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SEE ALSO: Ford Buyer's Guide

1996 FORD CLUB WAGON

by Tom Hagin

SPECIFICATIONS

     Manufacturer's Suggested Retail Price              $ 22,850
     Price As Tested                                    $ 27,249
     Engine Type                             5.0 Liter V8 w/EFI*
     Engine Size                                 302 cid/7538 cc
     Horsepower                                   199 @ 4200 RPM
     Torque (lb-ft)                               270 @ 2400 RPM
     Wheelbase/Width/Length                   138.0"/79.3"/211.8
     Transmission                           Four-speed automatic
     Curb Weight                                     5300 pounds
     Fuel Capacity                                  35.0 gallons
     Tires  (F/R)                                     P235/75R15
     Brakes (F/R)                              Disc-ABS/drum-ABS
     Drive Train                   Front-engine/rear-wheel-drive
     Vehicle Type                      Seven-passenger/four-door
     Domestic Content                                 75 percent
     Coefficient of Drag (Cd.)                               N/A

PERFORMANCE

     EPA Economy, miles per gallon
        city/highway/average                            13/18/16
     0-60 MPH                                       11.0 seconds
     Towing Capacity                                 6100 pounds
     * Electronic fuel injection

At one time, vans were strictly the domain of the delivery industry. Then in the '70s, "personalized" vans became the rage and conversion companies (some good and some not so good) appeared to convert these plebeian vehicles into things of artistic beauty with posh interior amenities. The market is still there, albeit on a diminished scale.

But the Big Three all offer their own factory made luxurious people-haulers. The Ford version is based on its Econoline, a stark "box" with very few or no windows, and it is favored mostly by the professional service industry. It's available as an ambulance, school bus or even an all-weather 4X4 camper, although those applications are built by aftermarket converters. Ford's in-house carriage-trade version, the Club Wagon, is made for more genteel hauling and up to 15 adults can fit comfortably inside. It is offered in three trim levels: XL, XLT and Chateau, carried by half-ton, 3/4 ton and one-ton chassis designs. We recently tested the 1/2-ton XLT Club wagon.

OUTSIDE - Club Wagon shed its bull-nosed look in 1992, and its modern, rounded front end sweeps to enormous slab-sides, with near-flush windows trimmed in black. Measuring over 17 feet in length, and nearly 80 inches tall, the Club Wagon offers an incredible amount of room for the luxurious transport of multiple passengers. Thankfully, its huge side mirrors are optionally powered, so adjusting them to receive a panoramic view of what's behind is easy, and quite necessary. Two-tone exterior color is a $350 option over the standard monotone paint.

INSIDE - With the exception of big rigs and jacked-up 4x4s, there's nothing that gives the driver a clearer view of the road ahead than a big van, but it comes at the expense of having to climb up to the front seats. The driving position is high and commanding. Its instrument panel replicates that of Ford's pickup trucks in that the controls are easily reached and gauges are simple to see. Air conditioning up front is standard equipment on XLT and Chateau models. Both front seating positions give sparse amounts of legroom, as the engine cover extends rearward from underneath the dash, forcing those up front to lean a leg against its sides. Supportive captain's chairs are up front and in the second row, which is the first-class section aboard this craft. There, passengers enjoy overhead vents and reading lights.

ON THE ROAD - Club Wagon power comes five ways from a 150-horse straight six through a rumbling turbocharged diesel to a thundering 460 cubic-inch V8. Not all are available in every trim level but our Club Wagon XLT carried a 199-horsepower 5.0 liter V8, a slightly detuned version of the same powerplant used in the Mustang until this year. This optional engine handles most situations well, although it is asking a lot of the relatively small unit to handle motivational duties for a 5300-pound behemoth. Ford's smooth shifting four-speed automatic transmission is a logical choice. Equipped with its optional limited slip rear axle, towing duties are easily handled with the optional tow package, which adds extra cooling and heavy-duty suspension pieces.

BEHIND THE WHEEL - The big Ford van is simple to drive, but the driver never forgets he or she is piloting a large machine. It requires wide turns and careful parking. It's not a car, but at the same time it doesn't require arm-wrestling of the steering wheel to keep it straight on the highway. Its full-frame chassis is truck-like and its venerable Twin I-Beam front suspension with a solid rear axle and leaf springs have been used on Ford trucks since the '60s. In addition, an anti-lock braking system is standard on all Club Wagon models, which assists in keeping the wheels from locking during panic stops.

SAFETY - A driver's side airbag was added to the redesign in 1992, and ABS came two years later. Side intrusion beams are inside its doors.

OPTIONS - 5.0 liter V8: $716; High capacity front and rear A/C: $705; anti-theft system: $309; premium cassette: $262; limited slip rear axle: $252; Our test rig came with the $1444 Preferred Equipment Package which adds cruise control and tilt steering, a special engine cover with lots of storage, power mirrors and heavily tinted glass.

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