Papa Smurf Creation: 1974 Ford Custom Van

And now for something from “The just because you can, doesn’t mean you should” department. What we have here is a modified 1974 Ford E series van with a little 1976 VW bus thrown in for good measure. Referred to questionably as the “Half Breed”, this van mash-up is located in Mowhawk, New York and is available, here on eBay for an opening bid of $4,500, zero bids tendered so far.

The seller states that this van was customized by an Iowa custom van builder named “Papa Smurf” and it was popular on the custom van circuit of the ’70s and ’80s. It is listed as having been built from two VW buses and the aforementioned Ford van. The seller adds, “I’ve chased this van for several years, now can say I owned it but time to let it go and get back to my 50’s custom cars”. Sounds like a good move. As can be seen, this van was customized with three rear axles but the rearmost has gone missing. Nevertheless, this van still yard drives and stops. The seller mentions that this van used a “torsion trailer unit” as the third axle but I honestly don’t know what that means.

There are only six images included with the listing and none of the inside, underside, or engine compartment. We are told that power is provided by a 351 CI, Ford Windsor V8 engine, more than likely a 163 HP variant, that was commonly in use in ’74, but that is not known with certainty. As with the rest of the drivetrain, while some complexity would have been involved with the triple drive axle arrangement, which is now a dual-drive axle arrangement, there is no description as to how it was assembled. The mechanical design and components employed would be a noteworthy inclusion to the listing.

The old and new images portray quite a juxtaposition of what has become a very forlorn custom. The confusing thing, however, is the change that has occurred over the years. In three of the four images, where this van is wearing a Ford nose piece, this van reveals what appears to be two pairs of front steering wheels, one pair in the traditional location, and the second pair residing under the extended front entry doors. In one other image, where the van possesses a VW front clip, as well as in its current form, the rear steering wheels have been removed. So what happened? Hard to say, an inquiry would need to be made.

As opposed to what to do with this custom van, the more pertinent question would be why do anything? It seems to be in pretty deleterious condition, one can only speculate on the interior, and then there is the entire matter of the missing axle.  It’s an interesting study to give consideration as to what lead to this van’s creation. The big puzzle, now, is what to do with it; any suggestions?


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  1. sir_mike

    Park it on a farm and male a chicken coop out of it.

    Like 21
    • bry593

      Look up Tor-Flex axle. Imagine a rectangular tube with four round rubber rods placed inside the tube at each corner. Now imagine a length of square bar jammed into the spaces between the rubber. When the inside square is torsionally displaced, it compresses the rubber. The rubber acts as both spring and damper. I used Dexter brand on smaller equipment trailer designs back in the 90’s. They tend to sag with time, but do make for a very low frame height compared to typical leaf springs.

      Like 5
  2. Gus Bur
    • Big_Fun Member

      When I was i kid, I could have built something very similar to this using several LEGO kits. To do in in real life as an adult…well, that’s…that’s a *whole* different deal.

      Like 8
  3. XMA0891

    An additional pertinent question: Even if it was in pristine condition, 2020’s world would one even be allowed to get it inspected/registered/insured? I’d put my money on “no”. However, there’s got to be a well-endowed Museum of RVing that would be interested in enrolling it into its permanent collection. GLWTS.

    Like 3
    • Jim ODonnell Staff

      To add to your point, and I left it out of the article, it only has a salvage title which further complicates matters.



      Like 5
      • banjo

        Its actually not even a salvage title. It’s a bill of sale. It would not be an easy task to ever license this thing legally. It was stated in the on-site auction 2 weeks ago that there was no title.

  4. K

    That would look good going over a cliff

    Like 14
    • Jeffro

      Cliff is not high enough…..I’m thinking rolling it out the back of a plane.

      Like 4
  5. alphasud Member

    Certainly not my style but you have to give the creator credit for the vision and execution. They had to have a great deal of fabrication and mechanical skills.

    Like 6
  6. 8thNote 8thNote

    Is it possible there was more than 1 of these made? The double steer axle version and the single steer axle version?

    Like 5
    • Nick P

      It looks like they built the single steer axle then added the double steer axle, then removed it again. That double steer front end is the only ford I see. Everything else looks VW to me.

      Like 1
  7. Claudio

    I guess papa smurf was a pothead and the seller is on meth or crack cocaine
    I cannot find an other logical reason for this

    Like 5
    • Steve RM

      Don’t blame weed for this monstrosity. More like Acid.

      Like 3
  8. banjo

    This thing was recently in an auction in Newfield NY. It was sitting by the road and so odd I had to stop and look. it is a 74 VW bus with another panel side bus grafted on the back. powered by a mid- mounted ford 351 just behind the drivers seats. Only one rear axle is live. As far as I can tell the only ford parts are the engine and rear axle. everything else is VW or custom fabricated. the interior is in very poor shape but still has the marbled mirrors on the ceiling. I was glad to see the pictures of it “back in the day” as I could tell it must have been one interesting custom at one time. It’s a mess now.

    Like 5
    • Lance

      marbled mirrors on the ceiling?????? Hmmmmm. Not a tour bus I’m guessing. :0

      Like 3
  9. PaulG

    Wait, what?

  10. angliagt angliagt Member

    This is one of those vehicles that,when stopping
    to kook at it,you hope nobody sees you.

    Like 3
  11. terry smith

    interesting, but NO!

  12. DON

    Reminds me of what Jeff Goldblum turned into in the movie “The Fly”

    Like 1
  13. Johnmloghry Johnmloghry Member

    Might be good in a crash up derby.
    God bless America

    Like 1
  14. Pay attention

    pay attention to the pictures… the first pic is a different van than the second pic, because it has 1 front axle rather than 2. the second and third van are the same, but the fourth is another completely different van from the others, with a VW front end and 1 front axle. either it’s been hacked together and taken apart 4 times, or there are 4 “half breed” vans

    Like 2
    • Taco

      Good Spot,the 4th pic it has a flat nose front,U are right,it appears to be a VW Van,flat nose. Thats kinda scary
      4 of these atrocities

      Like 2
    • Roy Blankenship

      It is the same vehicle with different noses. They all have a VW bus windshield frame, and from there back are identical. At some point, the Ford front end with an extra axle was grafted on the front. The latest pics show that front end removed and a smaller version grafted on with the most forward axle removed.

      Like 1
  15. Bill McCoskey

    What a waste of talent and thousands of hours of work, and now it’s worth Zilch [zero bids].

    Like 3
  16. bruce edward horton

    Food truck!

  17. Little_Cars

    It looked its best–and I say this with only a slight bit of guilt-when it was 100% VW van and looked like one from all angles. I don’t think the Econoline style front did any favors to this visionary Papa Smurf creation. I’m thinking the E series front clip is actually not a graft off a real steel Econoline.

  18. Harry

    Looks like fodder for the crusher to me. Not a single redeeming quality.

  19. Steve Brown

    It’s my new boaterhome….

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