After crossing several States with Jeff Lenosky as part of Drew’s Turkey Trip, we had the idea to put his trusty Ford Econoline (E350) up against the Ford Transit to see if style and savings could best modern technology and space. While we know there’s a whole lot of Toyota Tacoma’s at the trailheads, it’s hard to deny the massive presence of vans at motocross tracks and mountain bike trailheads around the world and this Van Off will hopefully give vanners a look at two options when weighing how to get into that budget van life.
Both of us bought our vans used, meaning the savings were instant. Ford Transit vans are more affordable than Sprinters but more costly than Ram’s ProMaster offering, but they still ain’t cheap. The Transit Cargo starts at roughly $35,000 dollars with the passenger versions starting over $40,000 new. Being that Jeff is on a budget and bought his used as a lease return, he paid $28,000 for a nearly $50,000 van with just 20,000 miles on it. From there he began the tear down process and started building the van to suit him.
While $28 grand is a great deal for a $50,000 van, I just wasn’t in a spot to drop that kind of coin on a van so instead, I chose to upgrade my trusty Ford E350 12-passenger van for the longer, E350 15-passenger Extended version. Ford stopped making Econolines and ushered in the new Transit but there is still a die-hard following for these rugged, brutish looking vans and that is one of the many advantage of this platform to newer “Euro” vans. Ford does still offer an E-Series Cutaway that outfits like Sportsmobile and construction or shuttle companies buy as the rolling chassis for custom builds however. So if you’re super handy, or want a new E-Series, it can be done, it’ll just cost you and that’s not what the Econoline is about for our sake.
Since Ford Econolines are no longer being made, the number of them is only decreasing, which means finding cherry ones with low miles is going to get harder every year. But, I was able to sell his 12-pass with nearly 200,000 miles on the clock and buy a 2010 with 56,000 while only pulling $5,000 out of my pocket! If you’re down to put in the work, knock on doors, look in church parking lots or online, you can still find Econolines with 45-55,000 miles pretty easily. The challenge however, is finding clean ones that aren’t over $15,000. Old folks homes, churches and small schools are great options and much better than plumbers or electricians vans that were loaded up with thousands of pounds of gear every single day. Also worth considering idle times as ambulances and shuttle companies may not have tons of miles on their rigs but they could have huge idle hours on the motor.
Luckily I was able to find a van that was owned by a private party who had a big family and was also thinking about starting a small shuttle business in his town, but it never panned out. The van sat most of the year and was a great buy, so I jumped on it as calls were pouring in. From there the tear down and rebuild began. My good friend Greg Flack who’s an electrician by trade and all-around handyman helped with wiring my LED lights, insulation and putting up the Home Depot ship lap ceiling. From there I began working on storage and bike rack solutions inside. Much like Jeff, we were both building our vans to suit our needs while trying to stay on a budget and while staying practical.
Not sure we can totally say one van is “better” as there are so many nuances to each that make it a win for some people more than others, but we’ll evaluate a couple key topics. Jeff’s van takes the win for having more space, getting slightly better fuel economy and being able to stand up inside. Point for Ford Transit.
I may be biased, but I think the Ford E350 takes the win in the looks department, handling on the twisties and power. Only cuz Jeff has the non-turbo V6. That EcoBoost is bad ass!
Also, the gas tank on the Sprinter is TINY, and sort of a bummer for long trips. With a 33+ gallon capacity on the Econoline, I’m down to put the pedal to the metal and crush miles whereas the 25 gallon tank on the Transit meant we were pulling over like a pregnant lady sipping iced tea. Two points for the Ford E350.
Off roading capabilities are gonna go to the Econoline in both stock and 4×4 format. There’s a reason SPortsmobile still buys the E-Series cutaways from Ford. They are far superior to any full size van when it comes to suspension upgrades and off road articulation/performance. Even in stock setting, ground clearance and navigation of terrain go to the Econoline van. Point for Ford Econoline.
Comfort, quiet and fuel economy points go to the Ford Transit for sure. It’s a bit more aero, I guess, but it certainly rides more like a car and isn’t as loud inside. Point for Transit.
Value! The most personal and arguable topic of all… My van cost me $11,000 and some sweat, insulation, wood, L-Track and time. Jeff’s van cost him $28,000 and cost him some time, brainstorming material and work. For the most part we did it ourselves or with the help of friends and probably spent less than $5,000 finishing up the vans. The question I’m asking myself when considering an “upgrade” is, does the $15,000 upcharge outweigh the benefits I’d get of having a taller van. Ultimately, that’s all I’m gaining is storage space. Since fuel economy isn’t all that great, sadly, I’m just not sure I’ll spend $15,000 in fuel to make up that difference, so is standing up and pulling bikes in and out more easily worth it. I may have to start a dollar jar for every time I curse and swear as I wrestle bikes in and out of this “small, low-roofed” van. If I’m annoyed enough times that I stuff $15,000 in that jar, I may go to the Ford Transit. Until then, I may be listing the Wolf Wagon for sale and try hunting down the next E350 with low miles!