Home » What If Ford Had Some Really Strange Pickups Back In The Early Eighties?

What If Ford Had Some Really Strange Pickups Back In The Early Eighties?

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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.

Vidframe Min Top
Vidframe Min Bottom

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.

Screenshot (1123)
Ford

 

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:

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Range
Ford

 

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.

Lil Trucks
Chrysler, VW of America

 

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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.

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Ford

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.

1984 Ford Exp Turbo (prototype) (1)
Motorweek (screenshots)

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.

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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.

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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.

Screenshot (1134)
Chrysler

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.

The Story Of The Ford Durango The Ranchero Successor You Never Knew Existed 200754 1 (1)
Ford, National Coach Works

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).

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Durango Tailgate
Wikipedia/Rob Stercraw

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.

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Ford

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.

1977 Ford F150
4 Wheel Classics

 

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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).

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Ford

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

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 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.

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Ford

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.

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Relatedbar

Could Ford Make A More Affordable $40,000 Fun Van To Challenge Volkswagen? – The Autopian

Our Daydreaming Designer Gives Us Some Facts And One Lie About The Mercury Capri – The Autopian

A Pickup That Turns Into An SUV Via Your Phone: Our Daydreaming Designer Imagines How – The Autopian

My Extremely Reliable 1989 Ford F-150 Had Another Problem And It Involves Broken Teeth – The Autopian

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MikuhlBrian
MikuhlBrian
7 months ago

Very surprising at how well that EXP works for a small FWD unibody pickup. Definitely would have competed with the Rabbit and Rampage/Scamp. If it had an available turbo engine, maybe Dodge would have countered with a Shelby Rampage with the Turbo2.2L??

Scoutdude
Scoutdude
7 months ago

When the FWD Escort was under development, and still called Erica, they showed some concepts for it to the rags of the day. It was where Nissan got the idea for the Pulsar Sportback. They had drawings of a EXP like 2 seater top, a standard, hatchback, a wagon, and a pickup version. So Ford definitely thought of a smaller pickup. What we now get as the Ranger was supposed to fit in between the original Ranger and F-150 and would have made for the return of the F-100, alas less than full size pickup sales were dropping and a little recession meant that plan, and the Ranger were canceled.

Jerry Thomas
Jerry Thomas
7 months ago

I’ve come back to look at the F Series Town Coupe about half a dz times now. I declare I love it! Brougham with a Bed

Bongo Friendee Harvey Park
Bongo Friendee Harvey Park
7 months ago

That Town Coupe is vile, I love it.

Cheap Bastard
Cheap Bastard
7 months ago

“Even if you LIKE the appearance of this thing (which many did not)”.

Because it looked like it was designed for totally awesome 80’s flip up headlights and instead got lame fixed headlights that make it look like a toad. Fix those headlights and maybe you’ll have something.

David Escargot
David Escargot
7 months ago

Well you almost had me there… but why couldn’t they just run with the oh so boring idea of importing the Australian Falcon ute with its tasty driveline options… almost like a faux foxbody but bigger… updating the styling to match the Detroit metal would be fun

https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ford_Falcon_(XE)

LTDScott
LTDScott
7 months ago

On the Meteor there are a couple of things throwing me off. First, by ’83 all Ford models had fully adopted the blue oval logo on the grille after years of FORD lettering, so this wouldn’t work post ’82.

Second, the size of the wheels are throwing off the scale for me. Those TRX wheels are 15.35″ in diameter, and using that for scale, the truck seems pretty small and stumpy in the nose. They look more like 17″ wheels would actually look like on a Fox sized car. And in general all of the Fox cars had quite a bit more front and rear overhang than this. I like the idea but the size seems off.

MikuhlBrian
MikuhlBrian
7 months ago
Reply to  LTDScott

Agreed with you Scott regarding the Meteor. Knowing the size of those wheels, I was figuring this was gonna be about the same size as the EXpress.

V8 Fairmont Longroof
V8 Fairmont Longroof
7 months ago
Rust Buckets
Rust Buckets
7 months ago

Excuse me did you just label a single cab f150 as a “large truck”? It’s not even a large pickup, and it’s barely a class 2 truck……

Mr Sarcastic
Mr Sarcastic
7 months ago

I have to disagree here. Anything smaller than a Luv or Ranger is as useful as a kei vehicle. And for middle of the road you poopoo the Dodge Dakota but that sold well for a midsized place holder. And if you didn’t know it check out Dakota Sport yes a convertible pickup. Check the reviews and sales the Dakota was a winner.

Tristan Hixon
Tristan Hixon
7 months ago
Reply to  Mr Sarcastic

Kei trucks are quite useful for a large subset of the population: those that don’t need to drive far nor be able to haul sheets of drywall or plywood. A kei truck is perfect for city life – easy to park, easy to maneuver, and can still pick up that piece of used furniture or refrigerator.

Mr Sarcastic
Mr Sarcastic
7 months ago
Reply to  Tristan Hixon

But now being illegal in most states. I agree the basic setup is good for on-site operations but no way they can be Street legal safe.

Rust Buckets
Rust Buckets
7 months ago
Reply to  Mr Sarcastic

Umm…. a sawed off escort would be exactly as safe and street legal as any other Ford escort, right?

Mr Sarcastic
Mr Sarcastic
7 months ago
Reply to  Rust Buckets

Not sure, I got fired today drinking more alcohol than a dragster, may not be at my best but feeling fine

TOSSABL
TOSSABL
7 months ago
Reply to  Mr Sarcastic

Damn, man: that sucks!
-don’t forget to load up on water so the morning is marginally less horrible 🙂

Mr Sarcastic
Mr Sarcastic
7 months ago
Reply to  TOSSABL

Thanks told them last time I make a mistake for them. I tell you what.

Pickup_Man
Pickup_Man
7 months ago

 never show something that you’re afraid to make since that’s likely the thing the client will pick

Good advice, because I definitely want to build a Town Coupe Truck. It would not be hard.

I’ve always argued though that ritzy pickups have always been a thing, even back when “trucks were just trucks”. The 80’s XLT Lariat trims had power windows/locks, full carpet, captains seats w/ console were optional, AM/FM, fake wood, extra sound deadening, better window trim to eliminate noise, and plenty of chrome and badging. Apart from power seats and premium velour/leather what did Ford’s other cars offer that these didn’t?

Amberturnsignalsarebetter
Amberturnsignalsarebetter
7 months ago

The Town Coupe Truck for me – the opera windows and padded landau are great, but those turbine alloys… **chefs kiss**

TOSSABL
TOSSABL
7 months ago

Second this comment

EPGCivic
EPGCivic
7 months ago

Not gonna lie , I want the Ford Meteor now. 🙂

LTDScott
LTDScott
7 months ago

These probably were actually built by custom coachbuilders in Brazil. They did some weird conversions to cars down there.

Eggsalad
Eggsalad
7 months ago

When the Transit Connect was introduced into the US, I sketched up an extended-cab pickup on it, but I have none of the design or Photoshop skills that The Bishop does.

Jeff Hager
Jeff Hager
7 months ago
Reply to  Eggsalad

It’s like you are reading my thoughts! When I first read about the TC’s chicken tax dodge, I thought why doesn’t Ford go all in and make the Transit Courier?

Slow Joe Crow
Slow Joe Crow
7 months ago

The concepts are amusing and I have occasionally suggested making 80-91 F Series Super Cab a Brougham before since it had factory opera windows and bordello red trim.
On the small end the Escort van seems like more logical pickup platform than the EXP, although obviously not asoutreach. Similarly the Durango seems like the obvious option for a Fox platform, just revive the Ranchero name since it’s a similar size to the 60s Falcon Ranchero. I do like the side trunk idea but if you want wacky, build it on a Fairmont wagon and leave the folding rear seat in the bed as a latter day rumble seat.

Adam Rice
Adam Rice
7 months ago

That Futura-based pickup—perhaps we can call it a Futero?—works surprisingly well. The exaggerated B pillar fits right in.

StillNotATony
StillNotATony
7 months ago

I would very much like an EXPress delivered, post-haste.

The thumbnail of the Meteor looks scarily like a pickup-ified first gen Dodge Caravan!!

The Town Coupe, though? Woof.

And why wasn’t the Durango based on the Fairmont wagon?

Last edited 7 months ago by StillNotATony
LTDScott
LTDScott
7 months ago
Reply to  StillNotATony

Because the wagon front doors would look comically too short on a truck and the beltline on the sport coupe provided a perfect cut line for where bed would begin.

StillNotATony
StillNotATony
7 months ago
Reply to  LTDScott

Ah! Excellent point!

Mr Sarcastic
Mr Sarcastic
7 months ago
Reply to  LTDScott

But half doors or mini suicide doors would solve that and easier egress

LTDScott
LTDScott
7 months ago
Reply to  Mr Sarcastic

You think that’s a realistic solution for a small volume coach-built “ute” that was trying to be somewhat price competitive, during the same era when extra cab full size pickups weren’t all that common and those that existed didn’t have rear doors either? And you somehow think that’s easier egress too? Because 2 doors are easier to open than one?

I sure hope your comment was Sarcastic, because there ain’t no 1981 world where that would be viable or make any sense. The easy route was to take the coupe and chop off the back, which is exactly what they did.

Mr Sarcastic
Mr Sarcastic
7 months ago
Reply to  LTDScott

No but suicide doors open opposite so open front and back has to be better than a bend forward front seat to allow access or maybe a longer front door.

LTDScott
LTDScott
7 months ago
Reply to  Mr Sarcastic

Allow access to what? The spare tire? You realize these didn’t have a back seat, right?

Anyway, the suggestion to completely re-engineer the door openings on a vehicle that has already been established as a poor seller due to the high cost of modifications that it *did* actually get is patently absurd unless your goal was for Ford to sell even fewer than they did.

Mr Sarcastic
Mr Sarcastic
7 months ago
Reply to  LTDScott

My big ass to the rear seat.

LTDScott
LTDScott
7 months ago
Reply to  Mr Sarcastic

The non-existent rear seat? I am thoroughly confused.

Mr Sarcastic
Mr Sarcastic
7 months ago
Reply to  LTDScott

The car in question was promoting a rear seat and saying 4 doors didn’t work a d half doors offset the line it was doing a club car pickup

LTDScott
LTDScott
7 months ago
Reply to  Mr Sarcastic

Then you’re responding to the wrong conversation. I was simply addressing StillNotATony’s question of why the Durango wasn’t based on the Fairmont wagon. That’s it, end of story.

LTDScott
LTDScott
7 months ago
Reply to  The Bishop

The El Camino didn’t use wagon doors. It used the longer coupe doors. Remember, these were originally called “coupe utility” vehicles.

The Durangos still had the rear seat foot wells too. That’s where the spare tire went. In fact a friend of mine owned one and pulled the fiberglass bed insert out and found the factory seatbelts installed below.

MikuhlBrian
MikuhlBrian
7 months ago
Reply to  LTDScott

As Scott said, the El Camino used the longer coupe doors from the Malibu. But, it wasn’t on the wagon platform. The 2-door, 4-door, and wagon Malibus all shared wheel base of 108″. The El Camino had a stretched wheelbase of 117 inches and was unique to the El Camino.

Canopysaurus
Canopysaurus
7 months ago

I EXPressly like the EXPress, but then, I bought a Rampage in ‘82, also, so I’m biased.

Canopysaurus
Canopysaurus
7 months ago
Reply to  The Bishop

Yes. Mine was a 2.2. It was a bit sporty in a 2200 lb. car, if not exactly fast.

Canopysaurus
Canopysaurus
7 months ago
Reply to  The Bishop

Touché

Bizness Comma Nunya
Bizness Comma Nunya
7 months ago
Reply to  Canopysaurus

You might want to watch (at least) the first episode of Murderville on Netflix. The main detective proudly drives an orange Rampage and it is featured more than you would think, even calling out that it’s a Rampage on a few occasions. It’s a hilarious show with a hilarious premise…

Canopysaurus
Canopysaurus
7 months ago

Thanks, I’ll look for it.

Mr Sarcastic
Mr Sarcastic
7 months ago
Reply to  The Bishop

Rust? Warranty period? Gas gauge?

Sklooner
Sklooner
7 months ago

I remember a car magazine reviewing the EXP turbo and saying ‘no matter how many candles you put in a cow pattie, it’s never a birthday cake’ or something to that effect

Mr Sarcastic
Mr Sarcastic
7 months ago
Reply to  Sklooner

Now that’s funny I don’t care what you say

Ranwhenparked
Ranwhenparked
7 months ago

Mark my words, the EXP ute absolutely would have happened – IF the Scamp/Rampage had actually sold well. You know Ford would have responded if they needed to, and using the Escort World Car platform just made sense.

They did supposedly build some prototypes of a tiny Fox-based Ranchero in the late 70s/early 80s, so we at least came somewhat close to getting that

Ranwhenparked
Ranwhenparked
7 months ago
Reply to  The Bishop

My understanding is that the Durango was sort of the consolation prize that resulted from the factory project being cancelled, and that they were thinking of a more mass produced product originally

Mr Sarcastic
Mr Sarcastic
7 months ago
Reply to  Ranwhenparked

No Durango was a. Enclosed SUV the Dakota was a pickup.

Ranwhenparked
Ranwhenparked
7 months ago
Reply to  Mr Sarcastic

He’s talking about the Ford Durango – in Bishop’s article above. Was around quite a few years before the Dodge one

Mr Sarcastic
Mr Sarcastic
7 months ago
Reply to  Ranwhenparked

I was not familiar with this

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