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Rapid Delivery Sleeper: 1978 Ford Econoline 427

In the glorious days of yore, gearheads with a certain sense of humor constructed “sleepers.”  What is a sleeper you ask?  It is a nondescript, average vehicle with a monster motor lurking under the hood.  The idea was to lure unsuspecting racers into matchups they think they can win but can’t.  If you are looking for a sleeper in a plain brown wrapper, then take a gander at this 1978 Ford Econoline E-250 Chateau van with a built 427 nestled under its stubby hood for sale on Craigslist in Cottonwood, Arizona.  With a new Dart engine block bored out to 427 cubic inches and other assorted go-fast goodies, this van is a beast.  Is it worth the $14,750 asking price to have an Econoline that can lay waste to most of the cars on the street from stoplight to stoplight?  Thanks to Tony P. for the tip!

We live in a time of performance cars, but we still yearn for the past.  SUVs can tick off quarter-mile times that would have won drag racing championships years ago but without the ground-pounding sounds of performance.  Most can run well over 130 MPH with the air on and Taylor Swift’s latest blaring tortuously out of the sound system.  Still, these soulless appliances hold no candle to the thumping sounds and sights of a big block engine screaming into the night.  Like the passing of steam locomotives into history at the hands of diesels, the new versions are faster, quieter, and easy to maintain.  What they lack is that rich sound and soul.

You will get all the sound and soul you need with this 1978 Ford E-250.  According to the ad, this van was modified by the fellow who purchased it new.  Sadly, he did not get to enjoy this van’s second life as a hot rod after spending so much money and time on it.  We are told that it is a Chateau model, which was the top-of-the-line trim for passenger vans.  However, this one is an E-250, which puts it in a heavier weight rating, and it doesn’t have a full set of windows.  Perhaps an informed reader could tell us if you could order an Econoline like this, or if the Chateau badges were added.

Regardless, this van has 233,610 miles overall, and 1,400 miles on the new engine.  As you can see from the photographs, the van has been restored inside and out.  We do not know, however, beyond the performance specs for the drivetrain, what other work has been done.  We can see that sound insulation has been added to the interior walls to ward off that riding-in-a-barrel sound assault on your senses.  Carpet, a wooden cabinet, and two separate fire extinguishers have also joined the party.  Up front, the driver and passenger can lounge in style in a pair of captain’s chairs.

It is what happens when you pull this van up to the stoplight next to a competitor that is more important than the carpet and captain’s chairs.  The fresh engine is made up of all the building blocks of a good time.  The shopping list included a 427 cubic inch Dart block with Cleveland journals, cast aluminum Dart heads, a Comp cam, Edelbrock valve covers, a Holley 770 Street Avenger carburetor, a Mallory distributor, March aluminum pulleys, and this engine is backed by a C6 Streetfighter transmission with a TCI torque converter and a Dana 60 differential.  Additional work included all new wiring, the addition of glass pack mufflers, and a new set of rims with spacers.

The whole package makes for quite an interesting sleeper.  Nobody expects to get their doors blown off by an Econoline.  It does also make you want to know more about the setup.  Specifically, is this geared for stoplight-to-stoplight conflict or fast running down the interstate?  Was the owner planning to deck the inside out with everything you need for overnight trips to turn this sleeper into a dual-purpose sleeper?  Or was there no plan other than to hear those pipes sing and the tires squeal when the go pedal was stomped?  While the original owner sadly won’t get to have the fun they intended, someone is going to have a great time with this van.  Hopefully, it is one of our readers.

Comments

  1. Avatar photo Claudio

    Even if there is a boost in horsepower , it is still a brick !

    Like 11
    • Avatar photo Slipstick

      I believe that the rules of the F-4 Phantom apply:

      Proof that with enough power even a brick will fly.

      Like 49
      • Avatar photo Big H

        The ultimate sleeper….

        Like 11
    • Avatar photo Robert Proulx

      With a big enough motor you’ll even get a brick to go 150. ;)

      Like 16
    • Avatar photo MoparMike

      To all the naysayers, here’s what a brick is capable of and this is one of many. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kD2ftL-52ck

      Like 6
    • Avatar photo Neil R Norris

      A brown Econoline … real babe magnet.

      Like 4
  2. Avatar photo John S

    My grandfather bought a 1978 Club Wagon 350 Chateau new to tow his Airstream travel trailer. 460, 3-speed automatic. The van was dark blue with silver in the mid section. Captain’s Chairs up front, upholstered in blue plaid with yellow and white (or silver) threads with dark blue vinyl margins, matching benches out back, and matching blue carpet throughout. It had side and door windows, and they were tinted from the factory. I always figured “Chateau” trim meant full interior with vinyl and cloth upholstery, and tented glass – it was quite fancy for a passenger van of its era. Papa got a ‘78 because it still took leaded gasoline, he reckoned unleaded gas would be hard to find in the rural places he liked to camp and fish. The van was rustproofed, so it had that distinctive Zebart smell. I always loved that truck. Anyway, I wouldn’t expect Econoline and Chateau to pair up, but since I was 7 when this brown hot rod was built, my specific knowledge of the 1978 Ford E-Series option list is limited.

    Like 12
    • Avatar photo John S

      Lemme add – if this thing has cloth and vinyl seats, and an AM/FM radio (or better), it might be enough to earn Chateau trim. The sweet cabinet would be familiar to French aristocracy, if not the 3-point mirrors.

      Like 3
  3. Avatar photo Howard A Member

    To be clear, vans were never considered “sleepers”, except for sleeping in, perhaps. Sleepers of note include, but not limited to, that ugly Rambler Rebel that blew our doors off, gramps Nova( with 6 cylinder badges) with a 454, that corny looking British roadster( 3000) that smoked the tires, but a van, that’s pushing it. It never ceases to amaze me, what some will do to the most mundane of vehicles, what’s wrong with a small V8 or even a 6 popper, to just go down the road in a nice van? I’d pass it up BECAUSE of the motor, why are some folks so blind to that?

    Like 8
    • Avatar photo JJ

      Besides a moped, a van is the ULTIMATE sleeper.
      That’s the entire point of the word

      Like 1
    • Avatar photo RKS

      To be clear, vans can be considered sleepers (except this one with the 427 callouts) and some people put gnarly engines in stuff because they like to have fun. Why are some folks so blind to that?

      Like 18
      • Avatar photo Chris Cornetto

        I knew a guy that had a 60s chevy one that he put a built 400 small block in. That black primered thing dialed a 10.1 at the strip.

        Like 2
    • Avatar photo Roland Schoenke

      Maybe not the best at making high speed but getting there is all the fun, I had a 413hp ’89 Ranger and it still had trouble getting over 120mph but had great getup.

      Like 0
  4. Avatar photo z1rider

    “Cleveland Journals”

    What?

    Like 4
    • Avatar photo Darrun

      The Dart block has Cleveland journals, according to their listing.

      Based on the $3500 for the bare block, the sellers asking price isn’t out of line.

      Like 9
  5. Avatar photo Nelson C

    Sleeper is only applicable when you have traction. This may be more like wheel hop. You should appreciate the carpet and insulation contributing to a much quieter tin can. I like the concept but the application…

    Like 4
  6. Avatar photo pwtiger

    I’m guessing that this is a stroked small block not an FE 427. With that said I’ll bet it’s a gas guzzle especially if it has a performance cam.

    Like 6
  7. Avatar photo Big C

    I love the idea, but these things came standard with “no traction,” straight from the factory. You’d be in the weeds, during the stop light to stop light drags. But on the highway? You’d be surprising much more sophisticated performance cars.

    Like 5
  8. Avatar photo Piros1

    I bet the owner was building it to tow a travel trailer and wanted the extra power but who knows. Maybe he just lived his Econoline van and wanted to fix it up. We all have certain vehicles in our life we just love at least of you are a true gear head. Interesting vehicle and looks to be in good condition if it was on your list of vehicles to own.

    Like 6
    • Avatar photo Slipstick

      My friend had a friend that ran some… illicit pharmaceuticals. He had a motor setup rather similar from what I was told. Of course his concerns were for racing bears.

      Like 4
  9. Avatar photo Mike v

    I personally would buy it, put the engine in something more suitable and swap a nice 351 into this as a tow vehicle.

    Like 2
    • Avatar photo Monkey g

      As a mechanic for 42 years I used to put 427s in Old dump trucks. Surely this is a bored out small block and not the fe427 like the gentleman above stated. Whatever the case may be, the 427 had a 425 horse rating which was of course underrated. The small block I would like to see the torque figures. That’s where the power is at. But you do have to get it to hook up or else you’re smoking the tires to Oblivion 😩

      Like 0
  10. Avatar photo UDTFROG

    Love all these young gear heads comments To us OLD 90’s guys this “SLEEPER” is just what it is. Like my oldest sons VW van with 70’s a big hemi in it,, OH LORDY …THAT was Honkin blast

    Like 10
    • Avatar photo Monkey g

      Son you’re going to drive me to drinking if you don’t stop driving that Hot rod Lincoln 🙌

      Like 0
  11. Avatar photo Frank Barrett Member

    Years ago, automotive photographer Roy Query, who worked for Automobile Quarterly, had a very similar sleeper van. He was based in Indianapolis but drove it all over the country to shoot cars.

    Like 0
  12. Avatar photo BA

    In 1978 you remember the big block cars & trucks used to tow & yes even big block cars with A 454 were used to tow like a chevelle how do I know ? My dad had one with a trailer hitch for his 1970 chevy! Why ? Because in a pinch he would rather use a car to haul family & pull a trailer then stuff the 5 of us in a one bench seat truck. People forget that by 1973 power dropped off all engines & hated it! So want to pull that camper up thru the smoky mountains with ease? Use a full power hotrod motor! I think you guys don’t think clearly sometimes

    Like 6
    • Avatar photo Chris Cornetto

      Yup, I used a 71 Impala two door with a 454, 400 th in dark green to tow a car trailer and other things for over a decade into the mid 90s. I still have it but I retired it years ago and went to a rollback. guys forget giant trucks and suvs didn’t exist and the ones that did weren’t luxury liners but utilitarian work horses.

      Like 0
  13. Avatar photo Hollywood Collier

    I dig it

    Like 4
  14. Avatar photo Archie

    Dude in Palm Beach County Florida had a Chev van named “Fits of Laughter” that he took out to Moroso’s dragstrip.It was ratty and when he pulled it to the line one wondered why? If you got tight with him he’d hit that NOS switch and put you away. He had lots of traction and lots of laughs.
    He was a great guy and good for Fits of Laughter.

    Like 8
  15. Avatar photo Dan N

    I recall that the Chateau trim package was available on ANY Ford van of this era, Club Wagons and Econolines included. And if the builder of this van wanted a real sleeper, he would have left off the 427 badges.

    Like 5
  16. Avatar photo Mike S

    I bought my first van to haul a drag bike to the track, move a mobile disco setup around, camp/fish, etc. It was a ’76 Ford 1/2 ton 302 3 on the tree and it could really scoot!

    I ended up with a ’94 Dodge B350 15 pack church van with a injected 360, auto and 4:11 posi that humbled many drivers back in the day also. All Sleepers don’t need to be aero……

    Like 0
  17. Avatar photo Chris Cornetto

    I have the Nomad competition, a 77 with all the fake and real wood with the 400 small block. The thing is not a missile but it is no slouch and tows an old Airstream and anything else with ease. I like this unit. I worked with a girl who drove one of these. Long ago you drove what mom or dad had. Hers had a 460 in it. I think it was a 76 but I am not sure. It looked like this one but with all the extra trim and two tone like my Chevy of the same time period.

    Like 2
  18. Avatar photo Bill schellevis

    Bill S Cool van I had a 78 chateau that I used in my electrical business it had all the up front trim a captain seats was so nice to drive and it was a window less factory chateau trim

    Like 0
  19. Avatar photo slicko

    just because you can doesn’t mean you should.

    Like 0
  20. Avatar photo Tony C

    Well, I have to say that vans were the thing, they were cool. To me, they’re still neat–not counting the shrunken grocery-getters that pushed them out of the limelight in the late-’80s. Just pack everything you need in a van and go anywhere; whenever you need something, just slam on the brakes, and it hits you in the back of the head. 😁 I’m more of a big-car fanatic myself, but I do have respect for the vans of yore.

    Like 2
  21. Avatar photo Beauwayne5000

    Depending on the Cam set up Tow v Drag it might be ok for a Boat.
    Needs the interior done right BED Storage underneath & Interior Curtain behind Front seats.
    Tow a Camper as well.
    Price is OK.
    A Nice Decal on that billboard sized side would set it off.
    A Cop traded in a Similar brown van back in the day he added a Port hole window in rear & a Jail Bar decal w/a Cartoon cop & words Paddy Wagon.
    Drove I think once towing my boat.
    It was ok, but I liked my Rotary Engine Mazda hotrod pickup for towing w/5th wheel much more.

    Like 0
  22. Avatar photo Mongoose

    I exchanged Emails with him, his CL posting has expired but his best-offer was 11.5K$

    Like 0

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