Looking Back: 1973 Ford Explorer SUV Concept Pickup

1973 Ford Explorer SUV Concept Pickup

Last week, we wrote about the famous Dodge Deora concept that was based on the 1964-70 Dodge A100 unibody compact pickup. The Deora's radical cab-forward styling grabbed the attention of young and old when it debuted in 1967, but with minimal cargo-carrying capability and oddball features, like a front-opening cabin and swing-out steering wheel, it was never practical for production. That doesn't mean the idea didn't have merit, though, because Ford followed up with its own version of the Deora in 1973, called the Ford Explorer SUV concept.

Ford's vision of a proper sport utility vehicle hadn't yet been cast into the four-door, truck-based form that we know most modern SUVs to be when the Explorer SUV concept was penned. Nor had the Explorer name been permanently attached to a single vehicle, which didn't happen until 1991 when the Ford Explorer compact SUV went on sale.

In the late '60s and early '70s, Ford, like Dodge and Chevrolet, was still smarting from the rejection of its small, blunt-faced pickups by traditional truck buyers. Ford's Econoline pickup was derived from its first-generation E-Series vans, built from 1961-67, and based on the Ford Falcon car. Econoline pickups featured low prices, but Ford truck buyers never warmed up to their unconventional looks and low-rated towing and hauling numbers relative to Ford's full-size pickups, like the F-100 and F-150 from the same period. By 1970, every one of the Big Three automakers stopped selling these trucks.

But the success of the Deora concept must have gotten Ford's design team fired up, because the Deora was built using many pieces from Ford's parts bin. The Deora's front-opening windshield was the rear window from a 1960 Ford station wagon. Its back glass was taken from a 1960 Ford sedan, and the side exhaust vents were taillight bezels from the Ford Mustang. The Deora's taillights also borrowed the sequential turn-signal units from the Ford Thunderbird.

1961 Ford Econoline Pickup

The biggest improvements: Ford kept the Deora's futuristic cab-forward design but made the Explorer concept practical by giving it two conventional doors and a standard steering wheel.

Ford also replaced the old Econoline pickup's six-cylinder engine with a mid-engine, 429-cubic-inch V-8 that was shared with the Ford Thunderbird and Mustang in response to customer complaints that the first generation of forward-control pickups lacked power. The engine's exhaust ports, like the Deora, were positioned on the sides of the Explorer's cargo box.

What about the Explorer name that Ford attached to the concept? It was first used by Ford in 1968 to market a limited-edition "Explorer Special" equipment package for Ford's pickup trucks. That same year, Ford sent 20 F-Series light-, medium- and heavy-duty pickups on a 3,500-mile trip from the tip of Florida to the tip of Mexico's Yucat√°n Peninsula, plus a 130-mile rigorous evaluation run across Texas to prove how tough Ford trucks were in the wild and when scientifically measured. The Explorer name celebrated the grueling truck tests.

The Explorer SUV concept represented the next generation of adventuresome capability for Ford trucks. In keeping with the spirit of the Explorer name, the show truck featured a pop-up tent that was stored in its cargo box.

Ultimately, though, the Ford Explorer concept never achieved the notoriety and critical acclaim that the wholly original Dodge Deora had. Ford's sleek pickup-truck styling exercise faded away into obscurity after a brief time on the auto show circuit.

Ford wouldn't be the last to try to resurrect the original hopes of the Big Three's '60s-era, car-based pickups. In 1988, GM reinvented the Chevrolet Corvair pickup in the aerodynamic form of the GMC Centaur concept. It even duplicated the Corvair's unique rear-mounted engine setup. Still, even after two decades had passed, truck buyers weren't interested in reviving these dead-end trucks.

Today, the lost legacy of the 1973 Ford Explorer SUV concept pickup is carried on in its distant relative, the Ford Explorer Sport Trac, which Ford officially considers to be a sport utility vehicle.

1973 Ford Explorer SUV Concept Pickup

[Sources: Flickr, The Chicago Auto Show, Fordification]


Cool post - very smart and great research. One question: Where did you dig up the old Econoline ad photo?

@Tundra HQ: The Econoline pics came from vintage Ford ads scanned and uploaded to Flickr.

This concept reminds me a lot of the Toyota A-BAT: Really cab-forward, low towing and hauling, car-based.

I think the A-BAT looked a little more attractive, though. I just don't get into the idea of having a vehicle with my feet in front of the front tires.

Nice pictures. Very sixties-ish.

Built that Deora model in plastic back then when they were so popular, and cost $1 at K-marts.
Never knew Ford built a prototype too.
The Chevy version of the Econoline with a inline 6cyl. was a lot of fun.
I thought it had nice front to rear balance at the time.
Sure felt like you were going thru the windshield on the first ride.

hello: im looking for pics of the 73 ford suv concept explorer 2 use as reference 2 build a scale model...any help greatly appreciated.

It's too bad the vehicle was never put in production. It would've showed the public that a big corporation is willing to try something different, and that even though not everyone would buy such a vehicle, some people would find merit with its design. I find its looks to be more attractive than Dodge's Deora.

Deora was designed by Hary Bentley Bradley,who worked for Ford,Chrysler and G M styling studios,and later for Mattell,designing Hot Wheel cars. Bently was also an instructor at the L. A. Art Center,training ground for such noteable designer/illustrators as Chip Foose,Thom Taylor, Steve Stanford and just about anyone working in Transportation Design today. Deora was built by the Alexandrr Brothers Custom shop in Detroit,who also built severa Ford Custom Cavalcade Cars from about 62 to 66.Google any of these for some interesting reading.

Does anyone know what ever happened to this truck, and are there ant other pics of this truck like the rear view or interior.

Truly amazing -- even the gold coloring of the Deora !! It would have been fantastic if they'd made real ones with that big V-8 !!

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