Friday, November 16, 2001

Ford and Chevrolet have been long-time combatants in the annual struggle for sales supermacy. In 1957, both automakers claimed victory.
Counting all of the 1957 models, including those built in 1956, Ford manufactured almost 1.7-million cars versus 1.5-million Chevrolets.
Chevrolet decided to count only the cars manufactured in calendar year 1957. By its calculations Chevrolet outsold Ford by 130 vehicles.
Ford had been placing second in the sales race for several years and added a couple of new models in 1957 to spice up the sales climate. In addition to adding tastefully modest fins to the last until recently two-seat Thunderbird, Ford introduced a retractable hardtop Skyliner as well as a car-based pickup called Ranchero.
Chevrolet never tried to compete with the Skyliner but in later years introduced the El Camino to do battle with Ford’s Ranchero.
One of the earlier Rancheros rolled off the Ford assembly line in Kansas City, Mo. on Aug. 27, 1956. That particular flame red and colonial white Ranchero was soon headed west to Colorado. It was advertised as “More than a car. More than a truck.”
Records indicate that the Ford was owned by a succession of three individuals in Colorado before passing into obscurity, eventually re-emerging years later in Doylestown, Pa.
In early 2000 Bob Hartig, a recently retired U.S. Airways pilot with 31 years of flying under his belt, learned that the owner of the Ranchero was “selling out” in order to move to Arizona.
The two men agreed on a price and in March 2000, Mr. Hartig became the new owner of the Ranchero with almost 69,000 miles on the odometer.
Power seats, power brakes, power windows and power steering were available extra cost options that were rejected by the original owner. “I like it that way,” Mr. Hartig says. The Ranchero is equipped with an AM radio, heater and clock.
Mr. Hartig left Doylestown at 10 p.m. on his epic venture home to McLean. Early into the trip the original vacuum-powered wipers, never excellent, gave up the ghost and quit working about half the time.
“I drove the car on instruments after that,” he says. “I drove by the seat of my pants.”
Mr. Hartig, continuing his woeful tale, relates that as he entered the Baltimore tunnel the generator warning light lit up the dashboard. “I drove the rest of the way home on the battery,” he says. With dim headlights, he arrived about 2 a.m.
The battery must have been totally drained because the car would not start the next day. However, the electrical problem was quickly and easily rectified with a rebuilt generator.
On the way home, the Fordomatic transmission efficiently transferred to the highway the 212-horsepower produced by the 292-cubic-inch V-8 engine. A two-barrel carburetor sits atop the engine.
Since he brought his Ranchero home Mr. Hartig has made some improvements. With the memory of driving blind fresh in his mind, he converted the vacuum wipers to electric.
Additionally, he gave the engine a tuneup, replacing the original 1957 spark plug wires and the rotor under the distributor cap.
The ball joint front suspension is now so good Mr. Hartig can thread a needle with the car while at the helm of the deep dish steering wheel.
The interior of the Ranchero is mostly original with rubber floor mats, a red dashboard including a 120 mph speedometer, a white headliner, a spare 8.00x14-inch spare tire behind the passenger seat, dual underdash air vents, a severe wraparound windshield and red seat belts.
The seat belts were installed in 1966 and have warning tags attached instructing that the belts should be replaced every five years. Let’s see, Mr. Hartig is about 30 years tardy on that account.
Along the top of the more than 6-foot-long bed is a protective stainless steel rub rail.
A chrome-plated steer head is mounted on the tailgate.
At the other end of the Ranchero, behind the optional accessory “V” bar between the front bumper guards, are the fender-mounted mirrors. “The mirrors were options,” Mr. Hartig says, “believe it or not.”
In 1957, Ford built the first Ranchero and the line continued until 1979. The new line of car/truck was advertised as: “Built Solid Ford Tough.”
The first Ranchero rode on a 116-inch wheelbase and sold for a base price of $1,920. Mr. Hartig’s 45-year-old Ranchero now is approaching 70,000 miles.
A firm adherent to the “Built Solid Ford Tough” slogan, he sees no end to the service his Ranchero can provide.

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