Ranchero Revival: The 1979-82 Ford Durango

The 1979-82 Ford Durango pickup wasn’t an official Ford Motor Company product, but it did extend the automaker’s Ranchero theme for a few more years.

The Ford Durango story rightly begins with the Ford Fairmont and Futura mid-sized cars introduced by the Dearborn carmaker for 1978. Ford was then phasing out its previous LTD II intermediate-class vehicles, which left the Ranchero without a platform host, and the company’s long-running sedan-based pickup (1957-79) was quietly discontinued.

But meanwhile, veteran Ford designer Dick Nesbitt, whose credits include the 1974 Mustang II and the Carrousel van concept, saw Ranchero-style potential in the Futura coupe, especially in its thick and sturdy B-pillar. With a few deft strokes of his pen, the talented stylist reimagined the two-door coupe as a sporty pickup. And while Ford product managers declined to approve Nesbitt’s proposal for production, they were intrigued enough with the concept to send it on to National Coach, a custom-car builder based in Gardena, California.

Los Angeles bodyman and painter Jim Stephenson, a veteran of the Barris shops, built the prototype vehicle for National Coach, using fiberglass molds to form the pickup bed and tailgate. Reportedly, it was National Coach that came up with the name Durango for the reborn Ranchero pickup, which was sold through participating Ford dealers from 1979 through 1982. Reportedly, some 212 vehicles were built, including some specially trimmed Sun Coupe models. So while they are not exactly common, Durangos can indeed be found on the collector car market, often at relatively modest prices. Of course, today the Durango name is more commonly associated with the mid-size Dodge SUV manufactured by Stellantis (1998-currrent).

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