Car-based pickups will always cause me to look twice… but one with fake wood trim? Well, that’s enough to slam on the brakes and take some pictures. Which is just what happened when I came across this 1973 Ford Ranchero Squire. This is perhaps the quintessential odd vehicle… straddling the line between car and pickup, though really neither, but then donning the Di-Noc woodgrain trim then popular with large station wagons. Even its name is a mixture of disparate elements. Ranchero – a Spanish (and southwestern US) term for a rancher – combined with Squire – an English country gentleman.
Ford’s Ranchero started life in 1957 – first based on full-size Ford cars, and then the compact Falcon – and in its early years was marketed firmly as a truck. Rancheros presented the front end of a car, and the rear bed of a pickup. The concept didn’t really take off in the US; in Ranchero’s first ten years, sales averaged just under 19,000 annually. But Ford kept shuffling the Ranchero to different platforms anyway, perhaps under the impression that this niche market was about to take off, or perhaps because Ford was unwilling to concede that niche to GM, whose El Camino sold about twice as many examples in the middle and late 1960s.
Eventually Ranchero evolved to be less of a work truck and more of an upscale truck-like vehicle… or something like that. The concept of a luxury pickup was just starting to take off in the early 1970s, but though demand for such vehicles rapidly increased, manufacturers remained a bit puzzled by what such buyers actually wanted, and why. Truck market analyst Ken Kelley, in a bit of an understatement, wrote that luxury pickups such as the Ranchero “are not being sold particularly for their working ability.” Just what they were being sold for was anyone’s guess, so carmakers threw quite a few varieties of trucks customers’ way. The Ranchero Squire was one such example.
Debuting in 1970 and joining the base Ranchero 500 and the sporty-looking GT, the Squire was billed as the “new ultimate in personal pickup luxury.” The “luxury” provided with this package seems modest by today’s standards – upgraded upholstery, deluxe carpet, nicer wheel covers, and some unique trim pieces. And wood. Or, rather “woodtone sides” in Fordspeak, similar to the brand’s Country Squire and Torino Squire station wagons.
The Squire did make somewhat of a splash within the small Ranchero pool when it first arrived. Nearly 4,000 sold in 1970, accounting for 18% of overall Ranchero production. This, combined with a 15% rise in total Ranchero sales that year, likely earned the Squire its keep. However, during the following year, Squire sales fell by one-third, and it accounted for only 10% of production… a proportion that would hold steady for the next four years.
For 1972, Ford introduced its sixth, and ultimately most successful, generation of Ranchero. The intermediate Torino had been Ranchero’s donor platform since 1968, and when Torino was redesigned for ’72, Ranchero followed suit with its voluptuous, coke-bottle styling. And keeping that 10% of Ranchero buyers happy, the Squire came along for the ride.
Our featured car hails from 1973, easily distinguishable among Rancheros because both it and Torino lost their prominent ’72 grilles due to US bumper regulations, yet this egg-crate-style ’73 grille was once again redesigned for ’74. All carspotting should be this easy.
Rancheros came with a dizzying choice of six available engines, ranging from a low-powered 250-cid six to a muscular (for the day) 429-cid V-8. I’d like to think that this Squire has one of the V-8s, as the six certainly made for a slow vehicle.
What’s remarkable about this Squire is that the wood trim has survived. It’s faded, as is the “Medium Bright Yellow” paint, but clearly this Ranchero has been well taken care of, and likely covered, through a good part of its life.
This angle shows how Ford blended Torino’s curvy body with Ranchero’s pickup bed. It couldn’t have been easy to carve a pickup out of this design, but the end result looked well blended together, if not terribly space efficient. However, Ford’s marketing folks somewhat outdid themselves in over-metaphorizing Ranchero’s design, like with this excerpt from its 1973 brochure:
“The lines are strictly space-age, aerodynamic and head-turning.”
Aside from being somewhat of an embellishment, the term “space-age” was well past its prime by 1973, though Ford kept the term in Ranchero brochures for another three years.
I happened to drive down the same street a few days after first seeing this car, and the second time, this Ranchero was parked with its tailgate facing out. Unfortunately, the tailgate’s wood applique hasn’t survived 47 years like it has on the sides. The tailgate does look freshly painted, so it appears this Squire is still receiving attention.
In modern parlance, these vehicles would be called car/truck hybrids, but in the 1970s “hybrid” was a term used mostly to describe plants, so Ranchero was called “the pickup car” by Ford’s marketing department… or Ford’s El Camino by a whole lot of other people. El Caminos always outsold Rancheros, but the Ford made its strongest showing with these ’73 models. Over 45,000 Rancheros were produced that year, which amounted to nearly two-thirds of combined El Camino and GMC Sprint production. Ranchero would never see numbers that high again.
I didn’t get a chance to photograph our featured car’s interior, though it likely looks similar to the above ad’s image. However, Squires did get some additional upscale interior appointments, and our featured car also appears to have the optional “flight bench seat,” which looks like a pair of bucket seats joined together.
After 1973, Rancheros (including the Squire) remained little-changed for the next three years, with the exception of minor trim pieces. So little, in fact, that this 1974 brochure image is simply the ’73 brochure with Ranchero’s new grille airbrushed into place. Sales, however, weren’t as easy to airbrush into the picture, and they declined each year – by 1976, Ranchero production fell by 65% from its 1973 high.
Ranchero’s story wasn’t quite finished, though. The model held on through 1979, though by that time only about 25,000 were produced annually. “Sporty” GT’s were the most popular Ranchero variety in those years; interest in the luxury Squire waned noticeably; in the final 1979 model year, a mere 758 Squires found homes. More importantly for the Ranchero’s overall prospects was that it slipped farther behind its GM rivals. GM won the endurance race in the small car-based truck market; it’s El Camino survived another eight model years.
The Ranchero Squire would up as a mere footnote in Ford’s history, but it was quite an outlier… one of North America’s few car-based pickups, and one of the few wood-paneled cars that wasn’t a station wagon. And if there was ever a car… er, truck, worth slamming on the brakes for, this would be a good example.
Photographed in Annandale, Virginia in September 2020.
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Road Trip Outtake: The Elusive Ranchero Squire Ed Stembridge