The Utes Of The Nation: 1964 Ford Falcon Ranchero vs 1981 Chevrolet El Camino

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Welcome to another no-price-limit Friday edition of Shitbox Showdown! As you may have noticed, September has been Ute Month here at the Autopian, owing to Dave and Laurence’s Excellent Adventure, so I thought it would be fun to close out the month by looking at a couple of home-grown American utes. But first, let’s see which of our nor’easters yesterday took you by storm:

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Six of one, half a dozen of the other, just about. Neither one is really all that exciting, both have some potential pitfalls, either one will probably get you around just fine. Hey, sometimes you need cars like that, that just do a job.

Speaking of cars that do jobs, let’s talk utes. Utes never caught on in the US like they did in Australia. The idea of a car-based pickup truck makes sense, especially if it’s going to be your only vehicle. If you need to haul stuff but also have a modicum of comfort and decent driving dynamics, a ute will fit the bill quite nicely. Both Ford and GM tried for years to get them to catch on (and Chrysler threw a tiny hat in the ring as well), but sales were lukewarm, and most buyers would rather just have a truck, it seemed. But we here all think they’re cool, so we’re going to show you a couple today.

1964 Ford Falcon Ranchero – $8,900

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Engine/drivetrain: 170 cubic inch OHV inline 6, 3 speed manual, RWD

Location: Seattle, WA

Odometer reading: unknown

Runs/drives? Indeed it does

Ford was first out of the gate with utes in the US with the Ranchero in 1957. (Or, arguably, in 1925, with the Model T Runabout Pickup.) The ’57-59 Rancheros were based on Ford’s full-size – and at the time only-size – cars, basically a sedan delivery with the top cut off and a bulkhead/rear window behind the seat. In 1960, the Ranchero shifted to the new, smaller Falcon body, where it remained for several years before growing in size again.

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This ’64 Falcon Ranchero features a 170 cubic inch version of Ford’s classic inline six, connected to a three-speed column-shifted manual. Just enough to haul 800 pounds of stuff and a couple of people around, nothing more. It’s refreshing to see a simple little truck in these days of wretched excess; even Ford’s new Maverick is a hulking behemoth compared to this thing.

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It appears to be in great shape, especially inside, and the seller says it runs and drives well. It has had recent brake and electrical work, as well as new tires, new exhaust, and a rebuilt carb, so in theory it should be “hop in and go” reliable.

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It’s not pristine outside, though, and I like that. Some scrapes and wear, and even a hint of rust, are evident in the bed, showing that this truck has earned its keep. A cool collector car you can take to the lumber yard on weekends? Sign me up.

1981 Chevrolet El Camino – $7,500

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Engine/drivetrain: 305 cubic inch OHV V8, 3 speed automatic, RWD

Location: Altadena, CA

Odometer reading: 64,000 miles

Runs/drives? Doesn’t explicity say, actually

Across town, Chevy played catch-up with the El Camino, introduced in 1959, also based on a full-sized chassis. After two years, they dropped the idea, only to pick it up again on the mid-sized A platform in 1964. From that point on, the El Camino was essentially a Chevelle/Malibu with a pickup bed. The El Camino stuck around eight years after Ford dropped the last Ranchero, with production ending in 1987.

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This 1981 model is from the last generation of El Camino, right before a facelift in parallel with the Malibu and Monte Carlo switched to a more squared-off nose with four rectangular headlights instead of two. The taillights of the El Camino are in the same place as the Malibu wagon: down low in the bumper. You probably couldn’t get away with this placement today, but I’ve always thought it was a good look for this truck.

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This El Camino is powered by a 305 cubic inch variant of Chevy’s ubiquitous small-block V8, probably with a two-barrel carburetor, and probably backed by a Turbo-Hydramatic 350 transmission. The seller doesn’t actually say it runs, but for $7,500 I would hope it runs just fine, or else it’s going to be for sale for a long time. The registration is out of date, but I can’t read the tags in the photo to tell how out of date.

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It looks like it’s in overall good condition, except for a sizeable dent in the tailgate. I can’t say for sure, but I bet one of those suction-cup dent pullers could yank that back out and make it at least less noticeable. The paint is otherwise shiny, the interior looks nice and clean (but missing a radio), and the Camaro five-spoke wheels suit it well.

So there they are: Different ways of going about doing basically the same thing, but comparable, I think. They’re both fairly well-preserved, but not so nice that you couldn’t enjoy them and get some use out of them as light-duty trucks. Which one catches your eye?


(Image credits: Craigslist sellers)

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56 Responses

    1. I passed on a fairly decent El Camino $7500 low mileage good running rust free example 1974. I wouldn’t pay the ask for this one with damage and no idea if it runs. The Ranchero super cool old car design and in a car truck this old that little bit of rust is patina. So I’ll pick the Ranchero because the Chevy is El Ranko

  1. I love the look of the Falco Ranchero, but for an everyday driver, the last generation of El Camino are great, had a 1978 SS. GM did use some very poor quality steel in the body, so if it spent anytime in the rustbelt I would avoid it. The metal would rust and flake in layers.

  2. I spent some very formative tween years (including my first on-road driving) in my dad’s beloved ’75 El Camino, which he purchased used in ’77 and finally sold to a friend in the mid-80s. Between that and the fact that the final-era El Camino in this Showdown is my favorite in terms of styling*, it was an easy choice for me. (I’m still torn between the ’81 shown here, and the later facelift with quad headlights. But I *love* that curvy backlight, which is present on both.)

    Before that time, in my birth-to-kindergarten years, my family had a ’67 Ford Falcon, and those were nothing special. IMO that extends to the Ranchero variants, so I’m a little surprised at the voting results here. Maybe it’s just nice to see one in such good condition.

    1. Sorry for the self-reply, but I should mention that when the Ranchero was revived on the LTD platform, I really thought those were nice-looking at the time. Now I just think, “Yikes”. The El Camino styling was simple and practical, and while never handsome it at least aged much better than those mid-70s Rancheros.

  3. Voted for the El Camino, love that last gen body style. Already has the SBC so if it blows up its stupid simple to swap in something hotter. Automatic, V8, ps, pb, a/c, that right there is GMs bread and butter, what they did right back in the day. These a/g bodies drive great, decent brakes, will cruise on the interstate at 70 all day, they feel like a modern(well semi modern) car.

    The Falcon, I always thought they were as square as Robert McNemera’s stupid hair part. Which I guess is why the stupid hipsters love them instead of Mustangs. Also 3 on the tree, will struggle on the interstate, drum brakes, just no thanks, I will find something a lot cooler if I have to put up with that crap. The El Camino is just a much more usable package that I could see driving almost daily.

  4. This is Avery easy choice for me, I have been looking for a Falcon like this as my weekend errand runner for about a year now. If closer to me I would be looking at it today. Don’t care that it isn’t fast, just need to putter around in it and move the occasional bit of lumber or furniture. Just the spec I would want, stock and a little rough around the edges so you don’t have to worry about scratches or dents. The El Camino, sorry but no, generally speaking 60s vibe cars beat 80s vibe cars for me, easy choice.

    1. No doubt. The Ranchero is essentially a Falcon, and the original Mustang was based on the Falcon. A 260, 289, 302, or 351 V8 would fit right in there, although you’d want to upgrade the transmission and rear axle as well, but you’d be dealing with one of the largest aftermarkets in automotive history.

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