Ford Motor Co. has begun celebrating the 50th birthday of the Econoline cargo van, which was introduced in 1961 as a more economical alternative to pickup-based "panel trucks" of that day.
Restored '61 Econoline pickup helped Ford begin a celebration of the E-Series' 50th anniversary at the NTEA Product Conference last week in Dearborn, Mich. Bakers decorated special cakes to resemble 1961 and 2011 vans. (Photos by Tom Berg)
The vehicle evolved into a larger truck line that was eventually renamed the E-Series, which in recent years has dominated sales in that class.
Executives arranged cake, ice cream and beverages to be served at their vehicle display during last week's Product Conference, an annual event held by the National Truck Equipment Association, in Dearborn, Mich., Ford's hometown. There were two birthday cakes, baked in the shape of '61 and '11 vans, and colorfully frosted.
The Ford display included a restored '61 Econoline pickup, one of the three variants, along with panel and window vans, of the compact truck chassis offered at the time. All used a 144-cubic-inch inline 6-cylinder engine mounted under a "doghouse" inside the flat-front cab. The engine came from Ford's Falcon compact car.
The same front-engine layout was used by Chrysler Corp. for its compact Dodge A100, while General Motors' Chevrolet Corvair 95 had a rear-mounted powertrain with an air-cooled opposed Six. By late in the '60s, all three builders' compact vans had grown in size and power, becoming the Dodge B-series (no longer produced) and the Chevy and GMC G-vans (still offered), and of course the current E-Series. The early vans completely replaced the old panel trucks.
Contrasting the comparatively primitive 50-year-old Econoline in the Ford display at the NTEA meeting was a commemorative-edition 2011 E-150 wagon sporting custom steel-blue paint and leather seat covers with "Econoline" stitching. There were also 13 more work-oriented models, from E vans and cutaways to F-series pickups and cab-chassis variants to medium-duty F-650 and F-750 trucks.
Ford's truck history starts in 1914, when Model T cars were converted to trucks for commercial and farm use, executives noted during a presentation earlier in the day. Now Ford claims to be the leading supplier of Class 2c through 7 commercial trucks in North America. So there'll probably be a couple of 100th anniversary cakes in 2014.