At long, long last, the Ford Ranger is back and eager to reclaim its former crown. Everybody loves a good comeback story. There’s just something about the return of a beloved cultural icon that fills people with an excitement, as though the one returning has been reborn. Brand new once more, Ford’s famed compact pickup is ready to pickup right where it left off. A 30-year relationship with the American public will begin anew in the 2019 model year, and a new chapter will be written in an already impressive history that spans more than three decades. Let’s take a closer look at those generational successes and get a better idea of where the next-gen Ranger will take us.
Although Ford began production of the Ranger in 1982, its lineage can actually be traced back much further. A boom in the compact pickup truck market segment in the late 1960’s caused them to throw their hat in the ring. In 1972, the Ford Courier debuted. The Courier was manufactured in Japan to save time and money. It was initially a rebadged version of the Mazda B1800 compact truck.
Though the Courier largely succeeded, Ford turned attention in 1976 to producing a compact truck of their own, stateside. The goals they set for themselves included an increase in durability, fuel efficiency, and more interior room for the comfort of the big Midwestern Americans to whom they hoped to sell their homegrown pickups.
The Ranger: Dawn Of A New Era
The American-made 1983 Ford Ranger debuted in showrooms in March of 1982. Initially, the Ranger was only offered as a two-wheel-drive vehicle. Fortunately, it only took a few months to correct this oversight. The body of the Ranger was inspired by the larger, successful Ford F-Series pickup. The power offerings in the Ranger’s rookie year were initially limited to a 2.3L 4-cylinder engine, producing an adorably meager 80 horsepower. But by the end of 1982, a 2.8L V6 was thankfully available. They were mated with either a four-speed manual (standard equipment), a five-speed manual, or a 3-speed automatic.
Two bed sizes could be had: a 6′ bed with the 108″ wheelbase, or a seven foot bed, available with 114″ wheelbase Rangers. Four trim packages were offered: the utilitarian base package, the XL (adding chrome accents), XLS (the sporty one of the bunch, blackout trim and tape stripes), and XLT (top of the line with pinstripes, brushed aluminum on the tailgate, and even vent windows). It wasn’t until 1990 that a 4.0L V6 engine debuted, bringing legitimate power to the Ranger line.
Decades Of Success
The new Ranger thrived, and (along with its domestic frenemy, the Chevy S-10) took back a large share of the Japanese-dominated compact pickup segment. Though tweaked and improved, no striking changes to the Ranger took place until 1993. The now-beloved Ranger would receive a full overhaul. A rounded front end, new seats, and a redesigned interior changed the Ranger’s aesthetics substantially. Trim levels shifted, and a stepside style bed debuted. A standard airbag appears in 1995. Another major facelift in 1998 stretches the wheelbase and a new front-end suspension improves ride and handling.
The most recent Ranger generation began in 2001. The variety became greater than ever, with a slew of different Ranger models appealing to as many buyers as possible. The V6 was replaced with the overhead-cam 4.0L V6 found in the world-dominant Ford Explorer, upping the horsepower to an improved 207.
Rangers sold well. Really, really well. In fact, they were the best-selling US compact truck every year from 1987 through 2004.
New Challenges Arise
Sadly, those numbers simply cannot last. Despite a loyal following, rumblings of the Ranger’s demise began as early as 2007. At their peak in the late 90s, well over 300,000 Rangers were sold annually. By 2007, that number had dwindled to a paltry 72,000. Through sheer force of will, Ford and the Ranger clung to life through the recession, but ultimately called it quits by the 2012 model year. The final American Ranger rolled off the assembly line in December of 2011 in St. Paul, Minnesota, where they had been produced from the very beginning.
A Most Welcome Return
But after a long six year wait, Ford announced at the 2017 Detroit Auto Show that the comeback was official. The Ranger will reappear for the 2019 model year. Much of the fanfare may have been overshadowed by the other big Ford news, such as the return of the legendary Bronco and its legions of fans. But make no mistake: Ranger faithful are very, very excited as well.
What can we expect? Too early to say for sure, but intelligent guesses can certainly be made. Though discontinued at home, the Ranger never went away in nearly 100 other countries. These foreign Rangers give us a good starting point for expectations; though Ford assures us that an “all-new Ford Ranger” is in the works for the North American market. One thing we do know for sure: Ford is ready to try once more at muscling in on the Japanese-dominated compact truck market. You hear that, Toyota Tacoma? Stay on your toes; the Yanks are comin’.