As early as the mid-1950s, Ford was feeling the need to compete with small imported vans, most notably the VW Type 2 from Germany. Before they were able to release the 1961 Falcon-based Econoline, and Chevrolet got their Corvair Greenbriar on the market, Ford brought over the Thames 400E and renamed it the Thames 800. And so began the short life of one of the many American captive imports. You can certainly see they drew heavily on the Thames for the Econoline. Let’s check out this 1958 Thames 800 Estate for sale for $2000 in Boise, ID.
The car is a BARN FIND!!! which means a couple of things – the asking price is probably inflated, and the condition is probably poor. That said, these don’t grow on trees in North America, so there’s no good reference point for pricing or demand. This was originally going to be a project van for the seller, but he’s decided to move on to other things. It’s said to be 95% complete, and as you can see, the rear windows are probably part of the missing 5%, along with the title.
Front bumpers are missing too, but the car does have the unique fold-down step for the passenger side rear door. The van appears to be pretty straight, though you should expect some rust, and the interior will probably consist of a collection of springs on a frame and some torn vinyl. Fortunately, it’s all simple to replace, and most bits are common with the British market Thames 400E. It’s not clear how long these were sold in the United States, but they were definitely sold in Canada, so perhaps some migrated down here. Car Life magazine gushed about this van in 1959, naming it their top pick in the import wagon category, for practicality, maneuverability, and comfort. With 55hp, you won’t get anywhere fast, but probably faster than the guy who paid six figures for his Type 2 Bus.
Assuming it’s mechanically complete, your best start is probably to get the van running and see what its needs are. But before you do any of that, why not watch the promotional movie above, based on a rather bizarre premise of a van full of jazz musicians taking abuse from traditional musicians, but overcoming it thanks to their trusty Thames.