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Hauling Muscle

Ranchero and El Camino

Story Bill Holder Images Phil Kunz - January 02, 2014 10:00 AM

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The muscle car years of 1964-1972 are still remembered as certainly the greatest automotive performance time period.

But when you really think about it, that “car” terminology isn’t completely correct.

The powerful engines which were the basis for that “muscle” connotation included two other models that really couldn’t be called cars. They were the car-truck Chevy El Camino (and the identical GMC Sprint) and Ford Ranchero models. You can make a case that any discussion needs to include them.

If you lifted off the bodies during most of those muscle car years, it would be tough to differentiate what you found from the Chevelle and Fairlane upon which they were based. They also could be ordered with almost the same engines as the cars. In addition to this, there are some that claim that they were the first dual-purpose vehicles which could categorize them as an early sport utility vehicle.

For some reason, their design just didn’t attract buyers as well as their car counterparts when these vehicles were offered for sale as new. The fact that they were considered a truck likely alienated both truck and car folks. Truck fanciers wanted their truck to look like a macho hauler, not a modfied car. Many of the car folks didn’t fancy the loss of the back seats. Right in the middle were those who liked everything about them.

A look at the production totals during those nine years shows El Caminos clearly had an advantage in production. There were 379,552 produced to the 198,685 Ranecheros.

The El Camino got a jump in under-the-hood performance in 1965 with a pair of 327 engines producing 300 and 350hp. That was considerably more than the 200 and 225hp from the Ranchero’s 289 engines the same model year. While the Ranchero stayed the same for 1966, the Chevy entry jumped miles ahead with a pair of 396 big blocks producing 325 and 350 horsepower, respectively. It was the same for the El Camino in 1967, but Ford was catching up with a 390 engine getting 270 and 315 horses.

The big boy 396/375hp engine hit the streets with the El Camino in 1968 with Ford remaining about the same. The following year, it was the same big-three for the El Camino with Ford producing a 428 with 335 and 360 horses and a 390/320 engine. The El Camino continued its lead in 1970 with the monster 454cid LS-5/6 engines with 360 and 425 horses. Ford equipped its Rancheros with 250 and 300hp versions of its 351 engine along with two versions of the new 429 with 360 and 370hp variants.

The start of the demise of power could be noted from both companies in 1971.

Ford held pat, but Chevy dropped the LS-6 and had a 402 with 300 ponies. In the 1972 finale of the performance years, the LS-5 was down to 270, but the 429 was a paltry 205. It was definitely over.

Many consider the apex of the muscle/appearance car/truck era to be the 1970 model year. We have excellent examples of the Ranchero and El Camino in the garage of master collector Jon Kocara of Fairborn, Ohio. With the chance to compare the two, there are some sizable differences.

El Camino production in 1970 (47,707) was more than two-to-one over the Ford brand (21,640). Rearend ratios covered about the same ranges with Ford at 2.75 to 3.50 and Chevy at 2.73 to 4.10. There were three trim levels of the Ranchero (500, GT, and Squire) and the SS and Custom for the El Camino and SP and Custom for the Sprint.

In viewing them together, the Ranchero seemed to have a sleeker body design than its Chevy opponent. Grille designs are considerably different with the Ranchero’s encompassing the entire body width with the headlights contained within. The Chevy counterpart had a smaller, centered grille with the twin headlights on the outside.

Kocara explained that he bought the Ranchero in 2004 “pretty much in the same condition that you see here. I did make a few changes, though, namely a shaker hood and bucket seats, both of which were available options.”

During its early years, it served as a parts hauler at a California airport. “It had a plug in the trunk where an antenna was once deployed and holes under the dash for a radio,” the current owner explained. It mounts a 351C/300 horse powerplant with an FMX automatic. It also carries air conditioning, an AM-FM stereo, tach, and the wood paneling on the body sides. The body color is a luxurious Medium Blue Metallic, and believe it or not, that’s the original paint.

The gorgeous Cranberry Red El Camino has a 396/350 powerplant with a cowl induction hood hooked to an M-21 four-speed manual transmission. Kocara got it in 2010 in its present condition. Options include power steering, power disc brakes, Rally gauges with a factory tach, and F-41 sport suspension. Kocara indicated that the car was sold new on the West Coast and spent some time in both Seattle and Arizona.

He wouldn’t fall into the trap of which one is his favorite. It would be a tough choice for sure, and since he owns both, why does there need to be a winner? It would be hard to choose.

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