The Dude: 1981 Ford Durango

Scotty GilbertsonBy Scotty Gilbertson

Car names sure can be interesting, some seem to fit and some don’t quite seem to fit. When I think of a “Durango”, I think of a rough and tumble truck, made for farm and ranch work, driven by a dude; and not the surfer-dude type dude. This is a 1981 Ford Durango and it’s on Craigslist with an asking price of $3,750 and it’s in Banning, California. Thanks to JW for submitting this Durango!

This is one high-visibility Ford Durango! Ford teamed up with National Coach Works to build just over 200 Durangos between 1979 to 1982, not officially as a Ranchero replacement, but, coincidentally, it coincided with the end of the Ranchero in 1979.

It looks like the seller actually uses this one to haul things. Is that a boat rack? They say that it could be a daily driver, it sure looks like it’s up to the task, being in almost perfect looking condition. I have to admit, I’m a sucker for yellow vehicles, or orange, lime green, etc. Anything bright and an actual color instead of a tone like most vehicles are today. Zzzz….

National Coach Works removed the rear roof and seating portion behind the iconic B-pillar of the Ford Futura two-door, and then they inserted a fiberglass bed section, rear window, bulkhead, and a few other details, and you had yourself a Ford Durango.

The interior looks like it’s in good condition – nice, crisp, and clean. Being that this sits on the Fox platform, I wonder if a Durango, even though they’re rare, was ever modified to have a hotter engine than the 200 inline-six and also to have a manual transmission?

All of the Ford Durangos came with a 200 cubic-inch inline-six with about 105 hp. With so few of these having been made, I wonder if any of them ended up with a 302 V8? Prices have been all over the map for the Durango. I’ve seen cars in similar condition to this one being well over $10,000 so this is potentially a great bargain. Have any of you owned or even seen a Ford Durango in person?

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  1. macvaugh
    • Dan

      Several pictures show a tailgate.

  2. PhxBarbie

    Thank a God! That tailgate is hideous.😖

  3. boxdin

    Easier and cheaper to buy an actual Ranchero. Lots available around here. El Caminos bring more, but a 71-72 Ranchero looks pretty good. That being said, these Fairmonts are brick like, you cannot destroy them, my son tried. I like the Durango and would get a nice cheap one needing little.

  4. Myron Vernis

    I’ve owned my Durango for over ten years. It’s a cool car with the benefit of added functionality. Being that they were pilot vehicles, some things like the suspension were not modified for hauling purposes.

    The price on this is very low but, as noted by others, it is missing its tailgate. Last time I checked, NAPA was no help with that.

    • Rich Childs

      Myron, you continue to bring surprises. I have always liked these however have only seen two in the time they have been on the road.

    • angliagt

      Why does it not surprise me that you own one.
      We need to meet someday.Maybe if/when I drive my ’60 Anglia-
      105E to the East Coast from California,& back.

      • Myron Vernis

        @angliagt-You’re always welcome in Akron, especially if you’re driving an Anglia!

  5. Rob

    I have owned a fine Durango since 1997.
    All the articales I have read state; if the car does not have the correct tail gate then it is not a Durango. Could me a homemade version.

  6. Howard A Member

    We missed out on so many nice rides our mates “down under” got to have. I suppose the opposite could be said, as well. ( Did they ever get 454 Chevelle’s down there?) I don’t see any camper tops for these, kind of an odd shape box, but an inherent problem with these “utes”, not enough space inside for stuff. I’d love to have this.

    • Chris In Australia

      No 454 Chevelles, apart from private imports. They’re still rare, but since we can now keep them LHD, there’s more to be seen.

  7. Don

    Never new they existed ,right when I think I no every thing about every car that there is you guys do this ,LOVE it great sight 👍

  8. racer99

    A lot of the Mustang parts should be bolt-ins — leaves a ton or options open. Neat car — that’s the first one I’ve seen.

  9. Stephen

    That is not the correct tailgate
    looks like a homemade….

    • Moparman

      I concur w/ Stephen. As these is no direct tail end shot showing the rear, tailights, etc., you will notice, the bumper is flush against the side marker light, where as on the BFinders examples with the correct tailgate show a 3″- 4″ distance between the sidemarker and bumper edge. Something about this one is off…maybe the original tailgate was lost??

  10. Wayne

    I own one now that is the same color combo as the one in Rob’s post.
    It belonged to a little old lady that bought it new. She ran out of brakes and did some minor crumpling of the left front corner and parked it for 15 years (with the driver’s door open) until she died. I am currently grafting on an SVO nose. (It has Mustang doors without the little groove) And installing my potent 5.0 and 5 speed out of my ’87 LX. I am installing all my Mustang suspension and braking goodies. Along with the 8.8″ rear diff. I have been reading all that I can find on these vehicles and this one appears to be a home made unit. (besides the tailgate, the vertical section behind the sear glass does not look correct either. Although there are pictures in the original sales flier of one with a bench seat. (the sales flier says available with all the engine options) I have never seen one that did not have bucket seats and a 6 cyl/auto combo. Interesting note is that the original spare tire well is covered over by the “one Piece” tub and the car is delivered with the spare stuffed under the floor in the back seat area.
    Mine also came with the right rear seat belt still installed. As I have heard others came the same way.

    • Myron Vernis

      Sounds like a very cool project. Please post a pic when you’re done.

  11. Woodie Man

    Holy Moses! 3 Barn Finders have a Fairmont Durango! If Myron Vernis has one we all better get out there and buy one! 😉

    With the proper Fairmont tailgate, it’s actually not unattractive.

  12. 57Wayne

    Just came back from Stafford CT swap meet and there was one in the car corral with a 5.0 conversion. Looked nice but some stuff in the rear looked unfinished; transition from the bed to the rails seemed to roll and maybe it was missing the top rail trim. It was interesting. When I hear Durango, though, I think Dodge…

    • Ck

      Hey 57 Wayne I saw the same car
      Really thought it was home made till 5 minutes ago.I actually chuckled out loud as to why someone thought this was a good idea.Now that I see that there is more than one I’m asking myself ,why didn’t someone tell them that it wasn’t a good idea after they finished the first one.

  13. Mike

    Looks a little hinky. Tailgate, bench seat, as previously mentioned, are incorrect & missing. Steering wheel looks correct, bur no cruise control switches. From everything I’ve read, all of the Durangos started out with loaded Futuras, 6cyl automatics.

  14. Wayne

    Mopar man is correct about the bumper. (I was going to mention it and forgot)
    Even if the tailgate got lost. There is enough to see that this does not have the same bed floor as the original. (Too short and no slots for the tailgate hinges.)
    Also the wrong trim on the bed tops. ( or lack there of )
    Yes the original tailgate is A heavy lump of mass. (Believe it or not. The weight is all in the one piece tail lamp assembly!) The tail lamp is the rear outer tailgate shell retainer. With a fiberglass backing screwed to the actual tailgate frame. ( which is sturdy and light). I have read everything that I can find on the vehicle and the three largest reasons for it’s demise was cost, late introduction where the last version of the ElCamino got a foot hold. And many complaints about not being able to drive the car with the tailgate down. ( has warning stickers on the door jamb about this issue). Because of the lost body structure and the 5.5″ longer wheelbase this car really needs some stout sub-frame connectors ! ( I am thinking double connectors on mine because of the added panhard rod conversion, heavier rear sway bar and upgraded control arms.)

  15. erikj

    I never heard of these. And so rare? Seems a lot of them showed up on this post.
    I,m sorry but I just cant like a Fairmount in any form. And this just don’t work for me. To those that do like them, enjoy!! I will look the other way.

  16. KevinR

    This one was most likely hit in the back. Google “yellow Ford Durango” and you’ll find several other pictures. Also look at this Jalopnik article from 2011 which has pictures that appear to be this car in better times:

    • whippeteer

      Possibly. But that one had bucket seats.

    • racer99

      Have to agree — can’t believe there are 2 running around with the same kayak rack on them. Lots of differences between the 2 sets of pics so have to agree with you that it’s been “fixed” with readily available parts.

  17. Wayne

    I still think that this is a home made/ copy of an original Durango. The rear edge of the bed is (although finished nicely) not the same set up as mine. Also no Durango nameplate. And the top of the sail panel is a little narrower. It has a “completed” top edge that blends into the bed. Where an original uses stainless caps to top the body/bed joint. Without the “original” tailgate style. This one will be about 40 pounds lighter!

  18. angliagt

    I remember seeing a new one of these at a Ford dealer,in
    Everett,Washington,in the early ’80’s.Since we had a ’78 Fairmont
    wagon,I thought it was a cool car.

  19. RichS

    Add me to the short list of *real* Durango owners. I agree, it has been hit in the back – the fiberglass filler piece that bolts to the tail and allows the tailgate to clear the rear bumper is gone.

    The front seat pic shows a little of the plastic interior piece covering the rear window – this makes me also think it’s legit. The tailgate trim pieces are ugly when they’re in good shape and mine have been damaged and I am missing one so I am looking for a fix to delete the trim anyway and I think thats what happened here, some of the trim was damaged and since the tailgate was gone, the trim too was jettisoned.

  20. Wayne

    So does that mean that there are 5 of us Durango owners? Wow for a production runoff 212. These are really high odds!
    How many “CURRENT” owners do we have?
    Count me as one

    • Myron Vernis

      Yes, I’m a current owner.

  21. RichS

    I am a current owner as well. (Admittedly mine is a basket case right now)

  22. Wayne

    Mine is not being driven right now. (no brakes) I have almost all the parts to start the rebuild/customization process. Project starts in earnest in September. (when house remodeling is completed)
    I can’t wait to get started. This project combines several bucket list projects and events that I have wanted to do. All rolled into one.

  23. RichS

    Same here. Sounds like we have a lot of the same plans. I have a ’93 5.0 5 speed drivetrain will convert to 5 lug for wheel choice. Mine was hit in the front and poorly repaired in the past so I am piecing together a ’83-86 LTD/Marquis nose swap. Here’s a coupe with that nose, I think it will look good with the rear lines.

    I’ve got some grief from others about not keeping it stock but as anyone that owns one knows that rare does not equal valuable and I am going to do what I want to it.

    • Myron Vernis

      Very cool; go for it!

  24. Wayne

    I agree Rich. Because of the great slope of the Mustang fenders. I am (bracing at the sway bar mounts and hacking it off just in front of that spot and angling rearward to just back of the second fender mount from the rear. That way I keep the core support and 1/2 of the inner fenders in one piece. Then cut the SVO the same way. Insert square ( or rectangular) 1/4 inch thick tubing in the “frame” hole. Bore and tap the same as the sway bar mounts and weld into place. That makes a guide for sliding on the front section. That way once it has been slid into a rough position. The front fenders can be temporarily installed th make sure all lines up before welding into place.
    What area of the country do you live in? I am leaving on vacation soon and will be going across country.

    • RichS

      I’m in Sacramento

  25. Wayne

    I am going the other direction. I am about 80 miles east of Reno! I am in Sacramento 5 or 6 times a year.

  26. George Livesley

    I have neither seen nor heard of a Ford Durango. But in the right color (yellow is fine, or red, orange, light blue) with a pumped-289 and 3 (or preferably 4)* speed Hurst floor-shift (like I have in my red ’65 Falcon convertible) and a set of Mustang buckets (which I have on the shelf)
    and a nice set of wheel/tires, it could be a fun ride, at a relatively affordable price, and would certainly get a lot of Questions at a show–due in part to its rarity.

    See Wayne above

  27. Wayne

    Google Ford Durango. Or do a search here for the same thing.
    I am rebuilding/Resto-Moding onr right now. (YELLOW)

  28. chad

    B surprised what the 200 ci can do…
    This 1 looks hit /or/ changed over from an actual Fairmont…
    Y the price is low ~

  29. Wayne

    Should we start a Durango Registry?
    Does anyone know of a wrecked one for parts?

  30. Mike B

    I am also a Ford Durango owner.

    • RichS

      Very cool!

  31. Duane Boda

    WOW! 😳 I’ve never seen one of these before…it looks like a modified Fairmont.

    How long was this model available and how much did they go for new?

    • RichS

      That’s exactly what it is – a modified Fairmont Futura. It was available in the 1981 model year and for a short time in 1982. The conversion added about $3000 to the price of the Fairmont which made it more expensive than a comparable El Camino.

  32. Wayne

    It left the factory as a Fairmont Futura Sport Coupe. A prototype was built in 1979 and production was 1980 and 1981 with a total (confirmed) production of 212. To the best of my knowledge there are 5 Barn Find patrons ( please count off!) that own one. ( I can’t believe the odds of that.) Maybe the boys in Boise (?) can let us know the odds. As I don’t know how many accounts/readers/patrons that they have.
    Wayne in Yerington Nevada has 1
    Rich S in Sacramento has. 1
    Mike B in ????? has. 1
    Myron Vernis in. .?? has. 1
    Rob in ??? has. 1

    • Mike B

      Wayne, I’m in McKinney, Texas. Bought my Durango from a guy in Oklahoma. It was sold new at the Ford dealer in Independence, Kansas. I’ve owned it for just over 4 years.

  33. Wayne

    Thanks Mike!
    Maybe in a year or two we could have a Ford Durango Convention. It will probably take me at least 18 months to have mine done. What happens to all that time that you are supposed to have when you retire???? I have been partially retired since March and fully retired since July 1st. And have only been able to spend about two hours on the Durango. (I guess the race car will take priority until the season is over.)

  34. Wayne

    Has anyone seen one in a wrecking yard? Or parting one out? I know that I am looking for a few trim pieces. I was lucky in finding a Mercury (Futura Coupe cousin LN7?) in a wrecking yard in Illinois. (snagged a tail lamp assy. and both door belt line mouldings) But I could still use a rear window trim. (lower right hand bottom horizontal)

    • RichS

      A couple years ago, I did see where a Durango was being (sort of) parted out – the seller had bought it with the intentions of transferring the Durango-specific parts into another Fairmont (the Durango was SUPER rusty). The project didnt progress and he was trying to sell the parts lot. No idea what became of that.

      As for the non-Durango specific Fairmont parts, I highly recommend going to and setting up an account. Row52 is a database of over 80 self-serve yards comprising over 100,000 vehicles. You can set up an “alert” that notifies you whenever a vehicle matching your description is placed in one of the member yards. This Fairmont arrived in the Portland Pick and Pull last week and probably has what you need:

      If you’re not near the yard, there are “pullers” that make extra money pulling parts for people and you may be able to get the mouldings pulled and shipped to you.

      The Mercury sister to the Fairmont was the Zephyr. (The LN7 was the sister to the Ford Escort EXP). I do like the Zephyr taillights much better than the Fairmont ones and am jealous of your find.


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