T-Bird in a Ranchero

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Gordon Buehrig is credited with conceiving the car-truck mixture in America that literally reset car design standards.

By Michael Petti

 The front of Ranchero with V-shape bumper override

The front of Ranchero with V-shape bumper override

Brochures and advertisements for the first-year Ranchero of 1957 were geared toward farmers, ranchers, builders, salesmen and even vending machine operators. The car-pickup hybrid was also pitched to operators of resorts, country clubs, dude ranches and airports. But there was no mention that the Ranchero was a vehicle for the housewife, mother, Girl Scout Leader or even cosmetic saleswoman. Martha Stevermer-Gifford of Plymouth, N.H., does not fit into any of these stereotypes, yet the auto-pickup appeals to her and many other women today.

The 1957 Ranchero — the car that worked like a truck — didn’t represent an entirely new idea. Before World War II, Studebaker and Hudson offered a coupe car body with a pickup box. Even Ford of Australia offered a car-based ute that featured a pickup bed on its passenger car chassis. However, these vehicles did not have a rear quarter panel that looked like that of an automobile.

 After market tonneau with boat rail trim.

After market tonneau with boat rail trim.

After the war, Crosley and the 1950 Australian utes were car-pickups built with automobile rear quarter panels. However, the Crosley pickup was not a common trendsetter. And back in 1957, very few Americans had seen Australian utes, not even in photo magazines such as Life and Look. So, the 1957 Ranchero was essentially new to Americans. As Motor Life remarked, the Ranchero was “for the person who has always wanted a pickup but is balked by the looks or ride qualities inherent in normal trucks.” To them, “Ford has come to the rescue.”

The low and long 1957 Ford car design was headed by Bob Maguire, and the Ranchero was based on the two-door station wagon derivative of that design. It offered a 6-foot cargo bed and with the tailgate lowered, provided an 8-foot length. The practical, easy-to-load cargo vehicle could carry 1190 pounds. It was sprung slightly heavier than the F-100 half-ton and handled about 50 pounds more!

Stevermer-Gifford’s Ranchero was one of those Rancheros whose work ethic was put to the test during its lifetime.

According to Stevermer-Gifford, her ’57 Ranchero “was purchased in Sunnyvale, California, [during 1995] from the Mareotte-Stagen family, who were the original owners. It was mostly complete and rust-free, but barely running and otherwise in poor condition. It had been used for decades in the family’s car repair business.”

 Once past the dog-leg post, interior is inviting.

Once past the dog-leg post, interior is inviting.

 The combination of red and white is classic and classy.

The combination of red and white is classic and classy.

The Ranchero could be ordered with any engine available in the Ford car, all the way up to the Thunderbird Special.

“Under the hood is the original Thunderbird 312-cubic-inch V-8 engine and finned aluminum valve covers,” she said. This particular Thunderbird 312 V-8 engine has a single four-venturi Holley carburetor, although two carburetors and even a supercharger were available.

The Ranchero was available with a three-speed standard shift with or without overdrive or a two-speed automatic. Stevermer-Gifford noted the electric overdrive in her Ranchero’s three-speed manual transmission “still works in both second and third gear and makes it possible to get 18 mpg on the highway.” The shifter is now located on the floor. She notes the shift is crisp and the throws are short.

The Ranchero was available in standard and Custom levels. The “Amish plain” standard series sold for $2,098. For just $51 greenbacks more, one could move up to the Custom model. Trim differences separated the less expensive series from the more expensive line. Stevermer-Gifford and her husband, Loren Gifford, have the latter in this Ranchero. More elaborate trim was sometimes added by dealers.

“Our Ranchero was in various shades of ugly, dirty pink as a result of the many repaints in different reds,” Stevermer-Gifford said. “All faded badly in the California sun. We compounded down the many layers of paint resulting in a nice satin patina, but a badly stained concrete driveway.”

“Martha’s cousins and their friends in Easton, Minnesota, did a frame-off restoration, and had it painted in the original Flame Red,” said Gifford. “In the summer of 2002 we drove it from the Midwest to our home.”

“The flip-up fiberglass pickup bed cover is an original aftermarket item from the late 1950s,” Stevermer-Gifford added. “This early tonneau is seen only on a few West Coast Rancheros. The 60-year-old spring lifts still work perfectly. The cover’s old boat rail trim is typical for that era.”

In addition, the Ranchero features the raised V-bar bumper guard over the grille, which they said is a rare ’57 Ford option.

Today, Stevermer-Gifford and Gifford’s Ranchero is one hot hauler. Best of all, it still occasionally makes short work out of long hauls.

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