The Other El Camino: 1981 Ford Durango

When you consider how few Ford Durangos were ever made, it’s a shock to not see these El Camino competitors carry a higher price tag. Now, in order to be truly desirable, vehicles have to generally be special or captivating in some way, and given the Durango likely was answering a question no body asked, it’s perhaps not surprising to see it become a rare – but affordable – collector car. Find this one here on craigslist with a $3,600 asking price.

Thanks to Barn Finds reader Cole for the find. The Durango was built as part of a partnership with National Coach Works in Los Angeles, and estimates peg total production somewhere south of 500 units. Interestingly, these weren’t an official Ford product but were sold at Ford dealerships, obviously in extremely limited numbers. I personally like the design – and the name – of the Durango far more than the El Camino, as the Fairmont Futura taillights give the Durango a more attractive rear-end treatment.

That’s all subjective of course, but even the interior seems like a nicer place to be. The fake wood trim, bucket seats, full console, and corresponding trim on the doors gives the cabin an almost upscale feel, and this Durango has likely been cared for given the high state of preservation. There is a visible crack in the dash, but finding a replacement shouldn’t prove too hard given how many Fairmonts are likely still languishing in junkyards.

The only engine option was the factory straight-six, paired to a three-speed automatic transmission. Not a speed freak by any stretch of the imagination, but certainly an excellent platform for an engine swap. While some may argue it should be kept original (and I’m usually one of those people), the low value combined with the inherent uniqueness of the Durango makes it a prime candidate for a lightly massaged, OEM+ build. Lower it, find some larger wheels, and go with a Ford-sourced engine build and you’ll have a one-off that will be hard to duplicate.

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  1. Steve

    I don’t think there’s any real reason this would become collectible. Just a curiosity that I assume was the result of a few dealers seeing what seemed like demand after ford stopped making the Ranchero. If I were looking for a Ford Car/Truck or Ute or whatever you call these I would pick one of the 20+ model years of Rancheros that came before.

  2. angliagt

    I always thought that these were interesting,
    as we had a Black ’78 Fairmont wagon for over 10 years.
    The 6 in these is pretty bulletproof,but I’d prefer a ’70 -’72
    El Camino,if they were more affordable.
    Funny – I just saw a Fairmont coupe today,parked
    in a driveway here in Roanoke,VA.

    • z28th1s

      I live right next door in Lynchburg, VA.

  3. Miguel

    This was not the other El Camino and they were never competition for the El Camino, ever.

    • Jeff

      True. That would be the Ford Ranchero, which pre-dated the El Camino, but didn’t last quite as long.

  4. Jeff

    I had no idea this even existed. I remember the Ranchero, but not a Fairmont-based truck. Interesting.

  5. KawiVulc

    At first I thought maybe it was because I was busy being a senior in high school and leaving for boot camp in June of that year that I’d never heard of these… until I read the part about less than 500 being built. This thing’s got potential & you wouldn’t meet yourself going the other way pretty much ever. I’m thinking a deep, deep cherry with blackout, black steel with some sort of dog dish caps… And what the heck is that Pontiac looking thing in the background?

    • Phil

      I graduated high school in June of ’81 and left for Navy basic 3 weeks later !

      • KawiVulc

        I had about 2 weeks after graduating before heading out to RTC Great Lakes. Extended for some schooling & ended up with a little under 7 years & then a few years after active duty I joined the PA Army National Guard and spent 6 years in green.

    • Steve A

      I’d rather have the Pontiac.

      • miguel

        Steve, that looks like a ’66 Pontiac front end stuck onto a motor home of some kind.

        You would rather have that?

    • Dan

      A company did those motor home conversions in the 60’s. Basically any car, the firewall forward was kept, and the rest of the body was removed and replaced by a camper body. There were at least 1 Flair Bird (4th Generation or 64-66 Ford Thunderbird) converted like that. That Pontiac appears to be one of those.

    • bruce baker

      Good eye KawiVulc. A 4 year newer GTO Judge Motor Home would be cooler than this no GTO Goat, especially if it was powered by a V-16 P-51 Mustang engine setting in the middle.

    • George

      I think it’s a Catalina based camper. Probably built on a hearse.

    • kenzo

      It looks like a full size poncho with the body ripped off at the dash and Homerized to a motor home. Hmmmmmm Interesting to say the least

      as a side note, the Durango could be mildly done up for an interesting and fun ride or a unique shop vehicle

  6. MarkEvans

    Like the look but why wouldn’t they use a v8. Who ever buys it should slide a nice 5.0 in there but restore the interior with some tasteful upgrades while repainting the exterior in the existing colours.

    • 63Comet

      I tend to agree with the 5.0 suggestion but I have a thing for inline sixes. A 250 with the aluminum head and 4v would be hot and keep the “unique “ vibe going. If that’s too much $, then Maxine the head for bigger valves and a 2v. But that aluminum head and a turbo would be cool on this thing.

  7. Miguel

    You know it has been well taken care of when the spare tire and rim is on the front of the car.

  8. Gloin

    I still see these occasionally around L.A., they were a common sight not too long ago. I guess most stayed close to where they were born

  9. SpartanPride

    How did Dodge get the rights to use the name Durango if it was used on a Ford model in the 80s?

    • C.Jay

      National Coach Works did the conversion (not Ford) they probably never had the name Durango copy righted or had it declared a trademark

    • RichS

      GM also used it as a trim level for the S-10 in the 80s

    • Vince H

      In 1970 Dodge made the Challenger. Studebaker used the name in 1964. I guess when Studebaker stopped making cars they gave up naming rights.

  10. Madmatt

    I don’t know about the Fairmont Durango,but the 5.0
    was available in the Fairmont “Futura”- and Mercury “Zephr”,and was
    a lot more fun.The interior/paint is very faded,must
    have lived out west.These can be really sweet,when fixed up.
    Very nice to see one,they are pretty scarce..!

  11. George

    Shouldn’t the title be “The Other Ranchero?”

  12. George

    Although you don’t see them much, based on previous ones listed here, it looks like a fair price.

  13. RichS

    If I remember correctly, there are 4 or 5 Durango owners here. I own one myself. They sold really poorly because the cost of the conversion tacked onto the base price of the vehicle made it about $2500 more expensive than an El Camino.

    I would suspect they used 6 cylinder cars to keep the total cost down as they were already fighting the price point. It’s goofy looking but I don’t care one bit. I was a 13 year old when these were new and I spent quite a while sitting in the one in the showroom at Boone Ford in Olympia Washington while my parents negotiated the purchase of the car I learned to drive in – an ’81 Fairmont wagon 2.3L 4 speed.

  14. Butch Morgan

    “IF” I was interested in a coach built, I much rather an Eldorado pick up, almost any year…

  15. chrlsful

    I’m seein the fairmont (& the above is 1) as the 2nd of the fox-bodied (dwn sz) revolution that swept this country (Granada 1st). Models w/i6 or bent8 avail. The 200/3.3 CAN b hopped up easily, the 4.1L more tq’n closer to the 240/300 or more famously named: 4.9 (the gasser that’s a diesel).

    The ’83/6 LTD/Marquis wagon is on my list for #1 DD, got 1 for sale?

  16. Richard

    we welcomed them into our group ! also agree that i find it strange the market values’ not climbing but that’s ‘supply + demand’ .

  17. w9bag Member

    IMO, the styling genre is akin to the Pontiac Aztec. What was ford thinking ? I’ve never seen one before today. Never knew they even existed.

  18. Capriest Member

    These are pretty cool! I’m a fox body guy though so I see potential in all of them. I wouldn’t be able to resist modding it some. That 200 six auto is stupid slow, but bulletproof. I had the same setup in an 81 notchback with the ultra rare carriage roof lol. The 302 wasn’t available in 81 only the 255. The only advantage to that would be not having to change the K frame or motor mounts when you rip that junk out. They probably went with the six because the 255 wasn’t really an upgrade.

  19. stillrunners

    cool….and like…….

  20. Mitch Ross

    When the Fairmont Futura first came out, I was in High School. I thought it would make a great Ranchero. I took some tracing paper and created one. It looked just like this one. I didn’t even know these were made until I saw the previous one on Barn Finds. I’m not going to sue or anything…..

  21. lonny

    I bought the one on this thread last year, and sold it locally last week to a Durango enthusiast. Thanks be to God. Not that it was a bad vehicle, but it needed more work than my other cars. And I didn’t want to throw a lot of money at it like the 78 Mercury Bobcat that I had rebuilt and hardly drove.

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