In design school, an instructor once said to never show something that you’re afraid to make since that’s likely the thing the client will pick. In the ensuing years, I’ve seen it happen more than once. These next concepts you’ll see seem to fit that description, though I’m thankfully forty years too late so there’s likely no fear of these odd, silly creations to coming to life.
However, if these ideas were around then, I firmly believe that at least one or two of them would have been picked up and sold rather well, despite lacking in logic, restraint, or both.
Let’s set the stage: Ford and GM have forever been locked in a battle for truck sales superiority, and one element of winning seems to be offering the most choice for the customer. In the early eighties, Ford had the new-for 1980 full sized F-series pickup; in 1982 they introduced the small Ranger truck to ostensibly take on the onslaught of the Japanese pickups.
Both trucks did quite well for the Blue Oval, but was Ford missing niches above, below, and in between? There had to be a bigger market than just what those two products could serve. Take a look at the chart below:
If Ford could have had product in these blank spaces, it’s possible that they’d have made GM look like an also-ran. What would these gap-fillers have looked like? You’re about to find out, but this is the malaise era I’m designing for, so don’t expect high-mindedness, people. These are products designed to sell in that not-fondly-remembered time period, so hold on.
Subcompact (below the Ranger): EXPress Turbo
The Sports Car/Truck/Convertible With The Funky Face
We’re going to go pretty small indeed for the bottom of the 1982 for Ford truck range, well below the size of the Ranger. I’m thinking something along the lines of the VW Rabbit Pickup and Dodge Rampage mini trucks; based on compact hatchbacks of the day, they unfortunately didn’t sell much better than day-old pancakes.
Don’t worry; we’re going to offer some tricks those guys did not do with our mini Ford truck, which will be based on the controversial two-seater Escort EXP.
Even if you LIKE the appearance of this thing (which many did not), why would you buy it over the already-slow-and-slow-selling Dodge and VW? First, the EXPress would have had more power, featuring the drivetrain from rare the Turbo Escort and EXP with 105 horsepower (instead of the 69 horsepower in the standard car) that boasted a zero to sixty time of around nine seconds. Sure, that sounds awful today but it matched the numbers of a US-spec Maserati Merak in period (boy, is that sad). The EXP Turbo was so rare that I was forced to use rather low-resolution images since the internet has almost totally forgotten this thing. The EXP roofline does work well as a “truck”. The rear is stretched slightly, and a leaf spring axle in back would allow for reasonable payload capacity.
The second advantage for the EXPress is the DropBack, a feature that you could only do with a unibody truck (as in no separate bed box). The rear window is removable or cranks down which, combined with an open sunroof and lowered side windows, would give the feel of a convertible. However, the DropBack can take it to the next level, which you’ll see below.
Based on an Escort wagon platform, the footwells from the back seat of the source car are still there and can be additional storage space “smuggler’s bins”, not unlike on an El Camino. The space is accessible from inside the car or lifting the front of the truck bed floor. Also, if you lift that part of the floor (and the bins are empty, of course), you can tilt the lower back wall of the passenger compartment down to make the entire back of the car/truck open. Recline the passenger’s seat and you can transport extremely long objects up to almost two feet wide when combined with the bed length. There’s some fun and versatility for you.
You’ll need to love the big eyebrows of an EXP to love the EXPress, but from a functional and performance standpoint (well, performance for the time) it would be worth considering.
Mid Size (between Ranger and F Series): Meteor
FoxTruck Meteor In The Middle
While Dodge/Ram worked with rather ancient also-ran D-series full-sized trucks in the eighties, they did have one rather smart idea when they created the Dakota, a mid-sized pickup launched for 1987. I think that the concept of a sized-just-right truck that drove like a car would have been an even bigger hit if one of the bigger two of the Big Three had done it instead of Mopar, and done it earlier.
Ford’s mid-sized car platform of the time, the Fox body, was not exactly a Lotus Elise or even an E39 BMW but it could likely drive much better than the Dakota so it was a shame to me that this Mustang chassis never got to be the basis of a middle-of-the-range truck.
There was, very briefly, a Fox-platform truck, or sort-of-truck. Ford had the Torino-based Ranchero ute until they discontinued it in 1979. After that they kept their toe in the water with an El Camino-style conversion of the Ford Fairmont Futura coupe called the Durango.
This custom-converted truck was made by independent California firm National Coach Works; officially sanctioned by Ford, it was offered through select dealers. The rear roof and trunk lid were sawed off and replaced by a fiberglass bed. The entire rear taillight panel folded down with these odd-looking hinges (yes, the license plate and rear lamps were not visible with it down tell Jason that there was a warning on the driver’s door jamb telling you NOT to drive with the tailgate open).
As a conversion over a standard Fairmont, the finished Durango ended up costing around thirty percent more than an El Camino, so the miniscule total sales of between 89 and 220 units (depending on the source) are sort of understandable.
Honestly, I’ve never found the Ranchero to be a great fit for Ford. To this day, I’ve always seen Chevy trucks as gravitating to more slick styling while Fords tend to be more about no-nonsense functionality. There’s nothing wrong or unattractive about the appearance of trucks from the Blue Oval; they just come across as more down-to-business serious trucks for serious people.
As such, our Fox/Fairmont-based “Meteor” truck will in fact be a “truck” and not some car-looking ute. Fox platform cars are unit construction, so will the Meteor be unibody or body-on-frame? Both, actually. What? That’s right. Just like the Jeep Commanche truck, the structure of the Meteor will comprise a unit body front section with an added-on rear frame (and leaf spring axle in lieu of the Fox coil springs) and the cargo box mounted to it.
You can envision a regular cab or extended version, and the Fox platform means anything under the hood would have been possible from the “Pinto” four up to a “Meteor GT” with the ‘Stang’s High Output 5.0. Styling is angular but we have a laid-back nose; the signals-above-the-single-headlights layout with FORD lettering in a slot above is to recall the 1973-77 F Series.
There’s other Ford styling details like the wraparound bumper molding and, on the extended cab model, simulated quarter panel vents that mimic the Mustang (which, of course, was copying the Mercedes C107 450SLC). Overall, the styling is Ford-conservative and with a car-like appearance to capture the target buyer–someone on the fence about purchasing a truck instead of a car.
One reservation such a buyer might have is the lack of a trunk, but we’ll fix that issue right away. Ram and others offer storage areas built into the sides of the bed, but few have used all of the space available. A company called Hide N Side made a special bed for trucks in the early nineties that could even accommodate that major element of American cargo–the bag of golf clubs. The Meteor truck offers that as an option to utilize that space; this would take up some of the voids in the main cargo bed but you’ll still have as much room in there as a stepside truck (and over four feet wide).
Such massive weatherproof trunk space would make Mr. Suburbanite say “maybe I CAN justify getting a truck and don’t need that Fairmont sedan after all.” Notice another advantage for Ford; the Fox body chassis would allow them to use up more of the stock of unloved TRX tires and wheels.
Of the three truck concepts here, I think the FoxTruck might actually be less of a joke and more of a serious what-if proposition; something about a “crossover” truck would have made as much sense back then as it does now with the Maverick.
Luxury Truck (Top Level F Series): Town Coupe
Go Big Or Go Brougham
Ah, yeah! Let’s go upmarket baby! We’ll throw any ounce of good taste out the window and go for the money because I promise you with every fiber of my being that this abomination would have sold like crazy. Laugh all you want (I certainly did while photoshopping it), but considering the success of Navigators and Escalades years later, a big cushy truck would have cleaned up in 1982 if it had all of the expected glitz of the land yacht era.
“Wait” you say, “didn’t the Lincoln Blackwood luxury truck bomb?” Sure, but that was because Ford took away the truck usefulness with a weird upholstered bed that was more of a giant trunk with an odd tailgate than a cargo bed. Today, $80,000 ritzy pickups disappear off of lots but they have normal cargo areas, and the equivalent would have sold back then as well. Of course, there would have been a removable color-keyed gas-strut-lifted fiberglass cargo cover to protect your luggage and a removeable carpet mat, but the bed below would have been the hose-out stock metal variety.
That’s some pimptastic shit there, ain’t it? Do you know what Ford would have really dug about this Town Coupe Truck? It would have cost them next to nothing to make, of course. The best part of 1982 “luxury” for manufacturers was that it was often just bolted or glued on, and this truck would lack none of it. A four-headlight nose, Crown Victoria turbine alloys, chrome rocker panels and color-keyed bumper trim, combined with the padded landau roof, opera lights and fancy interior would cost pennies on the dollar compared to the premium Ford would have placed on this truck-turned-luxobarge. The margin would be as laughable as this concept itself looks in 2023.
This rolling cliché of malaise is so bad that I actually want one right now to ooze down the street with the ultra-soft Town Coupe exclusive springing (plus automatic rear leveling shocks) and ladder frame isolation. Steer the overboosted wheel with one pinky while sitting on leaned-back power adjustable crushed velour (or leather) seats, an electric moon roof open, and a Warren G cassette in the Premium Sound tape deck. I can only imagine what customizers of today would do to a forty-year-old example with a full hydraulic suspension and tiny diameter wire wheels.
Leaving Money On The Table?
Hindsight is always 20/20, and we can shake our heads now at International Harvester dropping the Scout and people laughing at the AMC Eagle just a few years before that market exploded. In 1982, “trucks” were still just “trucks”, and in some ways, it’s too bad that Ford didn’t fully embrace the whole spectrum of these things as “lifestyle” vehicles of all shapes and sizes. On the other hand, these vehicular equivalents of polyester leisure suits or parachute pants make you grateful that Ford didn’t explore these markets until much later. They’d have far more logical answers to fill in these blanks, if not as amusing.