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The Carchive: The 1985 Ford Club Wagons

Chris Haining April 9, 2014 Cars You Should Know, The Carchive 17 Comments



Yesterday it was revealed that we’re celebrating it being American Van Week at The Carchive, a festival that could well become an annual event. You heard it here first.

We got things started yesterday with the GMC Rally. Today we step forward 12 months while we drink in the considerable majesty of the ’83 Ford Club Wagon.

“Spacious. Comfortable. Versatile. There’s no better way to describe America’s favourite passenger van. Ford Club Wagon.”

Compare and contrast that to the opening statement of yesterday’s brochure. At least Ford have taken the trouble to define what it is they’re describing. And it sets the tone for the brochure. In theirs, GM had basically just said “It’s a great way of carrying stuff” whereas Ford had succinctly acknowledged that people could be not just carried, but in comfort, spaciousness and a high degree of versatility.

The Club Wagon being a commercial vehicle, this is a concise brochure dealing more with fact than nonsensical lifestyle mumbo-jumbo.

“Club wagon offers a wide range of gas-powered engines starting with the high-torque 4.9l I-6. The four-speed manual overdrive transmission, optional last year with the 4.9l Six and 5.0l V8, is now standard in the E150 series.”

The six-cylinder 4.9 was base,  then you could have V8’s of 5.0, 5.8 or 7.5 capacity with gasoline as the preferred brew, or a 6.9 litre diesel. Ford seemed to be rather more cagey than GM when it came to disclosing power outputs, perhaps believing them to be “adequate” in Rolls-Royce style. Being that we’re discussing American pushrod engines on the early ’80s we’d be rash to expect anything more.

That was quite a broad choice, though, meaning that any application from easy suburban people-haulage to more demanding load-lugging roles were well represented.

With reference to the mobilisation of folk, if only a handful of passengers required accommodation, ford could lay on something a bit special for them.

“Captain’s club wagon:- The Ultimate.”

The Captain’s Club package appears on paper, from where I’m looking, to trump the most lavish offering from General Motors.

“Standard are handsome quad captains chairs that recline and swivel- the best Club Wagon seating available for you and three passengers. Between the front and rear seats is a snack/game table with four recessed beverage holders”

A snack / game table; for those who play with their food. Of course, the Captain’s Club package was absolutely the top of the range, beyond even the woodgrain ‘n chrome XLT flavour. You could specify air-conditioning vents for the rear compartment, and the feeling of being sat inside what was, in essence, a delivery van with cushions was lessened somewhat.

Heading back down to Earth we found the basic club wagon, shorn of any of the glitziness of the others, charged with the simple task of moving people from place A to place B, with no luxury even hinted at.

“Here’s a truly fine value in today’s field of roomy passenger vans. It’s practical and nicely equipped. Standard are power steering and brakes, high illumination halogen headlamps, P-metric steel-belted radial tyres.”

And that’s all you get, pretty much. If it were a Porsche it would be a Club Sport; stripped down to the bone with any superficial weight lipo’d out. The basic model would be the perfect choice for people-trafficking or the en masse movement of family relatives you really don’t get on with.

“Club wagon is the natural choice for van-pooling as well. Available is a special Van Pooling package which includes 5.8L V-8 (7.5L gas and 6.9L Diesel optional), Auxiliary fuel tank (18 gal.), rear door latch and lock, four dual beam /dome map lights, colour keyed vinyl headliner, black stepwell pads for front and sliding side doors”

Van pooling. More determined than car pooling and not really something that’s ever caught on in the UK. Sounds like fun, though, like a school-bus for grown-ups. Never done it, personally. Opting for the Van Pooling package brought you the the XL trim level, with an upgrade to XLT available, even if your inevitable destination was a place of work at least the journey there wouldn’t necessarily be the most miserable bit of the day.

Of course; my entire knowledge of the Econoline-based Club Wagons is based on the contents of this brochure. If there’s more that we should know, I urge you to drop it in the comments bit below. Somebody must have an hilarious Captain’s Club related story, surely? (Ideally involving vans).

(Disclaimer: All images are of original manufacturer publicity material, photographed by me. When I was a kid I never got to travel in a “Club Wagon”, the rusty old Ford I was ferried about in was a mere Transit minibus. No V8s, either.)

  • The wheel choice on the left in the second picture is AWESOME. It looks like it came off a Hot Wheels car. I can't remember ever seeing a Ford van in real life with those wheels (or RWL tires, for that matter).

    • Marc

      My thoughts exactly!

  • skitter

    I've ridden in a bunch of these things, and

  • cruisintime

    The most Versatile of all Fords.

    • ptschett

      Also in the running:
      <img src="; width="500">
      (…or is this tractor the most Ford of all Versatiles?)

  • marmer01

    My wife had the Econoline version of this, with the vinyl seats and not much else. Her dad bought it for her cheap. She couldn't wait to get into an actual automobile instead of a rolling metal shed.

  • Slow_Joe_Crow

    My experience is that the 87 and up vehicles with EFI were better running. I used to drive a shop van that was an 89 E350 window van, basically the Red/White van in the 2nd picture but with no seats and a 351 HO (5.8) V8 with a low axle ratio for towing. Unladen it was seriously quick due the combination of high torque, short gears and not much weight, and even with a 9,000 pound trailer it still moved along well.

  • Van_Sarockin

    I'm gobsmacked by these eurospec offerings. Maybe you could order one in the US this way, but I don't think I've ever seen an inline six mated to a four speed overdrive manual. Pretty sure no one in the US ever ordered one with a diesel.

    These aren't so much commercial vans as people haulers. Working vans don't have carpet. Very popular with larger families. Church groups, airport hotel shuttles, etc. The vanpool is what you do when you don't have enough people for a bus.

    Thanks for putting me in hog heaven this week!

    • I_Borgward

      My first Econoline had a V8 with that 4 speed O/D manual setup. Awful, awful, awful, from the fragile, wobbly mechanical clutch linkage to the balky, ever-jamming floor shifter to the utter crap Mazda bearings in the transmission. The 2 to 3 MPG improvement over the automatic was more than offset by the expense of constantly repairing the damn thing. Run, do not walk away! This is coming from someone who's a fan of the Econoline (I've owned three others since then). But after that, I went strictly automatic.

      • Van_Sarockin

        My first, FC E-100 had a 170 with a three speed, and a diff meant only for delivery. And really, what more did you need? I lived with a dream that one day i would connect with the four speed column shift, only available from Dagenham. That day never came, and I still bear the scars.

        • I_Borgward

          The legendary Dagenham 4-speed! Well, legendary to me, anyway, as I've never, ever seen one, just pictures of it in the Hayne's manual. The name certainly has that mystique, doesn't it? Better than E4OD, anyway.

          I think the older Econolines must have had better clutch linkages , as I can't imagine fleet owners tolerating the erector set crap I had on my 3rd gen for long. I believe Ford went with a hydraulic setup later on, which is what they really should have had in the first place.

  • 66Mustanger

    Used an '83 Club Wagon for years hauling the band equipment all over – PA, my bass amp and cabinet with the 2×15's, drums, keyboard and at least one band member to keep me awake. It did everything I asked of it. Eventually, though, the 302 might not have been enough. It blew a head gasket on the way back from a gig. I was going to do the work. Lead guitarist's son attended shop class. He asked if he could work on it as a class project. He had it apart, started to put it together. Ended up becoming a "wall job." I had replaced it in the interim with a Chevy Astro van. That one went just about 200,000 miles of family, band and scout hauling with the Vortec V6. Gotta love it!

  • stigshift

    I never that the '85 Club Wagons were made in '83.

    • stickmanonymous

      I never either wasn't. Each.

      • stigshift

        Knew. Never knew… Shit….

    • A temporal anomally has beset The Carchive. Oops…

  • stickmanonymous

    Van pooling.

    Working at the local ski-hill, I did my fair share of it.

    By gum, if the ski bums didn't stink at the beginning of the day, they sure did at the end.

    A heady aroma of weed, dubious personal hygiene, and poverty.

    All wrapped up in the continent's most disgusting E-Series van.

    The trick was to sit right at the back, away from the door. That way you didn't get volunteered to put on the snow chains, and spend the rest of the day covered in mud.

    Best five months of my life.

    Van pooling. Yum.

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