The “Denimachine” Lives! 1987 Ford E-150 Custom Van

  • April 28, 2021
The Rundown
  • Fun Tribute to the 10 Original “Denimachines”
  • Rust-Free Van from New Mexico Since New
  • Recalling the Successful Levi’s/Coke/Ford Promotion
  • Myriad Custom Mods, Paint, & Denim Interior
  • 351ci V8 Engine w/ Automatic Transmission
  • Includes Hot Rod Magazine Articles
Why We Like It

Following on the heels of Volkswagen’s Type 2 Transporter-based Microbus, which went on to become a “Love Generation” icon after performing yeoman service in suburbia when new, Detroit’s “Big Three” automakers began designing and building vans in earnest during the 1960s. By the dawn of the 1970s, vans exemplified the mobile lifestyle and served as the ideal canvas for imaginative pop art and murals on the outside. Interiors were often even wilder, with wall-to-wall shag carpeting, sofas, beds, chandeliers, and awesome stereo systems with huge speakers blasting out the tunes. Period rod and custom magazines, especially those from Bob Petersen’s Petersen Publishing, led the world’s burgeoning van culture from the company’s Los Angeles HQ.

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While serving as Hot Rod Magazine Editor in the 1970s, Harry Hibler and his staff devised the Denimachine, a Red, White, and Blue happening on wheels based on a Ford Econoline van bristling with speed equipment, swaths of Levi’s denim upholstery, and Coca-Cola swag, purpose-built as a promotional vehicle. Ten were built in all, toured nationwide, and eventually given away as sweepstakes grand prizes. According to Mr. Hibler, the Denimachine program was a huge success, generating unprecedented coverage for the sponsor companies and spurring construction of hundreds of lookalikes over the next several decades.

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Carrying a cool Denimachine vibe, this 1987 Ford E-150 full-size custom van is an attention-grabbing, rust-free example from New Mexico. According to the seller, the Econoline was bought new by NAPA and driven by a parts-delivery man named Mr. Bill. When the van was retired from front-line duty, Mr. Bill bought it and then devised a myriad of custom mods from mild to wild inside and out, in tribute to the 10 original Denimachines built by Hot Rod for Coca-Cola and Levi Strauss in the 1970s. Workmanship includes the striking, award-winning custom paint job, with every flame lick pinstriped, airbrushed and then drop-shadowed. Body mods include shaved handles, a custom hood with “turbo” scoops, side port holes, narrowed and shaved front and rear bumpers, and of course, sweet Red, White, and Blue paint. The interior features full custom denim upholstery with four

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new removable captain’s chairs. The front denim material is from used Levi jeans, the middle is flamed half new and half used denim, and the rear seats are trimmed in new quilted flame-pattern denim. The ceiling is covered in denim flames with LED lighting and new dark blue carpeting enhances comfort while minimizing road noise. Another groovy feature is the handmade octagonal wood steering wheel. Powered by a 351ci V8 engine with automatic transmission, the van rides on a rebuilt front and rear suspension and features dual factory fuel tanks, 4-wheel disc brakes, and front and rear stabilizer bars. Over the past year, service work ensures an enjoyable driving experience. However, the seller states the A/C system needs repairs. Bummer! Sold on a NM title, this cool van also includes the original Hot Rod magazine articles that started the whole thing.

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Valuation Verdict

If you dig custom vans like this, and you know you do, this 1987 Ford E-150 is a fun, Denimachine style van that will likely never fail to attract smiles and admirers wherever it may roam with its new owner. Is it worth the seller’s asking price? You be the judge, but in terms of sheer “fun factor,” our subject vehicle is priceless.

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