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
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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!

Youths1

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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:

Econoline1

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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:

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:

Vulture

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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.”

Pintompg

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.

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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.

Courier

Shifter Cb

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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:

Birddog

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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VolksWinkle
VolksWinkle
11 months ago

Jason you had me spitting my drink with “bone wagon”! I am stealing this forever thank you!

SuperNova
SuperNova
11 months ago

Sigh…going to have to show my age here Jason….that’s a jive ass turkey on the side of that van.

Derek van Veen
Derek van Veen
11 months ago

These were all the older kids and babysitters of my youth. I idolized them and their Kiss-listening, pot-smoking, van-cruising lifestyle.

Chris with bad opinions
Chris with bad opinions
11 months ago
Reply to  Derek van Veen

Yeah, but didn’t Jason, Freddy and/or Michael kill all of them?

Rapgomi
Rapgomi
11 months ago
Reply to  Derek van Veen

My older brother had a dark brown Chevy van with a huge bright green & red dragon painted on it, wrapping all they way around hitting every body panel!

I could never live up to that level of cool.

Clive Wilson
Clive Wilson
11 months ago

The mop-top vulture looks to have been inspired by the “Beatles” vultures in Disney’s animated Jungle Book.

Why would anyone in the marketing department have made a connection between a cartoon carrion-eater and a tarted-up Econoline? I’m thinking pharmaceutical enhancement of some kind, most likely.

Last edited 11 months ago by Clive Wilson
David Smith
David Smith
11 months ago
Reply to  Clive Wilson

Most of my music collection would disagree with you.

Doug Kretzmann
Doug Kretzmann
11 months ago
Reply to  Clive Wilson

+1 that is absolutely one of the Disney Jungle Book vultures.. I think it’s Flaps..

DadBod
DadBod
11 months ago

Nobody rides for free

Derek van Veen
Derek van Veen
11 months ago
Reply to  DadBod

I once installed an ‘Ass, gas, or grass – nobody rides for free’ license surround on my sister & brother-in-law’s Prius shortly before a road trip. They didn’t discover it until a rest stop about 150 miles down the freeway.

It was *glorious*

Last edited 11 months ago by Derek van Veen
BigThingsComin
BigThingsComin
11 months ago
Reply to  Derek van Veen

Madlad!

Sundance
Sundance
11 months ago

In Germany we did not have such cool stuff like an Econoline with nice wheels and stripes and a V8 in the 70ties. We had a T2 VW Transporter with mighty 50hp (air cooled)…

Vetatur Fumare
Vetatur Fumare
11 months ago
Reply to  Sundance

You can cheer yourself up with the fact that that T2 is worth much more than an Econoline today.

Brau Beaton
Brau Beaton
11 months ago

I lived a block from the local A&W drive-in during the 70s. Weekends saw all the cool cars show up, but when the “Midnight Van Club” rolled in, the neighbours came out to look. It was an epic era like no other since. Many of the rolling murals were mindblowing airbrush artistry. While some people like to attach the vans to loose sexuality, the reality was they were the result of young artists showing their talents, and by the time all the adults and kids crowded around it was very much a family affair (akin to the lowrider community) with everyone laughing and drinking rootbeer.

YourMedic
YourMedic
11 months ago

I’m pretty sure I could get a used conversion van for $6995. That’s what they all cost, it seems: https://youtu.be/WIrxptgDxLE?t=102

Slower Louder
Slower Louder
11 months ago

Full credit to the Ford guy who placed this material with the one guy on Earth who knows how to run with it. Thus kindling interest in the there-is-nothing- new-under-the-sun graphics on offer for new Broncos.

Last edited 11 months ago by Slower Louder
Pancakeman!
Pancakeman!
11 months ago

I heard Jason was kind of running the joint for the next few days and I can only expect the weirdness to get even more weird. Bring it on my friend… bring it on.

Data
Data
11 months ago
Reply to  Pancakeman!

“Torch Unleashed” during the DT Oz trip was kind of a bust.

Duke of Kent
Duke of Kent
11 months ago

The ’70s were such an interesting time. Today someone who chooses to drive around in a bedroom on wheels would probably be called a creep (or a “creeper” since that word has grown an extra syllable over time), but back then it was acceptable or even cool*.

In a way it’s honest, and I respect that.

*
Note: I do not pretend to know what is cool today, and I wasn’t even around in the ’70s to know what was cool back then. All I have to go on are articles like this one and a documentary I watched about the decade that followed around a kid named Eric Forman.

Col Lingus
Col Lingus
11 months ago
Reply to  Duke of Kent

Yes. There was not a lot wrong with honesty back then. Actually the first wave of vans in the early 1970s were popularized by the surfer crowd on the west coast.
The bedroom on wheels thing actually was really nice if you were 20 at that time and had to share a 2 bedroom apt. with a couple other guys.

Duke of Kent
Duke of Kent
11 months ago
Reply to  Col Lingus

The surf van concept makes perfect sense and is immensely appealing. Getting in and out of a wetsuit is no easy feat under the best conditions, let alone in the backseat of a small car. The extra space offered by a big juicy van would be greatly appreciated by the surf crowd. Not to mention the relative privacy it offers when you want to entertain a surfer girl and get away from your roommates and small apartment.

Col Lingus
Col Lingus
11 months ago
Reply to  Duke of Kent

Exactly. You do get it young feller! They were also great from waiting out a short rain shower and getting a buzz without people seeing what you were up to.
Actually in a lot of ways the vans were the perfect ride to own if you needed something versatile and easily adaptable.

Maymar
Maymar
11 months ago
Reply to  Duke of Kent

#Vanlife is a generally socially acceptable thing, but the driver’s demands are more “Like and subscribe!” than “Gas, grass, or ass.”

Col Lingus
Col Lingus
11 months ago

Miss those old care free days. I must have built close to a thousand vans from 75 to 84. I also recall the FORD sales materials, (we built a lot of vans for dealers then.) A lot of the time we stayed so busy that I would work all night in the shop round the clock. There are a few stories about when women friends, or customers would come by to see the progress on their van builds after hours. For a time in the 1970s more sex was going down in vans than in actual bedrooms around America.
As time races by I realize those were truly the best of times.

Remember being able to buy a stripped new 75 FORD Van for about $4,500. (with the 4 speed and A/C)

Last edited 11 months ago by Col Lingus
Cam.man67
Cam.man67
11 months ago

Yep, the ‘70s May have been an era of unmitigated crap in some aspects of the automotive world, but damn did stripe packages go hard. My personal favorite is the Bicentennial package available on ‘76 Ford pickups. I actually just saw a Courier in the wild about a month ago…they may be the prettiest Japanese pickups from that era.

Inthemikelane
Inthemikelane
11 months ago

Wow, love this. Probably seen every one of these in the flesh back in the day (but not the murals, which would have been cool at the time).

Spent many hours in a couple of custom Ford vans in the 70s that a friend built out and suped up (I helped a little), in which we did things that, uh, we probably shouldn’t have been doing.

Shag everywhere, serious sound system, fat tires, we thought we were sooo cool.

Dodsworth
Dodsworth
11 months ago

I had a talented female friend in the 70s who made a metric ton of money airbrushing vans. She had a waiting list of clients, some of them willing to pay more to be moved up on the list. She was honorable and everyone had to wait their turn. I remember the day she said to me, “Just like that (finger snap) it was over.” Her client list fell off a cliff and auto journalists made fun of anyone with a street van. Fads are funny like that.

Joe The Drummer
Joe The Drummer
11 months ago

We have lost our way as a nation. Obviously.

Cool Dave
Cool Dave
11 months ago

I have no snarky comment, no pun, no joke… these are just awesome.

Scootershapedmotorcycle
Scootershapedmotorcycle
11 months ago

Sigh. Look, Torch, my wife went to high school with you, and is FB friends with you, and I’m your age. WE are of an age. You have got to stop this. I thought the malaise era was just…. what is. These cars look great! Amazing paint jobs! Great work!! Why can’t we have this kind of styling and not the weird angular jugular slashing fender lines of late? I love this look. Please stop reminding me about of anemic cars that look good. I wanted a conversion van in 1979 and never knew why my dad laughed at the Pacer. We are of our era. Sigh. (If only I’d been able to buy that 356 from a neighbor, when it was cheap!)

Slow Joe Crow
Slow Joe Crow
11 months ago

For extra odd, the “overdrive transmission ” photo below the Courier shows a floor shift in an Econoline, something I have only seen once in the real world.

Eggsalad
Eggsalad
11 months ago
Reply to  Slow Joe Crow

I’ll venture that 70% had column-shifted automatics and 25% had 3-on-the-tree and maybe 5% had the 3+OD on the floor.

Col Lingus
Col Lingus
11 months ago
Reply to  Eggsalad

That sounds about right. The 4 on the floor was fun just for the novelty of it. Drove a few of them, much more sporty than three on the tree.

Der Foo
Der Foo
11 months ago
Reply to  Slow Joe Crow

A 1980 Ford Econoline Custom with a 300 ci I6 was the second vehicle I learned to drive and the first manual transmission. Great vehicle to learn stick in ! <– Am I being sarcastic? Maybe, maybe not.

Doug Kretzmann
Doug Kretzmann
11 months ago
Reply to  Slow Joe Crow

yes indeed. I recognized it, had the same shifter in an 82 Econoline, every shift an event.. but the truck did get 20mpg on the freeway despite the aerodynamics of a rolling brick, with that mighty overdrive 4th gear..
We lived in that van for a year in 90-91, it was great.

Alec Weinstein
Alec Weinstein
11 months ago
Reply to  Slow Joe Crow

Which Torch had a hard time coming up with in the Quantum Leap reboot article because the prop was so bad. Here it is!

Diana Slyter
Diana Slyter
11 months ago

IIRC, Mopar better knew the path to a vanner’s heart- They offered a set of patterns for cutting panels to build out a van interior!

Beastly_the_HJ60
Beastly_the_HJ60
11 months ago
Reply to  Diana Slyter

@MercedesStreeter needs to get with the Mopar archive folks to find those patterns, and write a crossover article mashing up RV’s that were really surf vans, or some such.

El Jefe de Barbacoa
El Jefe de Barbacoa
11 months ago

Love this idea @MercedesStreeter!

Alec Weinstein
Alec Weinstein
11 months ago

1 million percent yes

Gary Lynch
Gary Lynch
11 months ago

Back in the 70s the custom van culture was HUGE. Sure OEMs wanted in. And there were aftermarket like Good Times vans. But true vans were truly custom. Interior, paint, etc. usually hand done. Paint especially was the key. Find a stoned artist and soon you too can have a one of a kind rolling piece of art.

And if the vans. Rockin, ….

MaximillianMeen
MaximillianMeen
11 months ago
Reply to  Gary Lynch

I’m still holding out for the return of the vannin’ culture if/when level 5 autonomy becomes a reality. The masses can sit upright, staring at the iPad-covered dash of their CUV. I’ll be making a drink at the wet-bar, ready to kick back in the velour covered bed in the back of my custom autonomous Transit, complete with Boris Vallejo mural on the outside and an acre of avocado green shag on the inside.

Cheap Bastard
Cheap Bastard
11 months ago

…all the way home to the parking spot down by the river.

Man With A Reliable Jeep
Man With A Reliable Jeep
11 months ago

I like how they list body-on-frame construction as a feature. I’d call it more of…an attribute? To me, that’s like touting “performance-oriented rear wheel drive configuration”.

Also, what’s the deal with taking away the power front disc brakes on the E-100 after 11/3/1975?

Paint-Drinking Thundercock Harvey Park
Paint-Drinking Thundercock Harvey Park
11 months ago

“body on frame” was subliminal innuendo about a possible arrangement for the driver and their +1

Canopysaurus
Canopysaurus
11 months ago

That buzzard be streaking.

pliney the welder
pliney the welder
11 months ago
Reply to  Canopysaurus

That buzzard be TRUCKIN’.

Jack Trade
Jack Trade
11 months ago

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.

And yet, Toyota thought exactly the same thing in the 2000s. Scion’s marketing strategy seemed lifted directly from that Ford dealer pamphlet, questionable stuff and all!

Lew Schiller
Lew Schiller
11 months ago
Reply to  Jack Trade

At least 3 kids in my high school class of 55 kids bought new cars within a year of graduation.

Balloondoggle
Balloondoggle
11 months ago
Reply to  Jack Trade

Or Kia, with the hamsters promoting the Soul.

Chronometric
Chronometric
11 months ago
Reply to  Jack Trade

Three of my high school friends (late 70s) bought new cars before graduation. One had a rich daddy, one worked after-school and summer jobs, and the third was the school pot dealer. He had a Triumph Spitfire so yes, his life choices were fun but questionable.

Geoff Buchholz
Geoff Buchholz
11 months ago

The “Reefer Madness”-level marketing speak designed to appeal to da yutes is just perfection.

Balloondoggle
Balloondoggle
11 months ago
Reply to  Geoff Buchholz

“What’s a ‘yute’?”

Chronometric
Chronometric
11 months ago
Reply to  Balloondoggle

That’s Australian for El Camino.

Data
Data
11 months ago
Reply to  Balloondoggle

The two “youths”, your honor.

Derek van Veen
Derek van Veen
11 months ago
Reply to  Balloondoggle

This is where the lack of support for GIFs on this site is truly heartbreaking.

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