Home » Rough, But Somehow Running: 1976 AMC Pacer vs 1965 Ford Ranchero

Rough, But Somehow Running: 1976 AMC Pacer vs 1965 Ford Ranchero

Sbsd 3 16 2023
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It’s that time again; brace yourselves for another pair of crappy cars! Today’s contestants both come from southern California, and both have straight sixes that run, though you’d never guess it from the photos. Before we dive into them, let’s see the final tally of our green machines from yesterday:

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It looks like fewer miles beats fewer doors, as the 626 takes a comfortable win.

Now, very quickly, before we move on: Some eagle-eyed readers commented that I made a typo in yesterday’s poll. It’s the very last thing I type up each night, usually around 10 pm, right about the time our two six-month-old kittens get the “evening zoomies,” so the typo may very well have been because I was shooing them off my laptop, or rescuing some fragile piece of home decor from their furry little clutches. Reader Duke of Kent said all would be forgiven if I posted a photo of the kittens, so here they are, peeking out of a laundry basket: our two little troublemakers Spooky (left) and Creepy.

Spooky N Creepy

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All right, back to the cars. Today’s contestants both have stories to tell, and neither one has a happy ending. But somehow, through it all, both still run, and that’s a good first step to any project. Let’s take a look.

1976 AMC Pacer X – $4,500

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Engine/drivetrain: 232 or 258 cubic inch overhead valve inline 6, three-speed manual, RWD

Location: El Cajon, CA

Odometer reading: 101,000 miles

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Runs/drives? Runs, but not exactly roadworthy

The AMC Pacer, as one of the better-known flops of the 1970s, needs no introduction. A grandiose design done in by budget cuts, the Pacer wasn’t what AMC intended, but the small company had too much money tied up in the project to back out. The result was a funny-looking car that didn’t deliver on any of its design promises, but sold all right anyway: AMC moved 280,000 of these things over five years, nothing compared to Big Three numbers, but not too shabby for the scrappy company from Kenosha.

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This Pacer is the sporty X model, equipped with a three-speed floor-shifted manual. The seller says it was their weekend cruiser, stored in a warehouse, until disaster struck: the warehouse caught fire. The Pacer was damaged, but survived; it has some smoke and soot damage, mostly contained to the outside, but the driver’s seat and headliner got it a little bit (if I had to guess, the driver’s side window was down). The paint is scorched, some of the exterior plastics are melted, and the windshield is broken from the thermal shock of the fire hoses. But all in all, it looks like a remarkably lucky escape for this car.

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The Pacer’s forward-opening hood was supposed to conceal a Wankel rotary engine, supplied by General Motors, before GM canceled the program and left AMC high and dry. Instead, the Pacer was powered by AMC’s inline six, in either 232 of 258 cubic inch displacements. The seller doesn’t specify which one this is, but they do say it runs fine. Of course, it isn’t driveable, with the windshield and lights like this.

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I think I’d be tempted to clean up the soot where necessary, get the smoke smell out, and drive it how it is. It would be a conversation-starter, for sure.

1965 Ford Ranchero – $2,500

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Engine/drivetrain: 170 or 200 cubic inch overhead valve inline 6, three-speed automatic, RWD

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Location: Lakeside, CA

Odometer reading: 103,000 miles

Runs/drives? Runs, exact level of roadworthiness unknown

When Ford introduced the compact Falcon in 1960, the lineup included a car-based truck, or “ute,” called the Ranchero. The Ranchero wasn’t new; it had previously been part of Ford’s larger Fairlane line. In 1966 it would return to that size, but for the early 1960s it was this cute little thing.

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This Falcon Ranchero, like most of them, features Ford’s good old inline six. This one has been recently replaced, but its condition, and displacement, aren’t specified. All we’re told is that it runs, and the automatic transmission works.

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This Ranchero was the property and project of the seller’s father, who has passed away, leaving it unfinished. The seller is hoping someone wants to pick up where their dad left off, and finish it up. There is some work to be done: the interior is a mess, and what paint there is is either sun-baked or primer (or both). But the good news is that it’s complete, straight, and not rusted out. It is kinda sad seeing the old man’s cane and handicapped parking permit still in the car; you might ask if the seller wants to keep them.

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Rusty utes are something of an institution around here, as most of you know. This little Ford is almost too nice for us, actually. Too easy. It would make a good project for someone, though, and depending on the condition of the brakes and whatnot, you might even be able to drive it home.

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Either one of these would take some work to put back into service, but both look like worthy projects, and totally manageable. So what’ll it be: the extra-crispy fishbowl, or the orphaned ute?

(Image credits: Craigslist sellers)

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H Humbert
H Humbert
11 months ago

I suggest Autopian consider adding a third voting option: None of these candidates.

Apparently this is an option in Nevada:

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/None_of_These_Candidates

Cheap Bastard
Cheap Bastard
11 months ago

That Ranchero looks like the LHD American brother from another mother to Project Cactus.

Donald Petersen
Donald Petersen
11 months ago

Heh, I probably know both sellers. I grew up in El Cajon and went to high school in Lakeside. These both look like they could belong to a couple of the El Cahonky rednecks I used to hang out with.

I’ll take the Ford. Good price, less work, more useful, better looking, smog exempt. The Pacer is pretty hilarious, but priced too high.

Masterbuilder
Masterbuilder
11 months ago

I had a ’76 Pacer, with a 232 and a 3 speed, and it was one of the most dead nuts reliable vehicles I’ve ever owned. I put over 80,000 miles on it and never did anything beyond routine maintenance on it. Side note – the passenger door is longer than the driver’s door. A great car, I sold it with 170,000 miles on it – and it was still running strong.

Today, for the first time ever on Autopian, I chose a slushbox over a stick. That Ranchero is just too much to resist.

Nlpnt
Nlpnt
11 months ago

Ranchero, since it’s unburnt and 2 grand cheaper.

Chump Change
Chump Change
11 months ago

I’m fast approaching old man status, so I’d get the Ranchero and carry on the old man’s legacy!

Sgtyukon
Sgtyukon
11 months ago

I once drove a Pacer briefly, so I’ll take the Ranchero, but only if the current owner removes the entire interior before turning it over to me. Thanks.

Pneumatic Tool
Pneumatic Tool
11 months ago

Everytime I see a Ranchero of this vintage, I’m reminded of “Goldfinger” – the part where the henchman dude gets compacted inside a Lincoln, and then the leftover cube is deposited inside the bed of a Ranchero, which casually drives away with three tons of Lincoln in the bed.

Yeah – I voted for the Ranchero.

Pneumatic Tool
Pneumatic Tool
11 months ago
Reply to  Pneumatic Tool

oops… Lincoln AND henchman in the bed.

OrigamiSensei
OrigamiSensei
11 months ago

The price difference and parts availability alone is enough to push the win to the Ranchero. I like Pacers, but that one is a bit scary and the price is ridiculous.

Sebastian Bear
Sebastian Bear
11 months ago
Reply to  OrigamiSensei

Parts, at least mechanical parts, are almost certainly easier to find for the pacer. The engine and trans combo was used in the jeeps of the era and there is a strong aftermarket. Parts are also dirt cheap. Cosmetic parts will definitely be harder to find but AMC stuff has a pretty large following and most parts can be obtained for a decent price.

Honda R 157
Honda R 157
11 months ago

Buy both; AMC driveline swap into the Ford, swap something modern that actually gets decent mileage into the Pacer. Paint Ranchero something classic AMC like Big Bad Orange, throw a few Kaiser Jeep badges on it just to confuse (and then annoy) Ford fans, update the Pacer visually with tucked bumpers, actual dark gray paint, that sort of thing.

S13 Sedan
S13 Sedan
11 months ago

Absolutely the Ranchero here. I’d get it roadworthy, put some half decent seats in it and just enjoy it as-is. It’s still nice enough to be a unique cruiser but not too nice to where you couldn’t ever use it for light truck duty.

Cyko9
Cyko9
11 months ago

I love the smaller Rancheros so it got my vote. If I were closer to CA, it’d actually be tempting. Ditch the toolbox, source a new seat and give it shocks. Probably needs a lot more than that to run well, but I’m not a big enough Pacer fan to try that project. Mysterious rust gash on the Ford’s passenger rear, but it’s priced okay.

David Smith
David Smith
11 months ago
Reply to  Cyko9

The tool box is probably why I picked the Ford. Has to be worth 50 bucks anyway. That means a savings of 2,050 dollars thrown down the toilet.

Boxing Pistons
Boxing Pistons
11 months ago

Based on the picture of the driver-side shock tower, I’d wager that ranchero is not roadworthy. Either way, this is asl-sink win for the Ford. I can’t imagine how difficult it is to find a good windshield for a Pacer, and that price? Fuggetaboutit!

Boxing Pistons
Boxing Pistons
11 months ago
Reply to  Boxing Pistons

*slam-dunk win

Marathag
Marathag
11 months ago
Reply to  Boxing Pistons

Busted shock, probably. So could be driven, just wouldn’t be fun.
Easy fix.

Angel "the Cobra" Martin
Angel "the Cobra" Martin
11 months ago

Can confirm on the cats. We have 2 that are 6 months old as well named Pickles and Frank, but we should call them Manic and Loony.
Bummer the Pacer isn’t smog exempt in California. And we can always use another ute. But, my grandmother had a Gremlin from 74 that I drove and it was actually pretty fun to drive, terrifying but fun. I’m really torn. But in the end utility wins out and the Ranchero gets it.

Arrest-me Red
Arrest-me Red
11 months ago

As a manservant to two sister cats, I am very familiar with the running and thudding in the night.

Boxing Pistons
Boxing Pistons
11 months ago

I love how in almost every article written about the Pacer, the rotary engine deal that fell through with GM inevitably comes up as one of the reasons it didn’t live up to its original promises. Yeah, I get that the packaging of the inline 6 was far from ideal and the fuel economy was mediocre, but had they actually put a GM rotary in there, it would have been an even bigger disaster. That last-minute engine substitution was a blessing in disguise.

Duke of Kent
Duke of Kent
11 months ago

The Ranchero is almost worth it for the cool retro Cali license plate alone (or for the disabled placard if you’re an able-bodied dirtbag who wants fraudulent priority parking).

TOSSABL
TOSSABL
11 months ago

Foolishly, I voted Pacer. Would not bite at that price, but would be willing to bug the owner till I got it down to reasonable money. I dislike created patina, but spraying a flat clear over this would make for an interesting ride.

SlowCarFast
SlowCarFast
11 months ago
Reply to  TOSSABL

I kind-of agree. I also feel that sooty smell is probably one of the better used-car smells one would want to put up with. The seat of the Ranchero is probably on the other side of the spectrum.

Arrest-me Red
Arrest-me Red
11 months ago

The Ranchero as it has not been on fire.

Never liked the Pacer, especially trying to cash in on Wayne’s World.

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