Back in 1974, my mother had a nice idea. Because we were involved in Scouting, she thought it would be a good idea to trade in our 1972 Oldsmobile Ninety-Eight for a new Ford Econoline camper van conversion. She almost did exactly that. In the long run, I’m glad she chose to keep the Oldsmobile sedan.
During the same era, vans were “in.” They were not just for camping or work, but represented a new sense of freedom. A Chevy Van, Ford Econoline or Dodge Tradesman could be converted into a private den of iniquity. Van conversions were much more elaborate with carpeted interiors, beds and the ubiquitous porthole window in the rear quarter panel.
Thirty years later, full-size vans are still in business. However, they are strictly for said purpose. If you plan to move your room across town, you hire one from U-Haul or Budget to do the job. When you need to get to the airport and cannot afford cab fare, a full-sized passenger van will meet you at the door to take you on your way.
After the minivan boom, there is still a market for full-sizers. The new wave of conversion vans takes in consideration the comfort of the past with the glitz and chrome of today’s custom accessories. Ford, GM and DaimlerChrysler still dole out their line of big vans for various commercial purposes.
In the next few months, both Dodge and Ford will introduce their new versions of the full-size van. Needless to say, these two monsters are as different as any two vans could be.
Mercedes-Benz, DaimlerChrysler’s German half of the deal, supplies their Sprinter van series for North American consumption to the Dodge Boys. By slapping on Dodge’s crosshair grille and badges only tell both the Mercedes and the Dodge apart. In its second iteration, the Dodge Sprinter represents the only European-style large van in this market.
A European van not only comes in various wheelbases and configurations, but also various heights. The Sprinter is the tallest van on sale in North America. A tall contractor or tradesman can stand up and utilize the higher interior space the Sprinter offers. This is a huge selling point for the South Carolina-assembled German van.
You can also get a cab/chassis model for local delivery models or a passenger version for airport shuttle services. Plus, you can choose between a 3.0litre V6 diesel and a 3.5litre V6 gas engine, both engines supplied by Mercedes-Benz. The Diesel can run on B5 fuel, or 5% biodiesel, yet DaimlerChrysler have been testing higher concentration of bio-diesel elements in their motors. The 3.5 gas engine is not E85 compatible. An automatic transmission drives the motor to its rear wheels.
If you want a traditional American van, then Ford has it ready to go! Ford’s take is a facelift on the old Econoline van, now called the E-Series. The facelift was influenced by the brand new F-Series Super Duty pickup truck. When you look at the 2008 E-Series, you are looking at one pissed off van with a huge monster grille and a two stacks of jeweled headlights. Yeah, it’s another Bold Move.
The E-Series comes in various wheelbase sizes, but not heights. This is why the Sprinter is becoming a more desirable product here. Would it be nice if a 6’2” bearish plumber can stand tall in an E-Series while finding parts to help install your toilet?
What Ford offers the commercial fleet buyer is a wider choice. As with the Sprinter, you can get a passenger van or a cab/chassis version of the E-Series. However, you get a wider choice of engines in which neither of them is less than 8 cylinders. Truthfully, Ford’s Triton V8s, both 4.6 and 5.4litres in size, are nothing to sneeze at. For bigger hauls, a monstrous 6.8litre V10 Triton petrol motor tops the range. Sadly, no diesel or E85 motors are available for the E-Series at this time.
Sadly, I have not driven either the Ford or the Dodge. Five years ago, I utilized a GMC Savana for a local move in Madison, Wis. The GMC, along with its Chevrolet Express twin, is a fine American-style van. Emphasize the term “American style.”
If you’re a fleet buyer or a tradesperson making it your own, compare all four before you invest in your van. You may find the Dodge better in the work you want to do over the Ford or the GMC/Chevrolet. Perhaps the Ford or the Chevrolet works better for you.
The question must be asked: will there be more European-type vans coming our way? It seems that the European commercial van business is very strong over on that side of the pond and they represent a more efficient and spacious counterpoint to the traditional American van. Add the plethora of diesel motors that can meet the new EPA and 50-state emissions regulations and you have the potential of the E-Series to eventually bow to the new Ford Transit over here. All Ford needs to do is to add the right automatic transmission and they’ll challenge the Sprinter head on. Then again, we’re stuck with the traditional American van as long as GM and Ford feign development to match DaimlerChrysler’s lead.
So much for making love in your Chevy Van…