Curbside Classic: 1976 Ford Courier – The Second Toughest Old Mini-Pickup?

(first posted 7/18/2012)    Really old Toyota pickups are as common here as …back-yard chickens. In fact, they’ve become an icon of the whole genre, and it’s a status symbol to have an ancient Hi-Lux in your driveway, even if it’s only used twice a year to haul some compost for the garden or a batch of fresh chicken litter. It’s a bit like keeping back-yard chickens around after they’ve stopped laying eggs; in fact, there are now “retirement homes” for unproductive cluckers.

Now the Toyotas have earned their seemingly infinite low-stress retirement, but the question is: what if I can’t find a suitably-old Hi-Lux? Am I going to be a social outcast? No, the answer is to dig up an old Ford Courier. Given how many there are still around, and the rude health they seem to enjoy, the question is only: were the Mazda-built Couriers any less durable than the Toyotas?

Its common knowledge that Ford Couriers were built by Mazda, essentially the B-Series with a Ford F100 mini-me grille, and a few other changes. And the Mazda’s will get their own due respect here in good time. But just to establish the pedigree, here’s proof that Mazda had some experience building pickups before they got the Ford job. The B-Series goes back to 1961, and the family resemblance is fairly obvious.

Under the hood of these old Couriers beat an engine that I have a bit of experience with, and lots of respect for.

The classic Mazda SOHC four dates back to the 1966 Luce, Mazda’s first foray into the world of modern sedans, and styled by Bertone.  Its a car I’ve liked since first seeing one in Vienna in 1969. With a different grille, it could well be an Alfa, or at least a Fiat. The 1500 cc four had “square” bore and stroke of 78 mm each.

That turned out to be  a bit small, and it was soon stroked to 1600 cc, then 1800 cc, by which time it was swinging a healthy 94 mm (3.7″) stroke. That’s getting into big-block V8 territory. The 1800 cc engine is what this generation B1800s and the Courier had, and a tough and torquey little mill it was.

And just because we’re talking about it, the next gen Courier (1977) and Mazda B2000 got a 2 liter version of that motor, with the stroke taken all the way to 98 mm (3.86″). Grunt power from idle on, and nothing past 5000 rpm, unless it was hopped up. 72 (net) hp was its rating, less than the 74 hp the 1800 garnered, but but it felt like more, down low. But we’re not talking about those gen2 trucks, of which some of the later Couriers also had Ford’s Lima 2.3 L four installed: a preview of coming Ranger attractions.

No, let’s stick to the first gen, which ran from 1971 through 1976. And even in those years, there were some differences. The biggest being a couple of inches of precious length added to the cab, behind the rear window.


You can see that, right? I do, it really jumps out at me. That happened in 1976, in anticipation of the slightly more revised gen2, which got a new front end to go with the longer cab.

Well, it’s hardly a mega-cab, but every inch counts in these old-school Japanese trucks. I find them visually appealing, but unbearably cramped, which is why I’m not fully accepted into Eugene’s social elite, even though I do have the chickens (and a Subaru). Oh well. Big, old Ford trucks are a bit “north of the river”, if not even “east of the river”. Ask me if I care. Actually, it’s not totally true; the kids in my neighborhood love my truck. Young women, especially: “cool truck, man!” If I were single, and could only keep one of my vehicles, I know which one it would be.

As nice of shape as all old Couriers here inevitably are, the roof of this shell is showing the effects of thirty-five years of Oregon rainy winters. Time to re-roof. Or put a blue tarp on it, the budget solution to Oregon’s leaky roofs. Blue roofs are a common sight here, come late winter.

Just for the hell of it, let’s see what’s inside there. Golf clubs? Diet Cola? Jeez; someone’s not on the program. “Don’t you love the planet, man?”

The way to tell the vintage of these old Couriers, other than the ’76 cab stretch, is to check out their tailgate lettering. The 1972’s have “FORD COURIER” in big letters. The 1973’s spelled out “COURIER” in big letters, with a smaller “Ford” on the upper left. Starting with 1974, it changed to a big “FORD” and a small “Courier” on the lower right. The marketing executives at Ford had to justify their big salaries somehow.

That makes both the red and this green ones either ’74s or ’75s. Who needs VIN numbers? Who cares?

I know you do, otherwise you wouldn’t still be reading along. You’re going to get a degree in Courierology by the time I’m done. Which I am. Ready for the final?