Anyone know Anything About Vans?

I’m in the marklet for a used passenger van. Specifically, a Ford Club Wagon. Here’s the question:

Ford makes these vans with various chassis and engine sizes. And these are somewhat correlated to the use that they are designed for. I’m interested to know what the impact of switching from one to the other is.

With regards to the chassis, Ford manufactures 12 passenger vans with a 1 ton chassis, and other vans - with the identical exterior dimensions but designed for 7/8 passengers - on a 1/2 ton chassis. In theory, you could take an 8 passenger van, add in another row of seats, and you’ve got a 12 passenger van. But it would have a chassis designed for fewer passengers. I was once told by a car dealer that you could not do it for this reason, but another dealer just told me that he does it all the time. So my question is who is right, and what is the practical impact of doing this? Will it be a bumpier ride, or will the thing fall apart, or will it cause all sorts of other troubles. (For that matter, precisely just what is the chassis anyway?) It doesn’t seem to me that adding in one row of seats should require doubling the strength of the chassis, but what do I know - Ford seems to think you need to do it.

For engines, Ford makes 6 & 8 cylinder versions (also 10 cyl). For the most part, the vans designed for fewer passengers have the smaller ones, hence the converted ones will also tend to have smaller engines. Now I am aware that a smaller engine will be less powerful and have less pickup and the like. I am not worried about that. My question is if they also have a shorter life as well - crucial in a used vehicle. Does the added strain of having to pull a large load with a smaller engine shorten the life of the engine, or is there no difference in this regard. Of course, the guy who converts vans says he doesn’t think so, and he also claims that it happens that the Ford 6 cylinder engines are better than the Ford 8 cylinder ones. But I’d like an opinion from the car experts on board.

These are the specific questions at hand. If anyone has any all-purpose info that they’d like to chime in with, please be my guest.

I’m the happy owner of a Dodge passenger van; 8-passenger, 109 inch wheelbase, 6-cyl, on a half-ton chassis. The way Dodge does it is that 8-passenger vans are half-ton (1500 series), 12-passenger vans are three-quarter ton (2500 series), and the 15-passenger vans are full one-ton chassis.

For me, the biggest up-side of Dodge vs. Ford vans is the fact that the seats come out of the Dodge van without tools--just pull a couple of levers and out they go.  I have never seen such a system in a Ford van.  With Ford it looks like it takes a wrench and crawling under the van.  Hence, in a couple of minutes, I can change my van from hauling kids to hauling 8' plywood sheets.

 I have the V-6, and the fuel economy is minimal compared to the V-8  (roughly 16 mpg versus 15 mpg).  I would want the V-8 if I had anything to tow.

 Used 15-passenger vans are pretty easy to find, and seem to be reasonably priced.  You generally cannot park the 15-pasenger vans in typical parking garages (too tall).  Our half-ton 8-pasenger van just makes it in.  Also, the 15-passenger usually overhangs in any parking space.

 Also, I think Dodge offers nicer interiors than Ford.  I think many Fords offer heavy, industrial vinyl bench seats with rubber mat floors.  Most used Dodges have cloth seats & carpet.
 My van is 9 years old and has 125,000 miles with no major hassles. (YMMV)  I would buy another one tomorrow if I needed it & if I had the spare cash!

I went the other direction with my Ford van–rather than buying something light and building it up, I bought the heaviest van they’ve got and hardly stress it at all. I’ve got the E-350 XLT Club Wagon, with the Super Duty Towing package. Triton V-8 engine, gets about 10/13 mpg.

It’s got seating for 12, but there’s room for a fourth bench, which works well because if you put 12 people in the van, they’ve got 12 peoples’ worth of stuff that has to go somewhere. I haven’t had the slightest hitch with the van in the almost 2 years I’ve owned it, and I’ve taken it on some long trips, some multi-passenger trips, some heavy cargo trips, and towed a light trailer with it. No problems whatsoever.

All three of the vans I looked at had quick-release mounts on the bench seats, by the way. Cloth seats & carpeting on walls, floor and ceiling, too.

Used 15 pasenger vans are pretty easy to find, but I specifically want the shorter 12 passenger ones. I don’t need anything that big, and the larger size will make it that much harder to park, besides for gas mileage and safety issues.

Problem is that there don’t seem to be that many of the true 12 passenger vans around, and every dealer I speak to tells me that there is in fact a shortage. I imagine most passenger vans are initially purchased by fleets, who prefer the 15 passenger. The used market has a higher concentration of individuals who want the smaller ones, but this seems to have created a supply/demand imbalance. So this one dealer’s solution is to buy the 7/8 passenger ones and add a seat, but I’m concerned about the long-term viability of this, as above.