Scuderia Mugshots Part 5 – ’91 Ford Econoline Van

Van in storage front

1991 Ford Econoline E150 Clubwagon
5.0 litre V8, 3 speed column shift automatic
Bought 2009, Stanford surplus property auction

As can be seen from the pictures here, the van, for so long a daily driver, is now off the road, and in long term storage.

Distraught hood

As I look at pics from when I bought it, I am struck by how hard the ocean air has been on the body: the whole lip of the hood/bonnet has come away. To me, the rust streaks down the tan paint on one side represent spectacular patina, but I recognize seeing that is my unique perversion. Or perhaps it isn’t. Three people have approached me in the street and offered to buy it.

Despite the damp, it has been a continual reliable starter*, and that explains why I am reluctant to let it go. The City of San Francisco sure as hell want it to go – they will pay me $1000 to take it to a breakers yard. If it was continually non-running, I might have been tempted by the bounty. But after 45,000 loyal miles ? Nope.

*in fairness, there was one occasion when the starter solenoid jammed, and the starter drained the battery before I found tools to disconnect it. I called AAA, they got it started, only for it to die at the first set of traffic lights. I had to wait 15 minutes for a different recovery guy to come to get it jump started again. The joys of Bangernomics.


However, I got to feeling it had to go as I got to know my neighbors, and came to feel I couldn’t park this horror in front of their homes any longer. Matters reached a head: it needed registration and insurance, and to do that needed to pass the California smog check. Even cursory observation revealed that it needs more work than makes sense both in terms of time and money. I am thus stuck, because I don’t want to get rid of it, but it is worth nothing, and isn’t useful.

The backdrop here is that much of the work I did on the van was with things related to or affected by the various smog devices mandated in the early nineties. I am a California Smog Technician and while I was training, I found passing the exams achievable without hands on experience, but for me to be actually able to smog, let alone fix cars, I needed to get my fingers dirty. The van was perfect to practice on – I didn’t care whether I damaged it or not with my incompetant mechnicing skills. Today, I know I can fix the van, and the Fox Mustang, but I would rather focus on Scuderia vehicles uninhibited by smog hassles, specifically the 63 Pontiac GP and Camaro. The cut off is 1975 – 1976 cars need smog, 1975 ones don’t.

About a year ago, I saw Judas Priest with an old friend from England. We travelled in the van; returning to it after the show, he said “You know, I get that van. It is a “F*ck You” to everybody“. He’s right, it is, vegan car hater to teenage supercar fanboy to billionaire car collector, everyone looks at it and says “Molestor van”. Its amusing that in this series of films, an Econoline like mine features !!!!

$30/month Storage with a Fat Man in a Field
Last summer I went to Italy to help my sister move house. The day I picked up that Renault was infact my third day straight of moving, since I used the van to help move out of Salida warehouse – and then went and dropped it off, as per this little video:

It turned out it was a field on the edge of town with a fat bloke living in a trailer with some pitbulls. He showed me where to park, I disconnected the battery, locked up, and wondered aloud if we should have a contract. He said no. Since I was flying to Italy the following day, and done with storage units, the van, and the Central Valley in the middle of summer, I gave him two months rent, and called an Uber.





Returning two months later, there was grass grown up all around it. I should’ve paused for a photo opp, but I was anxious to see if it would start; of course it fired up first turn of the key.

I drove over to a service station, and threw in some brake fluid and topped up the tires. It was during this I noticed a large black spider crawling out from behind the wheelcap. A black widow ? I’ve nearly been bitten before, at a giant breakers yard in LA, they love the dark quiet spots they find in unused cars. I popped the other wheelcaps off before leaning in close to attach the airline, and thereby saved myself from any more aranchnid surprises.

On the freeway the van ran better than ever, and I remembered how I felt first taking it home from Stanford – my God, it works!, and the more I drive it, the more it likes it! With the heat, and the thirty miles on the freeway, and lurking black widows would’ve been shook free or ground up on the wheel bearing, right ?

Clearly, there’s no way I could thereby have inadvertently imported a colony of black widows into my new storage facility. No way.

Van axle leak, brake fluid leak

Smog, and that means at least:
– mid + rear exhaust
– manifold
– brake cylinder rebuild – as per pick above see leak over tire. I have been topping up brake fluid quite religiously since I had a particularly frightening moment on the freeway during 2013 when the pedal suddenly went to the floor without offering much in the way of retardation one morning. Looks like the back axle seal has failed too, right ?

It depends. At the moment, the van is part of a series of experiments I am running around California’s smog test rules. If these are successful, and so far they have been, it should be possible for the van to return to the road, legally, without needing smog.