Junkyard Gem: 1974 Ford Ranchero

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After decades of sales success moving sporty coupes with pickup beds out of Australian showrooms, Ford introduced Americans to a brand-new 1957 Ranch Wagon with comfy car seats in front and a pickup bed in the back. This was first Ford Ranchero, and The General (who also had plenty of experience selling utes Down Under) followed suit with the Brookwood wagon-based El Camino for 1959. With that, the cartruck wars were on between the two biggest American carmakers, and cartruck shoppers could choose between the Ranchero and the El Camino for every model year of the 1960s and 1970s. Today's Junkyard Gem is a battered Malaise Era Ranchero found in a Silicon Valley car graveyard.

Most of the big self-service junkyard yank off the license plates before a vehicle hits the regular inventory, but this Ford still had one of its original gold-on-blue truck plates. Yes, Rancheros could be registered as proper trucks back then.

This truck was in a yard located in the part of Silicon Valley that reaches around up the eastern side of San Francisco Bay, just a couple of freeway offramps north of the Tesla Factory in Fremont. Those of you with a knowledge of East Bay automotive history will know that the Tesla Factory was once the home of NUMMI, which began life as GM's Fremont Assembly. They built El Caminos (and GMC Caballeros) there, but this Ranchero came all the way from Lorain Assembly in Ohio.

The Ranchero spent just its first couple of years on the full-sized Ford platform, becoming a Falcon-based cartruck as soon as Ford's new compact hit showrooms for 1960. Ford dealers in Australia were stuck with the Consul Coupe Utility that year, but soon began selling proper Falcon utes. Camioneta shoppers in Argentina couldn't get the 1960 Falcon-based Ranchero until 1973, but then they could buy new ones all the way through 1991.

The North American Ranchero (as well as the Falcon) went to the larger Fairlane platform for 1966, and all successive versions were based on some version of the midsize Fairlane/Torino/LTD II until the last new Rancheros were available on our shores in 1979. This cartruck is from the generation built from the 1972 through 1976 model years, when the Ranchero was a Torino or Gran Torino with a truck bed.

The base engine in the '74 Ranchero was the 250-cubic-inch (4.1-liter) straight six, with several flavors of V8 available as options. The two-barrel-equipped engine in this cartruck is a member of the Cleveland/Modified family, displacing either 351 cubic inches (5.7 liters) or 400 cubic inches (6.5 liters). If it's the original one — no guarantee there, since people swapped engines in these things about as frequently as they changed socks — then it was rated at either 162 or 170 horsepower. You can still buy these Edelbrock valve covers new, by the way.

The interior was pretty well gutted by the time I got here, but you still see a bit of the Torino-derived affordable luxury in the cab.

The seats, which I found on the ground nearby, looked pretty good. They wouldn't have stayed that way for long, though, not outdoors in a California boneyard.

Malaise Era cartrucks aren't worth big money even when they're in nice condition, so there was never much chance that a rough Ranchero like this would get fixed up and put back on the road.

When you get a date with Cleopatra, you better have a special chariot. The '74 Ranchero was just as classy as its trunk-equipped sibling, but your chariot could stop to pick up a couple of extra engines on the way to the drive-in.


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