Long before the Ranchero was a gleam in an American product planner's eye, car-like pickup trucks were a common sight in Australia. And while the Ranchero and El Camino are now historical artifacts in North America, so-called utes -- Australian for utility trucks or coupe utilities -- are still alive and well Down Under.
According to the much-loved creation myth, the Aussie ute was inspired by a letter sent to the Ford plant in Geelong, Victoria, in 1932 by a farmer's wife who was tired of commuting to town in a hard-riding work truck. "Why don't you build people like us a vehicle to go to church in on a Sunday, and which can carry our pigs to market on Mondays?" she demanded.
When the plant superintendent showed him the letter, Ford Australia chief designer Lewis Bandt sketched plans to graft a pickup bed to the cab of a coupe. When he finished, he told the plant superintendent, "Boss, them pigs are going to have a luxury ride around the city of Geelong!" The first Ford coupe utility rolled off the assembly line in 1934, and it's been in production pretty much ever since.
Holden, the General Motors brand in Australia, jumped on the bandwagon in 1951 with the Holden Ute. Although it disappeared in 1984, the Ute reemerged in 1990. Today, it competes head-to-head with the Ford Falcon Ute. Coupe utilities are also sold just about everywhere else in the world by manufacturers as diverse as Fiat, Volkswagen, and Proton. In America, alas, the concept is considered as outdated as eight-track tapes.
1957 FORD RANCHERO CUSTOM
Engine 291.6-cu-in/4778cc OHV V-8, 1x2-bbl Carter carburetor Power and torque (SAE gross) 205 hp @ 4500 rpm, 295 lb-ft @ 2400 rpm Drivetrain 3-speed manual with overdrive, RWD Brakes front: drum, rear: drum Suspension front: control arms, coil springs; rear: live axle, leaf springs Dimensions L: 202.0 in , W:77.0 in, H: 57.2 in Weight 3398 lb Performance 0-60 mph 11.6 sec. quarter mile 18.6 sec @ 75 mph, 60-0 174 ft (Motor Trend, January 1956, Ford Fairlane with a 202-hp 292-cu-in V-8 and 3-speed auto) Price when new $2242
ASK THE MAN WHO OWNS ONE
GLENN ROGERS is a San Diego retiree and Ford devotee who sold his '59 Thunderbird to finance his restoration of the Ranchero to virtually bone-stock condition.
WHY I LIKE IT: "I like the look of the '57 Fords, and the Ranchero is something different. Plus, I like being able to go down to Pep Boys to get whatever I need."
WHY IT'S COLLECTIBLE: The El Camino proved more popular, but the Ranchero was the first of the breed, and epitomizes Ford's ambitious design ethic of the mid-'50s.
RESTORING/MAINTAINING: The Ranchero is basically a 1957 Ford, so most parts are easily found from a large network of vendors who specialize in this era.
BEWARE: Rust is the common bugaboo, typically in floorpans and behind the wheels. Also, most survivors have been customized, and original Y-block V-8s are hard to find.
EXPECT TO PAY: Concours-ready, $32,350; solid driver, $15,400; tired runner, $8600
JOIN THE CLUB: Ranchero Enthusiasts, www.supermotors.net/clubs/rancheroenthushiasts; Ranchero USA, www.ranchero.us
THEN: "The Ranchero gives the room and 'personal' feel of a Thunderbird, the comfort of a sedan and the load-carrying capacity of a small pickup." -- Walt Woron, Motor Trend, April 1957
NOW: The 1957 Ford Ranchero is a time machine that gives us a glimpse back at a uniquely optimistic and inventive era of American automobile styling. But in its day, the idiosyncratic car-truck also pointed to a new direction of one-size-fits-all design that resonates with contemporary consumers.
1959 CHEVROLET EL CAMINO
Engine (awaiting installation) 348-cu-in/5703cc OHV V-8, 3x2-bbl Rochester carburetors Power and torque (SAE gross) 315 hp @ 5600 rpm, 356 lb-ft @ 3600 rpm Drivetrain 3-speed automatic, RWD Brakes front: drum, rear: drum Suspension front: control arms, coil springs, rear: live axle, coil springs Dimensions L: 210.9 in, W:79.9 in, H: 56.3 in Weight 3880 lb Performance 0-60 mph 8.7 sec, quarter mile 16.0 sec @ 90 mph (Hot Rod February, 1959, 348-cu-in 3x2 V-8 with 4-speed manual) Price when new $2950
ASK THE MAN WHO OWNS ONE
TOMMY VARGAS who works in construction sales in San Diego, is a lifelong Chevy guy who had lusted after a '59 El Camino ever since his eldest brother bought a new one.
WHY I LIKE IT: "My brother's was red, with the big engine, and I loved the way it looked. I said, 'I'm going to own one someday.' And now I do."
WHY IT'S COLLECTIBLE: Chevy made the full-size El Camino only in 1959 and 1960, and this is the one with the flamboyant gullwings and cat-eye taillights prized by aficionados of '50s style.
RESTORING/MAINTAINING: Mechanical parts are easily found, but trim items unique to the El Camino and wagon models can be difficult to locate.
BEWARE: As always with cars of this era, watch out for rust. The rear window seal was notoriously leaky, so carefully check the floorboard underneath.
EXPECT TO PAY: Concours-ready, $23,925; solid driver, $12,600; tired runner, $7000
JOIN THE CLUB: National El Camino Owners Association, www.elcaminocentral.com/index.php
THEN: "Chevrolet's El Camino sports high styling of the passenger-car line, yet provides space for a 1030-pound load. It should prove a hot competitor to Ford's Ranchero during 1959." -- Bill Callahan, Motor Trend, March 1959
NOW: The El Camino is a sport/utility vehicle that a hot rodder can love without reservation. By combining the outlandish styling of the '50s with the usefulness of a shop truck, the El Camino is a parts chaser par excellence, yet perfectly adequate around town or on the car show circuit.