DEARBORN -- Ford E-Series, America’s best-selling full-size van for 31 straight years, marks 50 years of meeting customer needs with production of the 2011 model, enhanced with state-of-the-art technologies at Ford’s Ohio Assembly Plant in Avon Lake.
E-Series, synonymous with capability and reliability since its debut in 1961, will offer a commemorative 50th anniversary edition, available as an XLT model, the van’s premium package. The anniversary edition features unique blue metallic exterior paint, specially embroidered “Econoline” front seatbacks and unique “Econoline 50 Years” badging on the left-rear cargo door.
It’s all designed to appeal to the enthusiast who recognizes the long-term durability of a van that has maintained a steady presence throughout 50 years of societal change.
“Ford has maintained its level of success for E-Series by continually monitoring its customers’ needs and maintaining a high level of quality,” said Craig Ruggirello, assistant marketing manager for E-Series. “If there’s a secret to its success, that might just be it.”
Back in the beginning
E-Series debuted as the Econoline in 1961, designed for commercial customers. Three bodystyles were available – Pickup, Delivery Van and Station Bus. The pickup delivered up to 30 mpg and carried a three-quarter-ton payload in a big 7-foot box. The van offered 204 cubic feet of cargo space – up to 57 cubic feet more than competitors – and had double doors at the side and rear for easy loading. The Station Bus, with twice the interior room of the biggest station wagon of the day, was designed to accommodate up to eight passengers when fitted with two optional bench seats as well as the standard driver and passenger buckets.
A year later Club Wagon arrived, a family-friendly version of the Econoline designed for family transportation along with light towing.
As popular as those series became, they soon weren’t enough. What started as a light commercial vehicle had been discovered by campers and other outdoor vacationers. By 1965 the Econoline van – already America’s biggest-selling van – had a new teammate: Econoline SuperVan. SuperVan was a full 16 inches longer than any other van, offering room to spare for loads eight-and-a-half-feet long behind the engine compartment.
By 1969, the second-generation Econoline vans had hit the market, modernized with V8 engines and air conditioning and joined by the Club Wagon series, which offered a revolutionary new twin I-beam front suspension for a smooth, quiet ride. In 1971, power steering became an Econoline option, and then the model line expanded again to include the Parcel Delivery Van and a cutaway model for the rapidly growing RV market.
In 1975, when van popularity hit new heights, Ford introduced the third generation of Econoline. The new van featured body-on-frame construction, higher gross vehicle weight ratings, an improved interior package and a wider selection of engines. This design was offered in the same basic configuration for the next 17 years.
Extending its reach
Over the years, Ford kept tabs on the wants and needs of its customers. In 1976, for instance, the Econoline made a youthful statement with the Cruising Van, a factory-customized model with mod paint schemes, porthole panel windows and a carpeted interior.
Econoline continued to extend its reach, and its popularity grew. Third-party van conversion companies helped make Econoline a favorite among buyers looking for customized features. Other bodymakers, including ambulance companies and shuttle van manufacturers, adopted Econoline. Partly because of the van’s popularity with commercial bodymakers, Ford introduced a chassis cab model in 1978.
Over the next few years, the improvements continued. In 1981, higher payloads appeared on most models, and halogen headlamps became standard. In 1987, an eight-passenger Club Wagon was introduced. Then in 1992, the entire line got a redesign.
A fourth generation – and more
The fourth generation of Econoline vans and Club Wagons were completely modernized after 17 years – redesigned aerodynamically and stylistically to meet the needs of the ’90s. Airbags were added, the sheet metal was new. There was new front end styling and dramatic improvements in quietness. Popularity of the full-size vans continued to soar. In fact, MOTOR TREND magazine named the 1992 Ford Econoline Chateau Club Wagon its Truck of the Year. In 1997, the line was refreshed with overhead-cam engines, including the only V10 in the segment.
Taking on the new millennium
For 2001, Ford introduced the E-Traveler model, keeping up with the increasingly crowded market of SUVs and passenger vans, and debuting the shorter, snappier “E” version of the name. “E-Series” replaced “Econoline” in company literature, and Ford kept close tabs on an ever-changing market to make certain its long-standing product would thrive.
Then for 2008, Ford streamlined the E-Series, reintroducing the series as a strictly commercial vehicle and revamping the offerings to meet its emerging fleet customer needs. Cargo space was increased. Chassis and suspension improvements led to a more solid ride and also resulted in best-in-class capability. The front end design was inspired by Ford Super Duty to emphasize that this was a Built Ford Tough van.
For 2011, the E-Series’ winning streak continues – it proudly carries the title of America’s best-selling full-size van for 31 consecutive years. Available technologies like Ford Work Solutions, SYNC voice-activated communications and entertainment system, and a Navigation System with HD Radio™ bring E-Series squarely into the future, setting the stage for both productivity and customer satisfaction.