Still A Good Idea: 1957 Ford Ranchero

By Jeff Bennett

Many of our younger readers have probably never driven or ridden in a car based pickup truck.  The idea was that if you really don’t need a pickup for heavy hauling and just use one for the occasional convenience of moving bulky things, then you would probably be more comfortable in a car based pickup.  Let’s face it, even today, this scenario pretty much describes most pickup truck owners.  I fall into this category, and many of you likely do as well.  Today, we have little choice other than a mid size or full size pickup if you need a vehicle with an open bed.  Of course, mid size pickups are bigger than full size pickups used to be, and full size pickups keep growing in size every generation.  Ford had a better idea in 1957.  Since they already produced a two door station wagon and sedan delivery based on their car line, they decided to cut out the rear section, add the required glass, sheet metal, and tailgate, and come out with a small pickup.  With the cultural obsession at the time being the American Southwest and cowboys, they named it the Ranchero.  This 1957 Ranchero is a great example of this lost breed of trucks.  Found on Craigslist in Russellville, Alabama, this solid little hauler can be had for $11,500.

Starting with the 1957 model year, Ford was first to offer a car based pickup.  However, the concept ended up having many imitators.  General Motors offered a version called the El Camino, and it sold from 1959-1960, and then again from 1964 to 1987.  They also occasionally offered badge engineered versions called the GMC Caballero.  Chrysler’s version lasted only from 1982 through 1984, and was a little Omni based pickup called either the Dodge Rampage or Plymouth Scamp (1983 only).  Volkswagen even got in on the act with a Rabbit based pickup, which was built in Pennsylvania from 1978 through 1984.  While the El Camino was the last vehicle of this type produced, we often see concepts come out to gauge public opinion on reviving this type of vehicle.  Unfortunately, they never quite come to fruition.  Producing a new type of vehicle, even one based on existing parts, is an insanely difficult and expensive task for automakers.  Many are just not willing to take this big of a risk, especially if emissions, crash testing, and fuel mileage regulations put a proposed car based pickup in a car rather than truck category.  One can understand their reticence to jump into this market segment if they have no idea what kind of return, if any, they might get on their investment.

When Ford dropped the Ranchero on an unsuspecting public in 1957, it was a big change from trucks of the time.  Unlike today, where most pickups sold are more luxurious than the average car, trucks were mainly purchased as a tool for various professions.  They usually had manual transmissions, Spartan interiors, and had a rough ride due to heavy suspensions.  Also, they were geared for low speed hauling rather than highway cruising.  Rancheros were a different story altogether.  They could be positively decked out in comparison to a truck, as buyers could choose many of their options from the car side of the house.  You could even get the 352 Thunderbird Special V-8 if your had a speed addiction problem was still an issue.

Unfortunately, there is no monster motor lurking under the hood of this Ranchero, as it is equipped with an inline six cylinder engine and a “three on the tree” manual transmission.  The good news is that this is one of the most solid appearing Rancheros I have ever seen.  These little trucks often lived hard lives, despite their automobile lineage, and they all had problems with rust.  This one has a bit of rust peeking out here and there, and the lower rear quarter panels look a little lumpy in some of the pictures.  Despite these problems, this truck definitely appears to have been repainted and somewhat restored a few years ago, but it will still need a fair amount of work to get it show ready.

The body is pretty good, but the bed is in amazing condition.  These were produced in the days before thick, plastic bed liners, and folks back in the day weren’t shy about denting or scratching up a truck bed.  Add to that the natural moisture retaining capabilities of the dirt, grime, and leaves that naturally collect in a pickup bed, and you can see why I am so impressed by the sheet metal that we see in the picture above.

I wish I could say that I am impressed with the interior.  The dash and windshield appear to be in great condition, and the seat seems to have been reupholstered recently.  The obvious problem is the lack of a floor mat or carpet, door panels, and, presumably, a headliner.  There is a rather large section of cloth on the seat, and this may be the material the buyer may need to finish the door panels and/or the headliner.  These items are, even if they are missing, not going to be a problem to replace.  What does worry me is the sheet of metal we see in the driver’s floor board.  While it may be an optical illusion, this appears to be a rather crudely installed patch.  If the rust were cut out and a patch skillfully welded in, I would normally consider the damage to be part of doing business.  However, this looks like a piece of leftover sheet metal that was riveted in over the rust hole.  Buyer beware here, unless your last name is Flintstone.

Otherwise, this is a pretty nice truck with a lot of potential.  It wouldn’t take too much in the way of parts and labor to get this one back into regular service.  You can also fix the horsepower deficiency by installing any number of more powerful Ford engines, and some time attacking the rust would pay big dividends.  I look at these car based trucks, and I wonder why the concept doesn’t have a place in today’s showrooms.  A truck that got better gas mileage, was easier to park, and rode a little softer would appeal to a lot of people.  Enough to make building one worthwhile?  Maybe.  Ford took a big chance, and ended up producing over 500,000 Rancheros before the last one rolled off the assembly line in 1979.  Not a bad reward for a little creativity and aggressive marketing.

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  1. Rustytech

    This looks like a good winter project, and a great truck for those needed weekend trips to the hardware/lumber store. This is not an especially desirable car, and real well equipped, but I would love to have it. I think it’s overpriced by about $5k as it sits. Maybe worth $12 to $15k after restored.

    • Barney

      Might have to disagree with some of your statements. These Rancheros are beginning to be very desirable with perhaps the 57 on the top of the list. Nicely restored ones, even modified are going in the 30’s. I do think this one is overpriced. I think the correct value is 7 – 8K

  2. Dave Wright

    Jeff……..I think you are confused. This is a pickup based on a car……not the other way around.

    • Steve Visek

      I’m confused. Jeff clearly called them “car based” consistently throughout; half a dozen times or so. He never suggested it was a car based on a truck.


    No 352 till 58, I believe.

  4. boxdin

    Pickups still #1 seller.

  5. lawyer George

    I agree. The ’57 was the best looking of the 5’s. I would love to have it, but would want to spiff up the interior with a horn rim steering wheel, comfortable white leather bucket seats, 4 speed floor shift and air conditioning vents hooked respectively to a 4.9 V8 with power steering mounted,and an air conditioning compressor which I would put in front of the cab to replace what is currently in the engine compartment. I guess I would put a power brake unit in there to, which I would attach to 4 disc brakes located somewhere on the outside. The side trim I like as wall as the Fairlane gold insert and I could probably roll down the windows on my own. Although I like the 3 colors it shows it might be, including blue, I’d probably want to paint it too. All things considered seller is asking too much for me so he’ll probably have to gift it to me so I can half way afford to have it like I wish. I doubt he will do that, but if he were to shave a bit closer, say in Rustytech’s suggested range, I might just take it as it is and try to make it do.

  6. Bob

    RH factor is correct about the engine size.
    Chevrolet actually beat Ford into the market in 1955, with what was known as the Cameo Carrier. It was nothing more than the deluxe 1/2 ton truck with a fancy fibreglass side over the original box, and the tailgate was also clad in fiberglass with cables on a retract real to replace the chains. It was built with both the Chevrolet and the GMC nametag, but they only built approximately 320 of the GMC branded trucks. The truck was built between 1955 and 1958, when it was replaced with the fleetside box and the El Camino.
    It doesn’t take anything away from the Ford Ranchero, I still remember what a splash they made with their introduction. They were a real eyecatcher.
    They are a nice truck, except for tall people, unless you like banging your head on the back window.

    • Kevin

      chevrolet didn’t beat Ford at anything. The Ranchero was a pickup based on a car. The cameo was a regular pickup truck with fancy rear fenders. Two totally different concepts.

  7. Idiot Boy

    I’ve wanted an old Ranchero ever since Harry Dean Stanton drove that cool blue ’59 in Paris, Texas

  8. Bob

    Studebaker made the Coupe Express starting in 1937 and Hudson made their version of a car based pickup in the forties. The Ranchero was closer to these than the truck based GM versions.

  9. D

    I have wondered why Ford didn’t bring one out in the Mercury line or better yet the Edsel line. I also wonder why Chevy and GMC were the only GM lines to officially have their versions. I really like them and wish they would return!

  10. Mountainwoodie

    A 57 Ranchero has been on my want list for a long time. Dont come up as often as I would like. With a six I think this is overpriced by twice. I would be a buyer at 5 grand. That said with a Thunderbird I’d be less likely to quibble the price.

  11. Alan Brase

    That 223 six is a pretty good motor, tho. Looks like a stove bolt Chevy copy, but Ford musta done their homework. Lots of stories of long live ones. It just got better with Ford 6’s, the 300 being legendary for Fedex and PCC vans going close to half a million miles. And it started with these 223, I feel. Still a little too much money.
    Besides with a big FE V8, the back would try to get around the front pretty easy!

  12. Howard A Member

    Bob is right, car pickups were nothing new. Crosley made one too. Not to mention the literally thousands that were cobbled together. Thing was, they didn’t do either job well, and fell out of favor until the great rural migration began in the 50’s. Suddenly, there was a market for these again. We didn’t see many car pickups, and pickups in the midwest were pretty much relegated to the farm, and these didn’t work well for them ( although, you’d think they would have) Just not heavy duty enough.
    The ’57 Ford is my favorite Ranchero. ’57 Ford’s, in general, were terrible rusters,( especially above the head lights) and to see one like this, is truly amazing. I certainly can’t buy it, but it’s worth every penny. Great find.

  13. RicK

    In the early 70s there was also a GMC badged version of the El Camino called the Sprint

  14. Jerry Brentnell

    heres a bit of info for you the reason rancheros were built in the first place was for the undertaking industry ! as they didn’t want a pickup truck to haul flowers and they didn’t want to tie up a second hearse for the job so this was the answer ford came up with our local small town undertaker had a 69 ss 396 4 speed elcamino all black for a flower wagon his daughter was the driver of this and was happy as a pig in mud driving it! in fact they still have it, and use it!

  15. Nick

    Austin of England made many of these over the years.….0…1.1.64.img..0.14.1674…0i30k1.SfMH-fdBwkw#imgrc=_

  16. Vince

    Can’t remember the last time I saw one of
    these. It looks like a solid body and bed.
    I would jump on it but I promise myself I would not buy another project until I finish
    what I have on my plate. Three on the tree
    and a six cylinder enforces my decision to
    hold. Nice

  17. Steve Visek

    “They also occasionally offered badge engineered versions called the GMC Caballero.” GMC’s version was the Sprint for 1971-72 and the next generation for 1973-77 with the final generation built for 1977-87 renamed the Caballero. The GMC version of the El Camino was not “occasional” but was in continuous production for 17 model years.

  18. ACZ

    Not to mention the Holden Ute that started production before these and is still in production.

    • Kevin

      Not quite. Ford produced the Australian Ute in 1933. Probably the first example of such a vehicle.

  19. Jonnycrash

    So, moved down to NC in 14. We get here, rent an apartment for house hunting and i see a 58, complete, running but not driveable, all glass spotless for 1700.00 and no place to store it. Very very sad…..

  20. Neal

    Subaru Baja?

  21. Troy S.

    I wouldn’t expect to see anything new like these ever again, suv’s are all the rage now plus so many people just love driving in big pick ups who really don’t need them. Nice ’57 by the way.

  22. boxdin

    The new upcoming hyundai pickup will be the next new ranchero/elcamino type car/truck. We aren’t done w these by any means.

  23. joeinthousandoaks

    You had me until I saw it was a 6 cylinder.

  24. Alexander

    Disappointing to see it “needs tank cleaned” which means it is running, but poorly. Nothing worse than a poorly running 6 cylinder. I would buy this though if it were a few bills less. 5 figures takes it out of my range for something not truly “turnkey.”

  25. juan

    I´m quite sure that the 223 takes it decently, and there´s no need to have the best 0-60 mark, make it driveble and use it as is.


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