Ford Ranchero, 1957-1979
The Ford Ranchero was a car/pickup truck combination vehicle, joining the front half of a car back to the B pillar with an integral pickup bed, produced between 1957 and 1979 by the Ford Motor Company for the North American market.
It was the first American vehicle like this from the factory (with the exception of the very early years) 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.
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 cubic inch Thunderbird Special.
In 1960 the Ranchero became 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 cubic inch straight-6 (at 30mpg, this is as good as most modern vehicles) while the largest engine offered was a 260 c.i. small-block V8, which in such a small platform gave quite sprightly performance.
The Ranchero evolved along with the Falcon in 1964, becoming just a little larger along with its parent, and with the availability of larger engines including a 289 c.i. V8.
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 saw another radical change for the Ranchero, as Ford shifted it to the larger Ford Fairlane platform (at that point, the mid-size car in the Ford lineup). This was a well-received vehicle, with clean, straight lines, dual stacked headlights, and plenty of power; engine options started with a 200 c.i. straight-6 and went up to a 390 c.i. (6.4 litre) FE-series big-block V8 giving 315 horsepower.
1968 saw the Fairlane replaced by the Ford Torino, and the Ranchero became a Torino-based vehicle. These had a shallow-pointed grille and front end and smooth, somewhat more curvaceous lines. Three models were available - the standard, 500, and GT by increasing price and features. Almost all Torino options could be ordered, all the way up to a 428 Cobra Jet engine (7 litres) with optional ram air induction, making the Ranchero a true performance vehicle. 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 makeover of the Torino and Ranchero, including a wide, gaping 'fishmouth' grille, and a lessening of power due to increasing economy and emissions requirements. The largest engine available now was a Ford 351 Cleveland, though it could be obtained in tuned Cobra Jet form.
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 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 c.i., 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. Most desirable are the early years, up through 1966.
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.