Curbside Classics: Ranchero Supreme – Australian and American

I haven’t seen nearly as many Rancheros as I have El Caminos. Stumbled across this one not long back, and it marked my first ever 1972 Ford intermediate in the flesh. A special moment for me.

To make up numbers I’m throwing in some Australian utes, some concepts and a South African Ranchero 500.

Scratch an Australian and you’ll get the ute story. We invented the ute. No wait, we invented the coupe ute.

Truth is, the person who invented the ute was the guy or gal who put a flatbed behind the front seats of a car chassis. Probably happened sometime before the Model T. Somewhere anywhere in the world.

We did get in on the ute thing early; JohnH tells it here. In short, thanks to Lew Bandt ours became distinctive for their five-window treatment.

This format became the norm over here from 1932 and continued after the war.

As soon as the 1949 single spinner hit the ground, we turned it into a coupe utility.

Lovely rear, somewhat marred by that wheelarch thingy.

Our large Ford pickup continued through the 1950s into the Customline range, known as the Mainline Utility.

Looking at what was being done downunder, and inspired by the stylish 1955 Chevrolet Cameo Carrier/GMC Suburban, someone at Ford US decided a fullsize pickup would be just the thing.

It came in 1957, followed by El Camino et al.

Essentially a roofless two-door wagon, the 1957-59 Ranchero featured longer doors than the sedan’s.

We didn’t get these models here via the factory.

Nor did we get the second gen, which shrank considerably while still retaining the longer tudor doors.

We got a bespoke body with less rear and a tighter cabin using sedan doors, the format used by GM on their Holden models since 1948. Three-window not five.

The Falcon was a last minute decision for this market, and we didn’t get the two-door on its introduction in 1960 although we did get the fastback coupe a couple of years in.

Hence in the name of cost savings, the ute was four-door short. We were given a nice pressing in the c-pillar instead.

What comes into play here is the mama’s pasta effect. This version of the ute is the natural state of being for me because this is what I grew up with. Just like my mama’s pasta is the best because that’s what I grew up with. To me, the Ranchero is someone else’s mama’s cooking. Never the same.

For many of you, it’s the opposite.

This one used to live near me. Got replaced by a 66 stang. Then that disappeared too.

1966, the last of the Falcon Rancheros. It was a new generation model, and the mingling of Ford compact and intermediate continued. Simply replacing the front clip with Fairlane stacklights for 1967 changed the whole feel of the offering.

We got the sedans pretty much as is, but the two-door was not taken up locally. This is one of two I’ve caught recently and is actually converted to RHD, which is becoming less of a thing for imported cars now LHD is registerable.

The roofline and c-pillar profile from the 1960-65 XK-XP utes was retained for our next generation, known here as XR and XT. No fancy pressing, though.

We went further out on our own with the subsequent XW and XY.

This is the latter, the easy tell being the chromed strip bisecting the rear lights. It belongs to occasional CCorrespondent AVL, who has taken it off the road, stripped it down and is bringing it back to lustre without being too precious.

These models chunked out the details of the 66 Falcon, the distinctive round taillights being dropped without much rancour. XW had the three lens rear light units.

And with burgeoning confidence in its indigenous styling team, Ford Australia also put together a concept ute – the 1969 Surferoo.

1969 also saw a Ranchero concept in the US called the Scrambler. Face and tail were based on the 1969 Super Cobra Sportsroof. Name came from the twin Rupp Scrambler dirt bikes sitting out back.

According to Mac’s Motor City, the Scrambler showcar subsequently received a nose from the 1970 King Cobra NASCAR effort that never raced.

I don’t think it’s this one, which has a rear bumper unlike the showcar. But the closer I look, the more genuine that nose appears. At a guess – an informal Ford skunkwork effort.

Those concepts were nothing compared with what hit the street in 1972.

This single year for the Torino marks a highpoint in US styling.

The sheer audacity of that nose is perfectly met with the mastery of its rendering. You can fault these cars for failing to strip away the excess, but it is in their very excess that they excel. In the language of mostness, this is poetry.

The side sculpture too is utterly compelling. On the sedan, notchback and wagon, perhaps a bit too much.

On the Ranchero, an effective counterbalance to that extended front overhang. Something the 70/71 was lacking.

I met the owner of this beauty at the Bendigo swap meet. An elderly gentleman in similar condition, this GT with 429 is his regular ride. And I just love its park-in-the-streetable patina.

To my eyes, Ford’s use of side sculpture had the same effect on the fullsizers.

We got the sedans here as LTD mostly, so all gussied up with that very helpful rocker trim. The blisters alongside don’t seem to do much, but once seen they become sorely missed. When I look at a 69/70, the shape just feels undercooked compared with the 71/72.

The Torinos were all-new for 1972, so the sculpture was more integral to the form.

I mean, just look at that. Even if you have an aversion to shiny cars, that is still a magnificent view.

We toyed with the Torino look for our 1972-introduced XA Falcon.

We also considered a ute that had a c-pillar very much like the new Holden’s.

Instead, we went the Ranchero route and borrowed from the two-door.

Again, the mastery of Fomoco 1972. Fuselage with cokebottle, nubbier than the 70/71 Torino but also tougher, more purposeful. Unlike stateside, clean sides prevailing.

My favourite ever Australian ute.

The concurrent HQ Holden was also very nice, but sedan doors.

When I caught this example years ago, I thought this badge was just some fun.

But no, it was a South African Ford CKD-XA Ranchero. Everything the Australians got, plus a faux intake behind the doors and Ranchero script on the grille and flanks.

I’ve never seen that intake and it looks airbrushed on in this photo. So does the grille script. As far as I can tell, neither made it to the showroom floor. This one does have the XA Fairmont wheelcovers, probably a hangover from the sedans which were sold as up-spec cars and badged Fairmont in that market.

Chevrolet SA made more of an effort. Their versions of the Holden ute featured grilles unique to the territory.

In place of the Ranchero script sitting in the grille, there appears to be a Ford oval – not done here IIRC. Callouts are for the 351, the SA models were available with 250 and 302 as well.

The XA was to have a Bunkie-beak of sorts, but that feature was saved for the senior models. The bread and butter range looked best, those clean horizontal strips with slight V sitting nicely inside the extrusion cavity.

The South African Ranchero continued with the XB, but this one’s a Falcon.

Not just any Falcon though. Those Fairmont hubcaps would appear to be original spec, as would its tombstone seats, deeper pile carpet and other niceties. It has interesting provenance too, being purchased by a transport magnate for use on his farm. A Fairmont in all but name.

With a Mustang face.

If I can’t have an XA, I’d take an XB in a heartbeat.

The end-of-body XC is also a nice effort.

The front end was heavier than the XA and XB, but still handsome.

Early proposal for its successor, when the range was considered as an evolution. Can’t unsee.

The actual replacement arrived in 1979. XD square.

And with it the return of the five-window format for the ute.

As with the El Camino, my tastes in Ranchero are changing. For as long as I can remember, the 72 has been the best looking of the bunch for me.

But this 68/69 has taken me in. I caught it years ago and haven’t seen it since. This photo seems to catch it in the ideal light, falling on the body to emphasise its extruded-clean profile. I love its smaller-diameter period wheels. I love that wafer-thin c-pillar. Love.

Got my own. A plastic Tonka that originally came with the metal car carrier I received as a child. That car carrier was the best toy I ever had and lasted years, but as soon as I got it for Christmas the dog ate the Ranchero and accompanying Mustang. Found this one since.

Further Ranchero