by That Car Guy
The story of the current Ford Ranger compact pickup trucks may be the best example of automotive evolution, not revolution, ever built by an America car company. Now 26+ years into production, a few of the parts and pieces on these trucks have never changed! While most of us think of a Ranger as a small domestic pickup truck, the name was first used in 1950 on a Ford Panel Truck with extra windows and a conversion to four-wheel-drive by Marmon-Herrington. Could this be a first SUV? Mention should be made that the Edsel used the Ranger name as well. With an automaker owning name rights, they seem to make the most of what they have, like GM's "Astra/Astre" and "Sierra/Ciera".
In 1965, on the full-size Ford pickup, the Ranger name was reincarnated as the top trim level. The name carried on until 1982 when the XLT became the top of the line. Unheard of truck luxuries like carpet and nice seats were part of the Ranger package.
Compact Ranger vehicle development started in 1976 and then, in mid 1982, what we know as the First Generation (1983-1988) pickup premiered, replacing the Mazda-built Ford Courier. Original engines included a 2.0-litre I-4 (72 hp), a 2.3-litre I-4 (86 hp), a 2.2-litre I-4 diesel (59 hp), and a 2.8-litre V-6 (115 hp). Essentially, it was a scaled-down F-150 pickup with similar styling and engineering features, including Ford's "Twin I-Beam" front suspension. Later on, Ford would return the courtesy by basing the Mazda B-Series compact pickups on the Ranger. The Mazda B-2300, B-3000, and B-4000 are designated by their engine sizes in cubic centimeters. Sadly, the B-Series does not sell well, and our local Mazda dealer here in Franklin refuses to even stock them. 1986 saw the SuperCab and Ranger GT models appear.
The Second Generation Ranger (1989-1992) is very similar to the first. In 1989, the truck got a new front end with flush-mounted headlights, new grille, and bumper. Inside, new door panels and dashboard were fitted; the dash was continued until 1995.
The introduction of the Ford Explorer/Mazda Navajo in 1990 lit the modern SUV craze. Based on Ranger mechanicals and body parts (The dash, seats, windshield, hood, and much of the drivetrain were lifted straight from the Ranger parts bin), the Explorer was sold as either a 2-Door or 4-Door. Mazda only got the 2-Door body; the rumor was that they had the MPV Minivan to appease the 4-door truck/SUV crowd.
In the 1993 model year, what looked like an all-new Ranger was really just one of the best reskins in automotive history! Whereas all of the external body panels and much of the interior pieces were new, the same frame, drivetrain, inner bed stampings, seats, rear window, and even the dashboard were held over. This is the Third Generation Ranger (1993-1997). I was in the market for a small truck in 1994, and bought this new Cayman Green Ranger XLT with 2.3-litre I-4, 5-speed, air conditioning, AM/FM stereo, sliding rear window, and little else. JUST $9,986 was the sale price. Sadly, they also offered some of the most limited color choices that year as well. I owned this vehicle 12 years, longer than anything else I've ever had, and the truck served me faithfully until its early, sad demise on Halloween night, 2006.
XLT was and is the "luxury" Ranger trim level; carpet is even on the padded doors. The 60/40 split seat has a great center console that folds up for a (hopefully) skinny middle passenger and also have center seat belts. Mine had cloth seats that looked almost brand new after 12 years and 110,000 miles, intermittent wipers, stereo, tinted glass, sliding back window, power steering, and power brakes, but no tilt wheel... the only thing I really missed not having on the truck.
Unlike all other Ford trucks, only the "Ford" blue oval was glued onto the tailgates on the Ranger. Names like "Explorer", F-150", "Super Crew", etc., were applied on the other trucks, but not a "Ranger". So I went to my friends' salvage yard, found a Ranger with a smushed fender, and removed the "Ranger" badge. It had pins to hold it on the fender, so I cut them off and used double-sided sticky tape to hold the badge on the truck's tailgate. I told people mine had the only "Ranger" tailgate badge in the world, making it easier to find in a parking lot LOL. Pinstriping, black body side molding, and a Nassau, Bahamas, license plate made the otherwise plain truck look acceptable, if not understated.
All Rangers received an updated dashboard and driver airbag in the 1995 model, which was only made for half a year. The story goes that the new dash was for both the Ranger and the Explorer, and they couldn't make enough components for both vehicles, so they favored the Explorer, since it had a major facelift for 1995. My 1994 Ranger had the older style dash - I bought it in October, 1994, and the '95 models were not released until the next Spring. The '93 and '94 models had two vertical bars on the grille, the '95-97 trucks had one in the center. 1996 saw the passenger side get an airbag. That same 1995-model dash continues till today, except Ford stole two of the gauges from the panel... the same new "corporate" gauge cluster can be found all across the Ford, Mercury, and Lincoln lines.
I suppose a few words should also be said that many Ranger drivetrain and suspension components were shared with Ford's Aerostar minivan. They were both built at the same St. Louis, Missouri, truck plant, but they shared no body stampings. Almost any upgrade to the Ranger suspension could be applied to the Aerostar.
1998 was a banner year for the Ranger! So much that it's called the Fourth Generation, and it is carried on till today. A new frame with a reported 370% increase in rigidity by boxing in the front, rack-and-pinion steering, new front suspension (Replacing the "Twin I-Beam"), new front-end styling, and a three-inch extension of the Standard Cab came about, creating the same legroom in both Ranger cab models.
As another example of the Ranger's evolution, until 1998, the Regular Cab and Super Cab Rangers had different-sized rear windows... the Regular Cab's was smaller. Since this part of the cab was redesigned, all Ranger cabs now share the larger Super Cab glass. New tow hooks, Pulse Vacuum Hub Locks (4x4s), Second-Generation Airbags, new seats, and larger (15") 4x2 tires were also added in 1998.
Passenger assist handles were added, a new 120-horsepower 2.5-litre I-4 was installed for three years; a new 2.3-litre double overhead cam Duratec I-4 replaced that engine in mid 2001. There also have been three new grille and light treatments since 1998, even a new "Power Dome" hood.
There was even an electrically-powered Ranger! Called the Ranger EV, it was built from 1998-2002. Built on the 4WD chassis, it was 2WD, and had a truly unique rear suspension! 1,500 were made, most had NiMH (Nickel-Metal Hydride) batteries, and they could go 65 miles at 65 miles per hour on a flat road. The Chevy Volt is expected to go 40 miles on a full charge. The EVs had an energy recovery system, batteries lasted for about 25,000 miles, and the EVs were leased, not sold. However, some have made their way to the used truck market. They were $50,000 before manufacturer incentives and public agency subsidies. The customers were said to praise the ride and handling of the Ranger EVs, helped in great part by the batteries' lower center of gravity.
To propel the truck, a special rear end was used. The 60-hp (45kw) AC motor/transmission/differential single-unit was mounted between the rear wheels, then half-shafts angled down to the wheels. A De Dion Tube and Watt's Linkage with carbon fiber leaf springs was used in 1998; conventional steel springs and no Watt's Linkage was used from 1999-2002. A ceramic core resistance heater was used, and an electric compressor ran the air conditioning.
2001 brought us the Explorer Sport Trac, a vehicle so close to my needs that I almost bought one... almost. Its bed is tiny... barely four feet long, not counting the tubular bed extender. However, long loads are what utility trailers are for... I can't justify driving around an empty eight-foot bed.
The Sport Trac's style and size were great for my purposes, but the interior was like a taxi cab... vinyl floor, poor lighting, and overall cheap appointments. They called the standard seats cloth, but they were covered in what more resembled wetsuit materials - one dealer told me you could hose them off. Leather seats and carpeted floor mats were available, but the trim levels just weren't up to par for a $30,000+ truck. Instead, I ordered a new loaded (Heated seats, remote start, sunroof, tow package, etc.) 2WD 2003 F-150 XLT SuperCrew for about the same money as a loaded 4WD Sport Trac.
Ford stretched the frame 14 inches on the Sport Trac so the rear wheels did not protrude into the rear seat area. I wish this truck had been sold as a 4-Door Ranger instead of an Explorer, as it still had enough "Ranger" in it, like the engine, dash, and size to justify the name. In other words, in my little ole opinion, there's more "Ranger" in this truck than "Explorer".
The Ranger has evolved into a reliable and affordable truck, but has also become a dinosaur - the bed hasn't changed in over 16 years. Sales of the Ranger have struggled on, lower than they used to be probably because the truck has not been updated. Many people do not want to replace their older trucks with a new one exactly like what they just had, so they buy Toyotas, Chevys, or other small trucks. Many of the other smaller pickups have gained size and mass, such as the Dakota and Frontier, but some customers just don't want a full-size truck. Again, I have an F-150, but the Ranger's compact size made it almost the perfect vehicle for me for everyday travel, small loads, and farm work. Oh, and it always got around 26 miles per gallon; I saw 29 on the highway once.
At the time of this writing, the Ranger's future is unclear. The current truck presses on, probably until 2011, but excitement for it has waned, at best. Reports say that a new truck is in the works, and could be built in Australia, Brazil, Mexico, or South Africa. There's a "chicken tax" preventing it being brought over from Thailand. A "chicken tax" is a 25% tax on imported trucks from certain countries, since US frozen chicken was taxed by West Germany, who was exporting the VW Type 2 to here in pickup truck form.
I'd still have my Ranger if some clunk-head hadn't hit a deer, knocking it into me, denting the side of the front fender, lower driver's door, and bed. I didn't even feel the impact. They kept going, of course, even though their plastic headlight pieces were all over the road. The estimate to fix the Ranger was over $2,500 and by Tennessee law, the truck had to be totalled because the repair was over 75% of the vehicle's value. Looking back, I should have fixed the truck out of my pocket, but after paying the insurance bills on it for 12 years, I felt I was due something. A new fender, minor body work, and paint would have made the Ranger fresh again, it really wasn't hurt that bad. But there was no good choice in the matter... losing that truck was like losing a beloved pet - it can't be replaced.
I really miss my Ranger :( .
--That Car Guy (Chuck)
Addendum to the post: I ordered
a new Ranger in late 2006 to replace the 1994 model. After an 11-week
wait, the new truck arrived with a paint defect. The dealer refused to
repair the truck until I bought it, citing warranty requirements; I
refused to take delivery until the truck was fixed, having been stung
by previous dealers' promises to fix a vehicle "properly" after I took
delivery. This standoff resulted in me walking away from the truck, the
dealer, and probably Ford forever. --TCG (CPL)
Wikipedia does it again! I took the "Ranger" emblem photo on the back
deck. The teal truck pic is from a print I took about five years ago. The cutaway diagram is from the 1998 Ranger brochure.