Imagine the opening segment of the old Superman television show, with an automotive feel. Ordinary people stop dead in their tracks, point at something in amazement, and gasp in disbelief, as if to ask what… is… that?
Cue the announcer!
“It’s a car! It’s a truck! It’s… both!”
OK, so comparing the sudden appearance of a flying superhero to that of an odd car-looking truck—truck-looking car?—is a bit of a stretch, but we’re guessing that more than a few people were dumbfounded at their first sight of the new 1957 Ford Ranchero. It was definitely different.
And although the novelty of the utilitarian format may have worn off a bit by the time Chevrolet introduced the El Camino two years later, the public’s curiosity likely hadn’t. These vehicles, often referred to as a coupe utility but technically classified as trucks, were polarizing then and still are today. Still, enough of them found buyers that they remained in production for years: 1957–79 for the Ranchero, 1959–60/1964–87 for the El Camino.
These days, prices are mixed. Although Rancheros arrived first, El Caminos are more popular and have higher values. And although Hagerty valuation editor Andrew Newton says Rancheros have seen more growth in recent years, the Hagerty Value Rating indicates that the two trucks are headed in opposite directions in the market.
Which one is going up and which is headed down? First, a short history lesson.
Unlike a pickup truck, the Ranchero coupe utility was based on a full-sized Ford platform. The first model was essentially a wagon with an open, integrated, and reinforced bed and the same options and accessories available in the Fairlane. In other words, it combined the comfort of a car with the usefulness of a truck.
In early models, top-of-the line power came from a 352-cubic-inch V-8. A 429 was added in the late 1960s, and a 460 could be had in 1974–76. Prior to 1968, the exterior styling was fairly subdued, but beginning with the fourth generation, the Ranchero began to look tougher and stronger than its older siblings.
More than a half-million Rancheros were built during its 23-year run.
Chevrolet El Camino
Chevy’s first attempt to compete with the Ranchero was a utility vehicle based on the Brookwood two-door wagon. Available with a full-size Chevrolet drivetrain, early El Caminos carried Bel Air trim and Biscayne interior. The top engine was a 348-cu-in V-8. After selling 22,246 El Caminos that first year, only 14,163 found new homes in 1960 and Chevy pulled the plug.
A new El Camino, based on the powerful Chevelle, emerged four years later and proved to be a winner. Standard V-8 in 1964 was a 283 small-block, but two versions of the 327 small-block were soon added. A 396 big-block arrived in 1967.
Although second-gen sales never fell below 32,000, they jumped considerably with the release of the third generation in 1968, reaching 57,147 in 1972. The 396 became more potent in the late ’60s, and a 450-horsepower LS6 454-cu-in V-8 arrived in 1970 before new emissions laws stripped power across the board.
“One advantage that ’60s El Caminos have is that they’re basically Chevelles,” says Hagerty vehicle data specialist Chris Winslow. “So people can get the performance of a Chevelle at a lower El Camino price.”
Nearly one million El Caminos were built in their quarter-century of production, along with approximately 76,000 similar-bodied GMC Sprints and Caballeros.
The third-generation El Camino has a current HVR of 83, which is up from 80 in the previous rating, 73 before that, and 52 before that. Meanwhile, the fourth-/fifth-gen Ranchero was standing strong earlier this year with an impressive HVR of 88 in April, but it scored back-to-back 69s before tumbling to its current HVR of 50.
[The Hagerty Vehicle Rating, based on a 0–100 scale, considers the quantity of vehicles insured and quoted through Hagerty, along with auction activity and private sales results. A vehicle that is keeping pace with the overall market has an HVR of 50. Above that means above-average market interest; below that means lagging market interest.]
Why is the ’68–72 Chevy utility heading up and the ’68–71 Ford slipping? A closer look shows that both have experienced declining insurance policies and quoting activity, but the El Camino is stronger in two areas. Its values rose 2 percent in the latest Hagerty Price Guide, while Rancheros were flat; a 1969–72 El Camino now has a median #2 (excellent) value of $25,100, compared to $19,100 for the 1968–71 Ranchero. Plus, the El Camino received a big boost from increased private sales activity.
Don’t expect Rancheros to stay down, though. In January 2017, the 1968–71 model barely had a pulse with an HVR of 24, and within a year it was up to 84. The El Camino has also overcome similar circumstances; three years ago, the 1968–72 version was staring at a sickly HVR of 27, and look at it now.
Besides, Winslow says, El Caminos and Rancheros have something that many collector vehicles don’t. “They have a cult-like following,” he says. “Even though a lot of them were built over the years, you just don’t see them every day. They’re so different, and that’s what draws people to them.”
Or causes them to stare, wondering what in the world they’re looking at.