During the 1970s the Ranchero name was used in the South African market on a rebadged Australian Ford Falcon utility. These vehicles were sent to South Africa in CKD form. In Argentina a utility version of the locally produced Ford Falcon was also called the Ranchero.
The Ford Ranchero sold well enough to spawn a competitor from General Motors in 1959, the Chevrolet El Camino.
The first Ford Model T and Model A pickup trucks were created from sedans by placing a truck box behind the body of a car truncated behind the driver's seat. In 1934 Ford Australia's designer Lew Bandt modified a coupe with a smoothly integrated loadbed that could be used like a car to drive to church or to deliver pigs to market. This created the coupe utility which remains a popular body style as the "ute" in that country. In North America, pickup trucks evolved into a heavier duty form with cabs and beds that were quite distinct from passenger automobiles. The Ranchero was the first postwar American vehicle of its type adapted from a popular sedan from the factory. It combined the sleek looks of a sedan with the utility of a light duty pickup truck.
Introduced in December 1956, three months after the traditional September model year start-up, the Ranchero was based on the standard and new-for-1957 full-size Ford platform, specifically the short wheelbase Custom sedan, two-door Ranch Wagon station wagon and utilitarian Courier sedan delivery. Essentially a Courier with an open, reinforced bed, its own unique rear window and integrated cab and cargo box, the Ranchero was initially offered in two trim levels and, throughout the model run, was built on the corresponding automobile assembly line but sold as a truck through Ford's truck division. There was an extremely basic standard model, marketed to traditional pickup truck buyers such as farmers, and the Custom which picked up most of the options and accessories available on the Fairlane line, including stainless steel bodyside mouldings and two-tone paint. Upscale models were badged both as a Fairlane and Ranchero, with a stylized representation of a longhorn as the symbol for the model located on the tailgate. Indeed, print advertising of the time played on the theme of the American Southwest that the Spanish model name and longhorn symbol were meant to evoke, showing artistic representations of the vehicle being used in ranching and outdoor activities, proclaiming it as "More Than A Car! More Than A Truck!" The Ranchero was a hit with both the automotive press and the buying public, filling an untapped market niche for vehicles with the utility of a light pickup with the ease of operation and riding characteristics of a car. In fact, the Ranchero had a marginally higher cargo capacity by about fifty pounds/23 kg than the half-ton F-Series pickup. Both standard and Custom could be ordered with any engine available for Ford cars, all the way up to the 352 cu in (5.8 L) "Thunderbird Special." In Canada, the Ranchero was also available in the Meteor line-up. Seat belts and padded instrument panels were optional.
The 1958 version would remain largely unchanged under the skin save for the new front sheet metal (shared by the big '58 Ford and inspired by the Thunderbird) and its new four-headlamp arrangement.
The 1959 model was built with the same 118"/300 cm wheelbase as the sedan as were all 1959 Fords, giving the Ranchero the advantage over its predecessors of a longer bed. However, this would be the last time that the vehicle would grow either in size or trim for several years to come. The Custom Ranchero was the only model marketed in 1959.
1960–1965 Falcon Ranchero
In 1960 the Ranchero became much smaller, becoming based on Ford's compact Falcon, specifically the two-door sedan delivery variant. The popularity of small, economical cars like the Volkswagen Beetle perpetuated a shift in thinking among the three largest American manufacturers; 1959 would see the introduction of the 1960 Falcon along with the 1960 Chevrolet Corvair and Plymouth Valiant. A pickup version of the Volkswagen Bus and a van version of the Chevrolet Corvair were offered as well. The economic recession of the late 1950s certainly played a role as well. 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. Now marketed in print as the "Falcon Ranchero," the new vehicle's standard powerplant was an economical 144 cu in (2.4 L) straight-6. In 1961 the 170 cu in (2.8 L) straight-6 was offered, and in 1963 the optional 260 cu in (4.3 L) V8 was offered in addition to the 144 and 170. The two-speed Ford-O-Matic automatic transmission (offered between 1960 and 1963) or three-speed C4 Cruise-O-Matic could be ordered as could a three-speed manual transmission. The Ranchero had a 800lb load capacity.
Note that there are three almost entirely different pickup bodies for this generation of Falcon: the Australian Falcon Ute differed in having a shorter rear overhang than North American models, a cargo box that extended farther forward than the rear window, and shorter doors; while the Argentinian version also shared the sedan's overall length and short "4-door" doors, adding higher and more squared-off cargo box sides.
The Ranchero evolved along with the Falcon in 1964, becoming just a little larger along with its parent and using the same basic body style for 1964 and 1965. In 1965, the 289 cu in (4.7 L) V8 replaced the discontinued 260 and an alternator replaced the generator in all Ford cars.
1966 was a one-year model, when Falcon and Fairlane were redeveloped on the same basic platform, one which did not include the sedan delivery as 1965 marked the final year of sedan delivery production. Instead, the 1966 Ranchero used Falcon front sheet metal, trim and interior accents on a modified station wagon platform. Engines available were the 170 cu in (2.8 L) I6, 200 cu in (3.3 L) I6 and two- and four-barrel versions of the 289 cu in (4.7 L) V8. Transmissions choices ranged from the C4 three-speed automatic to the three-speed column-shifted manual. The 1966 model was marketed simply as the Ford Ranchero, and did not carry Falcon badges. Seat belts were standard.
The 1967 Ranchero, based on the post-'66 Falcon/Fairlane chassis, used the basic 1966 Ranchero body with Fairlane trim, front sheet metal, and interior treatments instead of Falcon. It was marketed as the Fairlane Ranchero.
This was a well-received and unique one-year vehicle, with clean, straight lines, dual stacked headlamps, and plenty of power; the Ranchero had entered the muscle car arena in 1967. Engine options started with a 200 cu in (3.3 L) straight-6 and went up to a 390 cu in (6.4 L) FE-series big-block V8 giving 315 bhp (234.9 kW) and backed by an optional C6 automatic, the new-for-1966 heavy duty variant of the C4. 1967 also saw the largest expansion of trim levels since the vehicle's introduction ten years prior. Supplementing the base model were the new Ranchero 500, 500/XL and GT. The GT-A, Ford's label for '66 and '67 automatic transmission-equipped GTs given to both the Fairlane and Mustang, did not apply to the Ranchero.
What did apply to all American cars in 1967 was the use of a dual-circuit braking system with a dual-chambered master cylinder. Increased awareness of passenger safety resulted in such innovations as safety-padded windshield pillars and an unusual 1967-only safety pad which protruded from the center of the three-spoked steering wheel to a point just beyond the rim of the steering wheel. It was designed to minimize abdominal injuries in the event of a collision.
In 1968, the Fairlane line was supplemented by the new Torino, and the Ranchero followed suit, becoming the largest model since the full-sized 1959. Overall, the new Ranchero was not only bigger, but also more angular than before with its more horizontal grille and horizontal headlamps; Ford and other automakers were making a switch back to horizontal quad headlamps. The interior was all new, as well, sharing the Torino/Fairlane's distinctive four-pod instrument cluster. Though the four round pods gave the illusion of an engine-turned dash, viewed from left to right, they instead featured warning lights for coolant temperature (both cold and hot) and the left turn signal indicator in the left pod with the speedometer in the second pod directly in front of the driver. Warning lights for the charging system and oil pressure as well as the right turn signal indicator were located third from the left. In upscale models, this pod was supplanted by a tachometer. An optional clock filled the fourth pod; a decorative "clock delete" panel otherwise filled the space. A seat belt warning light was a new feature, too, lighting briefly in the far left pod whenever the engine was started. The model line also featured wraparound front side marker lamps which doubled as parking lights and rear side reflectors, newly mandated by US law for the 1968 model year. Three trim levels were offered, beginning with the sparsely trimmed base Ranchero, the Ranchero 500 trimmed like the corresponding Fairlane 500 and the top-of-the line Ranchero GT with its Torino GT trim. Engine choices began with the 250 cubic inch I6 and ran to several V8 choices, including the standard 289 with two-barrel carburetor, and the FE-based 390. The powerful 428 cu in (7.0 L) Cobra Jet, another FE derivative and the largest engine offered in the Ranchero to date, was a mid-1968 option. The 1968 model marked the final year of production of the 289; a 302 cu in (4.9 L) V8 with two-barrel carburetor became the standard V8 in 1969. Two new upmarket engine choices were available, the 351 Windsor and the 351 Cleveland, each of which could be backed by the new medium-duty FMX automatic. Like the C6, the FMX was a variant of the C4 and was offered exclusively with either 351. Like the Torino/Fairlane, the Ranchero could be had with virtually all of the same options as its cousins, including air conditioning, bucket seats, center console, AM/FM radio, optional wheels, front power disc brakes, hood scoop (standard on GT) and even a vinyl top. Changes across the 1969 model line were slight and included a flatter three-piece grille less the horizontal crossbar and Ford crest, relocation of GT grille badging from the crest to the lower right corner of the grille as viewed from the front, a change from black-faced instruments with white numerals to brushed aluminum with black numerals and a slimmer, two-spoke steering wheel pad similar to those across the Ford product line, unlike the wheel with its broader "safety pad" and separate horn ring used in the 1968 intermediates and compacts. While the pad may have changed, the horn ring did not. The only change unique to the Ranchero was the relocation of the "Ranchero" script from the rear quarter panels to the front fenders. A little-known and extremely rare offering in 1969 was the Rio Grande. Available on special order, this was essentially a GT in the so-called "Grabber" colors of "Wimbledon White", "Poppy Red" or "Calypso Coral", partially blacked-out hood with scoop, side stripes, bed rails, vinyl top and unique "Ford Ranchero Rio Grande" wheel centers. As a result, Rancheros so equipped received Ford's "SPECIAL PERFORMANCE VEHICLE" identification on the data plate regardless of engine choice. These vehicles may be identified by the aforementioned designation, as well as a blank space where the trim code would normally be found. Production figures are unclear, but may have been around 900 total units.
While Chevrolet's El Camino used the same body from 1968 to 1972, 1970 saw a complete restyle for Ranchero, which had started with a boxy body style. Both the Torino and Ranchero featured a shallow-pointed grille and front end with smooth, somewhat more curvaceous lines influence by coke bottle styling. A fourth trim option was made available in 1970. The Ranchero Squire (pictured) was an upmarket trim package which featured a woodgrain applique similar to that found on the Country Squire station wagon. Like in previous years, all Torino options could be ordered, including all-new Ram-Air 429 Cobra Jet or Super Cobra Jet engines (7 L) with a slightly different "shaker" hood scoop borrowed from the Mustang, so named because it was directly mounted to the carburetor and shook with the engine at idle. Also available was a stylish grille that featured hide-away headlamps as well as an optional hood with an oversized scoop which was standard on Torino GTs. The 1971 is distinguished by a grilled divided by a center section.
A minor but nevertheless important variation debuted with the 1970 model. Prior to 1970, no Ranchero had any interior badging identifying it as such. With the 1970 model came a "RANCHERO" or "RANCHERO GT" badge on the glove compartment rather than Fairlane or Torino badging.
In 1972, a radical change occurred 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 still three models available; the now-standard 500, the new Squire with simulated woodgrain "paneling" along the flanks, and the sporty GT. Engine choices remained basically the same beginning with the 250 cubic-inch six-cylinder and a selection of V8s that ranged from the standard 302 to Cleveland and Windsor series 351s, plus the new-for-1972 400. The 385-series V8 (the 429 for 1972-73; the 460 for 1974-76) was still available. However, all suffered from lower compression ratios to better meet new emissions standards. The 351 cu in (5.8 L) Cleveland could still be obtained in tuned 4-V Cobra Jet form through 1974. A four-speed manual transmission was available on Cobra Jet-powered 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 1977, 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 mid-size car. The same three models available since 1968 were still offered and the Ranchero could be ordered in quite luxurious form. Engines fitted went up to the big block 400 cu in (6.6 L). Production ceased in 1979 with, among the traditional choices, a commemorative "1979½" model. Although the LTD II was not produced for many model years, this body style with stacked rectangular headlamps is among the most popular among collectors.
Cars were getting smaller and increasing government restrictions, and requirements on a car-based pickup truck made such a vehicle less and less attractive from a manufacturing standpoint. Meanwhile, purpose-designed light trucks had to meet much less stringent requirements for emissions and fuel economy. Ford saw the way the market was going and decided small light trucks were the wave of the future, beginning with the Mazda-built Courier pickup. This vehicle would be a "stepping stone" during which time Ford would develop their homegrown replacement, the Ranger.