Project Ford E350 Tow Rig: Part 1 – Towtally Ready

All of my vehicles have nicknames. You’re likely very intimately acquainted with Damnit — MotoIQ’s Project SC300. Well, ladies and gentlemen and non-binary folks who may or may not even identify as people, this is Van Diesel.

OK, I’ll wait for you to stop chuckling.

 

baby blue E350 van towing a white 2-horse trailer
Van Diesel does diesel-y things.

This might just look like a crappy, unassuming Ford van to you. You might think free candy is involved. But notice that this is Project Ford E350. For those who know a bit about trucks, and especially about Fords, that 350 designation is special. Much like the Ford trucks, the Econoline (E) vans carry the same numerical designations which correspond to the same chassis ratings, making this a 1-ton van.

The other awesome thing about it is the diesel. The fourth generation of the Econoline vans started in 1992 and was available with a diesel from its inception. However, in 1994 the diesel vans started to get the venerable 7.3L Powerstroke. This is a 1998.

 

baby blue E350 van towing two cars on an open trailer
Yeah, towing is kind of a thing.

A long time ago a guy showed up to a drift event with one of these. When we asked about it, it turned out that his kid was a go-kart racer and they used to pack the entire racing program into an E350 diesel van. That’s the really cool thing about a van. It’s completely enclosed, so you can put all of your stuff inside it. You can practically stand up straight in it, and you can even put a high-top on it if you really want to stand up straight.

If there’s any real drawback to the vans, it’s that they’re loud. L-O-U-D. Granted, the 7.3L Powerstroke is not exactly a quiet diesel engine. But, in the van, you are basically sitting on top of the motor. The trucks have a longer engine compartment and more… well… truck… around the engine. In the van you basically have this big plastic cover that’s next to your right leg and underneath that is the back of the motor and the front of the trans. The up-pipe runs up over the engine through that area. The downpipe runs down that area on the other side. With the big downpipe and the bigger exhaust and the vact that it’s a giant tin can, it’s downright awful on the highway. In fact I am seriously contemplating doing something highly illegal and installing an aircraft/military-style noise-canceling headphone intercom system for long tows. LOUD.

This particular van seems to have maybe started life as a church or airport van. It’s sized like a 12-passenger van. When I bought it from a guy in Evansville, IN it had been converted into a camper-ish van that he also towed a 35′ camper with. Yes, that’s right, a thirty-five-foot-camper. This is basically an F350 with a box on it, so the towing capacity is massive.

But that doesn’t mean that there isn’t quite a lot of room for improvement. The E350 with the 7.3 is stout, but could we make it a better, safer tow-rig? It was time to get…

towtally ready.

Yes, yes, I hear you groaning.

8 comments

  1. This thing is hideous and awesome, shitty aluminum sidesteps and all! I admire your love for the 7.3. Once I drove the 6.8 V10 version though….I was sold.

    1. I smashed a 6.8 V10 with my Whippled 350 Vortec on 4psi. Supposedly they wake up with a tune, but if they’re anything like the V8s of the time then no thanks.

  2. I really like the Ford 7.3 diesel myself. An exhaust, intercooler, fuel controller and the Garrett upgrade turbo and it flies and gets great mileage. I could get up to 24 mpg towing! The 6.7 Powerstroke is sorta lame, way worse fuel economy and less of everything but just off idle grunt.

  3. This is pretty sick. I have already fallen for the dajiban, practical cheap and fun tow rigs are the way to go.

    The 7.3 seems more robust and less problematic than the 6.0 PSD that followed. Which I had in an Excursion. I miss that rig but it had electrical gremlins I didn’t have patience and money for at the time.

    P.s. No way anyone over 5’9 is standing in there, that made me laugh on its own, unless the floor is dropped.

  4. I strongly disagree on rear brakes being less important than front in a tow pig. See how your nose points up with a load? Which end do you think is going to lock first with a trailer out back? My dually will lock the rears before the fronts empty so you have to be on your toes but isn’t that why you racecar in the first place?

    1. I’m not sure I understand the physics behind that one. Adding weight increases the force required to overcome the coefficient of friction. See:
      https://www.school-for-champions.com/science/friction_equation.htm#.Xbiu6XVKiV4

      You can demonstrate this yourself. Lightly drag an eraser on a stable and immovable surface. Then push really hard on the eraser and try to drag it. It’s harder to drag the eraser that’s being pressed into the surface more.

      If your argument is that the nose is pointing up with load, that means the front is unweighted, which means it would require less force to overcome the coefficient of friction between tire and road, which would make the fronts lock up first. It would mean the rear is carrying more load, and that the force required to overcome friction is higher, and that the rears would lock up later.

      On a race car this is similar. You have higher front bias because the front does more work and the rear unloads under braking.

      If your truck is locking up four rear tires before the front two tires when towing, I am thinking that your rig needs some servicing.

      Either that or I’m completely misunderstanding my highschool physics.

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