Building the 1957, 1958, and 1959 Ford Ranchero meant drawing on the overall Ford look of the time and adding new twists. The 1957 Ford Fairlane/Fairlane 500 was the first of the long, low Fords, boasting the first deeply sculptured steel body panels and a major increase in passenger room. It was far more advanced than the 1957 Chevrolet, which is a collector's darling today -- but a three-year-old body design then.
The Ford was low, wide, and aerodynamic for its time, and the entire frontal design was functional, although the rather restrained rear fins were purely for effect. The huge round taillights, originally done by Boyer for the 1952 Ford, were enlarged for 1955 and again for 1957, becoming a Fifties/Sixties Ford hallmark.
The initial styling work on the 1957 Ford was done by Frank Hershey and Damon Woods, but Hershey was fired by corporate styling czar George Walker, and Woods was killed in an automobile crash. The late Bob Maguire then took over the project, heading up a team made up of Chuck Mashigan, A.J. Middlestead, and L. David Ash.
The frames of both the 116- and 118-inch-wheelbase models were identical except for length. Like the rest of the car, the frame was a radical departure from anything the Ford Division had done in the past. Its cowbelly design, inspired to a degree by the 1954 Oldsmobile and the 1956 Continental Mark II, was nearly a third stronger than the 1956 unit and boasted heavier siderails flared way out to skirt the passenger compartment. Rear wheel kickup started a full foot further back than in 1956 so that deep footwells could be pressed into the floorpan to increase legroom.
Semi-elliptic rear springs were mounted mostly outboard of the frame side rails and were lengthened two inches. A number of other suspension improvements provided a variable-rate effect and stiffer action, and the wagons, Rancheros, and Couriers received five spring leaves instead of four. The ball-joint front suspension first introduced on the 1954 Fords was redesigned for the first time, with upper and lower arms now a single unit and hinged with live rubber bushings. Meanwhile, the arms were swept back in a trailing-arm manner for smoother wheel motion over bumps. The new chassis and suspension design, along with 14-inch wheels, resulted in a four-inch lower silhouette than in 1956 with far greater interior room. This longer, lower look, however, required a change in driveshaft and axle design.
The 1957-1959 Fords had their hoods hinged from the front. This was a production advantage-not necessarily a design improvement. In some accidents, the hood could come right through the windshield rather than flying over the top of the vehicle. On the other hand, the wind tended to push the hood down in the event it became unlatched.
Though several firms had built car-based pickups before World War II, Hudson and Crosley were the only makers to do so postwar. But they were gone before the Ranchero made its December 8, 1956, debut at the New York Auto Show. It was successful enough to goad Chevy into responding with the 1959 El Camino.
About the only major components left over from 1956 were the engines. Even these, however, had higher horsepower achieved through improved manifolding and valve design and redesigned higher-lift camshafts. The 272-cid V-8, optional on the Ranchero, was upped to 190 bhp, while the 292, optional on the Custom, jumped to 212. The standard powerplant for all Rancheros was the 223-cid overhead-valve six, which got a mere seven bhp increase to 144. Any engine could be ordered with stick overdrive or the dependable but unexciting Fordomatic.
The Heavyweight Book of American Light Trucks 1939-1966 also notes that "Actual Ranchero patent plates reveal 312s, including dual-quad and supercharged versions, were supplied." The basic 312 churned out 245 bhp, up 30 from 1956, while the supercharged unit soared with 300 horses.
Intermediate ratings were 270 and 285. These engines, which were not listed in the brochures, apparently came along later in the year and were special order units-and are now very rare.
To read about the creation of the 1957-1959 Ford Ranchero, continue on to the next page.
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