Video: CaRucks - History of the El Camino & Ranchero

Posted by David Alkire on Jan 11th 2022

The origins of carucks in America can be credited to the Ford Ranchero. The first Ford Ranchero came out in December 1956 for the 1957 model year. The first Ford Ranchero was based on the Ford Ranch Wagon and was available in Fairlane-like trim as the Ranchero Custom. In 1957, the new Ranchero offered payload capacity 50 pounds more than the F-100 combined with the styling from Ford’s new 1957 full size lineup. The first generation of the Ranchero spanned from 1957-1959.

The second generation Ranchero was based on the smaller Ford Falcon from 1960-1965 before switching to the mid-sized, Fairlane based chassis for the third generation 1966-1967 and forth generation 1968-1969. The Ford Fairlane was discontinued after the 1970 model year, but the Ford Ranchero continued to be based on the full-size Ford platform. The Fifth Generation Ranchero, 1970-1971, took most of its styling cues from the Ford Torino. The Torino inspiration continued in the Sixth Generation Ranchero that ran from 1972-1976. The Seventh and Final Generation of the Ranchero ran from 1977-1979 and was based on the Ford LTD II mid-size platform.

Following the early success of the Ford Ranchero, Chevrolet responded with the El Camino for the 1959 model year, 2 years after the Ranchero. The First Generation El Camino was based on the GM B-Body platform, the Brookwood 2-Door Wagon specifically. The 1959 El Camino sold well and outsold the 1959 Ranchero 22,000 to 14,000 units. That same success did not continue for the 1960 model year. The Ranchero transitioned to a smaller, falcon based caruck. Ford managed to sell 21,027 Ranchero in 1960 and Chevrolet only managed to move 14,163 El Caminos that same year. Between the less than ideal sales year and Ford’s move to a smaller platform, Chevrolet discontinued the El Camino at the end of the 1960 model year.

After a couple years off the market, Chevrolet brought back the El Camino on the mid-sized A-Body platform. Based on the Chevelle 2-Door Wagon, the second generation (1964-1967) El Camino enjoyed good, consistent sales, unlike the first-generation. The third generation El Camino (1968-1972) is the most iconic of them all. The third generation was based on the Chevelle 4-Door Station wagon instead of the 2-Door wagon, allowing for a longer wheelbase. The third generation of El Camino also brought with the badge engineered GMC Sprint for the 1971 & 1972 model years. Time has not been kind to the fourth generation El Camino (1973-1977). In the collector car market, this generation is objectively the least desirable these days. That is partially due to the controversial GM Colonnade body styles introduced across the GM A-body lineup beginning in 1973. Despite the modern neglect of this generation, the fourth generation enjoyed steady sales throughout the generation of El Camino. The GMC Sprint continued to be produced along side the El Camino throughout this generation.

The Fifth Generation El Camino transitioned into the GM G-Body platform after the Chevelle/Laguna A-Body morphed into the Malibu/Monte Carlo G-Body platform. At that time, the GMC variant was renamed the Caballero. Sales of this generation were strong for 1978 & 1979 with 54,286 and 58,008 models produced respectively, but in 1980 sales dropped to 40,932 and the slide continued until the El Camino was ultimately discontinued after the 1987 model year and a dismal 13,743 models produced. The decline in popularity of the El Camino in this generation can be translated to the American buyer’s new focus on efficiency and economy cars. The V8s being produced by the big 3 American car corporations were being strangled by smog requirements, case in point the 1979 El Camino 350ci V8 produced just 170hp and the 1980 El Camino 305ci V8 produced just 155hp. Compare that to the 265hp 350ci V8 in the 1969 El Camino or the LS6 454ci V8 offered in the 1970 El Camino that was rated at 450hp and 500 lb. ft. of torque.

The same American interest in effieincy and economy cars that helped to phase out the El Camino and Ranchero sparked a small, but interesting movement in the late 70s and early 80s of import carucks in the form of the VW Rabbit pickup, Dodge Rampage, and Subaru BRAT. For each of them, their time in the US was as short as their wheelbase. The VW Rabbit pickup or caddy was build and sold in America for the 1979-1984 model years with gasoline and diesel options in this FWD pickup. The Dodge Rampage was produced from 1982-1984 and was built on the same platform as the Dodge Aries Wagon, rear leaf springs and all. The Subaru BRAT was the longest lasting of the import carucks in America, being sold stateside from 1978-1987. Unlike the other import carucks of the time, the BRAT was AWD. The BRAT is also well known for its unique, optional rear facing jump seats that came installed in the bed. Ronald Regan also owned a 1978 Subaru BRAT until 1998 before donating it to charity.


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