Ford Falcon 1973 500


How the humble Falcon ute became a Ford Ranchero

Because every name sounds better with an ‘o’ on the end.

We love uncovering stories of little known Aussie exports. Last month, we discovered how the HQ Holden ute served time in South Africa as a rebadged Chevrolet El Camino.

South Africa’s love affair with utes is almost as fervent as ours.

Utes, or Bakkies as they are called in the Rainbow Nation, enjoy a dominant position on new car sales chart, much like they do here in Oz.

In 2020, three of the top five selling vehicles in South Africa were bakkies, the venerable Toyota HiLux taking top spot, a market position not dissimilar to our own. Looking further, three of the top five selling vehicles in 2020 were bakkies with Ford Ranger and Isuzu D-Max both near the top of the sales charts.

Clearly, South Africans love their bakkies, much like we do. So it should come as no surprise South Africa’s bakkie culture extends back many decades. But, in a country with no indigenous car industry, where does supply come from? Imports, of course.

And in the 1960s and ’70s, that meant looking across the Indian Ocean to Australia. We’ve already told the story of Holden’s cheeky ute exports to South Africa. But, as it did for decades, the red versus blue rivalry extended to exports, too, with Ford Australia getting in on the act.

From 1969, the local arm of the Blue Oval started exporting our homegrown Falcon utes to South Africa in complete knock down (CKD) kits. The first Falcon to make the trek was the XT ute, setting a template for all those which followed by being rebadged as a Ford Ranchero.

The Ranchero nameplate was borrowed from the US where it adorned the tailgate of a series of car-based utilities from 1957-79. Think Chev El Camino and you’d be on the right track.

For South Africa however, it was Aussie-built Falcons wearing the Ranchero badge, with a succession of Aussie-designed models making the voyage across the seas. Following the XT ute, South Africa received the XW, XY, XA and XB models, all in CKD form and all assembled at Ford’s local assembly plant in Port Elizabeth.

Some reports suggest the imported Aussie utes initially only came with Ford’s 3.1-litre six-cylinder, however further digging found that South African Rancheros were available with a wide range of Ford Australia’s engines over the five-model lifespan including the 3.6-litre six, 4.1-litre six, 5.0-litre V8 and 5.8-litre V8. Those V8 variants of the XA and XB Falcon utes were called the Ranchero 500.

The XB Ranchero remained on sale until 1976 before growing unease around South Africa’s apartheid policy resulted in increasing economic and political sanctions.

The humble Aussie ute made a brief comeback in South Africa in 1996, Ford Australia exporting fully-assembled XH Falcon utes. The African nation received three variants – the Ranchero GLi, Ranchero Outback and the hi-po Tickford-developed Ranchero XR6. All featured Ford’s 4.0-litre inline six making either 148kW and 358Nm in standard guise or 162kW and 358Nm in XR6 tune.

It was a short-lived revival, the Ranchero bakkie passing into the history books along with the end of the Falcon XH’s model run in Australia in 1999.

Since then, South Africa has continued its love affair with the bakkie, like Australians gravitating towards dual-cabs with a smattering of smaller car-based utes, like the Nissan NP200.

Aussie-sourced Ford Rancheros continue to be popular in South Africa, with Facebook communities celebrating the you-beaut-bakkie. Older models in decent condition still command prices north of AUD$20,000, with, unsurprisingly V8 models the rarest and most sought after.

There are no confirmed numbers for just how many Falcons utes morphed into Ranchero bakkies, although one article we found dated from 1973, suggested around 15,000 had been sold in South Africa from 1968-73, a timely reminder of how our own local manufacturing industry stretched further than our own shores.

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