I'll Take an Original with a Side of Ranch

You're a farmer. A florist. A handyman. You have a job to do and daylight's a-wastin'. Rumbling around in a 1/2 ton pickup truck is too cumbersome, but a station wagon is too cramped to haul your gear. What do you drive? You drive something like the red 1973 Ranchero 500 pictured above. Stop laughing, its practical. We did a double-take when we passed this 43,000 mile beauty in Freeburg, Illinois a few weeks ago and had to pull a U-turn and capture the moment. There was also a for sale sign in the window. Here's a taste of what $9,000 worth of car/truck can buy you these days. 


With its near-perfect original 2B bright red finish and white vinyl top, the Freeburg Ranchero looked a little like Starsky & Hutch's striped tomato. If you think the El Camino's predecessor was only a 70s phenomenon, it wasn't. By '73 the half truck / half car had enjoyed a nice long run in the automobile market. It had also moved around quite a bit. Following its introduction in 1957, the Ranchero moved from the full-sized Ford chassis to the Falcon lineup in 1960 and eventually landing in the Torino series in 1968. By the early 70s the Ranchero ate a lot of Häagen-Dazs like other Fords of the era and tipped the scales at a hefty 4,655 pounds. 

Speaking of pounds, the payload of the Ranchero was only about 800 pounds. If you needed to haul a couple of 351 Cleveland blocks, you'd want to call your buddy with the F150. A lot of sheet metal was shared with the Torino wagons, but the bed was unique to the little workhorses. This particular bed was squeaky clean and looked like it never hauled so much as a grocery bag in its 42 years on the planet. You just don't come across cars this clean anymore.

And check out those dog dish hubcaps!

This Ford wasn't totally stripped-down. It came equipped with the optional 351C and a Motorcraft two barrel carb, automatic transmission, and A/C.

A modest 25,634 Ranchero 500's rolled off Ford's Lorain, Ohio assembly line in 1973. The 500 series was the lowest trim series, followed by the wood-clad Ranchero Squire and sportier GT models. Note the tail lamp assemblies. Do they remind you of another car? Torino and Ranchero wagons were essentially scaled-down versions of the 1973 big Fords with nearly identical lines as the LTD and Custom 500 wagons.

Looking for rust? I didn't see any except one small bubble on the vinyl top on the passenger side B-pillar. The quarter panels and rockers were clean as a whistle and the undercarriage was rock solid as well. This baby is legitimately a low-mileage survivor! 

An aftermarket stereo takes up residence in the uncut dash, and the black vinyl seat covering and door panels are in remarkably good condition. Carpeting was a little faded but overall serviceable with plenty of life left in it. No clock, but that's why we have wristwatches. Its a good thing this car is air conditioned because the summer sun would likely turn this black bench seat into a flattop griddle for the driver's buns.

Let's be clear: the Ranchero isn't for everyone. It takes a special kind of owner to fall in love with the "Minotaur of Cars", but if you did plunk down a stack of Benjamins for this example, my guess is you would enjoy rolling in a fine Ford with unlimited potential. I'd use something else for hauling home that load of mulch from the garden center, though. This thing is cherry. 



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