s also got cool Centerline-style wheels that actually have AMC center caps. It’s an attractive package.

So that’s what I’ve got for you today, a pair of cool inline-six-powered vehicles old enough to not need smog testing. Either one would make a fun drivable project. Which one is your style?

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(Image credits: Craigslist sellers)

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Space Trucker
Space Trucker
10 months ago

Nice Nanci Griffith reference. R.I.P.

STEPHEN WALTER GOSSIN
STEPHEN WALTER GOSSIN
10 months ago

Hornet, all the way.
That thing just oozes cool!

Thanks Mark!

Michael Tucker
Michael Tucker
11 months ago

Going with the van here. No wrong answer here but spray painting ‘Free Hugs’ would just work better on van.

Marc Fuhrman
Marc Fuhrman
11 months ago

Gotta go with the van on this one. I’m a sucker for slotted mags.

Manwich Sandwich
Manwich Sandwich
11 months ago

AMC Hornet for me as it’s likely to be nicer to drive than that old panel van… even though it has the slushbox.

ScottyB
ScottyB
11 months ago

The exterior of the Hornet could be sorted out pretty easily but I imagine getting the interior nice would be a tall order.

Slow Joe Crow
Slow Joe Crow
11 months ago

According to a period comparison test in Popular Mechanics the Econoline had really evil handling compared to a Dodge or Chevy so I voted Hornet, besides, my grandfather’s last car was a Hornet.
As an aside Neil Young’s Tonight’s the Night mentions an Econoline in the lyrics.

Drew Wilkinson
Drew Wilkinson
11 months ago

I dont know if I will ever not vote for a van…

The AMC is cool but a buddy once told me what AMC stood for and I’ll never forget it. All Mistakes Combined.

MAX FRESH OFF
MAX FRESH OFF
11 months ago

I have the 3 in the tree shift pattern burned into my muscle memory from driving a 1978 Econoline with a 351 Windsor. +1 just because of Neil Young’s Tonight’s the Night.

OrigamiSensei
OrigamiSensei
11 months ago

No terrible choices here but I think I’d rock the Hornet.

It reminds me of the local car show I attended a few years ago. Not that there’s anything wrong with them but I was getting a little bored with the endless parade of Tri-fives, Mustangs, Chevelles, and ‘Vettes. Then I yelled to my buddies, “Hornet!” and jogged half a block to check one out.

Yes, I’m weird. That’s why I fit in on this site.

Óscar Morales Vivó
Óscar Morales Vivó
11 months ago

That’s just the van I needed to go deliver candy to the kids in town.

MAX FRESH OFF
MAX FRESH OFF
11 months ago

Why do the seat cushions smell like chloroform?

Myk El
Myk El
11 months ago

I appreciate having to actually think about this a little. The Hornet is ever so slightly more my jam than the van. I think either could be a joyful project for the right person.

MiniDave
MiniDave
11 months ago

I’m in for the Econoline too……but I’d rip that dodgy old 6 out and replace it with a modern 300hp 4 cyl ecoboost and 6 speed out of a Mustang. Even tho there is absolutely no consideration given to aero efficiency in the Econobox, I have to believe the modern engine would do better in both power and fuel mileage. There are plenty of engines available since so many Mustangs have met their demise leaving Cars and Coffee and such!

Last edited 11 months ago by MiniDave
Alan Christensen
Alan Christensen
11 months ago

I’m a vanlife guy, so the Econoline.

I had a Hornet company car and all sorts of things went wrong with it. Rear shock mounts broke off the axle. The door hinges were too flimsy so the doors sagged and had to be slammed a few times, causing a rolled down window to shatter. The glove box door wouldn’t stay closed, and when I tried to adjust the larch I discovered the plastic surround was held with ten screws (probably because it would warp otherwise). Meanwhile, the front seat pivot was a pin on one side and a single shouldered bolt on the other (which you might be able to see in the photo). As any mechanical engineer should know, the step down from the shoulder to the threads is a stress point. That’s why the bolt snapped one day as I was driving, causing the seat back to not only collapse but also to fall into the back seat. Fortunately, I was on a deserted rural road at the time.

Thomas Metcalf
Thomas Metcalf
11 months ago

My dear, sweet mother bought an AMC Spirit brand new. She still says it was the worst car she ever owned. All I remember of it was that it sat in our driveway, immobile for at least a couple of years before being scrapped.

SuperNova
SuperNova
11 months ago

That was the hardest decision I’ve had to make in a long time..and I even thought long and hard on it…both absolutely great projects. But I had to go with the Hornet for the ease of restoration and the pleasure of driving it.

Freelivin2713
Freelivin2713
11 months ago
Reply to  SuperNova

You have chosen…wisely…

Stig's Cousin
Stig's Cousin
11 months ago

Scientific fact: classic vans are awesome. The van is clearly the right choice (although I will say the AMC is also cool). A van like this has a ton of potential. I would add the obligatory shag carpet and have someone do a bitchin’ custom paint job with murals on both sides. I would have to think about the contents of the murals, but at the moment I’m envisioning a wizard in outer space on one side and vikings slaying vampires on the other. The more ridiculous the better. This could be an extremely cool vehicle with some effort.

Matt Sexton
Matt Sexton
11 months ago

I’m voting for the Hornet partly because AMC decided Kenosha was the random place it wanted to build cars, because apparently Dubuque was busy.

XLEJim700
XLEJim700
11 months ago
Reply to  Matt Sexton

I think it came down to alliteration: “Kenosha Cadillac” vs. …

Mike F.
Mike F.
11 months ago

No question – I’m picking the Hornet. Always wanted to own something from AMC (although I would certainly prefer a Javelin), and it looks like it’s in halfway decent shape. The van is a little too clapped out for me, and I don’t really need one of those.

Gubbin
Gubbin
11 months ago

Three-on-the-tree for me, I wanna jam econo.
Also, the Ford Transit DOES TOO have a song!

Gilbert Wham
Gilbert Wham
11 months ago
Reply to  Gubbin

Also, the van has slot mags. Therefore, it is better.

Six Inna Row Makes it Go
Six Inna Row Makes it Go
11 months ago

In my youth, I drove a 1974 Econoline that looked almost exactly like the van above, except mine was rusted out along the bottom, automatic, and had a 302 V8. Out here in Colorado, these vans were known as “ski-vans”, and mine definitely fit the part as it had an old “squirrel-cage heater” in the back that was spliced into the coolant lines. I miss driving that thing so for that reason, I chose the van.
Also, that van has the exact same drive train as my 1970 F100, which is a 300 mated to a 3-on-the-tree. With the two maybe I can watch for and take advantage of BOGO deals through Rock Auto.
Also, here is another van-related song from Dryer Fire, a local Denver punk band: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_szmgrRFwws
(shameless plug for my brother’s band!)

Last edited 11 months ago by Six Inna Row Makes it Go
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