During the heyday of automobile manufacturing in the United States, the”Big Three” of American automobile manufacturing endeavored to offer something for everyone. Engendering brand loyalty was a big part of their marketing strategy, and these companies didn’t want to lose customers because a competitor was offering a type of vehicle that they were not. Ford and General Motors were more inclined than Chrysler to engage in this tit for tat, and General Motors usually had the edge because they would often times design a competing vehicle from more than one of their divisions. For example, after the stunning success that Ford had with the Mustang, General Motors countered with the Chevy Camaro as well as the Pontiac Firebird.
So when you are trying to design a car to suit every taste, what do you do for people who are having a hard time deciding between a pickup truck and a sedan? Ford answered that question when they introduced the Ranchero for the 1957 model year. The Ford Ranchero was a sedan in the front, sitting low and bearing no resemblance to the pickups of the era. But instead of having a back seat, it had a pickup bed. From a manufacturing standpoint the Ranchero was built on a station wagon platform, so it was more of a car modified to have some characteristics of a truck rather that the other way around. It was initially offered in two different trim packages, one of them very basic and intended for those who were interested in the Ranchero’s potential as a work vehicle, and the Custom variety, which was available with the same types of options that were offered on the Fairlane. The Ford Ranchero was reasonably popular, and it was in production from 1957-1979; just over a half million of them were sold over that time.
Not to be outdone, General Motors noticed the success that Ford was having with the Ranchero early on, and they countered with their own version, the Chevrolet El Camino. The original El Camino was in production for just two model years, 1959 and 1960. The El Camino was also patterned after a station wagon, the Chevy Brookwood, and it was offered with a wide range of options that more or less mirrored what was available on the Impala. The most potent engine offered in the El Camino was the tri-carb 348 cubic inch V8, capable of powering the vehicle from zero to sixty in about seven seconds flat and topping out at 130 miles per hour.
Chevy sold 22,246 El Caminos during that first model year. By comparison, during the first year that the Ranchero was offered, 1957, it sold 21,706 units. However, sales of the El Camino plummeted in 1960 down to around 14,000 units while Ranchero sales remained constant. This caused GM to cease production of the El Camino until 1964, and after that it remained in the Chevrolet lineup through the 1987 model year.
The El Camino in particular has become a favorite of hot rod and muscle car enthusiasts, and you see a number of restored originals as well. Both the Ranchero and the El Camino are unique vehicles that turn heads and leave people who have never seen them scratching their heads and asking that familiar question: “Is it a car, or is it a truck?” We’re not sure that anyone has ever been able to come up with the definitive answer.