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Second-hand: Ford Ranger

The majority of owners have been very happy with their half-pint trucks. Some are repeat customers: I have had six of them.

For some people a car is not just a conveyance, it’s a residence.

Take this e-mail from a resident of Washoe County, Nevada, who lived in his 1988 Ford Ranger while his new house was being built.

“The police would offer to take me to the homeless shelter and talk to the mental health people. (Then) they would go through my wallet and find my paycheque stubs and bank deposit slips.” They left him alone to live on a mountain for a year and half, perfectly content to listen to the radio and hunch over a propane heater.

“These were some of the happiest days of my life,” he writes.

You can’t buy testimonials like this.

The Ranger is nothing more, and nothing less, than a chip off the old block – a faithful reproduction of Ford’s best-selling F-150 pickup truck, but in a handy five-eighths-scale size.

Launched for the 1983 model year, it quickly became the most popular compact truck ever sold, accounting for one-quarter of segment sales, domestic and import combined.

And, for a select few, it was home on the Ranger.

CONFIGURATION

In an attempt to wrestle the compact-truck market away from the importers who had created it (chiefly, Datsun and Toyota), Ford offered an extraordinary amount of choice in a small truck – tearing a page out of the F-150 playbook.

Buyers could order a six- or seven-foot bed, two- or four-wheel drive, regular and extended cab, and a host of trim levels and options that would confound a Crown Victoria shopper.

Initially, Ranger buyers could choose from three four-cylinder engines (including a turbo-diesel) as well as a German-built 2.8-L V6 – an option the Japanese would take years to duplicate.

Its boxy styling, described by one Ford executive as a “telephone booth laid on its side,” closely traced the F-150 template, right down to the recessed lettering on the tailgate.

Like its big brother, the Ranger employed Ford’s twin I-beam front axle design.

To mark its 10th year, the Ranger was given new sheet metal for 1993. While riding on the same platform, stylists carved a more wind-cheating body – or more “girly looking,” to quote one owner. The cabin was enlarged and the ergonomics cleaned up.

Engine choice was reduced to three: a 100-hp 2.3 L four banger, a 145-hp 3.0 L V6 and a torquey 4.0 L V6 that put out the same power when hooked up to the manual transmission, and 160 hp when tied to the automatic.

Interestingly, the improved Ranger formed the basis for the next-generation Mazda B-Series pickup in 1994 – a complete reversal of the situation in the 1970s, when Ford sold a rebadged version of the Mazda trucklet as the Courier.

For 1998, the Ranger line was updated again, providing dramatic improvements in refinement and road manners. A 2.5 L four cylinder, making 119 hp, became the base engine. The pushrod V6 engines were reworked to provide more horsy power and much more torque.

ON THE ROAD

A 1993 Ranger XLT, equipped with the 4.0 L V6 and a four-speed automatic transmission, could attain highway velocity (0-96 km/h) in just under nine seconds – hasty performance for a truck of any size.

The 3.0 L version was slower and the four-banger was excruciatingly unhurried, especially if attached to the automatic.

“I refer to it as the Lone Ranger because everyone leaves her behind,” quipped one e-mail.

Braking performance was the truck’s Achilles heel: 112 km/h to a standstill in 69 metres was poor. Admittedly, it was an older model with anti-lock brakes on the rear axle only.

The ride, while decent, can be harried on a washboard surface.

Drivers have been alarmed by the Ranger’s tendency to bounce sideways if driven quickly on a rough road.

Steering response in all but the newest models tends to be vague.

The Ranger won many fans for its quiet demeanour and comfortable seating, although those long of leg might feel cramped in the standard cab.

WHAT OWNERS REPORTED

The majority of owners have been very happy with their half-pint trucks. Some are repeat customers: “I have had six of them. I usually put over 200,000 miles on them,” boasted one owner.

“It’s the most reliable car I’ve ever owned. Although my only other cars were a ’73 Chevy Vega and a ’78 Chevette,” one owner confessed on the Internet.

Some Rangers are no strangers to mechanical glitches. The Mazda-built five-speed manual transmission has been fingered as a weak link, particularly the slave cylinder, which fails prematurely. Clutch replacements follow. (There are few complaints about the autobox, however.) Other deficiencies listed by owners included: faulty air conditioning, leaky engine gaskets, broken emergency brake cables, erratic speedometers, peeling paint (on the earlier models) and floppy mirrors.

The twin I-beam front suspension can be tricky to keep aligned properly, as some owners noted.

And winter driving can be unnerving in a vehicle that is so light in the rear end (assuming it’s a rear-wheel-drive model).

Finally, for a compact truck, numerous owners expressed disappointment over the poor fuel economy – burning 9.8 to 13 litres of fuel for every 100 km (18 to 24 mpg), depending on the drivetrain.

Of course, should you decide to live in your Ranger by parking it on a mountainside, your energy costs should be considerably cheaper than the average four-bedroom sidesplit.

We would like to know about your ownership experience with the following models. Please note the deadlines: Subaru Impreza by March 6, Chevrolet Lumina APV/Pontiac Trans Sport (1990-’96) by March 20. Send your comments to Mark Toljagic, 2060 Queen St.

E., P.O. Box 51541,Toronto ON M4E 1C0. E-mail: toljagic @ passport.ca

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