During the 1950s, exotic new body styles were the order of the day at
Ford. Among them was the Ranchero, a novel car-pickup that was inspired
at least in part by Ford's Australian "Ute."
It was neither the best of times nor the worst. Just the most trivial.
Eddie Fisher still crooned. Young men mooned over Kim Novak, and Elvis
Presley had the world "All Shook Up." One of the many films imbued with
the boy-loves-girl, song-and-dance mood of the times was April Love,
starring clean-cut Pat Boone and wholesome Shirley Jones-not to mention
a nifty 1957 Ford Ranchero Custom. The movie and its songs are long
forgotten, but the 1957-59 Rancheros remain among the best of Fifties
collectibles, right up there with boomerang designs, far-out pink and
turquoise furniture, and Philco Predicta TV sets. Unlike the Ranchero's
companion new Ford body style, the 1957-1959 retractable
hardtop-convertible Skyliner, the Ranchero's influence was more far
reaching -- both Ford and Chevrolet sedan-pickups were built for another
20 years or more. High-style pickups remain trendy to this day.
In essence, the Ranchero was a two-door Ford Ranch Wagon with the rear
section of the roof cut off and a bed liner slipped in over the floor
pan. It was at least partly a replay of the old Hudson sedan-pickup --
or 1937-1939 Studebaker Coupe-Express -- an idea which dated back to the
1934 Terraplane, and probably had its beginnings in the earlier
farm/ranch tradition of simply sawing off the back section of the roof
of the old family Buick or Ford. Even further back, some "horseless
carriages" had removable rear tonneaus (or none at all), leaving room in
the rear area for small pickup boxes-many early Fords and other makes
were so fitted by owners.
The roots of the 1957 Ranchero, however, actually go "Down Under" to the
land of eucalyptus trees, koala bears, and kangaroos. Ford of Australia,
it could be argued, introduced the first true Ranchero in 1932 -- the
Utility. Sheep ranchers, meanwhile, affectionately shortened the name to
"Ute." This was a roadster with the body section behind the driver
replaced by a fleetside bed, which was flush with the doors and an
integral part of the body.
It used separate rear fenders, which weren't eliminated until 1949, as
on the passenger cars. Despite the Great Depression, the Ute caught on
so fast in the Australian outback that in 1933 a coupe version was
added. This model sported small, squat rear-quarter windows that
remained a Ute trademark through 1958. From 1932 to 1934 the spare tire
was carried in the left front fenderwell, and from 1935-1939 it rode
just below the left rear-quarter window, in front of the rear fender.
Beginning in 1940, the spare was moved inside behind the front seat.
The roadster was dropped after 1938, though the coupe soldiered on for
another 20 years. After that, Utes became American-designed Rancheros
with the unique small rear-quarter windows removed. Old Utes are fairly
rare in Australia -- most were worked to death -- and are almost
non-existent in the U.S. What's so amazing is that Ford never marketed
the concept in this country prior to 1957.
To understand the 1957 Ford Ranchero, you need to understand the history
of pickups -- which is filled with riddles. During the Thirties, the
stylish Hudson and Studebaker sedan-pickups could work all week, and
then go to church or the country club. Kaiser-Frazer tried something
similar in the late Forties/early Fifties with its dual-purpose Vagabond
utility sedans with hatchback-style rear openings. But none of them were
terribly successful, so American pickups remained plain Jane commercial
vehicles until 1955.
The breakthrough to high-style pickups came with the 1955 Chevrolet
Cameo Carrier and its companion, the GMC Suburban. These were colorful
two-tone jobs with lots of bright trim and chrome bumpers, plus
interiors that were as colorful and fashionable as those in the all-new
Chevy Bel Airs. The box was a slabside that came all the way out over
the fenders flush with the cab, and was made of fiberglass.
While buyers didn't exactly flock to the showrooms like fans to a Buddy
Holly concert, sales were encouraging enough to convince Ford management
that there was at least a small market niche for a pickup in a Sunday
suit. The most expedient way to answer GM, Ford reasoned, would be to
give the Ute U.S. citizenship.
In discussing the 1957 Ranchero, it must be treated as an integral part
of the Ford station wagon lineup. Included were three two-door models:
Courier Sedan Delivery, Ranch Wagon, and the more deluxe Del Rio.
Four-door offerings comprised six-and nine-passenger Country Sedans and
the woody-look Country Squire. The two-door-based Rancheros were
marketed through the Ford Truck Division, which had been selling
Couriers all along. The wagons, and therefore the Ranchero, were built
on Ford's shorter 116-inch wheelbase shared by Custom and Custom 300
models, while the more upmarket Fairlanes and Fairlane 500s rode a
The reasoning behind the wide choice of wagons and utility vehicles was
this. Beginning with the 1952 models, Ford set out to own the U.S. wagon
market (like it had prewar), even though it was three years later than
the competition with all-steel bodies, and hadn't offered a four-door
from 1949-1951. Still, the division quickly overtook both Plymouth and
Chevrolet, and by 1954 Ford was clearly America's wagon master.
Production that year shot up to over 141,000 wagons, 112,000 more than
in 1951 when only the two-door Country Squire woody was offered -- and
two and a half times Chevrolet's wagon output.
Close to 60 percent of Ford's 1954 wagon production consisted of the
low-end Ranch Wagons, and to that could be added the modest figure for
the Courier. In any case, the bottom line looked attractive enough to
spur Ford to add the Ranchero derivative to the lineup in the fall of
1956 as a '57 model.
Being a 1957 Ford, the Ranchero was part of the most changed Ford
passenger car/wagon lineup in the company's history, with the possible
exception of the Model A and the 1949 models. "The 1957 Ford does not
look like much now," recalls veteran Ford stylist Bill Boyer, but "it
was a highly advanced car at the time. It set a lot of new themes. It
was not influenced by the Edsel. The Edsel, instead, was derived from
both the Ford and Mercury, which was a mistake." While Boyer didn't
style the 1957 Fords, he did work on the design of the Mystere show
car-a dream car that predicted so many 1956-1957 Ford styling themes
that its intended 1955 showing was delayed for a year.
Building the 1957, 1958, 1959 Ford Ranchero
Building the 1957, 1958, and 1959 Ford Ranchero meant drawing on the
overall Ford look of the time and adding new twists. The 1957 Ford
Fairlane/Fairlane 500 was the first of the long, low Fords, boasting the
first deeply sculptured steel body panels and a major increase in
passenger room. It was far more advanced than the 1957 Chevrolet, which
is a collector's darling today -- but a three-year-old body design then.
The Ford was low, wide, and aerodynamic for its time, and the entire
frontal design was functional, although the rather restrained rear fins
were purely for effect. The huge round taillights, originally done by
Boyer for the 1952 Ford, were enlarged for 1955 and again for 1957,
becoming a Fifties/Sixties Ford hallmark.
The initial styling work on the 1957 Ford was done by Frank Hershey and
Damon Woods, but Hershey was fired by corporate styling czar George
Walker, and Woods was killed in an automobile crash. The late Bob
Maguire then took over the project, heading up a team made up of Chuck
Mashigan, A.J. Middlestead, and L. David Ash.
The frames of both the 116- and 118-inch-wheelbase models were identical
except for length. Like the rest of the car, the frame was a radical
departure from anything the Ford Division had done in the past. Its
cowbelly design, inspired to a degree by the 1954 Oldsmobile and the
1956 Continental Mark II, was nearly a third stronger than the 1956 unit
and boasted heavier siderails flared way out to skirt the passenger
compartment. Rear wheel kickup started a full foot further back than in
1956 so that deep footwells could be pressed into the floorpan to
Semi-elliptic rear springs were mounted mostly outboard of the frame
side rails and were lengthened two inches. A number of other suspension
improvements provided a variable-rate effect and stiffer action, and the
wagons, Rancheros, and Couriers received five spring leaves instead of
four. The ball-joint front suspension first introduced on the 1954 Fords
was redesigned for the first time, with upper and lower arms now a
single unit and hinged with live rubber bushings. Meanwhile, the arms
were swept back in a trailing-arm manner for smoother wheel motion over
bumps. The new chassis and suspension design, along with 14-inch wheels,
resulted in a four-inch lower silhouette than in 1956 with far greater
interior room. This longer, lower look, however, required a change in
driveshaft and axle design.
The 1957-1959 Fords had their hoods hinged from the front. This was a
production advantage-not necessarily a design improvement. In some
accidents, the hood could come right through the windshield rather than
flying over the top of the vehicle. On the other hand, the wind tended
to push the hood down in the event it became unlatched.
Though several firms had built car-based pickups before World War II,
Hudson and Crosley were the only makers to do so postwar. But they were
gone before the Ranchero made its December 8, 1956, debut at the New
York Auto Show. It was successful enough to goad Chevy into responding
with the 1959 El Camino.
About the only major components left over from 1956 were the engines.
Even these, however, had higher horsepower achieved through improved
manifolding and valve design and redesigned higher-lift camshafts. The
272-cid V-8, optional on the Ranchero, was upped to 190 bhp, while the
292, optional on the Custom, jumped to 212. The standard powerplant for
all Rancheros was the 223-cid overhead-valve six, which got a mere seven
bhp increase to 144. Any engine could be ordered with stick overdrive or
the dependable but unexciting Fordomatic.
The Heavyweight Book of American Light Trucks 1939-1966 also notes that
"Actual Ranchero patent plates reveal 312s, including dual-quad and
supercharged versions, were supplied." The basic 312 churned out 245 bhp,
up 30 from 1956, while the supercharged unit soared with 300 horses.
Intermediate ratings were 270 and 285. These engines, which were not
listed in the brochures, apparently came along later in the year and
were special order units-and are now very rare.
Carburetors boasted Ford's new low-silhouette design, necessary to clear
the lower hood, while the oil bath filter finally gave way to a more
modern cartridge filter. A new two-barrel carburetor designed to give
better performance in the low- and mid-speed ranges was standard for the
272 and 292. Surprisingly, it had more venturi area than the 1956
four-barrel unit. The 312 retained a four-barrel setup. V-8 distributors
were improved and the crossover pipe on all V-8s with a single exhaust
system was replaced with a more efficient Y-system. Dual exhausts came
standard on the 312, optional with the 272/292. And finally, Fordomatics
If anybody should get the credit for the Ranchero concept, it is the
late Gordon Buehrig. Frankly, Buehrig has been given more credit for
Ford designs than he deserved, but the Ranchero came out of his original
1952 station wagon designs. Buehrig did not design the 1950 Crestliner
or the 1951 Victoria hardtop. He was only the body engineer of the 1956
Continental Mark II. He was the father of the all-steel Ford station
wagon. When Buehrig joined Ford in 1949 his first assignment was to come
up with something better than the 1949 Ford woody. This pleased him
greatly because he despised the wagon that the surfers loved. Going from
a 1952 sedan clay, he designed two wagons, a two-door Ranch Wagon and a
four-door Country Sedan. According to Buehrig, the wagon he did was a
two-door on one side and a four-door on the other.
The former then became the basis for the Courier as well as the Ranch
Wagon. In addition, it became the Utility, but only marketed in
Australia with the characteristic two tiny windows added at the rear.
His four-door became both the Country Sedan and Country Squire.
Buehrig's original 1952 lineup served as the basis for all wagon
marketing throughout the decade, and evidence suggests Buehrig did the
1957 Ranchero later by adapting his original 1952 concept to 1957 Ford
The Ranchero came out two months after the introduction of the 1957 Ford
line. It was formally introduced at the National Automobile Show, which
opened at the New York Colosseum on December 8, and made its debut to
the world in the musical motion picture April Love. Pat Boone sang the
title song to Shirley Jones as they drove a blue and white Ranchero
Custom through the Kentucky blue grass country. Actually, the Ranchero
played a major role in the film, which had a host of 1956-1957 Fords in
Evidently, GM and Chrysler were caught off guard when the Ranchero came
out. Dodge hastily cobbled the entire rear section of its two-door
six-passenger station wagon onto the back of its standard pickup truck
to create the finny Dodge Sweptside. Chevrolet and GMC merely continued
with their Cameo and Suburban models, then Chevrolet caught up in 1959
with the El Camino, which was based on the same concept as the Ranchero.
The Ranchero was a beautiful camouflage of the Ranch Wagon, and with
full parts interchangeability. A metal bed liner covered up the wagon's
subfloor; it simply screwed in and could be easily removed. Many owners
hinged the rear section of the liner so they could stow the spare tire
in the wheelwell where it was kept in the wagons. On factory-equipped
Rancheros, the spare stowed behind the seat, right where it had been on
the Aussie Utes since 1940.
The 1957 Ranchero had 32.4 square feet of cargo space, considered
sufficient in 1957, but no more than most of today's compact longbed
pickups. The tailgate was the lower section of the 1957 wagon tailgate.
The only addition was the chrome steer's head below the Ford logo, which
identified the Ranchero -- as if it needed it.
The Rancheros came in two series, standard and Custom. The first was as
spartan as a parson's Plymouth and was available in a limited selection
of colors and interior schemes. It was priced at $2098. For a mere $51
additional, a buyer could move up to Pat Boone's Custom model with all
the trimmings. These included chrome sidespear, dual sun visors, horn
ring, and full custom door panels and seat (basically Del Rio wagon
trappings). The Custom also sported bright metal trim that framed the
rear window and then swept down and around the top edges of the bed.
Contrary to popular belief, the gold anodized side trim (as seen on the
Custom 300 cars) was not standard on the Custom Ranchero -- this was a
dealer item in 1957. Taking a cue from the Australians, aftermarket
suppliers offered tonneau covers and chrome guard rails.
Ranchero Custom interiors gave buyers a choice of white bolsters with
tan/brown, white/blue, red, or green vinyl facings, all in much more
attractive patterns than the standard model. The most distinguishing
feature of the 1957 Ranchero Custom was the choice of two-tones, 10 in
all. The upper portion of the body and roof pillars were always Colonial
White. The lower bodysides and roof itself carried the second color,
which was frequently Flame Red, Starmist Blue, or Raven Black. The
two-tone jobs were optional, as were the dressier full-disc hubcaps and
Ford's approach to advertising its new car/pickup centered around its
double-duty nature: "LOOK ... a handsome caller. LOOK again ... a husky
hauler." Billed as "an entirely new kind of vehicle," Ford asserted that
"there's the big bonus that only the Ranchero gives you-profits plus
pleasure. After the day's work is done, Ranchero's ready for the
evening's fun. It's the only pickup truck that rides, handles and feels
exactly like a car!" Among the other selling points were the
availability of virtually all of the luxury and convenience options
available on Ford cars (power steering, brakes, windows, and seat, for
example), plus the fact that the Ranchero had more load capacity than
many standard pickups, a six-foot-long pickup bed, a lower loading
height than any pickup, and a "sizeable space" behind the driver's seat
for small packages (the spare tire resided on the passenger's side).
For a specialty model, first year sales could be considered a success:
6429 standard Rancheros and 15,277 Customs, this in addition to total
1957 Ford passenger car production of 1,676,449 units. With or without
the Ranchero, however, Ford clearly outsold Chevrolet in 1957 for the
first time since the Thirties.
The Ford Ranchero was introduced in December 1956. The Ranchero was
based on the standard full-sized Ford platform, specifically the
116-inch long utilitarian Courier sedan delivery Ford. The Ranchero was
essentially a Courier with an open, reinforced bed, its own unique rear
window and integrated cab and cargo box.
The Ranchero was initially introduced with two trim levels – 66A
“Pickup” and 66B “Custom”.
The Ranchero was a useful vehicle with its pickup truck bed in the back,
while maintaining the creature comforts of cars of that era. The
carrying capacity of the Ranchero was equal to that of the Ford pickup
Ford’s print advertising played on the theme of the American southwest
that the “Ranchero” Spanish model name was meant to evoke. If you look
very closely at the red symbol on the Ranchero’s tailgate you can see an
image of a Texas Longhorn cattle beast. The advertising proclaiming that
the Ranchero was “More Than A Car! More Than A Truck!” The Ranchero was
a hit with both the automotive press and the buying public, filling an
untapped market niche for vehicles with the utility of a light pickup
and the ease of operation and riding characteristics of a car.
The production numbers that I have show that Ford built 21,705 Pickup
and Custom 1957 Rancheros. Compare this with 12,814 F100 pickup trucks
built! the Ranchero was quite popular.
The Pickup and Custom Ranchero models could be ordered with any engine
available for Ford cars. The base A-Code engine was the 223 cubic inch
in-line 6-cylinder which produced 144 horsepower. the base V8 U-code
engine was the 272 cubic inch engine that produced 190 horsepower. The
optional V8 engine was the C-code 312 cubic inch engine with 205
horsepower. There also was a 352 cubic inch V8 Police Interceptor engine
that produced 300 horsepower.
This particular Ranchero appears to have a special, quite rare E-code
312 cubic inch “Thunderbird Special” V8 engine. My information shows
that this engine was not normally available in the 1957 Rancheros. And
only a few high performance Thunderbirds were fitted with this engine.
The engine has two four-barrel Holley carburetors, special heads, and a
high performance camshaft producing 270 or 285 horsepower depending upon
the information source.
While the Ford Ranchero was quite commercially successful as compared to
the F100 pickup truck, it did that despite being more expensive than the
F100. The base Ranchero Pickup model sold for $2,098, while the short
bed F100 truck sold for $1,789.
1957 Ford Ranchero started a
trend, but now that trend has completely reversed itself. The 1957 Ford
Ranchero brought car creature comforts to the truck market – cars became
more like trucks. Nowadays trucks have become more like cars.
223 CID (3.7 L) OHV I6
292 CID (4.8 L) Y-block V8312 cu in (5.1 L) "Thunderbird Special"
352 CID (5.8 L) FE V8
Wheelbase 116–118 in (2,946–2,997 mm)
Length 202.0 in (5,131 mm)