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Van, Damn

2012 Ford E-150

The year was 1975. The US had its first non-elected president (Ford) and vice-president (Rockefeller) in history. The Cincinnati Reds defeated the Boston Red Sox in the World Series. And Ford introduced its third-generation Econoline van.

That van, for the most part, is still available in Ford showrooms. Sure, some tweaks have been made over the years—a few corners rounded-off, an option or two added to the list—but the 2012 Ford E-150 which is our subject this week isn’t ground-breakingly different from the 1975 Econoline 150 that I bought new for around $3,500. And I guess it needn’t be, as the E-Series (as it’s been called since 2002) still holds about 75 percent of the domestic full-sized van market. But if you want a new one, be aware that Ford is coming out with a totally new line of vans to replace the E-Series, which will hit showrooms for the 2014 model year.

So this seems as good a time as any to take one last look at the venerable old Econoline’s current offering, namely a spiffy 2012 E-150 XLT found at West-Herr Ford in Amherst last week. The XLT has enough glass to almost make you feel you’re sitting outside. As I sat in the driver’s seat a wave of nostalgia came over me, as the same basic design from that first ’75 is still there. And, just like back then, the driver’s seat has hardly any fore-and-aft adjustment. Shoving it back as far as it would go gave me just enough room to get my legs beneath the steering wheel. And moving over to the front passenger seat reminded me why I was grateful to be the driver and not a passenger back in the day—the engine compartment so intrudes on the passenger’s footwell that you have to sit at an awkward angle to stretch out your legs. Some things never change.

This XLT had three rows of seats, and with a 138-inch wheelbase, I’d guess there was enough room behind that third row to rent it out as a small apartment. Getting back there was…wel,l the tall van has plenty of head room but it’s a tight squeeze between the second row and the wall without opening the side door. The back doors open wide, but it’s a tall step up over the bumper. This wasn’t the biggest wagon available, though (and, just to clear things up a bit, Ford calls the windowless, commercial version a “van,” and the windowed, passenger version a “wagon)—there’s an extended body which can have up to five rows of seats and hold up to 15 passengers.

The silver XLT we looked at was equipped with a 4.6-liter V-8 (for an extra grand, the 150 is available with a 5.4-liter V-8); the only available transmission is a four-speed automatic with overdrive—and in a nod to the old days, there’s an on/off switch on the dash for the overdrive). It also came equipped with a 33-gallon gas tank (with EPA figures of 13/16 miles per gallon city/highway for the 4.6, it’s either a big tank, or stop at every Thruway rest area for gas on those long trips); front and rear a/c (a good thing, seeing that the rear-most passengers are in a different zip code); and running boards for all side doors (apparently Ford realized that these things are not used only by basketball teams).

The price on this XLT, with options, was $31,200. I’m guessing the T-Series will be more expensive, probably more efficient also. But if you want to go old-school, the E-Series still works well for what it does.

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Read more of Jim Corbran's You Auto Know every other week in Artvoice, and more frequently on Artvoice Daily.

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