Ford had been placing second to Chevrolet in the sales race for several years and added a couple of new models in 1957 to spice up the sales climate.
In addition to adding tastefully modest fins to the two-seat Thunderbird, Ford introduced a retractable hardtop Skyliner, as well as a car-based pickup called the Ranchero. Chevrolet never tried to compete with the Skyliner, but in later years the company introduced the El Camino to do battle with Ford’s Ranchero. Ford advertised it as “More than a car. More than a truck.” The first Ranchero rode on a 116-inch wheelbase and sold for a base price of $1,920; the Ranchero line continued until 1979.
One of the earlier Rancheros rolled off the Ford assembly line in Kansas City, Mo., on Aug. 27, 1956. That particular flame red and colonial white Ranchero was soon headed west to Colorado.
Records indicate that the Ford was owned by a succession of three individuals in Colorado before passing into obscurity. But eventually retired airline pilot Bob Hartig found it in Doylestown, Pa., and learned that the owner of the Ranchero was “selling out” in order to move to Arizona. The two men agreed on a price and Hartig became the new owner of the Ranchero.
Power seats, brakes, windows, and steering were available extra-cost options that had been rejected by the original owner. “I like it that way,” Hartig explains. The Ranchero is equipped with an AM radio, heater, and clock. Hartig left Doylestown at 10 p.m. on what turned out to be an epic adventure home through a storm to McLean, Va. Early into the trip, the original vacuum-powered wipers, never excellent, gave up and quit working about half the time. “I drove the car on instruments after that,” he says. “I drove by the seat of my pants.”
Continuing his woeful tale, Hartig remembers that the generator warning light lit up the dashboard just as he entered the Baltimore Tunnel. “I drove the rest of the way home on the battery,” he says, and arrived about 2 a.m. with dim headlights. “The battery must have been totally drained,” he recalls, “because the car would not start the next day.” However, the electrical problem was quickly and easily rectified with a rebuilt generator. On the way home, the Fordomatic transmission efficiently transferred to the highway the 212-horsepower produced by the 292-cubic-inch V-8 engine. A two-barrel carburetor sits atop the engine.
Hartig has made some improvements. With the memory of driving blind fresh in his mind, he converted the vacuum wipers to electric. Additionally, he gave the engine a tune-up, replacing the original 1957 spark plug wires and the rotor under the distributor cap.
The ball joint front suspension is now so good Hartig can “thread a needle” with the car while at the helm of the deep-dish steering wheel. The interior of the Ranchero is mostly original with rubber floor mats, a red dashboard including a 120-mph speedometer, a white headliner, an 8.00x14-inch spare tire behind the passenger seat, dual under-dash air vents, a severe wraparound windshield, and red seat belts.
Along the top of the sides of the more-than-6-foot-long bed is a protective stainless steel rub rail. A chrome-plated steerhead emblem is mounted on the tailgate. At the other end of the Ranchero — behind the optional accessory “V” bar between the front bumper guards — are the fender-mounted mirrors. “The mirrors were options, believe it or not.” Hartig says.
When the Ranchero was introduced, the new line of car/truck was advertised as “Built Solid Ford Tough.” Hartig says he is a firm believer in that slogan.