First Generation Ford Econoline Pickup

1966 Ford Econoline Pickup
1966 Ford Econoline Pickup Truck. Photo by Mark Gittelman

The first generation Ford Econoline pickup trucks had a nice long run. They built the vehicle from 1961 through 1967. Although it did see some minor improvements along the way, the small pickup, panel van and club wagon models remained largely unchanged.

Although it's hard to believe anyone would build a work truck or van on the 1960s Ford Falcon platform it's true and it happened. Underneath the unique looking Econoline sheet metal beats the heart of the Falcon's midsize unibody design. Join us as we uncover additional details about the first generation Ford Econoline pickup and vans.

Birth of the Econoline

The Econoline van platform represented Ford's answer to the VW Bus, known as the Type II. Around since the 50s the rear engine VW enjoyed a steady gain in popularity throughout North America. Ford would be the first American automaker to challenge this segment of the market. In fact, it took three years for Dodge and Chevy to offer similar products.

In 1961 the Ford Motor Company launched the midsize unibody utility vehicle. It was well received and the company built nearly 50,000 units in the first year. However, only about 12,000 took on the shape of the odd looking pickup truck. Choice of engine power remained simple throughout the first generation run. They all came with the straight six. The standard engine size increased from 2.4 L in 1961 to a larger 3.9 L straight six in 1966.

Sales of the Econoline got a big boost as American service companies found the vehicle a near perfect solution for their businesses. The panel vans provided a secure area to store equipment and had no problem hauling these tools to the job site. The Thrift Power inline 6 engines produced impressive gas mileage numbers in the 20 to 25 miles per gallon range. The panel vans also provided a large advertising area that acted like a rolling billboard.

The Unbalanced Look of the Pickup

When you walk around an Econoline panel van or club wagon, it appears as a well balanced design. When you remove the sheet metal roof line and everything behind the front seats the pickup model takes on an unbalanced look. This wasn't an optical illusion or a figment of your imagination. The Econoline pickup had serious balance issues.

With the engine placed between the front seats the lion's share of weight resided squarely over the front axle. The front cab over design increased this problem. Not only did the truck look unbalanced, but it handled poorly, because of the uneven weight distribution.

At this point Ford did something you don't see often. They added a substantial amount of weight behind the rear axle. This was at a time when car makers understood that reducing weight increased performance and fuel economy. However, Ford did the unthinkable and added dead weight to the automobile. The interesting part of this for me is when you compare the Ford Falcon Ranchero to the Econoline pickup truck. The front engine design of the Ranchero is a well-balanced approach to the utilitarian design.

Problems with the Econoline Pickup Truck

As with many Ford vehicles from the 1960s it's hard to find one that's not completely rusted away. An Econoline pickup truck that first appears solid can reveal its true colors when basic restoration begins. A media blast or acid chemical dip often exposes decades of bodywork and Bondo patch repairs. In addition to the body problems the front suspension can also have issues thanks to its front heavy weight distribution.

Another thing to keep an eye out for, on the pickup model, is finding one with the original rear weight installed. Many owners removed the dead weight as it seemed inefficient to carry more than 150 pounds that didn't seem to do anything. However, the vehicle's poor handling characteristics are magnified with this weight removed.