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Sunday, November 27, 2016


{A VinVanCo Resurrection Plan}



IV: WILLs and WON’Ts


Meet Poochie, our humble 1961 Ford Econoline. It will be coaxed out of its thirty-year coma to serve as the Vinvanco swag wagon, hauling everything from canopies and tables, to folding chairs and Vinvanco, Hot Rod Shift Knob and HouseOspeed merchandise. Yep, it will be built to carry the whole enchilada, across town or country. And it will do so with a badass stance, courtesy of a custom body-drop and a static-dropped suspension. Its cab will be surprisingly cozy delivering both driver and passengers supreme comfort, while its rear cargo area will function strictly as a hauler -- no provisions for passengers whatsoever. The C10s below are primo examples of the aesthetic we’re shooting for.


For the uninitiated, Ferris “Poochie” Clements’ family gave this retired ’61 Econoline to my son and I. All we had to do was come and retrieve it from their family’s lake house and promise to give it a good home. We originally set out for it to be a father/son project, and my son Drew’s first vehicle and nicknamed it "Poochie" in honor of Ferris.

Poochie the van still wears its original 55-year-old seafoam green coat paint. Hand-lettering was added back in the day to make its presence known in and around Brownwood, Texas, where it was a light duty delivery vehicle for many moons, transporting the likes of cigars, cigarettes, candy, and drugs.

After twenty-five plus years of faithful service, Ferris Clements retired the Earl Clements & Son Econoline from daily duty and it was replaced by a brand spanking new one.  The old Econoline was rolled into a one-car garage at the family’s lake house where it sat untouched until the fateful day it was gifted to us back in 2008. Although it had been a work truck, it had never sat out overnight and we figure that’s the reason why its lightly battered but still credible seafoam green body had endured five-plus decades.

When given to us, the Clements family asked only that we “do something interesting” with it.
After bathing it for the first time in 25 years, we realized that the van’s body and paint were in remarkably good condition, all things considered. We coaxed its nose back into place with a series of gentle rubber mallet blows delivered to the backside of the front end’s sheet metal. A similar fate met a small ding in one of its rear quarters. We flat out feel in love with its patina and decided we would to leave Poochie's exterior just as it is, in honor of Ferris "Poochie" Clements himself, as he was by all accounts a bit of a character.

Not satisfied to leave well enough alone, we hypothesized that a slam and a modern drivetrain were just what was needed to make Poochie a high roller again.

Easier said than done as it turned out.

Don’t let the above picture fool you. It’s purely a mock-up. To achieve Poochie’s rake, Drew and I carefully lowered the body over a set of newly purchased Cragar SS rims with BF Goodrich raised white tires. The van is totally devoid of suspension, engine and transmission in the above shot, with only its original differential still in place. The picture was taken a couple months after we brought “Poochie” home and frankly we had figured out very little at this point, other than the exact ride height we wanted.

That's when we made our first mistake.

We enthusiastically published shots of “Poochie” on the Internet and caused a virtual shit storm of inquiries. Van owners all over god’s creation wanted to know how we’d “pulled it off”.  It seems there were a lot folks who also wanted to achieve a similar ride height, but for reasons we hadn’t begun to understand yet, hadn’t been able to. Yup, dozens of folks thought we’d significantly lowered That’s when we got the first inkling how much work we had cut out for ourselves. If that many people were stuck midway through attempts to do the same, we were going to have to proceed with caution.

Nonetheless, the overwhelming response only strengthened our resolve.

Which led to a lot of unanticipated research and more than a few dead ends. Months dragged on and on and on until we suffered our first casualty. It became obvious that our son's first vehicle would no be a lowered 61 Econoline. My son opted out and I paid him back for the wheels, tires, and parts he'd purchased.

My subsequent research on how to properly lower "Poochie" evolved into the Vinvanco FB page, the website, and a line of vintage van merch as I continued to search for the most logical answers to how to drop an Econoline properly.

I've finally come to the realization that there are no easy answers. The best I can do is have a clear goal, commit to a build plan and start amassing the necessary parts. With the help of my talented friend, Morgan Rowe as the fabricator for Poochie's frame and body drop, the time has come.


Figuring out what is open to change and what is non-negotiable is all part of devising a plan.
The goal is to make Poochie a rock-solid driver. Not a perfect vehicle, but rather perfectly drivable vehicle. Built safely and smartly for daily use. Rough in places, but totally dialed-in on closer examination. Purpose-built like the piece of industrial equipment it once was and will continue to be.

For the sake of absolute clearly articulating our plan, i've created theses wills and won'ts.


have the stance of our original mock-up.
run a front bench seat in, as there will be no other provisions for passengers. Maximum occupancy, three.
Have a relocated drivetrain.
be comfortable for longs drives.
use proven parts, with a refreshing absence excess.
have a functional, flat rear cargo floor designed for ease of hauling.
be build it safety and to operate in all climates.
possess front disc brake and be equipped to handle well.
have a quality cooling system that is worry-free.
include creature comforts such as sound insulation from the drivetrain, a decent MP3 sound system and a dedicated AC system, if only for the front cab.
remain roachy with its original patina intact and be built to have the same vibe inside and out -- cool and funky, but totally functional.
embody a “chrome won’t get ya home” ethos will be embraced throughout its execution.


lay rocker or perform smoky, tire-shredding burnouts.
be a bar, have a bed, or be a beer drinker’s lair.
have excess chrome or any billet, other than its wheels and maybe its side views mirrors.
require cutting-edge, top-of-the-line, or best-of-category anything.
wear fancy paint, inside or out.
be trailered to shows, ever.
need a mind-blowing drivetrain. Just one that fits and effectively meets our goals.
won’t stray from the build plan.

Consider the work of Del Ushenko and his crew at Delmo's, or the current crop of European VW work vans that have been repurposed for current use. We basically want to do the same thing with Poochie. Like Delmo's builds, modern technology will play a definite, but understated role in our build.

My research into how to properly lower my first-generation Econoline led me to a small group of individuals who had succeeded in building lowered "earlies". What I discovered is there are no fast and affordable answers. No off-the-shelf kits or books on the subject that would result in a modernized van that stops and handles like a champ and can be driven daily. Building my Econoline at its mocked-up stance was going to require a Mustang II front end, and a lot of careful planning.

Through Vinvanco's "Twelve Questions", I interviewed a number of vanners who are well known in the hobby. Coby Gewertz. Brian Morris. Shawn Hibmacronan. Steven D. Cinnamon. Matze Schneider. Stuart Cofer and Erick Anderson. And last but not least, Steve Luckett, who not only agreed to be interviewed but subsequently sent me sequential photos and a step-by-step tutorial on how be built his Econoline's full custom frame and body-dropped "The Creeper" by 5". It was Steve's write up that resulted in the light going on in my head and the formation of this plan, along with some coaching from builder and fabricator Morgan Rower who will be my frame's builder.

These folks and their respective vans represent my thesis paper and my plan and I could have attempted this build without their knowledge and insight collectively gained from them. I'd like to take a moment to share their builds and thank each individual. And then we'll get back to my plan.

This Delmo's built C10 has the same aesthetic and modern drivetrain we're aspiring to.


Rad dad and Econoline builder Brian Morris with one of his two sons, rocking their father and son chopper trikes.
Brian's van runs elongated headlight grills which are very tasty indeed. Note the plate.
Not enough to fully slam his Econoline, Brian Morris also slammed a vintage trailer to haul with it.




Stuart Cofer is the present day owner of this beautiful Econoline Pup.
This Pup was built in Arizona by Erick Anderson, who sold it to Stuart.

Erick Anderson had Lowboy Motorsports in Arizona slam his van years ago.

You can read all about this van in the recent archives of our blog.

Steve Luckett is the home-builder, customizer and owner of "The Creeper".

You might say these vans and more specifically their owners have became my unofficial advisory panel. I can’t begin to thank them enough for their advice and insights.


A: FRAME & FABRICATION – We’ll build a full custom frame, matching the exact placement and dimensions of the stock Econoline’s front and rear sub-frames. Our frame will be raised roughly 3.5” in front and 2.5” in back. We’ll perform a mild “reverse-rake” body drop. The rear cargo floor will be raised, the front inner doors will be sectioned, and the original depth will be kept in the foot wells. Ducting will be fabricated to allow airflow to and away from the repositioned engine which will be set back to make the front bench seat possible.

B: DRIVETRAIN—A salvaged LS engine and trans will be coupled to a 9” Ford differential. Final engine choice will be based on the most compact LS we can find, probably from a passenger car, seeing as they adhered to tighter clearances with regard to accessory mounts, etc. We’ll likely run stock exhaust manifolds, and dual exhaust with quality mufflers and an extremely quality cooling system.

C: SUSPENSION—A Mustang II Front end will be used. The 9” rear will be four-linked, quality coil springs will be utilized on all four corners, and an Isuzu 90-degree steering box will be used for Poochie's forward controlled steering. Wheels and tires will be the Cragar SS Rims with BFG tires in the mock-up.

D: INTERIOR— FRONT CAB: Bench seat, aftermarket gauges, custom steering wheel, AC, MP3 audio system. REAR CARGO: A raised flatbed will be fabricated with attachment points for tie-downs and/or cargo netting. All mechanicals will be stealthily hidden beneath cargo floor, but be easily accessible.

E: EXTERIOR—Paint will consist of the original exterior paint rubbed out and clear-coated. Engine and interior components will be color-matched or contrasted in industrial color. A roof rack will provide extra cargo capacity



Morgan Rowe, my fabricator, was mightily impressed with the series of shots that Steve Luckett shared with me as well as his write up detailing the chronological steps he used in building his frame and accomplishing his van's body drop. Following Steve Luckett’s lead, Morgan will replicate Steve's frame build with a slightly different agenda. Ultimately, we’ll be static dropping “Poochie”, using a full coil spring suspension system rather that air bags, as Steve did. Whereas Steve’s van has a 5” body drop, we’ll be more conservative than that, opting for something along the lines of a 3.5” drop in front and a 2.5” drop in back, leveling Poochie’s floors to compensate for its slightly raked stance.

Poochie’s frame will be constructed atop the stock Econoline sub frames, matching the original proportions and measurements, but will be a full frame. like Steve Luckett's frame seen above. The reverse-rake idea came from Morgan Rowe. Morgan and I had been discussing the challenge that my 6’5” height and how that adds complexity to Poochie’s build, as raising the front wheel wells is clearly creating a potential headroom issue for me. As such, we won’t body drop Poochie as deeply as The Creeper, only enough to accommodate the desired rake, which in turn means we won’t have to raise the front wheel wells as far as Steve did. Plus, the front windows will be able to roll all the way down, which is a common challenge for body-dropped Econolines. Morgan also pointed out that if we static drop my van, we’ll  eliminate the need for bags, lines, compressors and tanks and air gauges. Naturally, we’ll have to be extremely diligent about the placement of the Mustang II front end as it relates to the desired rake. Another advantage is that by not needing to lay frame, the rear kick up won’t need to be radical, helping keep the cargo floor lower and the storage area larger.
The interior floors will be perfectly leveled by implementing the body drop deeper at the front, say 3.5” vs. 2.5” at the rear. If our calculations are correct, we’ll be able to float the rear floor just above the rear wheel wells, resulting in a completely flush cargo floor, albeit higher, like the Volkswagen Transporter pictured below.

The cargo area will have a purely utilitarian vibe with attachment points for the use of tie-downs, cargo netting, etc. The raised cargo floor will open up an opportunity to help overcome potential cooling issues. By relocated the engine to a true midship location, it won’t need to be housed, and therefore will be better situated to dissipate heat and attract airflow. Louvers, scoops and ducting will be devised to flow air past the engine and out the back. I came across the shot below and it got me thinking about the option of integrating cooling vents or small tasteful scoops where the panel is missing on this Econoline pickup’s lower side panel. Also of note are the types of subtle body louvers found on Corvair and VW vans.

The mid-engine placement also offers us is the ability to isolate the engine and mechanicals from the cab completely, further insulating passengers from the noise of the drivetrain and exhaust, allowing us to isolate the front cab’s riders.  Sound insulation, deadening materials and quality mufflers will used judiciously.

B: DRIVETRAIN (Engine, Transmission, Rear end)

Unlike Steve’s Luckett’s build, which reused his stock Econoline’s drivetrain, we will access a seasoned LS “pullout” backed by an LS 4L60E transmission feeding into a 9” Ford rear end. Our drivetrain was identified based on torque, gas mileage and durability. We’ll source a ‘96 or later vehicle, preferably from a car, which has lower mounted alt, etc., and the wiring and ECM.

1. Engine --
I don’t need a shit-ton of hp. I’m also willing to concede unnecessary bling. Stress-free highway speeds and light-duty hauling are of greater importance. The drivetrain will sit as low as possible and maintain a 4” scrub line for safety and improved handling.

This Delmo's built engine compartment C10 is reflective of the level of finish I have in mind.

2. Transmission --
As mentioned, an LS 460LE overdrive automatic transmission will be used, as well as all wiring and ECMs needed. As mentioned previously, figuring out how to connect the rear end and transmission in as short a distance as possible is a major consideration.

3. Rear --
The differential will be a 9” Ford and its final gear ratio will be chosen after locking in the other variables first. A very short driveshaft or CV-joint with be used. Below is an example of a transmission bolted directly to a rear end. In this case it has a cable driven Emergency brake, a perfect example of melding modern technology for safety.

{EXECUTIONAL NOTE: We will choose a high-temp paint for the drivetrain and shoot for a factory industrial look. Buick turquoise, Buick Green, or Pontiac Metallic Light Blue would provide a nice contrast to Poochie’s stock sea foam green paint.}


Poochie will be static dropped. I’ve owned two bagged vehicles -- both professionally installed Air Ride systems – and in spite of that, both let me down at least once, due to malfunctioning equipment. I can’t afford to have that happen to me in a vehicle designed to take me across country to vend shows -- arriving on time, and getting back in one piece without roadside emergencies is critical. As is decent gas mileage.

Poochie’s desired stance will likely require raising the front wheel wells. But I’m confident that running a Mustang II front end and placing it properly will allow me to have my cake and eat it to, getting the desired stance without giving up too much headroom. We’re hoping to use coil overs front and back to lower the overall cost of the suspension and result in good handling.

The rear suspension will consist of a Ford 9” rear end and we’re considering a “reverse triangulation” set-up that links to the rear of the frame rather than a cross member forward of the differential. We’ll also lower the engine and carefully select our intake and a belt-drive system to allows it to tuck down as low as possible. Doing so will help handling by lowering the vans center of balance and also accommodate a lower cargo floor.


This is my very favorite part. Blending aesthetics and essentials tin such a way that people simply can’t walk past without being drawn in. To that end, we’ll make the cab as comfortable as possible for driver and passengers, including AC for maximum comfort and an MP3 audio system. The cab will have a comfortable low-profile bench seat. The seats, door panels and headliner will be upholstered in Mexican Blankets to either match or contrast Poochie’s sea foam green interior. We’ll incorporate vinyl or leather to avoid overplaying the serape theme. Plain Jane black-faced gauges, such as Stewart Warners or Mooneyes will be used. Our shifter is TBD, but there will, of course, be a badass custom shift knob seeing as we own We’ll also run a restored vintage custom steering wheel, which is another little hobby of mine.

The cargo area will provide a stark contrast to the cab. Its elevated cargo floor will use barn wood, or distressed wood slats, like the kind you’d find in an old vintage pickup truck. The raised bed will look much like that of a lowered pickup truck, fabricated to look a lot like a cross between a VW transporter’s rear cargo deck and an old pickup truck. Above all it will be functional for hauling. As a touch of continuity, the serape and/or vinyl headliner theme could be carried throughout the rear on the headliner.

That, coupled with a functional wood rear cargo floor will create a cool and unique theme for Poochie and feel timeworn, much like Poochie’s exterior. We’re even contemplating employing used leather or slightly distressed vinyl to keep with the slightly roachy theme.

The low-profile bench seat below is a great example of an ideal seat for Poochie. Imagine if it were upholstered in a mixture of slightly tattered serape and distressed leather or vinyl. Now imagine of the under-dash area done the way the interior up above is as in the same materials. A low-profile center console like above would be a great way to house the shifter. 

The treatment on this Econoline’s inner door panel nicely illustrates the vibe I have in mind. Imagine this fabric being serape. That said I’m drawn to the less vibrant colors such as the yellow, turquoise, dark green or gray shown below.

The rear cargo floor will use barn wood with metal divider strips, like something you’d find in a old pickup truck. Note the burnt barn wood pictured below with nail holes and evidence of its prior life. It was sanded then distressed with an acetylene torch to bring out the wood’s character, before being varnished to preserve its look.


Poochie’s original paint speaks to a past lifetime of honest work. We’ll rub it out to reveal whatever shine is left, even if it means revealing some factory primer here and there. We’ll then clear coat the exterior for posterity, preserving the character of its sea foam green paint and darker green hand-painted type.

We may also attempt to replicate the hand lettering from the side by adding some Vinvanco ID on the back or front in the same decayed dark green color and style as its original vintage lettering.

Another item up for consideration is a roof rack, be it an industrial looking one like the VW picture below, or more like the VW van rack above. The wood could be weathered to match the look while adding functional storage. The last touch would be distressed bumpers and mirrors, like those seen below.







In retrospect, it was the sheer level of interest from the numerous people who first saw Poochie’s stance at the beginning of this journey that reaffirmed that I needed to make Poochie’s mocked-up ride height a reality.

It took a long time to figure out the right way to do it and that included the guidance and advice of a lot of talented people.

Although we’ll be heavily influenced by Steve Luckett’s “Creeper” build, we’ll be incorporating a lot of things I learned along the way. Coby Gewertz, Tim Conder, Brian Morris, Matze Schneider, Steven D. Cinnamon, Shawn Hibmacronan and an entire community of van enthusiasts have contributed more than they’ll ever know.

Last but not least, I want to acknowledge Morgan Rowe, who has been instrumental in the plotting of this build plan, and has listened to my pipe dreams for far too long.

Fasten your seatbelts, friends. It’s going to be one hell of a ride.

And if you feel like supporting our cause, treat your self to some van goodies, a custom shift knob or some vintage hot rod swag. Until next time, keep the boxy side up.

1 comment:

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