Ford Econoline Pickup (1961-1967)
Article by Mark Trotta
Shorter, lighter, and easier to maneuver, the Ford Econoline pickup was also less expensive than a conventional pickup. With a cargo box measuring over seven feet, it was a perfect choice for running local deliveries, errands around the farm, or weekend swap-meets.
When Ford debuted their new line of light-duty Econoline vans and pickups in 1961, they were an immediate success. But the idea of placing seats above the front wheels (allowing the cab to be shorter and the bed to be longer) was not new. In 1950, Volkswagen introduced the forward control, rear-engine Transporter, which arrived in America in 1954. In 1957, the Willys-Overland company offered their 4-wheel-drive FC-150 and FC-170 cab-over pickups (the FC designation stood for forward control).
The original Econoline series were offered as vans and pickups, and both were based on the compact Ford Falcon model. Unibody construction allowed the truck to be light, as the body also functioned as the frame, to which the running gear was attached. Up front an I-Beam axle was used, suspended by leaf springs. With a curb-weight of about 2,500 pounds, power-steering wasn't really needed and never offered.
The cab-over design required the motor to sit over the front axle, which made the truck front-heavy. To offset this, a 165-pound weight was mounted underneath the truck over the rear wheels.
Inside, the driver and passenger sat above the front wheels, sharing the interior with the engine, which sat in a "doghouse" between the seats underneath an insulated cover. The steering column stood up nearly vertical from the floor, and held the three-speed manual shifter.
Falcon Thriftmaster Six
For the first year of production, Ford Econoline models were powered by the Falcon's "Thriftmaster" six-cylinder, 85-horsepower engine. Weighing just 385 pounds, the short-stroke inline six displaced 144 cubic-inches. The intake manifold and cylinder head were cast integrally. A Thriftmaster six-cylinder engine can be identified by the three core plugs on each side of the block.
Starting in 1962, an optional 170-cid six-cylinder motor was available.
In 1963, payload capacity was increased, and an optional custom cab was offered. A heavy-duty package included a reinforced frame, stiffer springs, 14-inch wheels and tires, and a stronger rear axle. 1963 was the Econoline pickup's highest output, with over 11,000 sold.
All early Econolines had a column-mounted three-speed manual transmission, which helped the light truck achieve 25-30 miles per gallon. The two-speed "Fordomatic" automatic transmission became available in 1964.
For the 1965 model year, Ford Econoline models received larger and stronger bumpers. Upgrades for 1967 included a dual-brake master cylinder, padded sun visors, two-speed wipers, and back-up lamps.
With a diminishing demand for light-duty pickups, competition from Chevy and Dodge, and sales falling under 3,000 units for two consecutive years, 1967 would be the last year for the Ford Econoline pickup.
The original Econoline design has a lot of positives, but safety wasn't one of them. Some will argue that the cab-forward design, however unsafe, did offer great visibility and allowed for a small turning radius.
Customizers and motorheads have always loved Econoline pickups. Sadly, many of them had rust issues, making the ones that did survive rare and collectable.
Early Econoline VIN
The VIN number is found on several spots on the vehicle. The factory service manual reads, "The official serial number, for title and registration purposes, is stamped on the right rear quarter body reinforcement gusset near the spare wheel retaining bracket." It is also found on the horizontal bracket behind the right tail light (sometimes on the left tail light).
The VIN can also be found stamped into the floor hump behind the engine dog house (it may be necessary to remove the dog house to find it).
Tire and Wheel Swaps
The original 13" x 4.5" rims are hard to find and available tire sizes are very limited. The later 14" x 5.50" (5 lug) rims are also hard to find, but since most Ford passenger cars from 1957 thru 1979 share the 4.50" bolt pattern, other wheels will fit. You would need to check backspacing, offset, and tire height.
Early Econoline Motor Swap
The 144ci inline-six was designed to be economical, and more than a few early Econoline owners fondly referred to the engine as the "Suffering 6", because of its lack of power, especially when loaded down. Another issue with these engines is the cast-iron exhaust manifolds are cast integrally with the cylinder heads, and it is difficult to find good replacements.
Both the 144ci and 170ci engines can be replaced with a later 200ci Ford six-cylinder engine, which will bolt right in and give a bit more torque. To use a Ford 250ci six-cylinder engine, the bell-housing would need to be changed, but everything else appears to be the same.
This one-of-a-kind Econoline pickup is (over)powered by a Chevy Small-Block V8, automatic transmission, and Ford 9" rear end. The builder also added electric door poppers, new glass and rubber trim seals. For several years it was a rolling advertisement for a tavern in Ontario, Canada.
Here's another great example of a rolling advertisement.