Our 1965 Econoline Delivery Van

Quote | “If you restore a car, and you’re making money, then you’re doing it wrong.”

– Jay Leno, Comedian, Automobile Enthusiast
What’s the story with the van?

Baxter, Our ’65 Econoline Delivery Van

When you specialize in delivering customers, you need a delivery van right?

(please note it may take a few minutes for all the galleries to finish downloading).

The van serves as a visual metaphor for delivering customers to our customers. It also serves us well as a mobile website assessment lab, a trade show booth (it fits perfectly in a 10’x20′ space!). The van also helps represent us at shop visits, car shows, and any corporate events we get asked to attend. Plus I have always loved the charmingly almost cartoonish look of the Econoline and it has been on my short list of vehicles to own one day.

As we mention throughout the website, we don’t just “talk the talk, but we also walk the walk”. If you are interested in the restoration story of the van, all work except the spraying of the paint was done by Stratosphere Studio’s founder Tom Zoebelein. Here is his story:

In December 2016, I set out to find a budget friendly ’65 Econonline, and located one in a shed in nearby downtown Baltimore. Although it appears as though the van was once a TV repair van, this was actually some awesome hand lettering from the prior owner for a fictitious company just to make the van look cool. Hence the name “Baxter” that we call the van today. While it was tough to sand off all that hand work, this was not my intent for the van and a new chapter awaited this old girl. The purchase was made and I brought it home to start the restoration. This is not my first time restoring a vehicle (I’ve been doing this since I was 13), and I thought I had chosen wisely. I knew it needed some work but I was hoping for a quick respray, some mechanical refreshening and have it out on the road agin by spring. Of course it didn’t turn out that way.

Mechanical

The van was a running and driving vehicle and although it smoked a bit at start up, it seemed to be in decent condition. My own personal restoration process is to literally start from the ground up and I replace all the suspension bushings, and convert the front drums to disc brakes. I also put on a new set of shocks all around, tie rod ends, kingpins, and I rebuilt the steering box which had bad bearings in it. I also re-bushed the shift rods. This van has the 170 in it and I got a deal on a running ’77 Ford 200 6 cylinder that has larger intake valves, and I set it aside. More on that later.

As you probably know, a lot of ugly can hide under thick bondo and as I began to strip the old paint, this van quickly revealed itself as being a victim of the pop rivet gun and gallons of bondo.

This van started life as an oil field service vehicle for an oil company in Pennsylvania that is still in business. It changed hands sometime in the 1980’s where it got its most recent repaint and I still have the receipt from 1989. It was at this point that the prior owner began cutting out the rust and riveting in very thin sheet metal. It was still coated both sides and I believe it was all gutter sheet metal. I’m guessing the one who did the work might have used the van for a seamless gutter company.

Body

After the holidays I was done with mechanical and started on the body. I stripped all the paint off of this by hand and if I ever do another van, I’m getting it stripped. The money I might have saved, I lost on time. This old girl had at least 5 different paint layers and colors on it and was so thick that chemical stripper wouldn’t get it all the way to bare metal. I probably lost a month on sanding the old paint off.

It was at this point that I learned the sad extent of the body condition. The floors are completely solid and original, but all the cab corners, quarter panels, rocker panels, tail panel, wheel arches, and the section under the doors all needed patches or just a full replacement. Luckily you can buy decent reproduction panels but nothing for the front wheel arches so I had to make all that.

My shop is just a two car garage at home and I have a decent enough metal shop, but with my ’58 Desoto in there, space is a premium. I pretty much did all the work in the driveway except for when it got to primer and paint which was done at a friends body shop.

After a couple weeks of working nights and weekends, I got the metal work completed and moved on to the filler stage. By now it was spring, and I spent all spring handling the filler work. I’m much better and faster at metal work than I am at filler and sanding and I probably take too much off each time, but I’m getting better. After a couple of months I finally got the van pretty straight. It is a van after all and has a lot of surface area, not to mention it has 8 doors!

Primer & Final Paint

Next I brought the van down to my friend’s shop at Bel Air Auto Body for primer, then a couple of coats of slick sand high build primer. I would spend a day or two per week and some saturdays out in the shop blocking the slick sand until I finally got it nice and flat. This was followed by two more coats of primer, and another round of blocking. Same goes for all the doors as well. I caulked up all the seams and we sprayed the dash and jambs.

Finally in July, the van was ready to go into the booth. Because of the size of the van we painted the roof first- two coats of base and clear, and let it cure for a couple of days out of the booth.

A week later we then taped off the roof, and finally laid down the two coats of base and clear. The color is just basic Ford Oxford white and we just used shop line paint. While we will use this for shows, its not really a “show car”. After an evening in the booth, I finally was able to take it home. We left for vacation the same day so it had a nice full week to sit in the garage and cure.

We got back from vacation and I made a few paint corrections and fixed a few nibs and some small sags.

Re-assembly

Next came my favorite part- re-assembly. I put in all new seals and window weather stripping as well as new felt around the windows. Once that was complete I moved on to the graphics. I wanted to get these hand done but despite several calls to my local striper who never responded, I switched gears and decided to go with vinyl and may get it hand lettered one day in the future because I just love the look.

Interior

For the interior I had the idea to incorporate elements from all the vertical markets we serve- Auto RV Marine and Aviation. The flooring is Lonseal Lon Marine marine grade vinyl that looks like vintage tongue and groove holly and teak wood like you would find on a Chris Craft boat.

The interior sides are done in aluminum. As I write this I’m still working on them, and ultimately they will get rivets and I’ll hand polish them so that they look like an airstream camper or a vintage plane.

I’m still trying to figure out what to do for the headliner.

Finally for seating I picked up a set of ’67 mustang bucket seats at a junkyard for $30 bucks, and bought two more from a ’65 Mustang on Craigslist. I ordered a new set of ’67 Mustang seat foam (which will fit a ’65 frame if any one is wondering), and I ordered four ’67 Mustang seat cover kits. I like the ’67 seat covers because they are two tone.
Stratosphere Studio's 65 Econolne Interior

Wheels and Tires

The wheels are 15″ Hurst Dazzler’s and the tires are Summitomo. I picked the dazzlers because I have never seen a set on an Econoline before and I wanted something ’60s hot rod but different. I think these work really well.

65 econoline Hurst Dazzler Wheels
Ultimately I would like to lower the van just a tad bit and maybe remove a leaf, but the wheels and tires do fit the van nicely as it sits now. I think it will look better if it comes down just a hair and tucks the tops of the wheels under the wheel well arches. These vans do not lower well, and with the exception of some vans like Coby Gewertz’s 63 Ford Econoline “VanGO”, most people don’t fool with lowering them. Its a straight axle with reverse steering and you sit on top of the wheels so there is not much room to play with.

Engine

For now I’m using the 170 but eventually as of this writing, I’m getting ready to rebuild the 200 straight six that I have. I have already gasket matched and ported the exhaust outlets on the head. I’m going to swap from the one barrel to a two bbl Weber DGES carb and upgrade to electronic ignition. Headers are available for these engines and they should help to wake it up a bit. I’m going to stay pretty mild on the cam. Lastly I’m going to swap the 4.11’s in the rear with a 3.25 for better highway manners. It has a 9″ rear in it now.

So that’s the story on the van. It serves as our mascot and with all work done by me (except paint) I hope it helps to solidify to a prospective customer that when I say I know your business (even if you are in Marine, or RV or Aviation) I understand how to perform the work, and I know what you face as technicians and business owners.

If you want to see the van in person, keep an eye out for our social media and blog for upcoming events. As we grow I hope to be able to take it to more events and exhibit at more shows and conferences throughout the country and throughout the year.

Got any questions or comments? Drop me a line.

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Quote | “When you fix something with your hands, it gives you a sense of accomplishment and a sense of self worth.”

– Jay Leno, Comedian, Automobile Enthusiast