Home » These Ford Dealer Guides To Sell Custom Vans To Youths Are Pure ’70s Gold

These Ford Dealer Guides To Sell Custom Vans To Youths Are Pure ’70s Gold

Freewheelin Top

I’m happy to report that at this point in my career, some carmakers seem to know me. What I mean by this is that yesterday a representative at Ford reached out to tell me that, along with all the materials for the Mustang GT embargo that was dropping today, he had come across a bunch of old ’70s-era Ford ads for Econolines and Couriers and Mavericks and Mustang IIs – you know, the Golden Age Of Wonderful Crap. The ones that I found especially interesting are the ones for dealers, explaining how to market to The Youths. And lemme tell you, despite how every ’70s movie and TV show seems to portray a world that was 91% brown, gray, and laden with crime and despair, the youths that Ford dealers wanted to put into colorful-striped Econoline bone-wagons seemed to be having a pretty good time. Let’s take a look!


Vidframe Min Top
Vidframe Min Bottom

To look at this cover, you might very reasonably conclude that the most common form of public transportation in America were ropes suspended over quarry lakes, which would be swung over after chugging a Sun Drop from a green glass bottle in the perpetual late summer of the 1970s. Proper work attire would be a pair of perpetually-wet cutoffs and either no top or a bikini top, and every government building would proudly fly not just Old Glory, but your very own Freak Flag, which must be saluted.

The real mascot of this automotive era and culture has to be the custom van, even though that Bronco and Courier and F-150 are incredible as well. But let’s look at those Econolines closer, as they represent raw, uncut, no-baby-laxative-mixed-in ’70s purity:



There’s a lot of great details to learn here: the youth market wants to be “way ahead in making their van ‘right on’” and that you could order an Econline with a 42.6 gallon fuel tank! Holy crap! Let’s say an Econoline of that era gets, what, 12 miles to a gallon? That would give a range of 511.2 miles! That’s pretty good!

But what I’m really, really curious about are the customization options shown, like those fantastic stripe and decal kits. Some sort of make sense, like the rhino:


I can see how a van could evoke the idea of a charging rhino: big, powerful, fast, a little dangerous. That’s a cool, understandable association. But I’m going to need some help understanding this one:



That’s uh, that’s a buzzard, isn’t it? A vulture? An ugly, avian roadkill-eater? No offense to our vulture and buzzard readers, whom we absolutely welcome with open wings and a flattened possum, but I’m having some difficulty picturing the sort of person that wants a cool, flashy, bright yellow van with stripes and wants to be associated with a buzzard. A kicking buzzard, sure, but still, those guys eat deer entrails off the blacktop. Was that sexy?

Cruisinvan Int

Speaking of sexy, there’s no escaping the unspoken subtext of these vans: they’re mobile rooms, suitable for boning. Ford seems to have understood this, offering a “Cruising Van Interior” option that left the whole back  open, just slathered in carpet, ready to accept a mattress and some blacklight posters and maybe a lava lamp, and, of course, your sweat-slicked body at the invite of those two in the captains’ chairs who “like your vibe.”


If a full-size Econoline was just too much for you, Ford was happy to apply the Custom Van treatment to a Pinto, which transformed it into a Pinto Cruising Wagon, complete with porthole bubble window. This was an option on their mainstream economy car! Does Honda offer a porthole window option on the CR-V? Can you get stripes like that on a Nissan Rogue? I don’t think so. We’ve fallen.


F150 Rainbow

The intense ’70s joie de vivre wasn’t just for vans; look at this workhorse F-150! Not only was it bejazzled in the most earthtonic of gradient stripes, but the press photo has a real, no-joke rainbow right in there. Far too many F-150 buyers today would fill their roomy cargo pants with warm, loamy wastes if there were this many rainbows and color stripes associated with a current F-150, and that’s kind of tragic.

What’s not tragic at all is this little Ford Courier: hot damn these were cool little trucks! They were Mazdas dressed up as Fords, but what a costume! I love the front end that’s like a shrunken F-150 face complete with divided chrome grille, and that sort of Old West, branded leather-looking side and hood graphics are just superb, like the automotive design equivalent of Frito pie when you’re famished.


Shifter Cb


Option-wise, there was, of course, an abundance, but two caught my eye: first, that shifter, because the long, spindly shifter is something that we’ve wholesale turned out backs upon, for reasons I can’t begin to fathom, though I’ve kvetched about that, at length. That shifter, though, is as long and spindly as a ski pole, and yet so very proud. Then there’s the CB radio, the grandparent of the cell phone, and a ’70s icon on its own. I like this design that incorporated everything – volume, channel display, scan, and probably squelch buttons or knobs all there in the handset. That’s some high-tech ’70s shit right there.

Of course, as I get all moon-eyed over these orange and brown wonders, it’s worth noting that there was a dark side, too. Look at this paragraph in what was, remember, a document for Ford dealers to use to sell cars:


Well, that sounds nice and creepy, doesn’t it? The questionably-legal “bird dog” system was essentially paying people for referrals. In this case, people in high schools and colleges? It seems there’s very mixed opinions on the practice, but, you know, this was the Free Wheelin’ era, as the title reminds us. It was a different time! When a high school kid might be actually seriously considered as a prospect to buy a new car, for example.

What a magical era.



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Ward William
Ward William
1 month ago

GM Australia made a surf wagon (on the Kingswood platform)in the late 70s called The Sandman, aimed specifically at surfers who wanted to sleep in the back of the van to get up early and catch that first wave. They were painted in lairy bright yellows and oranges and the interiors were usually “decorated” with just a mattress and lots of glow in the velour. Many young long blond haired surfers arriving to pick up their dates were chased back down the driveway by irate fathers with guns. One date in the back of one of these vans usually meant a trip to the maternity ward 9 months later.

1 month ago

Jason… No comment on how fierce the grip is on that shifter? Dude (I assume) should have gone with the shaggin’ wagon to ease some of that tension.

Bob Conlon
Bob Conlon
1 month ago

What memories Jason…
In the mid 70’s I was a mid 20’s year old who kinda got dropped in as a sorta salesmgr at a small dealership. Main thing was I got to order the new
vehicle inventory with no input from nobody. Was that fun and I did help the dealership grow.
I had relocated from a different location that was to soon close to the main store and all this happened.
When I arrived had an almost new 76 Courier.
Ordered me a 78 E150 short WB cargo van with 300 cid I-6 and 4 on the floor OD. Since I knew the 300 6 had lotsa torque, I ordered the 3:08 rear axle. Had I think 4 choices back then and I wanted mileage, not power. Don’t remember why.
It didn’t work, could only use 4 (OD) downhill. Less torque than I thought. No problem, friend had pickup with 302 V8 with about a 4:11 axle and he had power but no top speed and bout 8mpg.
We switched diffs and worked out great for both.

Oh man, I could go on…. Those were great times to be young and in the automotive industry.
Thanks so much for the story.

1 month ago

This is awesome! Great article

“That’s uh, that’s a buzzard, isn’t it? A vulture? An ugly, avian roadkill-eater?”

Oh, you mean the Hummer (EV or regular regardless) that eats pedestrians?

Also love the Rhino!

Derek van Veen
Derek van Veen
1 month ago

Just saw this video on FB that is oh so salient to this article.


1 month ago

like the automotive design equivalent of Frito pie when you’re famished” is a phrase I’m sure nobody in the history of the world has ever typed out until this article.

1 month ago
Reply to  LTDScott

You got it! & that’s why we come here

Harvey Park
Harvey Park
1 month ago

Privacy glass–another Ford-exclusive option.

Last edited 1 month ago by Harvey Park
1 month ago

That 43 gallon tank would cost $25 to fill up in 1976. .59/gallon

Last edited 1 month ago by VolksWinkle
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