Saturday, July 08, 2006

The History of the Ranchero

Ford Ranchero

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The Ford Ranchero was a car/pickup truck combination vehicle produced between 1957 and 1979 by the Ford Motor Company for the North American market.

It was the first postwar American vehicle like this from the factory and did well enough to spawn a competitor from General Motors, the Chevrolet El Camino.

In Europe, car-based pickup trucks have been more common over the years from a variety of manufacturers, but the American versions are probably the largest and most powerful produced.

It was also Elvis Presley's favorite car.


1959 Ford Ranchero
1959 Ford Ranchero

Between 1957 and 1959 the Ranchero was based on the full-size Ford Fairlane platform. There were two models available, a utilitarian standard model, marketed to traditional pickup truck buyers such as farmers, and the Ford Ranchero Custom which picked up most of the options and accessories available on the Ford Fairlane line, including stainless steel bodyside mouldings and two-tone paint. Both standard and Custom could be ordered with any engine available for the Fairlane, all the way up to the 352 in³ (5.8 L) Thunderbird Special. In Canada, the Ranchero was also available in the Meteor line-up.


In 1960 the Ranchero became much smaller, becoming based on Ford's compact Ford Falcon. Ford believed the market wanted a more practical vehicle, one much smaller, lighter and cheaper than a full-size pickup truck, and indeed the Ranchero sold well in this incarnation. The standard powerplant was an economical 144 in³ (2.4 L) straight-6 (at 30 mpg, this is as good as most modern vehicles). In 1961 the 170 in³ straight-6 was offered, and in 1963 the optional 260 in³ V-8 was offered in addition to the 144 and 170.

The Ranchero evolved along with the Falcon in 1964, becoming just a little larger along with its parent and using the same body style for 1964 and 1965. In 1965, the 289 in³ (4.7 L) V8 was offered.

1966 was a one-year model, as the Falcon evolved again; this would be the last year that the Ranchero was based on the Falcon platform.


1967 Ford Ranchero
1967 Ford Ranchero

1967 saw another radical change for the Ranchero, as Ford shifted it to the larger platform (at that point, the Ford Fairlane). This was a well-received vehicle, with clean, straight lines, dual stacked headlights, and plenty of power; engine options started with a 200 in³ (3.3 L) straight-6 and went up to a 390 in³ (6.4 L) FE-series big-block V8 giving 315 hp (235 kW).


1970 Ford Ranchero
1970 Ford Ranchero

1968 saw the Fairlane supplemented by the Ford Torino, and the Ranchero became a Torino-based vehicle. Overall, the new Ranchero was bigger and more squarish then before. Engine choices included 2 six cylinders and several V8 choices including the standard 302 and the sporty 390. The powerful 428 Cobra Jet was a mid-year option. Like it's Torino counterpart, the Ranchero could be had with almost any & all options including A/C, buckets seats, optional wheels, & even a vinyl top. The 1969 Ranchero saw slight cosmetic changes, but overall was the same truck as the previous year. One notable option was the introduction of a Ram-Air 428 Cobra Jet V8.

1970 saw another face-lift for the Torino line. Both the Torino & Ranchero featured a shallow-pointed grille and front end with smooth, somewhat more curvaceous lines. Three models were available - the standard Ranchero, Ranchero 500, and Ranchero GT. Like in previous years, all Torino options could be ordered, including the Ram-Air 428 Cobra Jet engine (7 L) with a slightly different 'Shaker' hood scoop borrowed from the Mustang. Also available was a stylish grille that featured hide-away headlights as well as a 3rd hood with an oversized scoop which was standard on Torino GTs. Through 1971 the Ranchero followed the changes in its parent model, including the availability of Ford's new 429, even in Super Cobra Jet form.


1972 saw a radical change in the Torino and Ranchero lines. The sleek & pointy look of the previous year's model was replaced with a larger & heavier design. Most prominent was a wide, gaping 'fishmouth' grille and a new body-on-frame design. There were 3 models available; the standard 500, the stylish Squire, and the sporty GT. Engines choices included a 250 six-cylinder and a selection of V8s that ranged from the standard 302 to the Cleveland series 351 & 400 and a larger 385 series 460. The performance oriented 429 was also available. However, all suffered from lower compression ratios to better meet new emissions standards. The 351 in³ (5.75 L) Cleveland could still be obtained in tuned 4-V Cobra Jet form as well as in a milder 2-V version. A 4-speed manual transmission was available on certain GT models. The 1973 Ranchero saw a redesigned front-end to meet new Federal Standards for front impact protection. Aside from slight cosmetic differences, the Ranchero would remain basically the same until the Torino's final year, 1976.


With the Torino ending production after 1976, the Ranchero needed a new platform. This was found in the somewhat unlikely guise of the Ford Thunderbird personal luxury coupe, which was undergoing a reincarnation that year also, and sharing features with that year's Ford LTD II full-size car. The same three models available since '68 were still offered, and the Ranchero could be ordered in quite luxurious form. Engines fitted went up to the 400 in³ (6.6 L), a small-block despite its greater cubic capacity than some big-blocks.

Production ceased in 1979. Cars were getting smaller, and the increasing restrictions on a car-based pickup truck made such a vehicle less and less attractive. Meanwhile, light trucks had to meet much less stringent requirements for emissions and fuel economy. Ford saw the way the market was going and decided that light truck sized pickups were the way ahead.


Rancheros are reasonably collectible, though they are nowadays often overlooked in favor of the later-arriving Chevrolet El Camino, which stayed in production a few more years. Die-cast Rancheros are almost non-existent compared to the 1968-1973 El Caminos. Most desirable are the early years, up through 1966. In some areas such as the Pacific Northwest, the LTD-II based 1978 and 1978 Rancheros are the most common, even more so than the late 1970s El Caminos, because perhaps the angular nose looks "right" for the pickup body. Australia continues to make Falcon-based pickups, called "utes", but these are lamentably not imported into the US.

The idea of a car-based pickup remains an attractive one, and is an illustration of how favorable treatment for light trucks over cars by United States regulations skews the marketplace. There are many Ranchero and El Camino owners, indeed, who stopped buying new vehicles when those models were discontinued. Recently there has been more interest in producing such vehicles again, including the Subaru Baja which is a 4-seat car with a pickup bed instead of a trunk.

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