By Richard Truesdell
The year 1970 is acknowledged by most automotive experts as the high-water mark of the muscle car era, muscle cars being defined as intermediate or smaller cars with big-block V-8s under the hood. But what about car-truck hybrids like Chevrolet's Chevelle-based El Camino or Ford's Torino-based Ranchero? Was 1970 their high-water mark as well?
If you take a look at the sales materials for both the 1970 El Camino and the 1970 Ranchero, you'll see that they offered virtually the same drive train options as their coupe, hardtop and convertible counterparts. For the El Camino that meant Chevy's 454 V-8 with ram air induction and for Ford, it was the 429 Cobra Jet V-8 with its own ram air option along with 370 available horsepower.
In early October 1969 Mike Groeniger walked into Jim Wolfe Ford in Albany, California, with the idea that he's be ordering a conventional pickup truck for his job at his father's water works supply business (this would be important later in the story). But instead of doing the logical thing, ordering a Ford F-100, he ordered something different, a 1970 Ranchero GT. For 1970 the Ranchero was all-new, featuring the same updated styling and from the A-pillar forward was identical to the companion Torino models.
But when it came to ticking off the option boxes, the young Groeniger, who had already owned a 260-powered, four-speed 1963 1/2 Falcon Sprint, went whole hog, checking of two significant options, the non-ram air induction 370-horsepower 429 Cobra Jet V-8 and the close-ratio four-speed transmission with a Hurst shifter. While Groeniger didn't specify the ram air option, it's of interest to note that system installed on ram air, shaker-equipped Rancheros was more similar to the system found on the Mustang rather than the other ram air-equipped Torino Cobra Jets.
And Groeniger specified one additional, significant option, stylish hide-a-way headlights that gave the pointed prow of the Ranchero a distinctive look. The car was painted in a Bright Gold Metallic Paint with a contrasting black vinyl top and high-impact laser stripes.
"Because it was a company vehicle, I ordered the bench front seat instead of the standard GT bucket seats," says Groeniger. "My father was not amused when he first saw it but after driving it, he said 'the cops will see you coming in this thing, but I like it.' In 1974 I traded the Ranchero in on a new Thunderbird and I lost touch with the Ranchero for over thirty years."
As it often does, life gets in the way. Groeniger raised a family and as was the case with his own father -- who had owned a number of interesting cars over the years that included a big-window Custom cab 1956 F-100 Ford Pick-up, a 1967 Jaguar XKE Roadster and a first edition Ford De Tomaso Pantera -- he owned a number of Corvettes and a Cobra kit car with a 428 Cobra Jet engine that won top honors at the Oakland Roadster Show in the hand-built class. And with his two sons, restored an example of his first car, the 1963 1/2 Falcon Sprint.
"My sons and I often talked about the Ranchero I had owned, how unusual it was in that you don't see any examples of that vehicle anymore," says Groeniger. "My oldest son was always asking around about and looking for Cobra Jet Rancheros until one day when he heard of a sale of a 1970 Ranchero GT, equipped with the 429 Cobra Jet mated to the four-speed. The color was wrong but everything else seemed to match my car. We contacted the new owner and drove to Santa Cruz, California, to look at the car. It was in sad shape, painted in black, interior mostly dissembled with boxes of parts. The original engine was there but not running. It was hard to tell if this was my original car. While looking over the truck, we noticed the original color, Gold Metallic, in the door jams. Behind the seat in the boxes of parts we found a special bolt. This bolt was the type I sold as a salesman and was specific to the water works industry. That sealed the deal, we purchased the Ranchero and rebuilt it back to factory specs."
When covering the 2014 (Mercury) Cougar Club of America (CCOA) Western Regional Show in Oakley, California, we encountered Groeniger's Ranchero GT, entered in a special Ford-powered class. Perfectly restored, resplendent in its Bright Gold Metallic with contrasting laser stripes, it caught our attention in a sea of more than 80 classic (1967-1973) Cougars. Posting photos on Facebook, the photos caught the eye of PickupTrucks.com's Mark Williams, who knows a thing or two about unique pickup trucks, who asked for a follow up.
Here's Mike Groeniger's 1970 Ford Ranchero GT, presented for pickup truck enthusiasts everywhere to enjoy. Groeniger puts it all into its proper perspective, "At every car show that we attend the Ranchero generates a lot of interest and conversation. For me, it takes me back to my younger days when the joy of driving was less complicated."
To get an idea of all the options Groeniger encountered when he purchased his 1970 Ford Ranchero GT, click here to download the pdf of the full 1970 Ford Ranchero dealership brochure.
Images by Richard Truesdell