Rare Ranchero

A Mercury and a mystery
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Crazy ’bout a Mercury, as the song lyric implies, is a natural reaction
to this Ford of Canada 1957 Meteor Custom 300 Ranchero pickup.
It is formerly part of the Jess Ruffalo Collection of Plainfield, Wis.

“The 1957 Fleet of Mighty Mercury Trucks” is the title of Ford of Canada’s brochure that promoted its line of light-duty Mercury models for that year. The brochure’s tagline reads: “With Exclusive Payoff Design.”

Using words such as “mighty” and “payoff” seem appropriate when describing the utilitarian reputation common to trucks. But these work-like terms seem out of place when applied to the ornate, chrome-laden appearance of Mercury’s ’57 Meteor Ranchero pickup. And, yes, you read that correctly.

Mercury — not Ford — Ranchero.
A product of Ford Motor Co. of Canada Ltd., based in Oakville, Ontario, its Mercury division produced both Ranchero Custom and Ranchero Custom 300 trim level pickups in both 1957 and ’58. Production was miniscule in each model year, with 312 of both Custom and Custom 300 pickups built in 1957 and only 90 in ’58. There is no breakout available by trim level.

The text within the 1957 Mercury truck brochure even downplays the utilitarian aspects of the Meteor Ranchero. It’s promoted as being “smartly styled with fine car comfort.” Somewhat more in tune to the fact the vehicle is a truck, the brochure description continues calling the Meteor Ranchero the “perfect companion for work or play.”

Mystery history
This particular Meteor Ranchero was formerly part of the late Jess Ruffalo Collection of Plainfield, Wis. It was recently offered for sale at Matthews Auctions’ May 1 sale in Wisconsin Rapids, Wis., by Ruffalo’s son, Brian, who is now the pickup’s caretaker. Ruffalo readily admits that his knowledge of the pickup’s history and aspects of its restoration are limited. The high bid at auction of $37,500 failed to meet the Ranchero’s reserve, and Brian Ruffalo returned with it to his Hancock, Wis., home.

Ruffalo told Old Cars Weekly that he will entertain all serious offers to buy the rare pickup. Failing to find success going that route will most likely find the Ranchero crossing the auction block at one of the more high-profile upcoming auctions that allow consignors to place reserves on vehicles.

What is known about this Ranchero is sketchy. Ruffalo said his father acquired the pickup in Arizona in 2002 from Bob Schmidt, who, at that time, was in the restoration business in Phoenix. He later moved to Branson, Mo., and was curator of the 57 Heaven Museum in that city until its recent closing.

Schmidt told Old Cars Weekly he purchased the Ranchero for $3,500 at the Pomona (California) Swap Meet. His original intention was to restore it and eventually display it at the 57 Heaven Museum. He added that when he mentioned to friend Jess Ruffalo that he bought the pickup, Ruffalo asked to buy the Ranchero for his own collection, and a deal was struck.

“It was in rough shape when I bought it,” Schmidt recalled. When it was offered for sale in Pomona, Schmidt said the only item missing were the “Meteor” embossed hubcaps. “Those were extremely hard to find.”

In its current configuration, the Meteor Ranchero has a 30-cubic-foot bed and 1,000-lb. pay load. It rides on a 118-inch wheelbase, and is powered by what Ruffalo said is a 292-cid/212-hp V-8 and Merc-O-Matic automatic transmission. The 292 was not offered in Meteor Rancheros in ’57, but was available in other Ford of Canada models that year. Its smaller Y-block counterpart, the 272-cid/190-hp version, was the only V-8 offered in Meteor Rancheros, and as an option.

But, according to the Ranchero’s data plate, the initial number (“5”) in the pickup’s serial number designates that it came from the factory as a Meteor six-cylinder model. This would have been the inline, 223-cid/144-hp powerplant.

Schmidt verified that the 292 was in the Ranchero when he bought it.

Another mystery, depending on what source is used to define Meteor body codes, questions the trim level of this Ranchero, based on the “66B” in its data plate’s serial number. One source lists 66A as the base Ranchero Custom and 66B as the upper Custom 300 trim level. Another source defines 66A as being a Niagara (one of five series within the Meteor line) Ranchero, with “66B” and “66C” reserved for Custom and Custom 300, respectively. In no other Ford of Canada model menu does the Niagara offer a Ranchero pickup. Based both on that latter scenario and the amount of chrome and interior appointments on this Ranchero, it most likely is the more upscale Custom 300 model.

Cover up
Another changed aspect of this Ranchero stems from its finish. None of the colors that are listed as being available for 1957 Meteors in Ford of Canada sources match its current two-tone paint scheme. The pickup’s data plate lists its exterior paint code as “5A.” Schmidt said that when he found the Ranchero in California, “it was the ugliest combination of tan and brown you could imagine.” It turns out that Schmidt selected the current persimmon and black scheme to dress up the Ranchero. It’s a combination that was offered on domestic ’56 Mercury cars, but not ’57 Meteors.

In keeping with the Ford Motor Co. family of replacement items, Schmidt told Old Cars Weekly that he also replaced the Ranchero’s worn original interior fabric with that from a ’58 Edsel. “It looks period and complements the exterior paint,” Schmidt explained. “Ninety-nine percent of the people who look at it don’t realize it’s not the original [Meteor] fabric.” 

Moving on
The Meteor Ranchero has logged approximately 90,000 miles, but has the appearance of a new vehicle. “It’s in nice shape,” Ruffalo stressed. “It’s as clean on the bottom as it is on top.”

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The 1957 Mercury Meteor Ranchero pickup has several unique treatments that distinguish it from its domestic Ford counterpart. “Meteor” script is found on the leading edge of the hood (top), on hubcap centers (center) and centered on the rear bumper (bottom). The Meteor’s ornate V’ed grille is also unique to this Ford of Canada product.


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