Ford’s better idea – 1972 Ford Ranchero! Two vehicles have always stirred debate among American car fans, the car-based pickups from Chevrolet and Ford: the El Camino and Ranchero… The Ford Ranchero made its debut in December 1956, making it a 1957 model, and lasted all the way through to 1979, whereas the El Camino came along initially for one year only, 1959/60, disappeared and resumed from 1964 up until 1987. Both cars have names derived from Spanish, El Camino meaning ‘the road’ or ‘way’ and Ranchero meaning ‘rancher’.
Although these cars are similar in appearance, aimed at the same clientele and roughly the same size, they evoke a rivalry in their supporters unparalleled within the two camps, Chevy or Ford. Mother Mopar did well to keep out of this bun fight and concentrate on existing models – this was always going to be a two horse race.
This month I am concentrating on the Ford Ranchero and in particular the more forgotten early 1970s examples that seem to have been overlooked by the hobby. Although sold as a pick-up truck, it started life as a two door station wagon with the top removed, and a flat bed installed, making for the look of a mini-truck.
The second generation Ranchero became a smaller vehicle as Ford used the Falcon platform for the model; after 1965 a third generation appeared for one year only with a distinctive front end and stacked headlights, while its wheelbase grew a further four inches to 113 inches. The fourth revamp 1968/69 saw the model appear alongside the Fairlane and Torino with an angular appearance and four headlights sporting a brace either side of a straight horizontal grille.
The year 1970 saw a complete overhaul of the Ranchero and many components shared with the Torino; an aggressive shark-like front grille gave the car a menacing outward look and the headlights could be optioned for ‘hideaways’ giving the car a cleaner look. A ‘shaker’ hood – borrowed from the Mustang – and an oversized scoop kept the performance theme alive.
The sixth Ranchero creation for 1972 saw the pointy nose disappear and a ‘fish-mouth’ grille take its place, while the following year saw another type of front end treatment because of new government standards for front impact protection. The car certainly took on more of a utilitarian look and the Ranchero basically stayed the same through to 1976 with only minor changes.
These years probably are not the Ranchero’s most exciting; however, with collector car values now climbing on the rare early models, the sixth version has its merits. For starters there were three models available – the standard 500, the sporty GT and the brand new Squire with simulated wood panelling along the flanks. Standard V8 engines were a 302cu in and 351cu in with a new for 1972 400cu in. The big 429cu in still could be optioned and the Cobra Jet 351 4 bbl.
The GT came with a performance hood scoop, which was functional on the 351 and 429 muscle motors, and a four-speed Hurst linked manual gearbox if required. Wider G70 series tyres on Magnum 500 road wheels gave the vehicle a classic look. The inside saw high-back bucket seats, deluxe three-spoke steering wheel complementing a performance cluster of instruments – this really was a cowboy’s hot rod. Ford’s press office advertised the car quite subtly and simply went with the tag line: “New Ford Ranchero… Right On!”
On the production figures front, the Ford Ranchero GT for 1972 sold 12,620, an increase for 1973 to 15,320 and for 1974, 11,328; this was a popular model and sold well throughout its manufacturing run. Things really came to a head for the 1977 models as the Torino was discontinued. Ford needed a fresh platform for the Ranchero, so the blue oval folks used the LTD II platform, meaning the car grew to a whopping 220 inches. This iteration lasted for two years and after 1979 the Ranchero was no more, bringing this piece of Ford history to a close as the Ranger rolled on to the scene and the cowboys were happy once again.