"something of an extraordinary nature will turn up..."

Mr. Micawber in Dickens' David Copperfield

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CarPort

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CarPort
March 9th, 2005

1949 Ford Ranchero

In 1957, Ford introduced the Ranchero, in one stroke of genius inventing the car-based pickup and forcing Chevrolet into a crash program that resulted in the El Camino. So goes a version of conventional wisdom that is, unfortunately, completely wrong. Car-based pickups have a much longer history than that. Hudson had them in the 1940s, as did Studebaker in the 30s. In fact, the coupe utility or “ute” has been a staple of the Australian outback since 1934. This 1949 Ford makes one wonder if the Ranchero doesn’t have much deeper roots in Dearborn.

In fact it does, much farther back than 1949. In 1931 Ford sold a deluxe version of the Model A pickup that certainly qualifies. The original Ranchero had a short run, 1957 to 1959, but it returned in 1960 as a Falcon and last appeared in the intermediate Torino lineup in the 1970s.

I photographed the “pre-Ranchero” above at Hershey a few years ago. It was a nicely-finished conversion, apparently from a standard Tudor sedan. The rear window looks like it came from a Step-down Hudson. This idea seems to have appealed to several people, as Marian Dinwiddie discovered a “stepside” version at the Early Bird Swap Meet in Puyallup, Washington. Converted from a Custom Fordor sedan, it has a 1947-53 Advance Design Chevy box and fenders.

Where have all the car-pickups gone? Chevy held on the longest, the El Camino leaving production at the end of the 1988 model year. I suspect that we simply don’t need them any more. After all, for the last 25 years the best selling American vehicle has been a pickup, and even Cadillac now offers a crew cab.

Serendipity: n. An aptitude for making desirable discoveries by accident.
“They were always making discoveries, by accident and sagacity, of things they were not in quest of.”
Horace Walpole, The Three Princes of Serendip
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