In-Motion Outtake: 1981 Ford Durango – The Foxiest Fairmont Variant?

I’ve long agreed with the theory that if one spends enough time in Southern California, eventually an example of any vehicle ever made anywhere will cross one’s path.  The week after Christmas I was able to cross another one off the list.  I was cruising north from Oceanside when something shiny in a very period color attracted my attention and sure enough as I got closer I recognized it as basically a Fairmont Futura Ranchero, which obviously never existed in that form, but did in the Ford-commissioned and Ford-sold Durango.

I believe this is likely an original-owner vehicle, mainly due to various factors such as the elderly owner, bumper stickers on the bumper and numerous other stickers on the rear window, the original blue plate commercial plates and the non-factory hubcaps.  And the fact that despite these items everything looked in excellent condition and very well taken care of, i.e. not things you’d generally find on a restored or recently resold vehicle to a collector/enthusiast.

Ford commissioned National Coach Products of Gardena, CA to convert a number of Ford Fairmont Futuras in the early 1980s to a sort of Ranchero successor by sending them completed cars and then having them rework the aft portion including a filler piece at the end and converting the tail panel to a tailgate.  The taillights actually fold down with the panel resulting in a warning label regarding not driving with the tailgate lowered.

For an unknown reason, they were all powered by the 200ci I-6 along with the three-speed automatic, but a number have been re-engined since, not difficult to do in any Fox-body vehicle.  Exact production numbers are unknown beyond that it’s generally agreed that the production period was between 1979 and 1982, around 100 were created as 1981 models and supposedly another 100-250 in other years but the total figure of 212 total is bandied about in various places, generally with a disclaimer though.

This two-tone example has the bedside rails, and was in excellent condition overall, I’m calling it a 1981 as that’s what the California Smog Check Database lists it as when.  Interestingly it seems to fail the emissions check on average three times before finally passing and has been following this pattern for many years so clearly the owner is devoted to it.

The above promotional ad for the Durango from National Coach Products clearly shows the small filler panel between the rear fender and the tailgate.  Removing the rear window and roof portion, trunk lid, reworking the fender tops and then producing the bed out of fiberglass makes this an obvious product to compete with the downsized El Camino that really makes one wonder if Ford originally considered it for in-house production given that the Futura body style was sort of an oddball already compared to the rest of the Fairmont line.

Related Reading:

Cohort Outtake: 1981 Ford Durango – Shoulda’, Coulda’, Did!