Looking Back: 1996 Ford Adrenalin Concept Truck

Looking Back: 1996 Ford Adrenalin Concept Truck

Almost every pickup truck sold in the U.S. today can be configured as a four-door crew cab. In some cases, a crew cab is the only version you can buy, but it wasn’t long ago that crew cabs were few and far between. The 1996 Ford Adrenalin concept truck helped change that, setting the stage for today’s pickups.

The tough-looking Adrenalin design study was one of the first concepts to foreshadow the trend of prioritizing passenger space over cargo space for the U.S. market. It featured a shortened cargo box but had plenty of room for five passengers in the four-door cab.

Prior to the Adrenalin concept, most U.S. crew-cab pickups were available only as extra-large heavy-duty trucks, while similar small crew-cab pickups had long been popular in overseas markets before 1996.

“It’s really the best of two worlds,” Jack Telnack, Ford’s vice president of corporate design, said when the Adrenalin was released. “It’s a fun-to-drive off-road sport utility vehicle that also expands on the practicality of a pickup.”

As revolutionary as the segment-busting Adrenalin was at the time, Telnack was used to pushing the design envelope of passenger cars and trucks at Ford, such as the 1983 Ford Thunderbird, 1986 Ford Taurus, 1994 Lincoln Mark VIII and 1996 Ford F-150.


The Adrenalin was aggressively more aerodynamic-looking than the 1996 F-150 and larger than the compact Ford Ranger. It featured a bright amber exterior with custom 32-inch Goodyear off-road tires mounted on 16-inch alloy wheels. A winch was integrated into the truck’s front bumper, plus tow hooks at all four corners. The lower rocker panels and front and rear skid plates were clad in nickel plating for extra protection while playing in the dirt or on rocks.

Inside, the Adrenalin showcased different colors and fabrics inspired by rock climbing and camping gear. Sturdy fabric covered the lower instrument panel, door trims and seats. Canvas was used to cover the sunroof, and removable day packs and bags were also part of the cabin. An innovative (at the time) GPS unit integrated in the dash could show the driver a real-time map of the crew cab’s location anywhere in the world.

Similar to what would later become the midgate on the Chevy Avalanche, the Adrenalin’s rear window could be lowered into the back panel of the cab, which could then be folded flat (along with the rear bucket seats) to extend the cargo bed’s loading area from the tailgate to behind the front seats. The tailgate had a special panel that could be folded out into a cargo bed extender when the tailgate was flat. Special storage compartments in the cargo box housed a water purification system that could be turned into a high-pressure wash to clean the truck up after a long day on the trails.

After overwhelmingly positive consumer response to Adrenalin, it arrived in 2000 as the 2001 Ford Explorer Sport Trac, sharing many of the mechanicals of the Ford Explorer and completely separate from the Ford Ranger, which has remained available in the U.S. with only a regular or extended cab.

The Adrenalin name was formally attached to the Sport Trac in 2003, when the Adrenalin option package was added. It included a Pioneer stereo with nine speakers and an 8-inch subwoofer, limited paint colors, side step bars and premium alloy wheels. The "Adrenalin" name appeared on the tailgate and was stitched on the head restraints of the truck's leather seats.

But all good things come to an end, even though the Adrenalin’s crew cab legacy carries on. Explorer Sport Trac production ended with the 2010 model year.



That is one sharp looking pickup! I guess that can be expected, coming from Ford.

"Every pickup truck sold in the U.S. today can be configured as a four-door crew cab."

If that was the case, I would've bought a Ranger last month as opposed to my Colorado.

i would buy that truck in a heart beat

@Dave: Fixed that first sentence. Thanks! The Ranger is mentioned in the third to last paragraph.

hmm...did this truck evolve to become the global ford ranger?

Mike, great article. It is fun looking back at concept trucks and seeing how many of their elements found their way into production vehicles. I wouldn't mind reading more articles like this ;)

Nice looking truck too.

Looks like the ford sports trac

Great article Mike... I didn't remember that concept truck.
I guess it would have been fitted with the 4.0L V6 and 5spd tranny.
I owned a 1993 Ranger ext. cab 4X4 with the big V6, 5spd in "bright calypso green". Sold in 1998 to someone locally (got a minivan with the new family... still on the road today!

Stories about concept trucks or benchmark vehicles are always welcome.

Interesting truck, I'm not sure how the trim around the flush mount winch fairlead would hold up in the real world. The anchor points on each front corner also look like it would leave the nose plastic vunerable. Tthe nerf bar along the rear tailgate is interesting, how does it fold down or move out of the way?
It is interesting to see how ideas tried on concept vehicles find their way into real vehicles.

Midgate - where have we seen this before????

Funny thing is = this truck came out in 1996.
The Avalanche came out in 2001.

I thought I'd mention it for the guys who like to keep track of "who is copying who"

If Ford had of used this concept as the basis of a crew cab Ranger for North America instead of the Explorer based Sport Trac, I believe the sales figures would have been dramatically different. Ford missed the mark on this one. Shame.

Those mirrors look awfully familiar.....

@Jack: Yes, the Adrenalin had the 4.0-liter V-6 and 5-speed manual transmission.

"while similar small crew-cab pickups had long been popular in overseas markets before 1996."

I really still do not understand why it took the U.S. market so long to adapt to 4-door small pickups...

Great concept but did it have twin I-beams up front and not the current Ranger's horrible torsion bar setup?

@ Jack: We had 2 of that era (1996 I think) Ranger's at my former employer and they both had over 250,000 miles with no major breakdowns when they were returned after lease was up. Both were used as work trucks running parts for overhead crane installation. Both 4.0 automatic extended cab's. This article brings back a lot of memories about how impressed everyone always was when we drove one of these little trucks. We were all used to driving that same era diesel F-350's with utility beds too though. But they were still really reliable and fun to drive at the time.

@Fordman. No. Similar Crewcab configurations were common on Asian sourced pickups in the 1980's. Toyota's Stout was one of the first Crewcabs in 1960. Fords Global Ranger is an all new design and not based on the US Ranger or Andrenlin. The current non-US Ranger does differ from the one on sale in the US.
A 1960's Toyota Stout.

This truck would sell like hotcakes right now.

@ John,

Yep, it was a prototype for the Sport Trac. I had forgotten about the truck until I saw this article.

Ford, GM and Chrysler did put out some great concepts during the '90's, as did a few other manufacturers. My favorites: The 1996 Impala SS-based Chevy ElCamino SS and, surprise, a BMW X5 pickup.

“It’s really the best of two worlds,” Jack Telnack, Ford’s vice president of corporate design, said when the Adrenalin was released. “It’s a fun-to-drive off-road sport utility vehicle that also expands on the practicality of a pickup.”

I fully disagree--it's the worst of both worlds. I, for one, have no need for four full-sized doors or even a full-sized back seat in my truck; what I need is enough comfort for me, my wife and my dog and a bed big enough to hold a full sheet of plywood or drywall. With a shortened bed and an elongated cabin, the truck's almost too big for where I park--many similar trucks extend their noses or tails out into the street because they have to leave the sidewalks clear, leaving them open to collision by a passing vehicle or child and subsequent legal issues.

Bring back the smaller trucks. A simple extended-cab 2-door with a 4' x 6' bed between the wheel wells is far more useful and economical. Trucks were never meant to be family cars.

Funny this is the pick up they should have build 10 years ago. Now 15 years later it still look modern.

Are you saying Chevy copied Ford? When did the Avalanche conecept come out?

@ Chevguys
The Chev Avalanche concept came out in 2000.
This truck predates that concept by 4 years.

I actually don't care.

Just trolling for Bobs.

Thanks for biting.

The midgate is just a brilliant idea.. I don't understand how/why more trucks don't offer this feature.

For me, I want my next truck to have a midgate and some form of headache bar. I'm waiting to see if the new Dodge (so called Lifestyle Truck) will have these two features. I understand many won't consider a unibody, FWD minivan baseed truck a truck. Call it what you will as long as I can hawl 10 plywoods flat, tow 3000lbs and handle a 800lb payload... all this and occassionally drive 4 passengers and get 30+mpg.

Think about it...

if ever there was a truck that a company needed to be lobbied to return i think this is it... now i live in Alaska and we didn't even get to see this beauty up here, and this is one of the places i think it would have gone off so well they would of had to create new colors to sell it in just so everyone could keep who is who's strait, but if i had known that there was a vehicle like this out there, i would have bought it when they were still making it no matter how much it would have taken me to pay it off. Especially if i could have gotten it in the look, design and functionality of those shown in the above photo's, now i'm sure that no matter where i looked and what accessories I bought it wouldn't come close... what a shame

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