A Bell Service Van Called to be Rescued. Did You Answer?

Shervin Nakhjavani/Bring a Trailer

Any and every vehicle has a story; some are just more interesting than others. The most fascinating car at a cars and coffee, a formal show, or even a auction preview is not guaranteed to bring the highest sale price, though. Example number one is this 1974 Ford Econoline Bell service van that sold on Bring a Trailer last week. If the sheetmetal of this van could talk, it would probably have more than 50 years’ worth of stories to tell, but the only one we know for sure is how it ended up for sale.

The listing caught my eye for two reasons: The price was still under $1000, so I figured the van had to have something interesting going on, good or bad. Second, I have always thought vans were cool. I’ve owned a couple over the years, including a 1961 Corvair Greenbrier. When reading up on the history of my flat-six-powered surf wagon, I learned of the Bell service vans that Chevrolet built. These models could often be found hiding in the wild by those who knew to look for the panel on one side and windows on the other. The two Corvair 95 van models were either Greenbrier sport vans, which had full windows, or panel vans with no windows. The combination of a panel down the driver’s side and windows on the passenger side were unique to the vans ordered by the Bell telephone company for its fleet.

Shervin Nakhjavani/Bring a Trailer

There are a bunch of other features unique to Bell service vans, but I didn’t learn most of it until I watched the video in the listing. The paint colors are a giveaway, but those colors are often hidden under a repaint given to a van in its second life, after it had retired from the service industry. Just hints of the paint were showing when Shervin Nakhjavani saw this crusty van listed on Craigslist and decided he had to have it. He dedicated the following year and a half to carefully removing the layers of junk covering both the outside and inside.

Carefully, he scraped, sanded, and polished away all that had been layered atop the original Pacific Northwest Bell paint scheme. Like anyone who takes on such an ambitious project, Shervin was enabled by his friends and family: They let the van occupy space in their driveways and storage spaces, and in the process, the van was recorded on Google Maps.

While the process of reviving the original appearance of the van is interesting, it is actually the research and documentation of the history of these vans and how they came to look the way they did that is most compelling to me. A lot of car enthusiasts document the specific history and production story of their specific car with items like Marti reports or build sheets, but rarely do we dive further back like Shervin did.

He dug into the history of the designer who created the rebrand of the vans for Bell. Saul Bass was the designer with a golden pen brought in by Bell to revive the image of the company. Bass decided what colors would be used, how the stripes would be laid out, and more. He was behind a total revamp of the company image, a monumental task that would change Bell from drab to stylish. How many of us know the name of the person who created the color code for our favorite vintage car?

This van still needs heaps of love and work, a need that is reflected in the final sale price of just $4000. I may not have chosen to return this van to its former glory, but I sure respect the work done to not only save an interesting piece of history but also to document that history in an interesting and well-presented manner. Shervin’s story is a prime example of never knowing where the history thread could lead when you start pulling.

Shervin Nakhjavani/Bring a Trailer




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    This is an intriguing story. Removing newer paint to get to the original stuff is seldom the goal for anyone anymore. Most would have concentrated on replacing rotted or dented panels and spiffing it up with new paint. I certainly remember when the “new-look” bell vans showed up, and the pictures of this one evoked a nice feeling of nostalgia – but kind of offset with a feel of, “wow, that thing is REALLY rough – now what?”…

    Reminds me of the old tv show “Ironside”. “Mark” drove the wheelchair bound police chief/captain around to all the crime scenes in it. Lol

    Patina fans, the Holy Grail: Commercial Division has arrived.
    A coat of satin or flat clear over the exterior, tend to the mechanicals, and drive it.

    Used to buy these for several hundred dollars when they retired them. Good vans to purchase here, they were well taken care of by maw bell.

    Did I Answer? I never heard the call. I likely would have treated it as “Caller Unknown” and not answered it.

    Looks like an early Ford Econoline Van to me. They put like a bazillion of these throw-away workhorses on the road here with New Jersey Bell Telephone. What do you have, maybe $200. (or less) invested in it? C’mon dude… get a grip. It’s basically worthless. Put it up on blocks and make it into a small backyard shed.

    When I started with Pacific Telephone in 1979, I was given an older Ford van. I believe it was a ’72 & it still was painted the old military OD green. Probably because it was slated for off-loading. Most of the service vehicles in our garage were already painted the newer color scheme. Our vehicles were maintained very well, in fact, every garage I worked from had in-house mechanics. One thing I hated about my 1st van was the 250 straight six that sat right between the 2 front bucket seats; a real sweater in So. California summers.

    This brought back memories of one of my favorite jobs. I was a Coin Collector for SW Bell, in Oklahoma. I drove all over the state in a very similar van, “robbing” payphones. Left the office Monday morning, and returned Friday evening. No office, no office politics, no hovering boss . . . that van and I visited every military base, beer joint, hospital and fair ground in the state.

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