Ford Ranchero History

Greg Zyla
Q: Greg, I read your recent Test Drive articles on the Honda Ridgeline, where you said it was a vehicle for people that want trucks but need a car, too.
I’m a lifelong Ford fan and would like to hear your thoughts on the Ranchero as it was a car that was also a truck. Thanks very much for your articles in Truck Round-Up and Auto Round-Up magazines, too. They bring back some great memories. Frank L., Oregon.
A: Frank, thank you for you kind words. I’ve been with the Auto Round-Up family of publications now for over 15 years and it’s been a wonderful experience thanks to readers like you.
As for the Ford Ranchero, it made its debut way back in 1957 and was a popular vehicle with those consumers who I indeed said, “wanted a car but needed a truck" or, vice versa, “wanted a truck but needed a car.” The Ranchero design lasted right on through its final year of production in 1979.
Not only did Ranchero arrive on the scene before the other competition, especially Chevy’s El Camino that came to market in 1959, it proved there was a market for a vehicle like this. Thus, Ford’s Ranchero idea was an immediate hit with those who loved cars and trucks but didn’t have anything “in the middle” to choose from.
To explain further, back in 1957 Ford took its full size Ford Station wagon chassis and put a car front end on it along with a pickup truck bed that could carry about 850 lbs. of cargo. It may not have had the haul capacity like a half-ton Ford F-100 or F-150 pickup, but it sure served the purpose it was built for.
We also have to remember that back in that era, pickup trucks were mostly work trucks that lacked many of the car creature comforts. Most pickups in 1957 were known as “farm trucks” or “work trucks” which meant they didn’t have any amenities to help make driving them easier. So, Ford was correct in its theory that a “half car-half truck” would be a popular consumer option.
Another reason I credit Ford with having an edge back then over the El Camino was the Ranchero’s diversity of models.
Through the years, Ford released Rancheros throughout its car line to include the compact Falcon, intermediate Fairlane and so on. At the end of the sixth generation run in 1979, over half a million Rancheros had been sold, and today these Rancheros attract lots of attention at car shows across the nation.
Chevy, its number one competitor, never released the El Camino in compact or midsize intermediate size other than its first two years of 1959 and 1960.
As to why Ford stopped Ranchero production I feel lies with the fact that the baby boomers like me were growing in numbers and needed more room than the Ranchero offered. Also, if you remember back in 1983, Ford decided it was time to introduce a Ford Ranger compact pickup it was working on since 1979 in hopes that it would serve the purpose of those who loved the Ranchero.
Additionally, even though a 1983 Ford Ranger pickup was light years away from today’s spectacular Ford F150 pickups that ride and are equipped like a Lincoln yet can still do the work of a real pickup. The Ford Ranger also offered several driver/passenger amenities that would keep Ranchero fans happy and fill the need as an everyday driver.
My personal favorites are the initial generation 1957 to 1959 Rancheros, the sixth generation 1972 to 1976 Rancheros, and fourth generation 1968 and 1969 Rancheros. My all-time favorite is the 1969 Ranchero GT, powered by a Cobra Jet 428 under the hood.
Although I mentioned in another column about the El Camino and Ranchero that I give the Chevy one major pat on the back as it did outlast the Ranchero by quite a few years, namely lasting through 1987 and six generations. This means that there are more El Caminos on the road today than Rancheros, which then helps Ranchero in the car/truck collector business as for being more rare.
Fast forward to today, and the “car truck” offerings have expanded greatly. Ford offers many four-door trucks that double as a car-like family mover in splendid style along with several nice SUV and Crossover offerings. With the recent announcement Ford will cut car production to only two models in a few years, and they are situated very well considering the truck, Crossover, and SUVs they already have in the waiting.
Thanks for your letter and for bringing back memories of those great Ford Rancheros.

Facebook Twitter
View Count 3,967