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Old 03-26-2004, 05:31 AM   #1
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1963 26' Overlander
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Ambulance As Tow Vehicle

Hello there,
I'd like to know if any of you are using a former ambulance as a tow vehicle. I have an opportunity to buy a 1985 Ford Econoline E350 with a 7.5 litre gasoline engine with only 37,300 miles on it. What I want to pull is a 1963 Overlander. This van is in mint condition as it has spent almost all it's life inside a firehall waiting for something to happen and has been well maintained. I'm just wondering if anyone else has gone this route and can offer advice. I know there are more ideal vehicles out there, but I am working with a very limited budget. For about $3,000.00 I can get this one ton truck with a big engine in excellent condition. As an added plus it has a number of storage compartments inside, a built in power inverter and plenty of room. Is this a mistake I will be sorry for or a viable tow vehicle? Your help is much appreciated.
SilverBear
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Old 03-26-2004, 06:34 AM   #2
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Heard of that

I have actually listened to a story by a gentelman I met at Top of Georgia who had done exactly that. He tells me it was the best tow vehicle ever because it had all of the engine you need, the tranny etc...

And most of all, the storage it had. He claimed he stored all of his extracurricular goodies including a small boat on top. He was a traveling proprieter and sold trinkets and stuff at festival events and large gatherings. He had the ambulance painted silver.

Furthermore, I have seen a converted ambulance. that had most of the rear cab removed and made into tool boxes on the back, kinda like those heavy hauler vehicles.

Smily
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Old 03-26-2004, 07:39 AM   #3
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Outside of it being a bit different, I think it would do just fine.
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Old 03-26-2004, 09:12 AM   #4
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Gosh, I sure can't think of any reason you'd regret it. Heck, you might even want to make it a theme type of thing. Paint a big ole' red cross on the side of the Airstream and people will actually move to the right lane and let you pass!

Of course, you'd have to go the extra mile and have a custom Airstream nameplate made, with all the letters in reverse so people can see it in their rear view mirrors.
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Old 03-26-2004, 12:29 PM   #5
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Go for it!

The Ford 7.5 litre engine is one of the best gas engines ever produced. I've had several personally and have had experience with them in fleet applications for Ryder moving vans. It's a shame they stopped making it. It's got good power and the fuel economy was always equal to the 5.8 empty and actually a little better loaded. Plus, with it having been an emergency vehicle you can rest assured that all of the maintenance was performed as needed. You can probably get the maintenance log with it.

Last year I purchased a 1966 F100 4x4 from a fire department with only 22,000 miles on it - the mechanicals were flawless. I've got it ready to use as my vintage tow vehicle for shorter trips.

Good luck.
Paul.
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Old 03-26-2004, 12:33 PM   #6
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Weight...

Not knowing exactly what the ambulance 'box' is on the one you're looking at, my only reservation would be that you find out what the weight of the truck is before you buy it, and compare that to the GVWR and GCVWR specs. Some of the ambulance 'boxes' are much larger and weigh much more than others. They're on a one-ton chassis for a reason. As a one-ton chassis you should be OK, but we have a couple of large ambulances that are very heavy.

Roger
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Old 03-26-2004, 10:10 PM   #7
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Thanks to each of you for your responses. I feel better about my decision to bid on this van. It is a local sealed bid auction and I won't know for a month if I have won it or not. I have seen others with comparable miles and of similar vintage on ebay so if I don't win this one locally then there will be another someplace else online. This is not the real heavy duty style body that uses dual wheels on each side. This is more like a regular econoline van body, but with a top conversion to give more headroom. I think the weight will be okay, but I appreciate the tip to check it out to be sure.
Paul, I know you can only guess without knowing what rear end it has, etc., but can you give give a rough guess as to what I might expect on the road for gas mileage (minus Airstream)? I'll send some pictures when and if I win the auction. Once I have some road experience with it I'll let you know how things are going. Thanks again.
SilverBear
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Old 03-26-2004, 11:01 PM   #8
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What you have in that ambulance sounds a lot like the B-190 Airstream, except a bit older and with a bit different outfitting. The 190 is based on the Ford E 350 with a high top.

A 1990 B-190 with the 460 engine, E4OD tranny, and, I think, 3.73 rear end, pulls an Airstream Ambassador (about 6000 lb) at about 10 mpg. Well under GCWR but the van is at max GVWR.

The ambulance probably has better cooling than a stock E-350 and some other heavy duty items that should make it well suited for towing.
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Old 03-26-2004, 11:16 PM   #9
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I get a little confused with the weight ratings, which is why I went with a big van and a small trailer so I wouldn't have to think about it, so clear this up for me - how can you be under GCWR and at max GVWR?
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Old 03-27-2004, 09:45 AM   #10
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GCWR - is the combined, trailer plus tow vehicle, while the GVWR is only the van.

Combined (GCWR) weight rating has a lot to do with frontal surface area, gearing, and other non-load considerations.

Vehicle (GVWR) weight ratings are more load oriented based on axle capacities.

The GAWR (axle) fits in here because the weight on the axles adds up to the vehicle weight. You generally weigh the rig each axle one at a time (or maybe the pair for the trailer). You don't want to exceed axle ratings by any significant amounts for any individual axle.

The trailer adds a portion of its tongue weight to the van. A "portion" is because a load leveling hitch distributes the total tongue weight to both van and trailer axles. You can adjust the spring bars to some extent if you need to move weight between the van front and rear axles.

You need to have about 12% to 15% of the trailer weight on the tongue (primarily a handling issue). So a 6000 lb trailer has about 800 lb on the tongue. This means maybe 400 to 600 lb gets to the van axles.

A big consideration with vans is the rear overhang. Some are very short which is good for handling. Others, like the B-190, have an extended cabin which lengthens the overhang giving the trailer more leverage on the van. The longer the overhang (distance from rear axle to hitch ball) the more attention needs to be paid to good load leveling and sway control in the hitch mechanism.

Exceeding GCWR (assuming good trailer brakes) won't do much more than slow you down and wear things harder. Exceeding GAWR or GVWR can be a potential safety problem as well as a wear or possibly breakdown issue.
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Old 03-27-2004, 11:55 AM   #11
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Thanks for the review!

In my case our Caravel does not even approach exceeding our E-150s weight ratings in any way, so I haven't had to worry about it. But if we move up to a larger trailer someday we'll have to be more concerned.
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Old 03-29-2004, 01:16 PM   #12
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SilverBear - sorry it's taken so long to answer your question, I was out of town over the weekend. I had a E250 Club Wagon which is similar to the van you are looking at. It too was from the days before the catalytic converter, had a 3.73 axle ratio, 460, C6 three speed automatic transmission. It got appx 11 mpg in town and 13 mpg on the highway. Towing dropped it back to 9-10 on the highway.

Paul.
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Old 03-29-2004, 05:33 PM   #13
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Lightbulb E350 tow vehicle

The only thing I would be concearned with is the tendency to catch on fire when idling . FORD may have addressed this with your particular vehicle by now. I would suggest running the VIN# and checking the repair/warranty history of this particular unit. I tow with a 78 TownCoupe' with a C6/7.5L and it pulls really well. FORD went to DIESEL HD chassis to alleviate the fire problems. Check the exhaust shielding for the FUEL tank(S). And the exhaust routing. Other than that it should be a great tow/haul vehicle. JOEY
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Old 03-30-2004, 11:07 AM   #14
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Joesph, what rear end does the Lincoln have? I have been toying with the idea of finding a nice Town Car from the 76-78 era to use as a vintage tower. I like the Lincolns of that era because the trunk space is huge. They were also pretty comfortable cars to drive.

Paul.
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